Macs occasionally go belly-up, so you really should have a bootable backup drive loaded with your favorite troubleshooting utilities, just in case. But assembling such an emergency drive isn’t easy: You have to buy a drive (if you’re a notebook user, one that’s small enough to carry around), put a bootable copy of OS X on it, then buy and install the right troubleshooting tools. Micromat offers a simple alternative: the TechTool Protege.
The tiny Protege is a 1GB FireWire drive, just slightly larger than a typical USB thumb drive. On it, Micromat has preinstalled a special version of Mac OS X that boots—relatively quickly, thanks to the drive’s FireWire interface—into a special utility screen. From there, you can launch whichever utility you want to use.
Each Protege includes preinstalled copies of Micromat’s own $98 TechTool Pro 4 maintenance and repair utility and $49 DiskStudio disk-partitioning tool; it’s also loaded with Apple’s Disk Utility, Terminal, and System Profiler utilities. Together with the FireWire drive itself, that software bundle makes the Protege’s $229 price tag look more reasonable. (Unfortunately, Micromat won’t give you a discount if you already own TechTool Pro or DiskStudio; you effectively have to buy those utilities over again.)
Also, unlike CD-based emergency utilities, you can also install whatever other utilities you like onto the drive; they’ll be available from the Protege’s own utility screen. You can also use your leftover drive space for transferring files.
If you have both Intel and PowerPC Macs, a significant drawback is that the Protege can boot either an Intel Mac or a PowerPC Mac—not both. To switch between the two, you need to reconfigure the Protege using an included CD. This reconfiguration takes just a few minutes, but the process is still a bit of a hassle; you’ll also have to reinstall whatever additional utilities you’ve added.
In addition, because the latest Macs use special new versions of the Mac OS, the Protege can’t boot some Macs—a problem that affects all bootable utility products. As I write this, Micromat says the Protege is incompatible with the October 2006 MacBook Pro and November 2006 MacBook. Micromat will offer updates that will let you boot these machines; those updates will cost nothing if you purchased the Protege in the previous 30 days, $25 if you purchased it before then.
One other minor issue: The Protege is a bit larger than a typical thumb drive, so you may have trouble using adjacent ports when the Protege is connected. However, given the context in which you’ll be using the Protege—to rescue your Mac from a potential disaster—this is unlikely to be a deal-breaker.
Macworld’s buying advice
The Protege is simple to use: you just plug it into a FireWire port and reboot from it like any FireWire drive. The screen from which you choose your utilities is easy to use, and while the included utilities are solid, I appreciate the ability to add my own. And thanks to its size, you have no excuse not to have it with you wherever you use your Mac. The Protege is a handy tool for any serious troubleshooter—and many casual Mac owners, as well.
[ Dan Frakes is a senior editor at Macworld.]Micromat TechTool Protege