So, who makes the best Mac utility?

When it comes to Macintoshes, I feel like a catcher playing shortstop. Yes, a good athelete can play both positions, but very few can play both exceptionally well. The mindset’s all different. The ideal physique for each is all different.
I fix Macs for the good of my team. Period. Right now my job is to nurse along a dozen Macs for four months until the new fiscal year starts, then they can replace them. I think those machines have four months left in ’em. The bigger question is, do I have four months’ tolerance left in me? Hard to say.

But thanks to my pile of Macs on their last legs (these are 120 MHz machines with no L2 cache and a pathetic 10 MB/sec SCSI-II bus, and they’ve never had regular maintenance) I’ve gotten a lot of first-hand experience with Mac utilities suites.

I said in my book that Norton Utilities for Windows is, in most regards, the second-best utilities suite out there. Problem is, the other two big ones split first place, and the third-placer is usually so bad in that regard that you’d prefer not to use it. So Norton Utilities compromises its way to the top like a politician. The Mac Norton Utilities is the same way. There are two reasons to buy Norton Utilities for the Mac: Speed Disk and Norton Disk Doctor. Period. The rest of the stuff on the CD is completely, totally worthless. Eats up memory, slows the system down, causes crashes. Copy SD and NDD to a CD-R, then run over the original with your car. They’re that bad. But of course your end-users will install them since all software is good, right? You should install everything just in case you need it someday. Famous last words, I say…

But you need Speed Disk and Norton Disk Doctor desperately. Macs are as bad as Microsoft OSs about fragmentation, and they’re far worse about trashing their directory structures. Use a Mac for a week normally, and use a PC for a week, turning it off improperly on a whim (with automatic ScanDisk runs disabled), then at the end of a week, run a disk utility on each. The Mac will have more disk errors. Apple’s Disk First Aid is nice and non-invasive, but it catches a small percentage of the problems. NDD scoops up all of the routine stuff that Disk First Aid misses.

As for Speed Disk, it works. It’s not the least bit configurable, but it has enough sense to put frequently used stuff at the front of the disk and stuff you never touch at the end.

But if you need to do what Norton Utilities says it does, you really need Tech Tool Pro. Its defragmenter is at least the equal of Speed Disk, and its disk repair tools will fix problems that cause NDD to crash. Plus it has hardware diagnostics, and it’ll cleanly and safely zap the Mac’s PRAM (its equivalent to CMOS) and cleanly rebuild the Mac’s desktop (something that should be done once a month).

But the best disk repair tool of them all is Disk Warrior. Unlike the other suites, Disk Warrior just assumes there are problems with your disk. That’s a pretty safe assumption. It goes in, scavenges the disk, rebuilds the directory structure, and asks very, very few questions. Then it rewrites the directory in optimal fashion, increasing your Mac’s disk access by about the same factor as normal defragmentation would.

Oh yes, Disk Warrior comes with a system extension that checks all data before it gets written to the drive, to reduce errors. I really don’t like that idea. Worse speed, plus there’s always something that every extension conflicts with. That idea just makes me really nervous. Then again, since I regard the Mac’s directory structure as a time bomb, maybe I should use it. But I’m torn.

Which would I buy? If I could only have one of the three, I’d take Tech Tool Pro, because it’s the most complete of the three. I’d rather have both Tech Tool and Disk Warrior at my disposal. When a Mac goes bad, you can automatically run Disk Warrior, then rebuild the desktop with Tech Tool Pro before doing anything else, and about half the time one or the other of those (or the combination of them) will fix the problem. Or they’ll fix little problems before they become big ones.

Disk Warrior is positively outstanding for what it does, but it’s a one-dimensional player. For now, it does ship with a disk optimizer, but it’s limited to optimizing one of the Mac’s two common disk formats. At $79 vs. $99 for Tech Tool Pro, if you’ve only got a hundred bucks to spend, you’re better off with Tech Tool Pro.

As for Norton Utilities, I’ve got it, and it’s nice to have a third-string disk utility just in case the other two can’t fix it. Sometimes a Mac disk problem gets so hairy that you have to run multiple disk utilities in round-robin fashion to fix it. So run Disk Warrior, then Tech Tool Pro, then Norton Disk Doctor, then Apple Disk First Aid. Lather, rinse, and repeat until all four agree there are no disk errors.

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4 thoughts on “So, who makes the best Mac utility?

  • November 25, 2002 at 4:23 pm

    Your comments are brilliant and to the point. I’m about to take your advice and will try to get TTPro and/or Disk Warrior if my budget can stand it (I’m in London,UK).
    Am tearing my hair since I (foolishly) upgraded my Mac OS 9.04 to 9.2.1 (passing through 9.1 first). Since then (about a week ago), nothing but trouble and gnashing of teeth:
    Applications no longer working or else crashing. Constant need to re-start. Suddenly connected to internet without wanting to be. Inability to quit some applications, and so on.
    I have a Power Mac G4 (desktop) 450Mz and a 7-Port USB (Xircom) Hub. Until the upgrade, everything was working pretty smoothly but I just thought I should upgrade – big mistake! However, I want to use Photoshop 7 (which I have) and it doesn’t work with OS 9.0.4. So maybe I can un-install 9.2 and regress to 9.1??
    If you have time, any advice would be much appreciated.

  • November 25, 2002 at 10:57 pm

    If you can afford it and you don’t mind relearning a bit of stuff, OS X.

  • November 26, 2002 at 9:19 am

    The good news is, it’s probably one of three things. The bad news is, one of them is going to force you to buy a disk utility and the other is going to take some time to resolve. I think it’s PRAM, disk errors, or extension conflicts. Because about 99% of all goofy Mac behavior is one of those things, or a combination.

    Try zapping the PRAM first, since that’s the easiest. Hold down command, Apple, P and R keys while powering up your computer, and keep them held down until it chimes 5 or 6 times. Then try running whatever disk utility you may have. If all you have is Apple’s Disk First Aid (comes with Mac OS), give that a whirl. It’s better than nothing.

    If your budget is limited, get Disk Warrior. It’s a little bit better than Tech Tool Pro. You can download a limited version of Tech Tool for free from If I had a limited budget to work with, I’d get the free Tech Tool along with Disk Warrior.

    If those don’t solve your problem, it’s an extensions conflict. Let me know if that turns out to be the problem, and I’ll write up the procedure. It’s a pretty time-consuming process, so it’s always the last thing I check.

  • July 1, 2003 at 5:06 am

    Hi Dave

    I wonder if you think it I might be able to recover mt hard drive.

    Over the past few months my G3 400MHz imac (9.1 and OSX installed- but only using 9.1) has occasionally had difficulty coming out of sleep/idle mode.. the process has ben delayed with some beeping and or squealing type of noise. I wasn’t aware that disk utilities like disk warrior were available until yesterday when finally my imac decided not to awake again – all I get on start up is a folder icon with a ? in it.

    With the history I explained can you tell if there is no point in running a utility.


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