No matter which applications you run on your Mac, a disk driver is always aiding and abetting them. Invisible to those not technically inclined, the disk driver mediates between the operating system and the disk hardware. You’re probably using the stock Apple driver that came preinstalled on your Mac, but there are alternatives to Drive Setup. FWB Software’s Hard Disk Toolkit (HDT) 4.0, Intech Software’s Hard Disk SpeedTools (HDST) 3.0, and Prosoft Engineering’s Radialogic 1.8.1 provide formatting and partitioning features, as well as drivers for various needs.
Two factors contributed to the development of third-party drivers and disk-formatting utilities: Apple’s drivers worked only on Apple-branded drives, and its drivers weren’t always the fastest. FWB Software made a reputation for itself with HDT by providing a fast yet reliable driver that worked with a wide range of SCSI disks, not just Apple’s.
Apple’s Drive Setup still works only with Apple-branded SCSI disks, but more important, it will work with any ATA (also known as IDE) drive. The ATA driver installed by Drive Setup is plenty fast, with the added benefit of having originated within Apple and undergone testing against current versions of Mac OS. But although every recent Mac has an ATA drive built in, there are plenty of other types of drive (such as FireWire), many of which can’t be used with an Apple driver. HDT and HDST have been around for some time, but their new versions are the first to incorporate FireWire support. Radialogic, a newcomer to the disk-utility arena, also supports FireWire.
We tested the three packages’ FireWire support, along with that of the default VST Technologies driver, on a 12GB VST drive. Installing the drivers is as simple as putting the driver into the Extensions folder (or letting the installer do it for you); formatting the drives is a similarly simple task. Our benchmark tests showed that the driver didn’t make a huge difference in performance and that no single driver was consistently faster or slower than the others.
Not Just FireWire
Although FireWire is glitzy, there are still plenty of SCSI drives out there. All three packages support SCSI, and HDT and HDST let you configure SCSI drives as RAID 0 arrays to improve performance.
The HDT and Radialogic packages also provide encryption features, and Prosoft Engineering claims that Radialogic has a feature called a wrapper that works like Mac OS Extended volumes do when they’re used with a version of the operating system that supports only Mac OS Standard (also known as HFS) volumes. If you use a Radialogic-encrypted volume with a non-Radialogic driver, the volume is supposed to be user friendly and tell you that you need to use a Radialogic driver. Alas, when we secured a volume with Radialogic and then used the stock VST driver with it, the volume appeared as unrecognizable in the Finder. Even so, Radialogic is the most comprehensive package in that it supports SCSI, ATA, USB, and FireWire for fixed and removable drives, including CD-ROMs.
HDT 4.0 continues FWB Software’s tradition of reliability-monitoring features, letting you set HDT to query ATA drives equipped with Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) to make sure they’re hale and hearty. Most modern drives support SMART, so this is useful, especially in server environments.
It’s worth noting that these drivers and packages are relevant only to “classic” Mac OS. Mac OS X has a completely different driver architecture that none of these packages claim to support. Although HDT does allow volumes to be resized, it can resize only regular HFS volumes. That was sufficient at one time, but today the ability to resize HFS+ volumes is a necessity.
September 2000 www.macworld.com