Sunday, January 11, 2009

Drive Prep Made Simple: GParted

Two weeks ago I was staring at over twenty laptops that had been loaned to us during an emergency deployment and now were needing preparation for return.

As part of the pre-return process, I needed to wipe the drives and toss a fresh image on them.

Into each one I popped in my custom VistaPE boot disk and ran a DiskPart routine from the command line, following my usually procedures in this case.

However, this time I used the “clean all” command this time instead of just “clean” as I usually do since I wanted to be sure the previous data was reasonably wiped off the drive. (If I had needed a full DoD secure wipe I would have likely turned to one of the many Secure Disk-wiping Software solutions that exist.)  In this case, a simple single-pass overwrite was sufficient.

However, on these laptops, when I went to create the partition afterwards it couldn’t do it as it said there was no free space on the drive and errored out.  I didn’t have the time or patience to try to figure out and set the size and offset manually from the command line so I bailed on DiskPart.

Instead I reached for my copy of GParted that is a Linux LiveCD to sort out the mess and do a clean NTFS reformat/partition of the drives.

In no time I had reclaimed the drive, and created an active NTFS partition, fully ready and able to accept the image.

GParted is the best non-Windows tool I know of for both drive formatting and preparations.  It is a breeze to use and is wicked-quick at what it does.

Take a look at these great how-to’s for more of its features.

Other alternatives I have used with success are PartedMagic (Linux LiveCD), Trinity Rescue Kit (Linux LiveCD), the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD), Terabyte's BootIt Next Generation (NG), and the free EASEUS Partition Manager Home Edition.

Earlier versions of EASUS PMHE allowed for creation of a bootable disk version from an included ISO file.  As I understand it, the newer version does not allow creation of the disk in the “free” home version, but you can also download the trial Professional Edition which still contains that feature and then find and extract and burn the ISO file that way.

It works just fine although it gives you a number of scary “this is untested and might not work” warnings in the process.

I like having a number of similar tools as I have found from experience that different hardware sometimes gives the boot disks issues in the video-display driver handling process.  Having a variety of tools lets me work around that issue without too much delay.

And in yet another situation, as the D-Man and I found out this past week when confronted with a killed drive, a short timeline to restore a system, and a critical reimage deployment, GParted combined with focus and flexibility in solutioning yet again saved the day.

Hopefully you don’t need these tools on a daily basis, but when you do it is good to have them at the ready in your toolbox.


--Claus V.

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