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PC Hacks
By Jim Aspinwall
October 2004
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Detect Drive Failure Before It Happens

[Discuss (3) | Link to this hack]

In addition to monitoring a variety of parameters related to mechanical events (disk platter RPM, time to spin up, motor current, head seek failures, and sudden shock to the drive chassis), S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology) can report read and write retry attempts necessary due to defective areas on the disk or head failure or drive temperature. Many S.M.A.R.T.-enabled drives can also report how many times they have been turned on and off and the number of hours the drive has been on.

If S.M.A.R.T. is enabled in your system BIOS, the BIOS will check and report any early or permanent signs of disk failure. You can also monitor your drive's condition with a S.M.A.R.T.-aware disk monitoring program.

To view all available S.M.A.R.T. information about your drive, try the free DiskCheck utility from http://www.passmark.com/products/diskcheckup.htm. DiskCheck is a nonresident utility that will show you exact drive information and all of the supported S.M.A.R.T. statuses from your drive. There's also Ariolic Software's ActiveSMART (http://www.ariolic.com/activesmart/) resident monitoring tool, which provides a wealth of detail on drive status and notification of potential failures. If you get a S.M.A.R.T. warning about a drive failing, back up your data immediately and replace the drive.

Hacking the Hack

A failing disk drive is no fun. A failed disk drive is even less so. In my work in various IT shops, I've encountered a lot of grieving "Have I lost all of my data?" looks from end users. It is indeed a sad time, but an opportunity to become a hero. If you can spend the time with various tools to attempt, and even better succeed, at saving someone else's work, you can feel like you actually accomplished something in the course of your day besides resetting some forgetful user's password or plugging their mouse back in.

A plethora of disk drive repair and data recovery tools are available to help you emulate that fictional superhero "Super DataMan." (OK, he doesn't really exist, I made him up...)

I've long since given up on the pedestrian Norton Utilities like Norton Disk Doctor because it does not do enough to spend the time running it, especially for those really cranky lost partitions, erratic mechanical problems inside the drive, and when S.M.A.R.T. says the drive is bad or going to be bad soon.

When it's time to recover partitions and data I unlock my arsenal of serious disk recovery tools, which are:

If your own data recovery efforts fail, you can always resort to a data recovery service like Ontrack (http://www.ontrack.com) or ActionFront (http://www.actionfront.com).

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