Hard Drive Utilities: S.M.A.R.T. Test Software 

Hard drive utilities such as the S.M.A.R.T. hard drive test software can be a useful way of determining or predicting when a hard drive will fail. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Self Monitoring Analysis and Report Technology and is an industry standard early warning system for hard drive failure incorporated into modern hard drives.

How Does S.M.A.R.T. Work?

This utility constantly runs tests on the hard drive and monitors various parameters or attributes set by the manufacturer of the hard drive, to ensure that the hard drive functions as it should. Making use of this utility may allow detection of an on-coming hard drive failure so that a replacement of the hard drive can occur before the failure. Some software that access the S.M.A.R.T. data make a prediction on how long the hard disk drive will last based on the monitored data at that time. These predictions are often quite outrageous and not very useful. However, taking note of changes that are occurring with the hard drive is important.

S.M.A.R.T. Data Example

The image below provides an example of S.M.A.R.T. data. 

A screenshot capture of software showing the S.M.A.R.T. data for a hard disk drive. This software is Hard Disk Sentinel.

This information is generally only visible with special software that can access the S.M.A.R.T. data. This hard drive software exists in a variety of forms and obtainable as freeware in some cases. Many hard disk drive failures occur after some signs of failure have existed for a while. The S.M.A.R.T. hard drive test software notices these signs or changes that occur with the hard drive immediately. However, hard drive utilities such as S.M.A.R.T. cannot predict sudden hard drive failures, which can still occur even though the software may have indicated that everything was working well.

Some examples can help illustrate how S.M.A.R.T. functions as a useful hard drive utility.

Spindle Bearing Failure

The possible onset of the failure of the spindle bearings can be reflected in the following S.M.A.R.T. parameters or attributes: changes in the spin up/spin down times of the hard drive, increases in the operating temperature of the hard disk drive, or changes in the current used by the spindle motor.

Head Crash

A decrease in the head flying height or in other words a narrowing of the gap between the magnetic heads that read the hard disk and hard disk surface could signal that a head crash will occur in the near future.

Other Hard Drive Utilities Parameters

Some other parameters that signal that hard drive failure is imminent include a rise in the number of remapped sectors, a rise in the number of corrected errors, and a reduction in the data transfer rate of the drive.

Software that Accesses S.M.A.R.T.

Hard drive utilities that can access the SMART data from the hard disk drive can also provide other useful information about the hard drive. Hard drive test software can provide information such as the manufacturer, model number, serial number, firmware version, current mode of operation, disk size, supported standard, number of cylinders, number of heads, sectors per track, power on hours, etc.

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