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Six Clicks: My favorite Windows storage utilities

As Windows devices have become smaller, lighter, and more mobile, the nature of storage has changed. These six expert-level utilities make it possible to manage and maintain data on any Windows device.

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Topic: Storage
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1 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

My favorite Windows storage utilities

Consider this collection a gift for the old-school PC geeks who follow this site regularly.

As PC storage has changed, so have the tools needed to manage it.

And oh, as the nature of storage changed in the past few years. For starters, after years of steadily increasing hard disk sizes, default storage allocations have become dramatically smaller in recent years.

There are plenty of reasons for this trend: the move to SSDs and other forms of flash storage, the rise of cheap Windows tablets, and ready availability of cloud storage. But regardless of the reason, it’s likely that you have a much wider range of data storage options to manage today.

The six utilities in this collection cover a full range of activities that you might need to perform, regularly or occasionally, to manage and maintain storage on a Windows-based device.

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2 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

GoodSync: Keep files in sync, anywhere

$30, Mac and PC. Info / Download

I have been using this superb synchronization tool for years, and it just keeps getting better.

GoodSync does exactly what its name promises, allowing you to synchronize files, manually or automatically, between two locations. Those locations can be on a single device, on a local network, or in the cloud, with direct connections possible to Amazon S3 and Microsoft Azure storage, Google Drive, OneDrive and OneDrive Pro, Dropbox, and more. There are also apps to turn an Android or iOS device into an ad hoc file server.

Each sync job allows a tremendous variety of options, including block-level sync that makes GoodSync able to process small changes to large files without having to replace the entire file. I use GoodSync as a way to consolidate family photos in a single shared location, for example, and to keep backups of important work files.

The full version of GoodSync is available as a 30-day trial. For a limited time, you can take advantage of a holiday discount to purchase licenses for less than $20 each, a 33 percent savings.

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3 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

ZIPmagic: three compression tools in one package

$30, Windows only. Info / Download

Simon King, the developer of ZIPmagic, is passionate about compression. This package, available in 32- and 64-bit consumer and server versions, includes three separate tools for compressing whole disks or individual files and folders.

The two disk compression tools are whimsically named DoubleSpace and DriveSpace, in a sly reference to unrelated products from the early days of computing. DoubleSpace works only on the Windows 8.1 Update or later and takes advantage of WIMBoot technology to compress the system drive. You could do the same thing manually, but it would require some fairly daunting preparation, including creation of custom boot media. DriveSpace applies NTFS compression to system and data disks and is appropriate for any version of Windows from XP on.

In my DoubleSpace tests on a Surface Pro with a 128 GB hard disk, DoubleSpace gave me more than 12 GB of extra storage in just a few minutes, increasing available storage space from 75 GB to 87 GB with no adverse effect on performance. That’s not the promised doubling, but it’s a big improvement.

On a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet, DoubleSpace shrunk the space used on the system drive from 18 GB to 10 GB.

ZIPMagic also integrates itself into the Windows File Explorer, allowing you to browse compressed files (in ZIP and other formats) as if they were folders.

ZIPmagic is available as a free trial and has a full money-back guarantee.

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4 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

Acronis True Image 2015: an essential backup tool

$30 and up, Windows and Mac. Info and download

If you’ve never lost every file to a fatal disk crash, just wait. Sooner or later it happens to everyone, which is why I recommend having a comprehensive backup strategy that includes full image backups.

Acronis True Image has been my go-to backup program for several years now, and it hasn’t let me down. It’s versatile, fast, and extremely easy to use. It’s also filled with useful options like universal restore media that can quickly recover an entire drive and a disk-cloning utility that works even if the target drive is smaller than the original.

The 2015 lineup includes an edition that backs up Windows virtual machines running on Macs. Highly recommended.

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5 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

7-Zip: ZIP and a whole lot more

Free; info and download

7-Zip, developed by Igor Pavlov, is an old-timer that has managed to stay up to date through the years. I remember using it more than a decade ago. The latest beta (7-Zip 9.35) was released just a few weeks ago.

If it’s available as an archive format, you can open it in 7-Zip. Fully supported (pack and unpack) formats include ZIP, WIM (Windows images), GZIP, and the author’s own 7z format. You can also unpack files in dozens of formats, including RAR, MSI, ARJ, CAB, and VHD.

7-Zip integrates well with the Windows shell, supports strong AES-256 encryption, and includes its own file manager as well. If you’re still using the built-in Compressed Files feature of Windows, this is the best free replacement.

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6 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

SSD configuration utilities: find the right one for your device

Free. Download details vary.

If you own a PC with an SSD, there’s probably a manufacturer-supplied configuration utility available for it. These utilities allow you to upgrade firmware, diagnose problems, and tune performance in ways that aren’t possible using generic disk-management tools.

Most major SSD manufacturers offer custom utilities that are programmed to work exclusively with their branded SSDs and won’t recognize other devices.

Here are direct download links for three of the most popular SSD brands:

  • Intel’s SSD Toolbox includes a full set of management and diagnostic tools, including a System Configuration Tuner and a secure-erase utility.
  • The SanDisk SSD Toolkit (shown here) offers information about the drive and makes it easy to check for and install firmware updates with a single click.
  • Samsung’s Magician utility works with all Samsung-branded products and allows you to tune performance and reliability with a (sometimes overwhelming) array of options.

If you have an SSD from another manufacturer, check with the device maker to see if a configuration utility is available.

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7 of 7 Ed Bott/ZDNet

MiniTool Partition Wizard Pro: divide and conquer

Free consumer edition; $39 for Pro. Info / Download

You cannot support Windows PCs without having access to a robust partition-management utility.

Windows has its own excellent tools, including the DiskPart command-line environment and the Disk Management console. But some tasks, such as shrinking a system partition or copying a UEFI boot disk, demand third-party tools.

Partition Wizard Pro is new to me, but I’m very impressed with what I have seen so far. It provides extensive information about existing partitions as well as a full range of diagnostics and management tools. I’ve used it on a range of Windows systems without any issues.

As always, you should have a full backup before you begin tinkering with disks. Once that task is taken care of, this utility is worth exploring.

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