Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Diagnosing Your Hard disk - The Smart way

Be SMART in predicting hard disk’s death

Even if you backup your data every second - in real time, you just can’t afford to loose your hard disk drive (HDD) at any unpredictable moment. For example, imagine the odd situation when your Notebook Computer’s hard disk crashes while you are giving an impressive multimedia presentation to a large audience. All your efforts in making impressive presentation scores negative impression thanks to sudden death of your HDD. To know the possible HDD trouble in advance(a sort of predicting death of HDD), you can arm yourself by using some hard disk diagnostic tools that analyze your HDD for its health and report (predicts) its bad condition well in advance to its possible crash. Newer HDD support Self Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART). The HDD that support SMART have all the necessary circuitry and program built in its logic card and all you have to do is enable the SMART function through BIOS setting from your computer. Note that if you have a few years old computer, then this support may not be available in your BIOS, and you need to upgrade it. Similarly, old hard disk drives may not support SMART.

SMART can reduce system down time by assessing the reliability of HDD. It monitors health status of HDD, monitors drive temperature, prevents data loss, monitor things that may lead to a HDD crash and predicts possible drive failure using special algorithms and comparison with preset values. SMART system also monitors performances of HDD’s intricate parts such as cables, motor, media (platters), head and other electronic parts. If SMART detects a fault in your HDD, you are immediately alerted through pop-up messages, sound or e-mail / messenger notification etc. Once a HDD is diagnosed as having serious problem by SMART, it should immediately be replaced. Though SMART works through BIOS and HDD’s built in utility, you can use some third party SMART compliant HDD diagnostic utility that checks your HDD to a bit advanced level and report HDD problems a bit friendly way.

SeaTools

This is a SMART compliant HDD diagnostic tool from Seagate, the prominent HDD manufacturer. The utility runs from a bootable floppy having a version of DOS. You can download the utility from www.seagate.com. Upon executing the utility, it creates a bootable floppy disk that contains entire necessary program on it. Now, to check your HDD, you need to boot through this floppy. SeaTools has variety of check for your HDD. It can check Seagate make HDD thoroughly, yet it can even check HDD of other make in generic mode. The tool is menu based and you simply have to select the options you want to check. It has three main diagnostic test- Short diagnostic, Generic Dianostic, and Extended test. The application asks you to test either through drive self test (DST) or through computer. It scans outer and inner diameter of platters, performs random seek and read, data compare and finally checks electrical and mechanical parts for their correct functioning. While Generic and Short test takes only couple of minutes, extended test takes 90 seconds per GB for testing HDD. It means for a 40 GB HDD, it takes more than an hour for a complete extended test. Hence it is recommended that you first run Short or Generic test, and if you find any error message, only then go for the Extended test. The application can also check file structure if you have FAT in your HDD. Other file systems are not supported yet.

Other HDD manufacturers have their own brand of HDD diagnostic utility. Maxtor has PowerMax, IBM has SmartDefender, and Samsung has HUTIL. All these proprietary utility are capable to test and diagnose HDD only of their respective brand. For example, you cannot check a Seagate HDD with Maxtor’s PowerMax. These utilities can be downloaded from the respective manufacturer’s web sites.

Active SMART

DOS based HDD diagnostic utilities have their limitations. You have to boot from a floppy to run them to know the condition of your HDD. Often this may not be possible and you need a tool that constantly monitors the status of your HDD and report the abnormal events and errors while you are working. Active SMART is one such utility. Once installed, it constantly monitors the status of your HDD in background. If any HDD parameter changes and reached to abnormal limits, it immediately reports you through variety of measures such as pop-up messages, sound, and email/messenger messages. The incidents of value changes and errors are also recorded on a log file to refer or analyze at later time. Active SMART can be downloaded from www.ariolic.com .

Drive Health

HDD diagnostic and reporting is easy with Windows based utility Drive Health. Upon installation, it creates a tray bar icon indicating present temperature status of the selected HDD. Drive Health monitors your HDD in background and displays problem in HDD. It even predicts possible failure date of a HDD. Drive Health provides you condition of your HDD through SMART attributes. In general, you need not worry about the value of these attributes. In any case, if it detects an error or possible failure, it will warn you in advance. It displays nearest T.E.C. (threshold Exceeded Condition) for a HDD. It is unknown for a good HDD. If it is very low then you should really worry about this HDD if not panic. You can download the trial version of Drive Health from www.drivehealth.com .

As of now, SMART’s prediction of HDD failure is not 100 percent accurate. It may provide with false alarms and wrong predictions. It may fail in detecting the HDD trouble. Despite having SMART enabled HDD diagnostic utility installed in a computer, its HDD may crash without any prior notice. However, as the SMART technology emerges, fairly good degree of true prediction may be possible. Till then, being smart in handling HDD is perhaps the only SMART way.

Screen shot descriptions:

  1. Hddhel01 HDD manufacturer Maxtor’s proprietary HDD diagnostic utility PowerMax runs from a boot floppy so as to access HDD directly and evaluate it for possible errors.
  2. Hddhel02 If a failed HDD is tested for detecting problem area, and if it is detected by the HDD diagnostic utility, then it is displayed as Passed or Failed against respective attributes. This test is helpful in pinpointing the problems of HDD and finding their possible solutions.
  3. Hddhel03 HUTIL – the HDD testing utility from Samsung. It tests only Samsung make HDDs.
  4. Hddhel04 Seagate’s Seatool Startup Disk creator tool creates a bootable floppy disk that has all the necessary HDD diagnostic tools. Seatool has capability to test other than Seagate HDDs in generic mode.
  5. Hddhel05 Maxtor has HDD diagnostic utility similar to that of Seagate’s, but it tests only Maxtor’s HDD.
  6. Hddhel06 IBM’s Smart Defender is a feature full HDD diagnostic utility but it detects and tests only IBM HDD.
  7. Hddhel07 Active SMART the Windows based application tests all kinds of SMART compliant HDD. It runs constantly in background and report abnormal behavior including failed attributes of HDD.
  8. Hddhel08 Active SMART can give you Warning about your ailing HDD in variety of ways such as pop-up window, log file, email messages or through sound events.
  9. Hddhel09 Drive Health is SMART compliant HDD diagnostic tool available for Windows platform. Its friendly user interface lets you know the present status of your HDD at a glance. It places a tray bar icon that indicates the temperature of HDD.

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