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Four Compression And Archiving Solutions Compared

Four Compression And Archiving Solutions Compared

Data compression is a subject that most of us typically take for granted. But in fact, it surrounds us: every installation package for a new piece of software and many file formats, such as JPEG for photos and various video and audio formats, depend on heavy compression to conserve storage space or transmission time and cost.

Users touch file compression first-hand when they need to work under certain restrictions when handling files. For example, having only one file to work with instead of many is often important for instance messenger- and FTP-based transfers. And getting a high compression ratio to fit data onto a fixed medium can be a critical factor as well.

But don't forget that compression and decompression also take time, and the processing muscle required to make these processes worth waiting on can be substantial, especially when you start factoring in encryption as well. We've received a lot of feedback from our readers in response to the compression tools tested in our processor and platform benchmarks. So, today we're looking at four different compression utilities: 7-Zip, FreeArc, WinRAR, and WinZip, comparing compression ratios and processing time. Which utility turns out to be the best?

There are plenty of software options available for storing, compressing, and archiving data in different ways. These tools no longer simply reduce file size and merge your input files into a single, manageable archive. They also support automatic downsizing of images, virus-checking, content-checking to avoid unnecessary compression of files that already are compressed, splitting, encrypting, and more.

Regardless of the value-added functionality your favorite tool includes, a comparison of compression programs typically comes down to performance and effectiveness (at least, when you ask enthusiasts). It’s important to realize a high compression ratio, ideally across as many file types as possible, and quick processing time is desirable, too. Most tools are capable of handling at least the popular ZIP format, and sometimes also RAR and/or LZH. Some tools claim to be more efficient or offer more flexibility. However, which format offers the best overall value when considering compression and processing time? Do all tools provide similar performance on common containers, such as ZIP?

We can’t possibly test all available compression tools, so we decided to focus on some of the most popular ones, based on your feedback in past stories. WinRAR and WinZip dominate the field, almost without question. 7-Zip and FreeArc were our additional choices. Let’s have a look at what these can do for you.

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  • 2 Hide
    amillion , 11 March 2010 15:53
    Aw no you didn't test PK-ZIP!!
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , 11 March 2010 16:44
    I have used 7-Zip for a while, hats of to the Developers
  • 3 Hide
    mi1ez , 12 March 2010 17:09
    Bloody hell! PK-zip! not used that in over 10 years!
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , 12 March 2010 18:20
    Great article. Always used WinRAR and never really took 7-Zip seriously, but may now!
  • 1 Hide
    mi1ez , 12 March 2010 18:47
    Can't remember why I started using 7zip, but I certainly won't be changing any time soon!
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , 12 March 2010 18:56
    Thanks for a nice article. One potentially important aspect of archiving does not seem to be mentioned, and it would be really useful to see it considered. This is the archive format: solid or non-solid.

    By default 7-Zip uses solid compression, which gives it an advantage in compression ratios, particularly when compressing lots of relatively small files. Conversely, WinRAR use non-solid compression by default, which provides a significant performance advantage if you want access specific files within the archive rather than only extracting the complete archive.
  • 2 Hide
    wild9 , 13 March 2010 07:29
    Would it be possible to use GPU's for this kind of task?

    In terms of which compression program I use, I prefer WinRAR. I often work with huge video files and a limited amount of disk space, so what I do is RAR the files to a smaller size (some compress really well), so that they can be batch processed them at a later date (transcoded from uncompressed AVI to Divx). I find WinRAR fast and flexible; it's cool being able to alter the priority and compression profile on-the-fly.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , 13 March 2010 20:51
    As a Linux user I use the default compression tool which happens to be 7-Zip.
  • 0 Hide
    jamesedgeuk2000 , 15 March 2010 17:56
    So 7zip is the best? we already knew that! why did you even bother with winzip? were not running 98SE here, .zip file functionality has been native to windows for almost a decade making winzip about as useful as the pkzip.exe it replaced
  • 0 Hide
    wifiwolf , 16 March 2010 00:34
    I've been using winrar since early 90s. It was always much better than zip though arc was nice for executables. Never bothered to look for others. But 7zip really impressed since the difference in compression is marginal whether best compression or default is used while time compressing is very impressive. Its important though to test that theory about using solid archives. I've always avoid solid archives because they're harder to recover from errors and you can't access individual files.
  • 0 Hide
    smartroad , 21 March 2010 15:18
    What about windows built in zip folder thingy ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    wasabi-warrior , 22 March 2010 06:51
    7zip is really good, but i use IZArc (yeah, i kno, uve never heard of it) simply because its tiny and ive never had a file type it couldnt open. People are always sending me weird file types. We should have a file compatability test for the 4 compression programs just tested, see if they actually are useful at opening different compressed files.