Large Disk Solutions, Part 3

By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 06/21/00

Boot Menu Software

Last week we looked at and recommended some third-party partitioning software that can be used instead of or in addition to FDISK to get around its problems with large disk drives (>8.4 GB).

This week we shall look at three products that can be used to replace Boot Manager, which as have seen is completely useless in a mixed operating system environment on a large disk drive. (See the first article in this series for more detail and some examples.)

First, it should be pointed out that none of these products is perfect. In particular, none of them was written by an OS/2 vendor, although two of them have made some specific allowances for OS/2. On the other hand none of them handles logical drives well, if at all.

Second, all the products below, unlike IBM's Boot Manager, modify the Master Boot Table. As such they pose some degree of risk to the integrity of your hard drive.


    As the name suggests, System Commander Deluxe is a high-end product from V-Communications, Ltd. 1

    1. Type of Installation

      Although System Commander Deluxe boasts an OS Wizard that will automatically install many OSes, including OS/2, it only installs using the EASY option and therefore uses a FAT partition. (I have requested a copy of the newer product, System Commander 2000, and will do a full review on it from the point of view of the OS/2 user; among other things I will be looking to see if some of these restrictions have been lifted.) Consequently it is recommended you partition and install OS/2 manually, and then either install System Commander Deluxe or add the new partition to the menu to the existing SCD menu. Doing so maximizes your control over the disk.

    1. Strengths

      1. Security

        Although SCD has several types of security, including Administrator, password, partition, setup, OS Wizard, etc., the type we are concerned with here is the amount of risk to which the hard drive is exposed. As mentioned earlier in the article, all of the products reviewed here, alter the Master Boot Record, which contains the Master Boot Table, the most critical area of the hard drive. Ideally all boot menuing program would be like the IBM Boot Manager and not modify that area of the disk. However doing so dedicates one primary partition to the menuing program, and since there are only four, one of which is the extended partition, that is quite a high price. Consequently all commercial boot managers use the Master Boot Record to free a primary partition. The question that must be asked of every such program is: how hard is it to damage the Master Boot Record to the point where the disk or part of the disk cannot be used?

        The answer for System Commander Deluxe is twofold: using just SCD and the operating systems mounted on the drive or drives, you are unlikely to get into trouble at all. The data originally stored on the Master Partition Table is apparently stored elsewhere on the drive during the installation process. The consistency of the master partition table information is checked on every boot up and any change causes a warning screen to be generated. Secondly, if you install a second boot manager (other than the IBM boot manager) or run a program which changes the Master Boot Record, SCD will probably cease to function and your computer will not boot. However all you have to do is reboot from your SCD diskette and reinstall SCD. It will scan your hard drive and accurately pick up all your partitions! You may have to re-enter the descriptions and other details of some of your drives, however.

      2. Customizability

        Though not the most important feature System Commander Deluxe has to offer, virtually every facet of this product can be configured to meet your needs or wishes. That makes for a product that's very pleasant to use over the long haul.

      3. OS/2 Boot Drive Letter One of SCD's most important features for the OS/2 user, this option allows you to force an OS/2 drive to boot with a specific letter, even though the Microsoft-specification order based on active partitions, etc. specifies something else. Once set, the OS/2 system contained in this partition will always boot with the same drive letter regardless of what changes are made to the partitions ahead of it.

      4. Visible/Hidden Partition Again, particularly useful to OS/2 users, SCD has features that allow each OS to specify which partitions on each drive will be visible and which will be hidden. Unfortunately, these features only "see" primary partitions.

      5. Online Menu Support One feature I quickly came to appreciate after using IBM's Boot Manager, was the online menu support. All software and tables necessary to maintain and change SCD's main menu is online: there is no need to boot an operating system, or load a diskette. This feature is a great timesaver.

    2. Problems

      1. FAT-32 OS Menu Display

        There is a confusing and annoying bug involving FAT-32 OSes such as Windows 98 and OS/2. In a multi-operating system environment containing those two OSes (and probably Win 95 OSR2 with Large Drive Support, but I haven't tested it), the Win 98 line on the OS Selection Menu is displayed incorrectly after running OS/2, shutting down, and rebooting. The ICON, DESCRIPTION, and PRODUCT fields are all corrupt. On the other hand after running Win 98, shutting down, and rebooting, everything on the OS Selection Menu is displayed correctly. Fortunately, although confusing to the novice, this is simply a cosmetic error. All items on the menu function as they should.

      2. SETUP Menus Confusing

        The multi-layered SETUP menus could have been laid out better. As it is, the user frequently has to travel through all three layers to set up a single new menu entry, and it is often easy to lose track of critical information such as physical location on the drive or entry letter on the way. If logical partitions were individually numbered, that alone would go along way to toward eliminating this confusion.


    BootMagic is bundled with Partition Magic Professional 5.0. For a product that comes at essentially no cost, it is surprisely full-featured. However, it also has some glaring weaknesses from the standpoint of the OS/2 user.

    1. Strengths

      1. Free

        For those on a tight budget, the fact that they may already have a product with a great many features without having to lay out additional cash is not something to be taken lightly.

      2. Rescue Diskette

        During the installation process BootMagic gives you the opportunity to create a "Rescue Disk". If your Master Boot Record becomes corrupt, you can boot from this diskette, and get the usual BootMagic menu.

      3. Online Help

        The online help during setup is very generous and extensive.

      4. Security

        Password protection is provided both for altering the menu configuration, and for booting into each partition.

    2. Problems

      1. Background Screen The background screen delivered with the BootMagic's menu is so garish, that for me at least it's painful to look at. (Possibly it's a matter of personal taste, but I doubt it.) At the very least the boot-up screen's appearance is a complete violation of professionalism. Fortunately it can be changed, but doing so requires some knowledge of a product like PMView 2000 and editting bitmapped graphics.

      2. OS/2 Boot Drive Letter

        Unlike the other two products in this article, BootMagic has no provision for specifying the drive letter for an OS/2 drive letter--a serious omission in my view.

      3. Windows Required for Configuration

        The biggest drawback for an OS/2 user in my opinion is that BootMagic is completely dependent on Windows for support. This means that to make a change as small as altering the default OS, you must boot Windows 9x, and run the BootMagic configuration program. Once again, BootMagic is the only product reviewed in this article of which this is true.


      PowerBoot is marketed by Bluesky Innovations LLC as a low-cost alternative to System Commander Deluxe. While not having many of the conveniences of System Commander Deluxe, even v2.1 possessed many of the basics. My review of that product was somewhat critical of some of its weaknesses and drew a heated response from the developers. Bluesky may have taken the criticism in my review to heart, because based on the information on their web site, the new version, Power Boot 3.0, has fixed most of the problems raised in the review. At the time of writing, however, I do not have a fully-functional copy of v3.0 to test.


If you already own Partition Magic 5.0 Pro, your multi-operating system layout is not too complex, and your budget is slim, then your best bet may be to simply install BootMagic. Ask yourself whether the loud boot-up screen, mandatory windows partition, and no boot drive letter control are important to you.

If one of the above is important, but your budget can't handle System Commander Deluxe's premium price, then get PowerBoot 3.0. (Caution: I haven't fully tested this version, so you're on your own.)

If you believe you get what you pay for, then get System Commander Deluxe. I declared it the winner almost two years ago in the Boot Manager Shootout series, and it is still is a superb product. One suggestion: you might want to wait for my review of the new product from V-Communications, System Commander 2000 before you spend your hard-earned cash.

Walter Metcalf

For Further Reading:

Tip #2: Cut the Recycle Bin Down to Size.

Partitions by Walter F. Metcalf


1 Note: For the sake of complete disclosure, let me state here that V-Communications, Inc. gave me a free copy of System Commander Deluxe for review purposes. However, I have taken due care not to let this affect my evaluation.

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