capsule review

TechTool Protogo

TechTool Protogo is a combination of two useful and effective disk tools: TechTool Pro 4, a general hardware and disk maintenance, optimization, and data recovery program, and DiskStudio, a disk tool that can split your disk into several partitions on-the-fly without erasing your data. TechTool Protogo is designed to run either from the bootable DVD the programs are shipped on, or, more interestingly, from an iPod or other external drive. This lets you use an old or current iPod as a disk repair toolkit. You can install these tools, as well as other utilities, on an old iPod, and connect it to any Mac, booting off the iPod to access the tools. With a current iPod, you can install the tools in the same way, but continue to sync your music, movies, and photos to the iPod. (TechTool Protogo is a more flexible version of TechTool Protege (   ), which provides the same functionality on a flash memory FireWire thumb drive.)

This program is quite versatile. It allows you to install its own special, stripped-down bootable operating system on an iPod or other disk so you can start up a Mac from that external device, but it also offers other options: you can install a Universal version of the operating system, so you can work on both Intel and PowerPC Macs; you can install a full copy of your operating system, together with TechTool and Disk Studio; you can install a version that will boot on both OS X and OS 9 Macs; or you can create custom installations using not only Micromat’s utilities, but also other programs you have on your Mac. By default, TechTool Protogo installs Console, Disk Utility, System Profiler, and Terminal, but you may want to add your favorite text editor or disk repair tool. You can configure your own custom profile with exactly the tools you need. If you plan to use your iPod or external disk on both PowerPC and Intel Macs, make sure you perform the installation from a PowerPC Mac: while TechTool Protogo is Universal, some of the additional tools you may want to install won’t be if you’re copying them from an Intel Mac.

Installation is simple. The program’s installer adds its special operating system and utilities, but you can continue to put music on the iPod. To boot from an iPod or other external device, just connect the device, hold down the option key at startup, and select it as the boot device. After startup, a Micromat Launcher window appears, allowing you to run any of the utilities you have installed. (Note that USB devices can only be used to boot Intel Macs; if you have a PowerPC Mac, you’ll need an iPod with a FireWire cable.)

There are a few minor issues with running TechTool Pro from an external disk. When you test volumes, the iPod (or other external boot disk) is included in the tests unless you manually deselect it; this makes the process a bit longer than necessary. Also, if repairs are required after running some tests, there is no Repair button that lets you make these repairs quickly; you have to run the test again after checking a Repair On box.

Both TechTool Pro and DiskStudio are excellent tools, offering a wide range of maintenance, repair, recovery, optimization, and formatting features, but the extra benefit with TechTool Protogo is the ability to set up a bootable iPod or external disk for maintenance and carry it in your pocket. Since the installation doesn’t take up much space (1.18GB for a Universal installation), you can use it on an iPod nano or an old iPod mini. Even if you have an old iPod with a dead battery, you can use it for this purpose, as long as it is connected to a Mac that provides power (either via FireWire or a powered USB port).

Macworld’s buying advice

With TechTool Protogo and an iPod, you’ve got an excellent, versatile tool for maintaining any number of Macs. This program is perfect for people who are responsible for large numbers of Macs and who don’t want to carry around CDs and DVDs with all their tools, or for anyone who simply wants to use a retired iPod for something other than a paperweight.

[ Kirk McElhearn is the author of many books, including The Mac OS X Command Line: Unix Under the Hood (Sybex, 2004). His blog, Kirkville, talks about Macs, iPods, and more. ]

TechTool Protogo gives you a variety of installation options that let you choose which programs to install, and whether you want a basic or full system.
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