Boot Manager Shootout: Power Boot 2.1

By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 09/23/98
Revised: 10/15/98

BlueSky Innovations markets Power Boot as an inexpensive and more versatile alternative to System Commander. Since System Commander is currently priced at $29.95 plus $16.95 shipping and Power Boot is priced at $25 with electronic delivery, they are correct about "inexpensive;" the "more versatile" is debatable. (All prices are in US$.) System Commander Deluxe will be reviewed next week.

Power Boot is installed using a very simple installation program that first saves essential data from your hard drive and then copies itself into the Master Boot Record and replaces the Master Boot Code. In addition Power Boot stores its program into some unidentified sectors. As noted last week, altering the MBR is somewhat risky. The installation provides an option to save your boot sector and other critical information into a file called part.bin. There is an additional option to create a rescue diskette. You should take advantage of both options and save both the file and rescue diskette in a safe place.

I found the installation both quick and easy. However if the installation fails, no information is provided to help you determine why. Note that the install program will not run in a DOS window or in Windows 95; it must be run after booting DOS, either from your hard drive or a diskette.

Let's now take a look the Power Boot's main features.

  1. Unlike IBM's Boot Manager (hereafter referred to as BM), Power Boot allows you to set all the partition and program options, including hide/unhide, from the boot menu. This relieves you of the somewhat annoying problem of having boot OS/2 just so you can run FDISK to change some trivial detail in the setup, such as the timeout delay!

  2. Unlike BM, Power Boot does not require a partition for installation.

  3. Power Boot has rather unusual feature called the DOS/Windows Swap. This feature loads a small amount of code into memory that tells the OS the specified physical drive is actually on drive 1 and vice versa, presumably by redirecting system calls. Note: the manual does not recommend using this feature to install Windows 9x.

  4. Power Boot allows you to boot from any one of 63 partitions on any drive. The only limitation is that DOS and DOS-based OS (e.g. Windows) require a specific primary partition boot from which to boot. OS/2, Linux, and other OS can be installed on any partition.

    • This limitation can be partially circumvented in a number of ways. The Power Boot swap mode is one way; in addition the restriction can be overcome by physical reconnection of the drives, or by copying the OS from the first drive to another drive using third-party utilities such as Partition Magic.

  5. Power Boot has an option to hide all partitions except one to simplify installing OEM (non-upgrade) versions of OS that balk at installing if they detect another OS on the system.

  6. Power Boot supports LBA mode so that partitions greater than 8 MB can be booted. With hard drive size increasing rapidly, this is an important feature.

  7. Power Boot provides the ability to "lock down" the letter of an OS/2 partition so that it will not change even though partitions before it may be made visible or hidden.

  8. Power Boot features a limited password security system that prevents an unauthorized person from accessing the boot menu. thereby preventing him or her from accessing partitions other than the default one or from making changes to the Power Boot configuration.

Power Boot, as with any program, also has a few flaws:

  1. As I mentioned earlier, altering the MBR, the most critical sector on your hard drive is problematic at best. As a result there are a number of compatibility problems, which to Power Boot's credit, the manual documents quite well.

    1. Attempting to uninstall Power Boot in the usual way after using Partition Magic or Partition-It will apparently cause a fatal "checksum error" on the hard drive when attempting to boot.

    2. Power Boot is incompatible with most Software Translation Drivers except Ontrack Disk Manager.

    3. There are also compatibility problems with Boot Manager. For one thing it is necessary to always have the same DOS partition visible when booting OS/2. Others are detailed in the manual. (The manual can be downloaded free of charge with the demo version of the software.)

    4. If you are considering adding Linux to your system, there are some caveats about using LILO.

  2. Without doubt the most serious problem for many OS/2 users is Power Boot's lack of proper support for multiple OS/2 partitions. If you do have multiple OS/2 partitions as I do you have to manually select the correct drive letter for the partition from which you wish to boot. This information is not saved, so you must do this every time you boot! Failure to do so can result in a hard crash during the boot.

  3. No drive letters are available on the boot time menu. I found this quite confusing. (This could be because I am so used to BM.) Each partition can be labeled, which helps reduce the confusion.

  4. When a partition is hidden, it is impossible to tell what kind of OS is stored on it.

If you plan to store a large number of OS on your system, especially several versions of DOS or Windows, then Power Boot is an inexpensive tool that you should consider. If you are aware of its limitations and take the safety precautions in the manual seriously, then Power Boot may well meet your needs.

Note: For the sake of complete disclosure, let me state that BlueSky Innovations gave me a free copy of Power Boot for this review. However, I have taken due care not to let this affect my evaluation.

For further reading:

Hard Disk Logical Structures and File Systems, The PC Guide, © 1997-98 Charles M. Kozierok

Partitions, © 1998 Walter F. Metcalf

The Partition Table, EDM/2, March 1998, by Andrew Pitonyak

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