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How S.M.A.R.T. is your hard drive?

While you're here why not take a look at our other tips and useful advice

by Brian K. Lewis, Ph.D.
Member of the Sarasota Personal Computer Users Group, Inc.

As we all know, hard drives do fail, often without any prior warning. Wouldn't it be nice if we could get some advance notice of a possible failure, so we could transfer our files to a new drive? Or, at the very least, make a backup of the drive. If you have purchased a computer or hard drive since 1996, it is very possible that you have a drive that is smart enough to predict it's own failure.

In 1992, IBM started producing drives that had Predictive Failure Analysis (PFA). This system monitored several drive attributes and could send a warning message when a specific threshold was reached. Eventually, this became an ANSI standard and is referred to as Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.). This technology is incorporated into most IDE and SCSI hard drives produced since 1996.

S.M.A.R.T. monitors a number of factors that relate to predictable drive failures. There are also unpredictable drive failures, but those we can't really do much about. Predictable failures occur as a result of bearing failure, cracked or broken read/write head, electronics module failure, changes in spin-up rate, etc. There are also factors related to the failure of the read/write surface, such as seek error rate, excessive bad sectors, and reallocated sector count. Most of these are factors that can be monitored. Then, when a threshold level is exceeded, a failure warning is transmitted. That's where the problem arises. Although the drives are capable of passing these warnings on to Windows, most computers don't have any software available to receive the warning and pass it on to the user! There is no response built into Windows to handle these warnings.

Some drive failures that occur because of changes to the drive surface may not be monitored by S.M.A.R.T. These surface changes can be detected by programs such as Chkdsk or ScanDisk. Therefore, you need to keep using Chkdsk or ScanDisk as part of your normal drive maintenance.

Another item of interest is that S.M.A.R.T. must be enabled in the BIOS on most computers. It may or may not be enabled on your computer. In computers with a recent AMI BIOS, the advanced setup has a S.M.A.R.T. entry that can be enabled or disabled. This is probably true for other BIOSes as well. For most current drives, this entry should be set to "enabled".

How can you tell if your drive is S.M.A.R.T. capable? When your system boots, if you can see the memory check and the hard drive identification, you can also see an entry that says SMART capable. It will indicate whether it is disabled or enabled. However, most major brand computers (IBM, Compaq, Dell, Gateway, etc.) display a logo during boot-up. You never see any of the boot information. Because of this, you would never see any S.M.A.R.T. status or failure message. In this case all you can do is to get into the BIOS or "Setup" and see if you can find an entry for S.M.A.R.T. status and ensure that it is enabled.

So how is a user going to take advantage of this S.M.A.R.T. failure reporting? If you can't see the boot messages, then you need to obtain a software package that will report this to you via a message window in Windows.

HDD Health is a full-featured failure-prediction agent for machines using Windows 95, 98, NT, Me, 2000 and XP. Sitting in the system tray, it monitors hard disks and alerts you to impending failure. The program uses a host of alerting features include email, local pop-up messages, net messages, and event logging, while using virtually no system resources.

Adenix S.M.A.R.T. Explorer  will pop up a window whenever any of the S.M.A.R.T. monitored parameters exceeds the drive manufacturer's specifications. Adenix S.M.A.R.T. Explorer is designed to monitor not only your computer's hard drive. It's capable of monitoring remote hard drives located on your network through DCOM technology.

Tip from PC-KING

There are four FREE programmes which I have running on my own PC's and are certainly worth trying for yourself provided you are willing to take the responsibility.

HDD Health and Adenix S.M.A.R.T. Explorer - All three are good simple straight forward programmes.

SpeedFan - This programme is aimed at the power user, you need to know what you are doing. In addition to monitoring your hard drive performance, it will also monitor cooling fan speeds, temperatures and voltages etc.

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Site Updated 17 Jan 2013 15:41


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