One of the best new tools that Windows Vista came out with was a built-in partition manager. Last fall, one company began offering a freeware remedy for Windows XP users. Easeus Partition Manager brings a robust and diverse set of drive management tools to users of both operating systems, and is poised to compete with Partition Magic and other pay-for-play programs' most basic features.

Easeus Partition Manager offers a robust toolset for partition management. (Credit: Easeus)

Unlike the excellent, but CD-based, Gparted, Easeus Partition Manager can run from your current XP or Vista 32-bit installation. EPM's basic features handle the biggest and most important partitioning tasks. You can resize, create, format, and delete partitions, and most functions can be completed without requiring a reboot. Resizing can be done visually, by adjusting the slider bar, or by entering in a precise size in the text field below. You can also drag the slider to achieve an approximate size, and then adjust the field manually to your specification. This may sound unintuitive, but it actually works quite well.

Once you've resized your drive, you can create a partition and a second drive in the newly-freed space. Hit the Create button to label the partition and choose a drive letter for it. While running, EPM will keep you informed of the progress of the overall task, as well as the multiple steps it takes in partitioning your drive. A helpful color key lives in the status bar at the bottom, divvying up drives by type as well as allocation use.

Easeus Partition Manager's simplistic interface belies what it can do. (Credit: Easeus)

The Set Active Partition feature allows you to set which partition your computer will boot from on default. Check Partition runs Windows' diagnostic tools scandisk and chkdisk.

Other major features for this RAID-compatible software include the ability to hide a partition for enhanced security, and copying a partition--useful for backing up your data. Copy will default to file copying, but will switch to a sector copy protocol if errors are encountered. When you copy, you can even have it automatically resize the partition to fit the target space. EPM can handle drives between 2 GB and 1.5 TB, and up to 32 distinct drives, making it scalable for complex home networks. Compatible drives include USB thumbdrives, SATA, IDE, Firewire, and SCSI.

In testing these features, the only glitch--and really, it was the only problem--I encountered occurred when a task had completed and the program window hid behind other active program windows. This did not, however, affect the use or execution of EPM.

As you can tell from the screenshots, EPM is not a pretty bird. Being ugly, however, doesn't mean that the interface is poorly designed. Big toolbar buttons, context menus, and left-nav listings make EPM easy to navigate and use. The clean layout makes up for the lack of polish, but longtime freeware users probably won't even notice the lack of glitter. Vista users with 64-bit systems and those who want EPM for businesses must purchase a license, but otherwise this is one of the best partitioning programs around, freeware or otherwise.