Best way to test hard drive for bad blocks before you install o.s

Marshes used Ask the Experts™

Hi Guys,

Just wondering what the standard is out there for testing hard drives for bad blocks before you install the o.s

In this case we have 2 x 2 TB hard drives we are about to install windows 2008.

In the past we have used crash disk recovery with uses a linux shell but im interested if the standard has changed over the years. Im open to whatever ;)
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hi there!

I suggest you use the tools provided by the hard drive manufacturer (Seagate, Western Digital and etc). For sure there are downloadable hard drive utilities from there websites. The reason I suggest this because they make good tools to support their products and best of all they know every bit of technology within their products.

Western Digital:
Gary CaseRetired
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Top Expert 2009

Agree with using the free tools from the manufacturers.

I have quite a few (~ 18) WD 2TB drives.   Whenver I buy a new one, I do the following with Data Lifeguard:

(a)  Run the Quick Test
(b)  Run the Extended Test
(c)  Run the "Write Zeroes" function
(d) Repeat (a) & (b)

If both the Quick Test and Extended Test complete without errors both times I consider the drive good.    If there are any errors, I return the drive for a replacement.     I've had a few drives I've had to return, but all of the drives that passed that full sequence are still running perfectly after many months (over a year in most cases) of 24/7 service.

Note that the full sequence of tests takes over ten hours.   I usually do (a) and (b) the day I get the drive;  run (c) overnight;  and then repeat (a) and (b) the next day.
Gary CaseRetired
Most Valuable Expert 2013
Top Expert 2009

... Note that Data Lifeguard will also work on other drives besides WD  [Although the other manufacturers have equivalent testing utilities.]
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Top Expert 2013

i run HDDregenerator over them as well
The "OS" "normal" standard would be a thorough format not quick format from the OS install, which would deal with obviously bad sectors on a single pass.  To be more somewhat thorough one can run the command-line utility from the OS boot CD repair console, whether that is chkdsk /B on Windows or the Unix variants equivalents.  (note from setup CD chkdsk option is /P in lieu of /F for filesystem integrity check)
To be even MORE thorough use the disk manufacturer's disk diagnostics utilities, which offer non-destructive and destructive scan, short and long (aka extended) scan choices, the long destructive being the most thorough, rewriting the disk contents.  
Each manuf. has their own diagnostic for their brand, or model (in the case of Hitachi/IBM a different one for the Desk-Star model line) and to avoid erroneous results or misinterpretation of the smart and advanced registers and status and firmware of the drive use the correct diagnostics for your brand (model) of drive, not a different manufacturer's  Some utility boot CDs include many of the brands of diags on one disk.
The above should be sufficient when the disk has no data to retain.  Obviously once the system is running, a destructive scan would require a full recovery from backup.  The caveats there are if the badtracking/blocking/sectoring of the drive reduces the capacity of the partition some backup recovery refuses to do a restore to a smaller space (note: Win server vista/7 included)

Why write zeroes?  It's a bit like the old audio/video casette tape days where professionals would rerecond "black" so that "ghost" images of previous recordings don't show up on the new recording.  The faint magnetic signal of previous values can linger or slightly interfere with the strength of magnetic recording BUT since drives are digital not analog the signal is either above/below the threshold or not, greatly avoiding any such concerns.

To do an even MORE thorough job, you can consider for purchase product SpinRite 6 (or a similar HDDRegenerator)
 It can re-read and re-write the entire contents of the drive several times, the data already on the drive not writing of zeroes, to better identify failing sectors/blocks.  These are especially appropriate if there is data on the drive in jeapoardy on bad sectors that you have hopes of rescuing before setting them aside.  It takes "heroic" measures trying re-reading data off bad-sectors literally hundreds of times, using statistical data sampling data set and signal level comparison and analysis to try to piece together most if not all of the data to remap from bad sectors to spare sectors.

A bad sector scan with a conventional tool (chkdsk or scandisk with bad sectoring option, disk manuf. diags tool) almost invariably gives up too easily so instead of reading the data off bad sectors and remapping to spare, it relocates the bad sector alright but the spare contains nothing but zeroes instead of data recovered off spare, essentially "corrupting" files/folders affected by bad sectors most all of the time.  

You would be expected to know which files/folders were adversely affected by failed blocks and recover those from last known good backup.  Not easily done.  In the bad-ole days what people did was wipe the drive and do full recover from backup every so often, that was considered normal part of drive maintenance, and was also how one defragged.

Either SpinRite or HDDregenerator can identify blocks that the ordinary use "normal" scan for bad sectors would either give up on too quickly after only a couple of retries, or fail to identify as potentially failing when it works afterall after a retry or two.

I prefer SpinRite for the more informative screen information and logging option as well as backed product support.  

Interestingly these also make an excellent PREVENTATIVE maintenance measure, since they can identify "iffy" blocks before they become completely bad, and can actually recondition or else remap to spare as it decides appropriate, significantly prolonging the useful life of your drives.  And since you can use it on as many as you want is then worth the small cost.

To use these tests connect the drives directly to the internal disk controller.  USB enclosures are not only 3.5-7 times slower than EIDE/pata/SATA (and usb 1 vs usb 2 is 48 times slower than that!) but there's ALSO a "can't get there from here" because the usb standardized on scsi command set for talking to disks so all low-level direct access to the drive registers and logs and firmware are not possible.

The other caveat is if the drives are hardware RAID, in which case once full of data you really should use the RAID health and consistency utilities, usually found in the RAID extended bios setup (press F_ key during boot)  to deal with badsectoring since RAID formatted disks handle "spare" sectoring DIFFERENTLY, masking it from the OS, and insist on keeping the drives in perfect lock-step:  what is set-aside on one drive the other drives layout must also take into account.
Dr. KlahnPrincipal Software Engineer

My choice for drive testing is the freeware MHDD:

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