Today I want to talk about a specialist Linux distro which has saved me from pretty nasty situations more than once, Parted Magic 5.3. I believe that the best introduction to this fabulous distro is its feature list (extracted from the Parted Magic Official SITE).
- Format internal and external hard drives.
- Move, copy, create, delete, expand & shrink hard drive partitions.
- Clone your hard drive, to create a full backup.
- Test hard drives for impending failure.
- Test memory for bad sectors.
- Benchmark your computer for a performance rating.
- Securely erase your entire hard drive, wiping it clean from all data.
- Gives access to non-booting systems allowing you to rescue important data.
- Runs from CD or USB, no install required.
So as you can see, Parted Magic can indeed pull some impressive magic tricks off. Don't let that "specialist" flavor intimidate you, though, it simply means that this is not your typical full blown desktop, but a set of tools aimed at data recovery and partition management wrapped up in an optimized in a top performing package.
The Parted Magic team used to split their releases in two formats, a Live CD ISO image and a ZIP file containing files that were meant to allow the user to manually put together a Live USB. However, the latter option was complicated, specially for the average (unexperienced) user. As a result, the distro developers have decided to reduce the release format to a single one, the ISO image, and count on UnetBootin as the official tool to create a Live USB. For those who don't know or have not heard of UnetBootin, I wanted to briefly introduce it in this article, as it is a pretty neat tool that dramatically simplifies the creation of a Live USB.
Unetbootin is available on most major distros repositories, so you should be able to install it using your distro software manager of choice, no additional repositories required. Once installed, you only need two things: a USB drive with enough space available and the ISO image of a distro supported by UnetBootin.
Click on image to enlarge.
On the image above you can see UnetBootin in action on PCLinuxOS 2010. The interface is simple and intuitive. In order to create a Live USB, simply select the specific distro (in this case Parted Magic), the location of the ISO image (which I downloaded from HERE), and finally the mount location of your USB drive (make sure you get this last bit RIGHT!). In just a few minutes I had a bootable USB drive with Parted Magic on... Pretty neat stuff!
PARTED MAGIC FEATURES AT A GLANCE
Because Parted Magic is a specialist distro, I won't cover all of its features in depth here. Instead, I would like to provide just a high level view of what's available so you can tell if it is for you or not. Having said so, I would recommend keeping it with you on a Live CD or USB regardless. Believe me, you may find something miraculous about this magic at some point later down the line.
One neat feature about Parted Magic is that, given its extremely light weight, it can boot straight into memory, not requiring any hard drive interaction of any kind to function. In other words, you may use a Live CD or USB to boot and once the process completes, you may eject them for they are no longer needed. This is not only convenient, but it also allows for some impressive performance!
Click on image to enlarge.
The Parted Magic desktop, as depicted above, is clean and simple. There is a convenient text based widget monitoring the system resources on the fly. The most important and useful applications are easy to reach from desktop launchers, but lots more are available from the main menu, let's take a quick look.
The Accessories menu entry holds many interesting applications, as shown above. As expected, there are no fancy office suite apps in here and even the Sonar file manager feels a bit simplistic, but it's all perfect for what the distro is aimed for.
The Internet menu entry contains just a handful applications, but they are all good choices. Chromium takes the Internet browser role, something many should welcome. On top of that, a VNC client, which is good for access to remote computers, a few FTP clients and an IRC client, just in case we may need the occasional live discussion to clarify any doubts.
The System menu entry is where it is at, though. Ghost4Linux, GParted, Clonezilla, TestDisk and UnetBootin itself, among many others, make up for a host of terribly powerful applications which will help you mount many different filesystems, monitor drives and run healthchecks on them, fix potential problems and even clone entire systems.
All in all, Parted Magic is an awesome tool that can provide some invaluable help under difficult circumstances. Once again, I encourage keeping it around just in case. It is better to spare a CD or a small USB drive and never need to use Parted Magic, than having a problem and missing its company!