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Beginners Guides: Diagnosing Bad Hard Drives

Beginners Guides: Diagnosing Bad Hard Drives - PCSTATS
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Abstract: Know... before your hard drive kicks the bucket, taking all your data with it. Clickity-click, time to defuse that dying hard disk!
Filed under: Beginners Guides Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS May 01 2011   Mike Dowler  
Home > Reviews > Beginners Guides > PCSTATS

Warning signs to watch for

While you may be able to repair software errors caused by bad sectors, and in some cases you may be able to repair the bad sectors themselves, if your drive has begun to fail mechanically nothing will stop the process.

The catch then is to detect the imminent failure of your drives before they give out on you and data is lost. Let's look at some common warning signs of impending hard drive failure:

  • Frequent but irregular crashes, especially while booting up Windows.
  • Frequent and cryptic error messages while performing typical activities like moving files.
  • Folder and file names that have been scrambled and changed.
  • Disappearing files and folders.
  • Really loo....ong waits to access folders and files.
  • Hard disk is silent for a long period after you request data by opening a file or folder.
  • Garbled output from open files or printing.
  • Hard drive grinds away constantly because of noisy bearings.

Any of the above signs mean you should check your drive using one of the utilities we detail below as soon as possible.

Sound can be an excellent indicator of disk trouble. If you previously didn't hear a peep from your hard drive, but now you do... Check it. If it seems much louder than usual, or makes occasional clicks or grinding sounds... Check it ASAP and be prepared to backup your data and replace the drive.

If your drive is making regular clicking or grinding sounds, chances are you have a mechanical failure within the drive. Turn off your PC as soon as possible, as this kind of problem can quickly snowball into a huge headache that is way beyond the scope of a pair of Aspirin. The longer the drive is powered on, the more damage you may be doing to your data.

SMART: What it is and what it does

SMART stands for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology. This capability is standard on all modern hard drives, and provides each device with a degree of internal status monitoring. Used in conjunction with software, this can alert users to the impending failure of the disk.

The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) of most computer motherboards contain SMART monitoring software which can interpret the information from drives attached to the system and warn of potential trouble. However, this function is generally disabled by default since it slightly adds to the boot up time of the system.

The SMART monitoring system built into your computer's BIOS is rudimentary, usually only capable of telling you whether or not the drive is 'OK' based on the conclusion of its internal SMART diagnostics. The more advanced analysis features of this monitoring system can be accessed by using a drive analysis program that can fully query the drive's status.

SMART works by comparing a hard drives current performance in a number of areas to its ideal parameters. For example, the time it takes a drive to spin up to speed in order for data to be read from it is recorded by the SMART monitor and compared to the factory rated time. A discrepancy here could indicate problems with the motor or the bearings. SMART monitors up to 30 separate attributes of the disk (the actual number varies depending on how the manufacturers of both the drive and the motherboard have implemented the system).

It is advisable to turn on your computer's SMART monitoring option if you are worried about the status of your hard disks. This feature can be accessed though the system's BIOS settings page. To access this, press DEL repeatedly immediately upon powering up your system. Some manufacturers use other keys (like F2, or F6) or key combinations to access the BIOS. This information should be presented in the manual or on the POST screen of the system. SMART options are generally found within the 'advanced BIOS options' section of the BIOS.

Note that SMART is by no means reliable when it comes to predicting drive faults. First of all, it analyzes the physical attributes of the disk only, nothing else. SMART's effectiveness also depends on the way monitoring in implemented on your motherboard. There is no real standard for which SMART attributes should be monitored, or even what acceptable thresholds are. These variables are up to the manufacturer to provide, so there in no universal standard set of values. SMART should always be used in conjunction with a more in-depth disk monitoring tool like the ones we detail later in the article.

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS
 Pg 1.  Beginners Guides: Diagnosing Bad Hard Drives
 Pg 2.  How Hard Drives Can Fail
 Pg 3.  What do bad sectors mean?
 Pg 4.  — Warning signs to watch for
 Pg 5.  Hard disk diagnostic tools
 Pg 6.  Manufacturer Produced Hard Drive Utilities
 Pg 7.  HDD Diagnostic Software
 Pg 8.  Diagnostic Software con't
 Pg 9.  Fixing bad sectors - the last resort

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