PowerQuest PartitionMagic has long reigned as the leading tool to create, copy, move, delete, and convert partitions without the need to reformat your hard drive. Acronis PartitionExpert 2003 seeks to challenge this supremacy but falls short. Compared to $69.95 PartitionMagic 8.0, $49.95 PartitionExpert 2003 ($44.99 for the download) seems like a bargain. However, PartitionExpert lacks many basic features found in PartitionMagic and V-com System Commander, such as a manager for booting from multiple operating systems and the ability to merge or split partitions. For those features, you'll need Acronis OS Selector, sold separately for $44.95. Worse, Acronis offers users fewer technical-support options than do its competitors. PartitionMagic 8.0 is still a much better value and a safer bet.
After launching a standard Windows installation program, PartitionExpert 2003 sets up smoothly. During the installation, the program prompts you to create bootable rescue disks on floppies or a blank CD-R. With so many PCs now equipped with CD-RW drives and some shipping without floppy drives, we think this latter option is especially useful.
During installation, PartitionExpert 2003 can create a bootable rescue disk using a floppy or CD-RW drive.
After installation, you'll be greeted with a clean, intuitive interface. On the right side, you'll find icons for each of your hard drive's partitions. Like PartitionMagic, PartitionExpert displays a diagram of the partition configuration of your drives, although we found the diagram in PartitionExpert harder to understand and manipulate. Click a partition icon, and the left pane will display details about that partition with a drop-down menu listing available functions, including Move, Resize, and Delete. Click one of these options, and a window pops up letting you specify the change. Once you've selected your changes, click the Commit Changes button to perform the tasks. Like PartitionMagic, PartitionExpert performs some tasks within Windows, while others require a reboot.
PartitionExpert's intuitive interface shows your current partition configuration and any available options.
PartitionExpert 2003 covers all the partition-management basics. It can create, move, copy, resize, format, hide, and convert a variety of partition types, including Linux Ext2/3, Swap, and ReiserFS formats. In addition to performing these tasks manually, the software has wizards that take you step by step through the process of creating, resizing, or copying a partition. Though these wizards are helpful for less experienced users, it's worth noting that these same users probably should think twice before trying to modify disk partitions. A simple misstep can easily destroy data or render a system unbootable.
The software's wizards guide you step by step through common procedures.
Unfortunately, PartitionExpert lacks many useful features found in PartitionMagic 8.0. For example, PartitionExpert can't automatically merge two partitions or split one partition into two. Rather, you must copy the data from partition A to partition B, delete the empty partition A, then resize partition B. To split, you need to decrease the size of partition A manually, then create partition B in the resulting free space. We much prefer the automated process found in PartitionMagic.
Nor can PartitionExpert convert an NTFS partition into FAT32 (say, to convert from a Windows XP or Windows 2000 partition to a Windows 98 partition) or change the cluster size of an NTFS, a procedure that in some cases can save disk space. Acronis says it chose not to include these features because "it would add unnecessary complexity [to the software] in order to let a very few users do sophisticated tasks." These features are available in PartitionMagic and V-com System Commander, however.
PartitionExpert's graphical representation of each partition makes it easy to visualize the configuration process.
Also, Partition Expert doesn't include a utility for updating the shortcuts and file associations on a system when drive letters change. With PartitionExpert, you'll have to create new shortcuts or edit them manually.
Finally, PartitionExpert lacks a boot utility for selecting which OS to run on a system with multiple operating systems. Unlike System Commander, which includes the multiple OS capabilities of Partition Commander at no extra cost, Acronis does not. The company states that "people who do multibooting definitely require disk-partitioning capability, so we put a ton of effort and engineering into PartitionExpert." Unfortunately, avid Acronis partitioners who also want to multiboot will need to buy the $44.95 Acronis OS Selector separately.
It's a risky proposition to make any changes to your drive's partitions; things can and, in our experience, do go wrong. Unfortunately, if you end up with an unbootable system or a partition disappears, Acronis offers only e-mail and Web-based support; there is no tech-support telephone number to call in an emergency. This can be a major problem if your partition fails and you don't have a working PC from which to send e-mail. The product thankfully ships with a detailed, printed manual and a useful help file, but as of this writing, the company's Web site offers no FAQs to troubleshoot PartitionExpert 2003.
In addition to a detailed printed manual, PartitionExpert comes with a clear Windows help file. Too bad none of this information is available online.