Looking for a reliable HDD problem analysis program


I am trying to determine if one of my customer's hard drives is going bad. This is a Seagate drive, so I installed SeaTools for Windows which reported errors (no details provided by the program) and instructed me to run SeaTools for DOS to fix the errors. I did this, and the short test says the drive "passed".  Since the long test can take hours, I advised my customer to back up all his data and then I'll take the machine to my shop and run some more lengthy tests on it.

While I'm waiting for access to the machine, I'm looking for a better diagnostic program than SeaTools, since the Windows version very quickly pronounces the drive to have errors, but the DOS program can't seem to verify this with the short test. I have also been similarly unimpressed with Data Lifeguard Diagnostics.

I've seen many mentions of HDTune and the price seems reasonable. Any other recommendations?  Note: I'm not looking for a data recovery program, but just a program that I can run that will reliably give me information about whether or not a drive is failing.

Thank you!

Harry Z.
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Have you ever uses spinrite?


harry_zAuthor Commented:
dmwynne: thank you for your comment, but I've read a lot of negative things about Spinrite. Granted, some of the comments seem to be more oriented towards how it's marketed, but Spinrite appears to be more oriented towards recovering your data rather than just analyzing whether or not your hard drive is bad. I use GetDataBack for data recovery (I don't like the idea of writing your data back to a possibly malfunctioning drive).
Windows programs are generally not very reliable, their DOS counterparts should always be used when possible and available. So in my opinion you should always first run the manufacturer's DOS based tool, and always run the long test.

After that you can run other tools like testdisk.

You'll find a collection of the manufacturer's tools, but also of other 3rd party tools, on the UBCD:


and testdisk is included with the PartedMagic LiveCD:


Another useful tool, in my opinion better than spinrite which was mentioned earlier, is the Hard Disk Regenerator, which can regenerate bad sectors on HD's and makes them usable again, but in my opinion, even if after using that tool the disk is fine again, I would make sure the customer has it replaced, as it is likely the disk will go bad again. But it is a very good tool to help recovering data from a failing disk:


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Rob KnightConsultantCommented:

Given the modest cost of hard disk drives these days, I would have thought it best to replace the drive and, assuming it's got no bad sectors, clone it to another drive before securely sanitising it and disponsing of it?

What symptoms suggested it was going bad? Sometimes a system restore is the best approach when it looks like Windows is corrupt etc?



Rob KnightConsultantCommented:

Did you examine the log once you'd run the SeaTools?



UBCD is good bang for the buck, but it is limited to offline testing. if you want something more extensive and feature rich, and have a few hundred bucks to spend ...  then check out santools.com's smartmon-ux.  

it can also invoke the built in manufacturers diagnostics
SpinRite is also and drive maintenance tool. It works really well. The downside it that it can fix a drive and not tell you that there were problems because of the way it works with the drive firmware. I would actually advise you to run SpinRite level 4 on customer drives BEFORE they go into service, as it will clean them up and put them in tip top shape. Level 4 is good maintenance practice, but it does require taking the drive out of service and running it under DOS.
Having run into a similar issue with a Seagate SCSI drive and Seatools pronounced it good, other software as well, almost all you could think of tried and all gave it its blessing, except for one program that that would refuse to write to it (did previously). Always at the same spot, even after a low level format. Also check disk would slow down at that same area but work its way thought it and blessed it.
My conclusion, did i want to take a chance although only one app really reported a problem?  No
i wouldn't have wasted that much time if it was an IDE drive. The cost in time vrs drive does not warrant it.
My 2 cents.
I'll second rindi's expert advice.  

I like SpinRite but it's getting long in the tooth since an update, so HDDRegenerator seems to be better although SpinRite is more informative on screen info.  However I would not use either one of these until I was sure that bad sectors is the issue.  In order to know that, ideally you'd like to run the manuf. diagnostics, and yes bootable DOS are preferable as launching the least amount of other stuff to get to it.  Some system/mobo manufacturers (Dell, Toshiba, etc) offer a diagnostics disc you can download and make which also often have a disk test routine.  A word of caution some disk tests are non-destructive some are destructive scan.

Many more mobo BIOSes only check the S.M.A.R.T. at Power-On Self-Test (POST) only, and if any of the settings are excessive out-of-norm will raise a red-flag and stop and say a message like the drive is failing, due to be replaced, do backup, or words to that effect.   Some OSes like UNIX offer continuous monitoring of the S.M.A.R.T. status.  Windows is not one of those, but there are some programs you can poll/inquire as to the drive status.  HDTune Pro is a good windows program for monitoring the health http://hdtune.com   or here is a simple little program for inquiring about the S.M.A.R.T. http://www.beyondlogic.org/solutions/smart/smart.htm   

A word of explanation, S.M.A.R.T. varies a great deal from drive to drive manuf to manuf and there's an array of different measures a drive may or may not monitor, and some have a threshold above or below which it raises a POST red-flag and some do not raise any such flag, but nevertheless the drive could be failing.  It is also somewhat time-interval based, a bunch of bad sectors all-at-once is considered more serious than occaisional ones that have accumulated over long time, but obviously if the "spare" area for bad-sectoring is almost full that too will raise the red flag so-to-speak.  

Another measure could be the "hours of operation" as some drives are rated MTBF (mean time between failure) longer than others.  And of course the conditions the drive are kept in can affect it's longevity.  Say for instance if a laptop is often overheating, or if it is often taken from sitting in a car in the freezing cold of winter and not acclimatised before operating.  Ditto operating some drives at atmospheric pressure changes of an airplane, many drives are not equipped to handle this.   Ideally you'd like to monitor the temperatures and fans continuously, such as HDMonitor, SpeedFan or the like, although not every BIOS supports this http://www.mydigitallife.info/2010/03/22/check-and-monitor-computer-cpu-and-gpu-temperature-voltage-or-fan-speed/

But yeah, what rindi and other experts said too.
I would run SpingRite on any drive that is available to have it run on, because it can fix errors before they become big problems, even if other tools don't even report the error. Level 2 will correct developing and current issues, while the longer level 4 will refresh the drive by making it read and write every sector. I stayed away from SpinRite for years because I thought that it was long inthe tooth. It turns out that it doesn't get updated frequently because it doesn't need to be. It is well written, and it works very well. Just don't use it on any flash media. I need to find out about the hybrid drives, because it may not be good for them either.
NEVER use SPINRITE on a disk that was inside of a RAID subsystem except as last resort.  Reason is it has no knowledge of the RAID topology so can "recover" blocks that the RAID has already marked bad .... this leads to significant data corruption.

If it is your only alternative, then so be it, and remember this is a last resort. It will stress the heck out of the drives, and you risk failure, so get what you can first.  

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