Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 4 NO. 6 / JANUARY 1990


Diamond Back and Hard Drive Turbo Kit

Two Handy Hard Drive Utilities


Hard drives are absolutely wonderful--once you've tried one, you can never go back. Hard drives are fast and store lots and lots of data, but they're also cranky beasts, as you know if you've read Dave Small's series of articles on hard drives in START. The biggest problem with hard drives is that they do store so much data. If a floppy disk goes bad, it's bad enough, but if your hard drive goes bad, you can lose huge amounts of your work. And hard drives do occasionally fail.

The "obvious" answer is to back up your hard drive, that is, copy all of the information on it to floppies (or some other medium) periodically, so that if something does happen, you won't have lost everything. Unfortunately, backing up 20 or 40 or 80 megabytes of data to floppies takes considerable time. Moreover, since you can only fit about 800K on a double-sided disk drive, it also means many, many disk swaps. The end result is that most people just don't bother to back up their drives and hope for the best. Yes, I have been one of those people.

There are three approaches to making hard-drive backup easier, so that people will actually do it. The first is to move the data to the floppy faster--Dave Small's Meg-A-Minute Elite with Twister format addresses this rather well. The second is to move more data onto each floppy, so that there are fewer disk swaps. Compressing files with ARC or some other scheme helps here, but compressing the files slows the data transfer rate, so it's a trade-off between speed and number of floppies.

The last approach is incremental backups. Essentially, what you do is to make one complete backup of everything. After that, you periodically make an incremental backup--that is, a backup which includes just those files which have been changed since the last backup. Since these tend to be much smaller than a complete backup and, therefore, take little time, they are less onerous. There is a-special flag in a file's attributes called the archive bit which tells a properly written backup program whether that file has changed since the last backup. What you end up with is the main backup and a series of disks of incremental backups. Of course, to restore your hard drive, you must begin with the main backup and then successively restore from the incremental backups. However, this isn't too big a price to pay--hopefully, you'll never have to restore anyway.

Diamond Back is one of the most flexible harddisk backup programs
available. With a solid, well written manual, this is a good package
to purchase.


With all this in mind, let's look at two packages to help you work with your hard drive. The first package is called Diamond Back from Data Innovations, Inc. This program can back up your entire disk, back up only selected directories or files and compress and encrypt files. It has sophisticated restore capabilities as well.

The backup portion of Diamond Back presents you with a dialog box that lets you choose which disk partition you want to back up and whether you want a full backup or an incremental backup. There is an option to back up just the files in the directory selected or to back up files in contained subdirectories as well. You can also choose whether to compress the files as you back up, although this option slows the backup process considerably. However, Diamond Back uses an efficient compression routine (known as Lemple-Zev) which can reduce the size of your files by 50 percent or more, so you may find it worth using. For file security, you can choose to encrypt your files. If you do so, a password will be requested. You are warned not to forget your password because if you do, your files will be useless.

You can have Diamond Back format your disks with nine or ten sectors, 80 or 81 tracks and regular or Twister format. Ten sectors and 81 tracks will put more information on the disk, but not all disk drives will be able to read the disks (or write them either, for that matter). I highly recommend using Twister format, since it's much faster. You can also turn off write verify for the floppies, which further speeds up the process (at some small loss in safety).

The most unique feature of Diamond Back is that you can specify exactly what you want to back up. When you select the drive partition to back up, a GEM file selector opens on the screen. You select directories and whatever is shown on the "Directory" line of the file selector will be backed up. Even more importantly, you can type in filenames for backup, using wildcards such as "*" and "?". Thus, you can back up just your .DOC files by specifying "*.DOC" on the Directory line. You can specify up to thirty different drive partitions or paths to back up and you can edit these paths before you actually start the backup. This flexibility is very nice to have.

Once you start the backup process, you'll be prompted for blank disks as needed. Diamond Back only uses one drive for backup, which is too bad if you have a two-drive system. George Woodside's Turtle (a shareware program very much worth its small price) lets you use both drives and it will alternate between them if you wish. During the backup, Diamond Back creates a file listing which files which have been backed up to the particular disk. This is a very nice feature, because then you know exactly what's on a disk. It comes in very handy with the Restore function.

Restoration Flexibility

If the unthinkable happens and you must restore data from your backups to the hard drive, Diamond Back is helpful here too. The restore dialog box lets you restore to any drive partition, but you must tell the program if the files are compressed or encrypted. Oddly, the program doesn't code this information on the disk, so it can't tell; it's probably a good idea to mark this information on the disk labels of your backup disks. You can restore to a partition that is different from the original and, in fact, you can choose to restore from any partition/path of the backup to any partition/path on the hard drive. If a folder does not exist, Diamond Back will create it. Up to 15 different pairs of restore-source and restore-destination paths can be specified.

You must be careful when you have this much flexibility, however. The source path is moved to the destination, including the source folder. Thus, if you tell Diamond Back to move A:\DOCS to C:\DOCS, what you'll get is all of the A:\DOCS files in C:\DOCS\DOCS! If you set the option to restore to the specified destination, everything in the source (including files in subdirectories) will end up in the specified destination path.

You have the option to restore all files, including those in subdirectories, or just the files in the specified source. And you can choose to restore just the specified files. If you do, then a dialog box appears in which you can list the files you want to restore. You can use wildcards here to include a group of files with one specification.

Diamond Back is a very powerful, flexible program that does the job it is intended to do and does it very well. It comes with an excellent manual and is highly recommended--especially for its incremental backup feature. This feature may convince you to use Diamond Back (of course, it doesn't matter how good a backup program is if you don't actually use it!).

MichTron's Hard Drive Turbo Kit is actually three programs in one
box. There's a very nice backup utility combined with the latest ver-
sion of TuneUp in a single menu bar, plus M-Cache, a write-through
disk cache. Now if MichTron had just included a decent manual...


MichTron also produces a package of hard-drive utilities called the Hard Drive Turbo Kit. This package includes a hard-drive backup-and-optimizer combined in one program called Toolkit. The other program in this package is called M-Cache, which provides a RAM cache for your hard drive.

When you run Toolkit, you are presented with a fully menu-driven GEM program with quite a bit of functionality. You can create a list of the disk contents, including the size, date, time and filename of each file on the disk and send the list to a printer. Toolkit keeps a log of any backups; this file is written to the disk and can also be printed. You also have the option of formatting floppies, selecting from nine or ten sectors, but without Twister format. The contents of a file can be displayed in a window, though I'm not sure what this function is doing in a package of hard-drive utilities.

Another option you have is to clone a complete directory of one partition to another disk or partition. Sub-options include replacing existing files, updating the time a file was modified and sorting filenames. Again, I'm not sure how much use this would be.

The Back-Up menu lets you make a full backup of any partition or specified path. Unlike Diamond Back, however, you can only specify a single path at any one time, using the "Path" icon.

Two types of backup writes can be made: file-by-file or image backup, where the "image" of the hard drive is written to the floppies. Image backups are faster, but do not optimize the file organization of the hard drive and cannot be read by anything other than the Restore program. The file backup can be made using either DOS or something called TAR. The DOS file backup is slow, but files can be read right off the backup disk (provided they aren't saved across disks). TAR can only be read by the Restore program, but the backup process is much faster (about the same speed as an image backup).

Incremental backups are supported by Toolkit. In Toolkit, an incremental backup analyzes the condition of the archive bit to determine whether the file has been modified since the last save. There is also "Back up by Date" which backs up any files modified since the specified date. Both incremental and date backups may be DOS or TAR. I don't know what would happen if some of the incremental backups were in one format and some in another--I wasn't brave enough to try this.

When you back up files, a special file is written to each backup disk which shows the files that were backed up to that disk. This backup listing can be printed or listed to give you that information. Of course, you can restore your files by selecting the appropriate format under which the files were stored (DOS or TAR).

Missing: One Manual

Toolkit has quite a number of options available, including whether to sort filenames, copy hidden files and system files (on the ST?), overwrite files, segment files or update the backup history. You can also set the number of buffers, let the "Backup verify writes" and let the "System verify writes." What does all this mean? Well, I'll let you in on a secret: I don't know exactly--and this brings us to the manual.

Toolkit doesn't really have a manual. Oh, there's a bunch of paper stapled together and labeled "Manual," but it is absolutely worthless. None of the items in the drop-down menus are explained, nor why you might want to use some of the more arcane ones. You are left to experiment to see what they do, which is unacceptable with a harddisk backup program.

TuneUp Really Works!

The second portion of Toolkit is the disk optimizer, formerly sold as a separate package called "TuneUp." When a hard drive is new, the files you save to it are stored contiguously on the disk. However, as files grow in size, are deleted and new files added, they begin to fragment--that is, they are scattered about on the disk as GEM finds and uses empty disk space wherever it finds it. As the disk heads have to move further and further to read the fragmented sections of the file, reading and writing to the file becomes slower. This effect can be quite significant on a hard drive which has been in heavy use for some time. TuneUp unfragments your files, and as much as possible, ensures that they exist in contiguous disk sectors. (A note to MichTron: contiguous is not spelled contigous--this is the second version of TuneUp that has suffered from that egregious misspelling.)

TuneUp also moves all of the free space so that it is either at the beginning or the end of the disk. If you choose to optimize the disk for reading, files are placed at the end of the partition with free space at the beginning. Optimizing for writing reverses this order.

TuneUp can also analyze how badly fragmented your disk is. This is important, because it provides a measure of when it is time to optimize your hard drive. Since optimizing can be a lengthy process, you don't want to do it too often! It also shows graphically how blocks of the disk are used, and can even show where on the disk a particular file is located. You can also check the disk structure to find any inconsistencies or orphaned files. This last can be fixed automatically by TuneUp.

TuneUp works best when there is sufficient free disk space to hold the largest program. It will still work if there isn't sufficient room on the disk, as long as there's enough memory to hold that file. If there isn't sufficient room in memory, then the disk cannot be fully optimized.


The second program on the Hard Drive Turbo Kit disk is M-Cache. As has been noted, hard drives are fast. As fast as they are, though, RAM memory is faster. That's one reason that people use RAM disks, but RAM disks have a problem: you have to load anything you want to use into it and you must remember to save anything in the RAM disk to a real disk (floppy or hard) before you turn off the machine; otherwise everything will be lost.

Disk caches set aside a portion of memory for storage, just like a RAM disk. Whenever you load information from a real disk, the information contained in the sectors you read are retained in the cache. The next time you go to read the disk, the cache driver checks to see if what you want is already in the cache. If not, then it is read in from disk. If it is in the cache, though, the information is loaded from the cache much faster than it could be loaded from disk. The driver has a special algorithim that analyzes how often various sectors of the disk are accessed and keeps the most-used sectors in the cache. The bigger the cache, the less often you have to get information from the real disk. When you write to disk, this information is written to the cache and also to the real disk (this is called a "write-through" cache) so that nothing is lost. You can see the advantages over a RAM disk.

M-cache can be run directly from the desktop or inserted in an AUTO folder. To configure it, you must run a separate program, for which there are no instructions in the manual. Fortunately, you just answer the questions as to which drives to cache and the size of the cache in disk sectors. Since most people have no real conception of how big a disk sector is, it is hard to answer that question intelligently. Just hitting return gives the default value of 200 sectors, which is about 100K.

And In Conclusion...

The two packages discussed have some similar capabilities, but Turbo Kit can do more than Diamond Back. Thus, which you should get really depends on what you need. If you feel you can use the cache program and disk optimizer with a decent (but poorly explained) backup program, then Turbo Kit from MichTron is an excellent choice. If what you need is a solid, well-documented, flexible hard-drive backup program, then you can't go wrong with Diamond Back.

David Plotkin is a START Contributing Editor and a prolific ST and Amiga author. Dave is also a chemical engineer with Chevron in his free time!


Diamond Back, $39 95. Data Innovations, Inc., 644 Linn Street, Suite 219, Cincinnati, OH 45203, (513) 241-4705

Hard Drive Turbo Kit, $59.95. MichTron, 576 S. Telegraph, Pontiac, MI 48053, (313) 334-5700