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Detect hard disk failures before they happen
Detect Drive Failure Before It Happens Hack
Monitor the condition of your disk drives for predictions of failure.
Roughly 60% of all disk drive failures are mechanical in nature—from
spindle-bearing wear to read/write heads banging into delicate disk platters—
and now technology built into the drives can report anticipated and
specific failures to give you a chance to rectify the situation, hopefully before
it is too late to retrieve your data.
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…)
Detect Drive Failure Before It Happens
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
When it’s time to recover partitions and data I unlock my arsenal of serious
disk recovery tools, which are:
• Steve Gibson’s SpinRite 6.0 (http://www.spinrite.com) for finding and
fixing or moving bad data blocks on FAT, NTFS, Linux, Novell, Macintosh,
and even TiVo volumes
• Ontrack’s Easy Data Recovery (http://www.ontrack.com) for digging
deep inside a drive and extracting recovered data to other media
• Symantec’s GHOST (http://www.symantec.com) to “peel” data off a bad
drive to a disk image for replacement onto another drive, or to extract
individual datafiles with Ghost Explorer
• Kurt Garloff’s dd_rescue (http://www.garloff.de/kurt/linux/ddrescue/) to
image Linux partitions to other media for later recovery use (see http://
www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/5205 for an excellent write-up and tips)
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://