Hard disks are among the lowest-priced computer components but their importance in a system is recognized by all of us. There isn't much you can do with a computer with a broken hard disk and having one that does not perform at least at normal parameters is even worse in my opinion. Working with a slow hard disk will inevitably be reflected in your work.
Also, HDD failures are the greatest threat if you do not have a proper backup of the most important information. But you can predict the approximate time for replacing the storage device by taking a look at hard disk's S.M.A.R.T. attributes which provide precious information on the general health state of the device.
Bad sectors are another misfortune that is quite frequent if the storage unit is not maintained in a proper condition. Checking the disk for bads from time to time (depends on the "pain" you inflict upon it) is always a good idea and despite the fact that the scanning takes a while, it is worth it.
Software to keep tabs on disk's performance, usage and lifespan are all over the Internet and lately more and more of them are free to use in home environment. These tools can be used for benchmarking your storage devices and learn if there is anything wrong with them.
HD Tune is a small utility that can be run even from a portable storage device fashioned to test burst speeds, monitor HDD temperature and benchmark it for speed (transfer rate) and check errors. The application is able to test other storage than hard disks, like memory cards, USB sticks or iPods.
No installation is required and a simple extraction of the executable from the compressed package will suffice. The looks are plain, simple and to the point. There are no bells and whistles and all main options can be identified almost at a glance.
HD Tune will identify all storage devices plugged into your computer automatically so that you won't have to make any effort in this sense. The only task for you is to choose the desired device you want to test from the upper left-corner of the application window. A little to the right there is the current temperature read from S.M.A.R.T. attributes of the device (if available). In my case the default was set to Celsius degrees but you can choose Fahrenheit units from Options window.
The four main tabs providing tests and information on the selected storage device are displayed in plain view, right under device selection drop down menu. Benchmark
is the first selection and will deliver information on minimum and maximum recorded transfer rate, as well as calculate the average between the two. Additional details include determining device access time, burst rate and CPU usage.
Beware that in the case of HD Tune transfer rate is given in megabytes per second and 1MB is equal to 1024KB. The information is important
because you may rate higher scores with other HDD benchmarking utilities that define 1MB as equal to one million bytes.Access Time
is displayed in milliseconds and in the graphical interpretation of the results it is marked by those yellow freckles. Burst rate represents the highest speed at which data can be transferred from drive interface to the operating system. Both Burst Rate and CPU usage (CPU time needed by the system to read data from disk) are nowhere in the graph which makes it easier to digest and understand.
Info tab is split into three sections, showing details about each partition of the selected hard drive (letter, label, capacity, usage, file system type and if it is bootable or not), the features the HDD supports (S.M.A.R.T., write cache, 48-bit address, security mode, NCQ, power management, interface power management, etc.) and some basic information about firmware version, serial number, capacity (both real and as defined by manufacturer) interface standard, maximum and active transfer mode.
Health status provides information strictly from S.M.A.R.T. attributes
. In the lower part you can see the total power on time of the disk as well as the general status. Depending on the hard disk subject to testing you will have more or less S.M.A.R.T. attributes displayed in this window. In the picture at the end of the review there are only fifteen of them present, but testing a newer device revealed the presence of at least 20 of them (spin up time, start/stop count, seek error rate, seek time performance, power on hours, spin retry, power cycle count, temperature) The only problem would be drawing the best information out of them by doing a right interpretation of the displayed values.Error scanning
is the last major option available in the application and its purpose is to detect damaged blocks on the tested HDD. A graphic shows all the sectors of the storage device and on the right side of the screen there are the results after scanning completes: percentage of damaged blocks, scan speed, position of the checking and elapsed time. The sectors are color coded and the legend explains them clearly. One quick tip: if the entire window turns green and there are no red squares visible then the disk is absolutely fine.
Error scanning times differ according to the storage capacity of each disk (the smaller, the faster), so if you are using those 500GB or 1TB monsters be prepared for a long wait.
Collateral options allow copying all the information displayed in one of the main tabs to clipboard, taking a screenshot
of the window and copying it to clipboard or saving the screenshot yourself to a desired location on disk. The images are saved in PNG format so they'll use little space. The information copied to clipboard can be pasted in any text editor/processor and all the details will be neatly arranged in an easy to read log.
Tweaking settings are also available in the application, although there isn't too much to customize. With regards to benchmarking you can adjust the accuracy of the transfer rate to a suitable compromise between speed and quality of the results. Defining the block size is another option available in this menu (goes from 512B to 8MB).Temperature
menu is richer in settings as it provides options for changing degree units from Celsius to Fahrenheit, or you can choose to make both units visible in the main screen. To keep you informed at all times on the current temperature of the HDD the little tool will display this info in system tray. By default the color is dark and to be frank it took me some time to detect the detail. But this can be corrected as HD Tune lets you change the color for normal temperature and critical one.
Speaking of critical temperature the program lets you set it according to the disk you monitor. As soon as the scorching value is reached the icon in system tray will change color and a small balloon alerts on the modification. The downside is that there is no audio alert as well, but you can't have it all.
A small fluke prevents you from minimizing the application to system tray in Vista. But this can be remedied with a little effort. As the interface no longer contains an option for sending it to tray and keep monitoring the temperature of the disk, you can configure the application to start minimized (and run at Windows startup) and after all the settings are done, simply restart the program. However, this is quite an uncomfortable alternative for Vista users.The Good
HD Tune is a very handy and easy to use tool for you to learn on the health state of your hard disk. It can benchmark memory cards, iPods, USB keys as well as fix drives.
The graphics give you an easier look at the results of the tests and you can save the log to clipboard with a single press of a button.The Bad
On Vista there is no minimize to system tray button.The Truth
The application manages to comprise the most important features for hard disk monitoring (transfer rate, error scan, temperature monitoring, S.M.A.R.T. attributes read) and benchmarking into a 392KB executable file. There aren't complicated tests, but they'll give you a hint on the disk's performance and health.Here are some snapshots of the application in action: