Save your Mac's hard drive with DiskWarrior 5

Of all the tools you can keep in a Mac utility toolbox, one of the most important involves whatever you'll use to recover data from a failing or messed up hard drive. And the tool I always go to first when I'm having drive troubles is Alsoft's DiskWarrior. DiskWarrior 5 is now available, so let's take a look at what's new.

I'll admit that for a while, I'd given up hope that Alsoft was ever going to upgrade DiskWarrior with a new version — after all, version 4 debuted in 2006, when Intel Macs were still a novelty, and had only been incrementally updated over the years. Fortunately that changed in December, when Alsoft began shipping DiskWarrior 5.

What took so long?

Apple has made a lot of changes to OS X and to the Mac over the years. For a long time, DiskWarrior was able to roll with the punches, but those changes caught up with the software over time. Basically, it ain't easy to do software like this right, and the folks at Alsoft had to go back to square one. DiskWarrior 5 is pretty much completely different code than any version of DiskWarrior 4.

Anyway, enough about that: Bottom line is that DiskWarrior 5 is out in the world. Let's take a look at how it works.

Right off the bat, something's different about DiskWarrior 5 than its forebears: It ships on a USB thumbdrive. The last version shipped on an optical disk. The change only makes sense; after all, Macs don't ship with optical drives anymore, but they all have USB ports.

Acknowledging the death of optical drives on the Mac is only scratching the surface, though. DiskWarrior's been rebuilt with 64-bit support, so it can now handle the huge hard drives (and big Time Capsule drives) that gave its forebear fits.

And while DiskWarrior 5 is backward-compatible with older Macs (even supporting PowerPC-era Macs), it's been completely rewritten to support the latest Apple technology. It's also been thoroughly optimized, so it runs appreciably faster than it used to.

DiskWarrior 5 interface

When you launch DiskWarrior 5, you're presented with three basic features: Directory, Files and Hardware. Directory is what you use to rebuild a Mac's hard disk drive directory — the main meat of what makes DiskWarrior so incredibly important. Files let you repair permissions and check files for damage. And Hardware calls on your hard disk's built-in diagnostics to determine whether or not it's working okay (it can also report problems to you via a few different methods, including popups and e-mails).

DiskWarrior works differently from many other Mac disk recovery utilities by rebuilding the directory completely rather than trying to fix it. It locates all salvageable files and folders, then creates a new error-free directory for you to use.

DiskWarrior preview interface

DiskWarrior goes through a process of creating, verifying and comparing a new directory to what's on the drive, then presents you with a "preview" that lets you examine the directory structure yourself, so you can see if anything's out of place. Once you're satisfied that DiskWarrior has done its, you click on "Replace" and it does the rest. The amount of time it takes from start to finish depends entirely on what you're trying to restore and what the speed and working condition of the drive is, but it's much faster than it was before.

If you've already tried another disk utility that's failed to recover your drive contents, holding down the option key when you rebuild will pop up an advanced menu; a "Scavenge" checkbox will enable DiskWarrior to attempt to undo any damage from other software before continuing.

If you ever run into a complete show-stopper with DiskWarrior, don't forget to give Alsoft a call. They stand behind their product 100 percent, and can often help when the software hits stuff it can't handle.

DiskWarrior's Hardware feature comes in handy if you're trying to troubleshoot a problem with a drive that supports S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology), which is common feature on many hard drives.

By the time you actually start paying attention to the drive's operation, it's probably too late to do much with S.M.A.R.T. information, but it has some uses, especially for system administrators and other support personnel who need to keep systems up and running around the clock. Those folks can set up DiskWarrior to monitor the drive's status and ping you if there's a problem - either through an alert, an e-mail, by executing an AppleScript or by sending a text message from an email account.

To get the most out of it, DiskWarrior needs to be running from a drive other than the one you're trying to save. So it's a good utility to have on a backup hard drive that you use only for recovery, or even on a separate computer. That's how I used it: I have it installed on multiple computers, which I connect using a Thunderbolt cable. I reboot the affected computer in Target mode (holding down the T key on boot) to try to connect its hard drive to the machine I want to run DiskWarrior from.

The good

  • Recovers stuff I can't get using any other utility
  • Remade for modern Macs and ready for big storage
  • Faster and easier to use than ever
  • Superlative customer service

The bad

  • Nothing appreciable

The bottom line

A recent backup should always be your first line of defense against a failing or corrupted hard drive. But as far as tools to repair Mac hard disks go, DiskWarrior is once again at the top of the list, thanks to a complete revamp with version 5.

Peter Cohen
  • I've been a user of DiskWarrior since it first came out, using it on my PowerMac G4 (and maybe even a Duo 230 before that). Utterly indispensable utility for a Mac owner. When I heard that they were coming out with a new version on a thumbdrive I called customer service and ordered immediately. I only use three utilities on a regular basis and the other two (Oxyx, Disk Utilities) are free.
  • Hi Peter, running a new iMac right now, but on my previous iMac, I had some problems and the late, great First Tech shop ( the first Apple Store in the world!) that just closed last year helped me fix it by using Disk Warrior. They recommended I buy a copy and, now, I've upgraded to DW5. But because those guys are no longer in business, can you outline some of the classic signs that something is going wrong and might indicate that running DW is warranted? That time I needed it, the display would flash a weird pixelated screen now and again. Thanks!
  • Any unusual slowdowns or crashes can indicate a damaged directory. Run DiskWarrior. If your whole machine locks up (very rare nowadays) or won't start at all you should definitely run DiskWarrior. If your machine won't start, plug in the DW thumb drive and turn on the Mac while holding the OPTION key. Click on the icon for the DW thumb drive. DiskWarrior will start up after the machine boots up. I run it every couple of months when I think about it to make sure everything is okay. I don't even use Disk Utility to check disks; I go right for DW. As Peter mentioned, it performs two important functions: rebuilding the directory and checking all files and folders (and permissions on boot drives). You should probably do both whenever using DW.
  • Thanks for the heads up! Quick question: are you saying its a good idea to run DW routinely even though no problems are obvious?
  • DW can do things like directory optimization, which Alsoft claims can improve overall performance. YMMV.
  • It doesn't hurt to run DiskWarrior occasionally to check for damaged files / directory / volume info.. I wouldn't do it too often. Since my Macs get light use (he types on his iPad), checking the drives every few months is fine. If they saw heavy use, I'd check more often. [Edit to my original comment: No need to have it rebuild the drive's directory unless the directory is badly fragmented or you suspect it's damaged. Also, as the article mentions, good backups are critical.] BTW, wouldn't it be nice to be able to run DW on your iOS devices? Oh, well.
  • Will Disk Warrior work with drives that have already failed and are slaved to another Mac?
  • Depends entirely on what the condition of the drive is. DiskWarrior can save data from failing drives, but if they're completely kaput, probably not.
  • I have also been a user/purchaser of DiskWarrior since the beginning. But be warned that if you press the wrong button during the purchase of this version Alsoft will refuse to even consider a partial refund. In haste I pushed the buy button, instead of the upgrade button, and was charged double, told that although Alsoft knew I was a long-time customer there was NOTHING they could do. A good product but horrible treatment of their customers.
  • Wow, I agree that someone saying "there's nothing I can do" is a total crock of butter. But, one incident doesn't mean they have horrible customer service. I've been dealing with Apple for 6 years now, and have had 1 or 2 bad experiences on the AppleCare line. Overall, I rate AppleCare as perhaps the top technical support service globally, across all genres. And Microsoft, near the bottom... My guess, is you hit someone who was told, or who thought, there was nothing they can do. I see this a lot in the telecommunications/ISP business. You just have to ask for a manager, who will probably back them up at first, but if you are persistent you should be able to get what you want.
  • Peter,
    Do you have any experience with Drive Genius that you could compare to Disk Warrior? I have the former and was a bit disappointed. IMHO, wasn't a heck of a lot better than Disk Utility. Is DW more effective at salvaging hard drives than DG? Thanks, DaMacGuy
  • DMG: We use Drive Genius (and other utilities) at the store I work at (not an endorsement, just an observation). It's good at certain kinds of file recovery. My gut instinct, just based on experience, is to start with DiskWarrior and work my way out from there.
  • I use both Drive Genius and Disk Warrior. They are very different programs with different features. The bottom line is, if I have a problem, other apps (Drive Genius Included) can fail, Disk Warrior always works. It has been my go to app for years.
  • I remember DiskWarrior fondly. If I had a disk today that needed directory repairs, I'd absolutely use it first. But if I'm honest, I don't think I've had that sort of problem since 2009 or so. It makes it hard to justify.
  • Years ago I would use DW as my go-to disk repair utility. Like @Tewha, I rarely find myself needing it these days. Either OSX is better at keeping the disk directory running well or modern hard drives have improved - I really don’t know. Any thoughts on this Peter? I’m happy to see its been updated and although I rarely find I need it, I might buy it just in case. Speaking of disk utilities from the past, I used to also install Applejack on my Macs. A great utility that hasn’t been updated since 2010 I believe.
  • Any thoughts on this Peter?
    Obviously as in all things, Your Mileage May Vary™. If you don't need it, then you don't need it. Personally I'd find it hard to justify if I were just using one computer and had regular backups. But my use case is a bit different: I take care of all the computers in my house, and my wife and three kids all have their own. So I run a mini-IT department, and having tools like DiskWarrior has saved my bacon more times than I can count.
  • Stellar Volume Repair is a newbie software that repairs HFS drive cryptic errors. It handles Invalid B tree node errors. The best part of the software is pricing which is half of DW. But again DW has more features other than drive repair. SVR could be a good choice for repairing the drive in minimal cost. Well it depends upon the circumstances too.