Hard Drive Diagnostics

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Hard drive failure can be devastating, particularly if it’s been a while since you backed up your data. It can lead to costly data retrieval or worse, loss of data if your drive becomes completely corrupted. Don’t be caught by surprise: make it a habit to regularly run a hard drive diagnostics software tool or at least know what to do if your drive begins to show signs of imminent failure.

A traditional hard drive is similar to a DVD or (for those of us that remember them) a record player. Data is written to one or more “hard” disks that spin really fast; there’s a read/write spindle that accesses and records data on the disk. Physical drive failure is sometimes precluded by an audible clicking that indicates that the spindle isn’t properly moving over the disk or that the disk itself is no longer spinning smoothly. In other cases, a failing drive will lead to reported errors upon boot up, intermittent system crashes, or unexplained “glitches.”

our nerds can diagnose or fix a failing drive!

The first step if you suspect that your drive may be failing is to back up your data as soon as possible. The more you use a failing drive the more you risk the data that’s stored on it becoming completely inaccessible. For more info on backing up your data, see my article here: http://www.callnerds.com/data-backup-basics/

Even if your drive isn’t showing signs of imminent death, it’s a good idea to get forewarned of potential problems before they affect your productivity. Integrate a hard drive diagnostics test into your routine maintenance and aim to scan your disk at least a couple of times a year. The process can take several hours, so plan to run the scan after hours.

Windows XP, Vista or 7 users should run the disk check application integrated into Windows to scan for bad sectors and run basic reliability tests. Open “My Computer” or access “Computer” via the start menu and right click on the drive that you want to test. Typically you’re going to select “C:” though if you have data stored on a secondary drive you should run the check on all drives, one at a time. Click on “Properties” and choose the “Tools” tab from the options that appear. Select “Check Now.”

There are two optional check boxes: “Automatically fix file system errors” allows Windows to fix software errors found during the scan. “Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors” allows the software to identify and partition off sectors of the drive that aren’t functioning properly, and then instruct your system not to write data to those sectors in the future.

If you don’t have access to the tool integrated into Windows or if it doesn’t give you the information you need, consider installing the free version of HD Tune (www.hdtune.com), designed for home users looking to scan a single drive. It will scan your disk for errors and give you access to the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) information that your hard drive maintains. This data can give you a reasonable idea of the health of your hard drive. Access to additional tests, monitoring and support for scanning external drives is available to those who opt for the Pro version ($34.95).

Most hard drive manufacturers offer free diagnostic tools that you can download and use to test the viability of your drive. Under the same Properties menu box you accessed to run Windows’ disk check program, select the Hardware tab. Your hard drive’s manufacturer and model will be listed among “All Drives.” Use this info to search online for your hard drive manufacturer’s diagnostic tool.

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