A Mac Expert's Favorite Tools

Mac software for maintenance, troubleshooting, app removal, freeing up disk space, and more.


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Posted October 30, 2008

Ryan Faas

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Keeping any computer running at its best, or fixing its problems, is much like keeping your car in good shape. It requires regular maintenance.

And as any mechanic or handy man will tell you, doing maintenance work or repairs easily and quickly requires the right tools. With hundreds of Mac utilities on the market – free, shareware, and commercial – it can be confusing to understand which ones you need and which ones are appropriate to which tasks.

Here’s a rundown of the best tools available and the types of chores that each is designed to handle.

Hard Drive Tools

Among the most common Mac problems are hard drive issues. These include a wide range of symptoms, from files not opening to applications quitting unexpectedly to a Mac refusing to boot or recognize a hard drive.

Although physical failure of a hard drive does occur, the most common issues are problems in which the directory structures of the drive (the map that a Mac uses to locate physical sectors where pieces of files are stored) becomes damaged or corrupted.

Hard drive tools can compare the actual data on the drive to the directory and can often repair (or replace) a damaged directory to get a drive working again. They can also often offer additional features like defragmenting the contents of a hard drive, partitioning the drive, and cloning a drive (either to or from another physical drive or a disk image file).

While Apple’s Disk Utility offers a number of these features (the notable exception being defragmenting/optimizing a drive), third-party tools offer a range of more advanced features and can give you better chances for recovery of a drive with particularly bad directory corruption.

Disk Warrior (http://alsoft.com/) – Disk Warrior focuses primarily on recovery from badly corrupted disks by building a new directory for the disk (and allowing you to preview the new directory before replacing the existing corrupt directory). Although limited in features, Disk Warrior is often considered the best hope by Mac technicians and power users.

Drive Genius – Drive Genius offers a range of features including the ability to recover damaged disks, advanced partitioning options, features for cloning existing drives, securely erasing drives, and a Xslimmer feature that can be used to locate large and unused files to recover disk space.

TechTool Pro – TechTool Pro also offers a wide feature set. It includes a number of hard drive-related tools, including the ability to defragment drives, recover and optimize directory data, recover data from damaged drives (though success varies depending on the amount of damage to the drive), and the ability to securely delete data.

It also offers a range of diagnostic tools that can check for problems or failures with almost every hardware component of a Mac. A stripped down version known as TechTool Deluxe is included by Apple with the purchase of an AppleCare Protection Plan for any Mac.

iDefrag – As its name implies, iDefrag is a tool aimed solely at defragmenting and optimizing a hard drive for the best performance, making it a good companion to other tools that don’t offer these capabilities.

Data Rescue II – Repairing a corrupted hard drive is always the best possible option. However, for cases where the corruption is too great or where there is physical damage to the drive, it isn’t always possible. In these situations, the goal becomes recovering data from the damaged drive. Prosoft’s Data Rescue II, while not a hard drive repair tool, is designed to enable you to attempt to recover such data.

SuperDuper – SuperDuper is designed for simple cloning of a hard drive to either a second hard drive or to a disk image, which can be used for basic backups (including backups prior to major system changes and bootable system backups) or for preparing a disk image that can be then rolled out to multiple similarly configured workstations.

Carbon Copy Cloner – Similar to SuperDuper, Carbon Copy Cloner performs largely the same functions and can be used to backup a Mac or prepare a disk image for mass deployments.

NetRestore – NetRestore (created by Mike Bombich, the developer of Carbon Copy Cloner) is designed to facilitate mass rollouts of identically configured Macs (such as in an office or classroom) using disk images. NetRestore can be run from an external hard drive or from a share point hosted by a server. It can also integrate with Mac OS X Server’s NetBoot functionality for easy and almost completely automated mass deployments.

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Tags: server, software, Apple, Mac, OS X

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