Windows Vista users may already know that it's possible to shrink and extend partitions without losing any data using the Disk Management Console.

As such, it's possible to partition your hard drive without spending a penny. So why would you want to shell out for a commercial product like this?

Unlimited software

When it comes to partitioning, there's nothing much that Partition Manager can't do.

Basic stuff such as creating, formatting and deleting partitions is already covered by Windows' Disk Management tool, but while Vista can also shrink and extend volumes, Partition Manager can redistribute free space from one partition to another without data loss.

It's also able to merge and hide/unhide partitions, and convert a partition between different types (primary or logical) and file systems (such as FAT32 and NTFS).

This is all good stuff for the advanced user, but there's more.

Back-up wizard

Mindful perhaps of the dangers of fiddling with partitions, Paragon has bundled a simple back-up wizard to image your data prior to making major changes.

It's a cut-down version of Paragon's sister title (the excellent Hard Drive Backup tool), so while it's straightforward to use you can only back up to other hard drives, and there's no data verification option.

There's also a tool for migrating a drive's contents to another drive or partition. This is ideal if you're upgrading a hard drive and don't want to mess around with reinstalling anything.

No need to install

Partition Manager also features Boot Manager, which is coupled with a wizard for helping you set up a dual-boot system on the same hard drive.

Although it can hide all other primary partitions on the same drive (fixing the System Restore problem encountered on dual-boot Vista and XP machines), it's not elegant and you can only get rid of it by updating the drive's MBR using the main program.

We liked the fact that you can run the program from CD within Windows, so you don't need to clutter up your system by installing it. Better still, the CD doubles up as an emergency boot disc, so there's no need to create rescue media when you first use it.

User-friendly interface

Version 9 adds a new front-end to mask the cluttered main interface. This provides shortcuts to various wizards through a launcher app that won't win awards for attractiveness, but gets the job done.

Despite this attempt to offer more handholding, we must be honest: partitioning is not for the novice. During the course of our review we managed to lose access to two key partitions. We were able to recover them, but only after much fiddling with the program's settings.

No amount of wizards will ever hide the fact this is a program for experienced users with backups of the drives they're playing with.

Paragon is a perfectly competent tool, but the ease with which we nearly lost a partition's worth of data also reminds us that it's not foolproof and doesn't really make it clear about how you get your partitions back if you take a wrong turn.

It may not be essential, but it does prove more useful and versatile than the limited tools that ship with Windows.