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Parted Magic 6.6 review – the general-purpose recovery distro that can

Originally built as a way to easily partition a hard drive, Parted Magic has evolved into an impressive system recovery live CD. Gareth Halfacree tests the latest build...

Pros: The wealth of utilities in the latest release is outstanding, and the CD is quick to boot
Cons: The size of the ISO has grown, and there have been a few bugs in recent releases
Homepage: Parted Magic

If you’re a regular Linux User reader – and if you’re not, you should correct that forthwith – you’ll be familiar with Parted Magic as one of the utilities we include on our cover disc each month. The chances are good that you’ve never actually tried it, however – and if that’s the case, you’re missing a real treat.

Originally developed as little more than a bare-bones boot disc designed to run a disk partitioning utility, Parted Magic has evolved over the years to become a fully-fledged recovery distribution with tools for managing storage devices, profiling and testing hardware, and even recovering lost files. It’s even possible to use Parted Magic as a general-purpose distribution, as it ships with features including video and audio playback support and the Firefox 5.0 web browser.

The Openbox-based desktop is fast and includes shortcuts to common tasks

The most recent major change in Parted Magic was the decision to take the originally slimline CD and bulk it out a bit with additional features: the 5.x family added support for multiple languages to make things easier for non-native speakers, while the 6.x family increased the number of supported processor architectures from one – i486 – to three – i486, i686, and x86_64.

Parted Magic has always enjoyed a relatively rapid update cycle as its maintainers find new applications to include and upgrade its various packages, although recent hiccoughs have led to a slightly out-of-control release schedule: when we started this review, we downloaded Parted Magic 6.4, only to see Parted Magic 6.5 released two days later with fixes for the included CloneZilla. Just as we’d got our heads around that, Parted Magic 6.6 – the version used for this review – was released just a day after 6.5, following reports of a bug which stopped the software from properly resizing NTFS partitions.

Parted Magic hasn’t forgotten its roots, and is still handy for managing storage devices

Those issues aside, there’s a lot to like in Parted Magic. The live CD boots into the lightwieght Openbox desktop environment, and includes icons for quick access to commonly used tasks like disk partition table editing – via GParted – network management – including support for wireless networks – and the extremely handy System Profiler, which creates a report detailing all the hardware in a given machine for diagnostic purposes.

That last feature demonstrates how flexible Parted Magic has become: current versions include software for system profiling, stress-testing hardware, recovering deleted files, and even the group-test winning encryption package TrueCrypt (see Issue 104.)
A look at the packages installed by default also reveals the Firefox web browser, and while it’s not the most recent version it’s a welcome addition to Parted Magic’s feature set, and makes searching for solutions to problems easy even if you’ve only got the one PC.
The inclusion of all these extras does slightly dilute Parted Magic’s original purpose, however: built as a lightweight live CD which was quick to download and small enough to keep on even the cheapest flash drive, the distribution’s file size has skyrocketed in recent versions. Where Parted Magic 1.9 – released in 2007 – was a mere 30MB in size, the most recent version is a rather beefier 172MB.

One of the most useful tools on Parted Magic gives a detailed insight into a system’s hardware

The inclusion of the extras, while welcome, also means that Parted Magic now competes with more general purpose live CDs like the SystemRescueCd and the Ubuntu Rescue Remix. While it’s excellent feature set means it’s more than capable of holding its own in such company, purists may miss its more streamlined incarnations.

With all that said, Parted Magic is still a great tool to have in your collection, and you’ll be thanking us for its presence on the cover disc the first time it gets you out of a sticky situation.

Verdict: 4/5
While Parted Magic might not be the focused, single-use tool it once was, it has blossomed into a capable general-purpose recovery distribution. Whether you need to partition drives, stress test a system, or even just browse the web, it’s more than capable – and bugs like those in recent versions are quickly found and fixed.