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How to check the age and condition of a hard drive

S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology; often written as SMART).

S.M.A.R.T in short is the history of the hard drive and the events it has logged during the course of time it has been Powered On (POH – Powered on Hours). S.M.A.R.T has a very broad range of events that can be recorded that may vary depending on the hard drive manufacturer. However, all ATA hard drives record the attributes of the most relevant information. We’ll outline what we consider relevant to the health and operational readiness of your hard drive below:

  • Power On Hours. Raw Attribute 09 = The number of Powered On Hours this device has been in use.
  • Reallocated Sector Count. Raw Attribute 05 = Bad sectors have been identified and remapped.
  • Reallocation Events. Raw Attribute C4 = Count of remap operations. The raw value of this attribute shows the total number of attempts to transfer data from reallocated sectors to a spare area. Both successful and unsuccessful attempts.
  • Pending Sectors Raw Attribute =C5. Damaged sectors flagged to be remapped to the Spare area of the device. The sector will be remapped if possible upon a write request. If the sector is in cache it will remain volatile.
  • Uncorrectable Sector. Raw Attribute =C6. Uncorrectable Sector Read/Write attempts were made to reallocate the sector and failed.

Hard drive Engine

We have made a software program call Hard Drive Engine. If is a free program that pulls all relevant S.M.A.R.T attributes and aggregates pass or fail thresholds to help you determine if your drive is healthy or in a failed sate. Additionally, Hard Drive Engine performs short, long, and a NIST 10% read test of your hard drive for further examination. Should you decided you would like to make a copy of your hard drive, it has functions to clone drive to drive or create an image file of your hard drive. A list of Hard Drive Engines functions are provided below:

Hard Drive Engine - user interface.
Hard Drive Engine interface
  • Determine the state of hard drive from S.M.A.R.T
  • Short read test
  • Critical read test – reads where file system components are typically stored on-disk.
  • NIST read test – random slice read of 10% of hard drive sectors
  • Disable or Enable drive mounting – when file system entries have bad sectors Windows may hang. By disabling Drive Mounting in Hard Drive Engine, you will be able to access your hard drive. When finished examining or cloning your hard drive, you can reenable Drive Mounting.
  • Test to find out if BitLocker has been installed by the computer manufacturer and print your key to report.
  • Quick Disk View- a very simple look at on-disk contents. This is helpful with Solid State Drives (SSD) where TRIM may have been kicked-off. If a SSD is formatted the entire drive will flip to 00 or null values. This is necessary both to limit the amount of wear on cells as well as, zeroing the cell prior to writes.
  • Makes a forensic image – MD5 hash is made and verified on image.
  • Displays Solid State Drive (SSD) S.M.A.R.T – Power on hours, NAND wearing etc.

Often we have users call frustrated because they may be able to see some or all of their data but cannot access it. Hard Drive Engine is a great little utility to take some of the guess work out of what may be happening with a hard drive. If we see that a drive has cumulated a lot of moved sectors, pending sectors, or unreadable sectors, we have a good idea that it may be one or more read/write heads have failed or are failing. Conversely, if an external hard drive has been dropped, well cause and effect. We know we probably have bad read/write heads but the drive has not and now cannot record these errors.


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