Sooner or later, hard disk drives will die. Either of old age or infirmity, or simply replaced by something newer, better, faster, cheaper. Flash memory? Perhaps.
In the meantime, we still have last century disk drives that spin platters at high speeds and store all our files, photos, movie clips, music, and apps. How do we know when that rapidly spinning disk drive is about to spin no more?
A S.M.A.R.T Idea
Most Mac and PC hard disk drives come with a built-in hardware monitoring system. It automatically checks a number of internal indicators in an attempt to find and warn of a potential failure.
This monitoring system is called S.M.A.R.T.
It means Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology.
The idea is that the hard disk drive should test itself and warn someone when it fails specific tests. Unfortunately, your Mac’s disk drive, which holds everything you hold digitally dear, can’t speak to you. You have to ask it questions.
In other words, S.M.A.R.T is a good idea, perhaps poorly implemented. To find out what your Mac’s disk drive is saying you need a utility app that asks the right questions.
A SMART Utility
Mac users have a number of apps available which can help diagnose, and, in some cases, repair hard disk drive problems.
SMART Utility is a Mac app that polls your Mac’s hard disk drives, checks status and information, in an attempt to pick up on any irregularities that could cause a problem, and give you a proper warning.
Here’s a screen shot of SMART Utility reporting bad sectors in a disk drive.
Information about the disk drive is displayed, including total power on hours, bad sectors, errors, error type (if known), and more. Disk drive information is extensive, but may not tell you much that’s valuable.
SMART Utility will display information using Growl notification (a separate utility), otherwise, it displays information in the Mac’s Menubar. It also saves disk drive information reports so you can view them later. Scanning of the hard disk drive takes place in the background and all information can be saved to a log file.
A Not So SMART Utility
Any additional warning that a Mac’s hard disk drive is about to fail is welcome. That gives users time to get a replacement drive, and backup important files.
Here’s the problem with S.M.A.R.T. It doesn’t always work. Better safe than sorry applies, yes, but S.M.A.R.T’s history is checkered at best. My experience mirrors that of many Mac and PC users. Disk drives die when they want to, and won’t necessarily tell you when they’re about to kick the bucket.
We’ve reported on SMART Reporter, a free Mac app that works similarly to SMART Utility (which is commercial, though it has more extensive capability) and checks the disk drives S.M.A.R.T status.
S.M.A.R.T has improved functionality in modern disk drives. Disk utilities utilize more of the data captured by S.M.A.R.T. Mechanical failures reportedly account for about two-thirds of all disk drive failures. That’s not surprising. There are moving parts inside.
A Google test of 100,000 hard disk drives with S.M.A.R.T indicated nominal predictive value for a failure, but pointed out that some information (scan errors and reallocation errors) is valuable and does correlate with failure rates.
To Do, Or Not To Do SMART
Should you use SMART Utility or SMART Reporter if there’s no guarantee they won’t work and identify a failing hard disk drive? Well, how valuable is your data? And, can you guarantee that the hard disk drive won’t fail. In other words, a little warning is better than no warning at all.