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Hardware diagnostics - HDD health check tool
Published Date : 14 Mar 2008   Last Updated : 01 Aug 2013   Content Ref: TEC1142508  


PC will no longer boot, experiences a blue screen error or behaves erratically

A system with a failing hard drive (HDD) may exhibit the following symptoms: 

  • Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) crashes.
  • Does not boot to Microsoft® Windows®.
  • During the BIOS POST process after reset or switch on, you may see an 'Insert system disk' or similar error message.
  • Files or partitions appear corrupted.
  • PC runs very slowly or freezes occasionally.


HDD operation and fail modes

Although hard drives are much more robust than people give them credit for, they can fail due to their mechanical nature (spinning disk and moving heads). The read/write heads of a modern hard drive hover extremely close to the disk surface in order to allow high capacities. Vibration and temperature in particular, can result in 'head crashes' which cause surface damage to the disk. Data written on the disks can therefore easily become unreadable in places.

The HDD will attempt to copy affected data to other parts of the disk (reallocated sectors) but there are limited spare sectors and sometimes data is completely unreadable. Other forms of damage are in the HDD motors which spin up the drive. If there is mechanical wear/tear/fault, the drive logs the number of retries to successfully spin the drive up to full speed.

All these attributes are logged and viewable via a SMART log on the drive itself. It helps diagnose and keep track of the drive's health and provides useful information in determining if a PC fault lies with the HDD or somewhere else.


If the system can still boot to Windows XP

Download and install HDDScan.exe from: http://hddguru.com/software/2006.01.22-HDDScan/ (version 2.8 or later)

  1. Log on to the system with Administrator access.
  2. Run HDDScan.exe.
  3. Select the desired source disk for a multiple hard disk setup. In a single hard disk setup leave the source disk as drive 0.
  4. Press the SMART button. A dialog box will appear with the drive's SMART data contained on it. 
    Note: A log file called smart.txt will be written to the same folder as HDDScan.exe was saved to.
  5. The SMART attributes are labelled RED, AMBER or GREEN status.
  6. Please refer to the results window or log file and details below to help confirm the diagnosis.

If the system will no longer boot into Windows

Download and install the freeware propgram smartudm.exe from: http://www.sysinfolab.com/download.htm

  1. Create an MS-DOS bootable floppy disk or bootable USB pen drive and copy smartudm.exe onto the media.
  2. Boot to MS-DOS and run smartudm.exe.
  3. Follow the screen prompts to save the SMART log.
  4. Please refer to the results window or log file and details below to help confirm the diagnosis.


Attributes to check in the SMART log

Some attributes are critical to the health of the hard drive. Critical attributes (in red) refer to potential of electro-mechanical failure or increasing errors on the hard drive in the short term, leading to eventual drive failure. If any critical attribute is showing as amber status in HDDScan, this is a good indicator that the HDD is an issue. If a non-critical attribute is amber (such as temperature) then this is worth keeping an eye on but is not an HDD issue. However, any red attributes are indicators of significant HDD issues. Green attributes indicate a healthy drive. (The Smartudm output screen shows an indicator for the attribute status. The number of green 'blocks' will decrease towards the red block showing how bad an attribute is.)

Note: Different drive manufacturers use different SMART attributes and several of the following may be missing from the output logs.

ID Name of attribute Description
1 Raw Read Error Rate Frequency of errors appearance while reading RAW data from a disk
2 Throughput Performance The average efficiency of hard disk
3 Spin Up Time Time needed by spindle to spin-up
4 Start/Stop Count Number of start/stop cycles of spindle
5 Reallocated Sector Count Quantity of remapped sectors
6 Read Channel Margin Reserve of channel while reading
7 Seek Error Rate Frequency of errors appearance while positioning
8 Seek Time Performance The average efficiency of operations while positioning
9 Power-On Hours Count Quantity of elapsed hours in the switched-on state
10 Spin-up Retry Count Number of attempts to start a spindle of a disk
11 Calibration Retry Count Number of attempts to calibrate a drive
12 Power Cycle Count Number of complete start/stop cycles of hard disk
13 Soft Read Error Rate Frequency of program errors appearance while reading data from a disk
191 G-Sense Error Rate Frequency of mistakes appearance as a result of impact loads
192 Power-Off Retract Cycle Number of the fixed 'turning off drive' cycles (Fujitsu: Emergency Retract Cycle Count)
193 Load/Unload Cycle Count Number of cycles into Landing Zone position
194 HDA Temperature Temperature of a hard disk assembly
195 Hardware ECC Recovered Frequency of the on the fly errors (Fujitsu: ECC On The Fly Count)
196 Reallocated Event Count Quantity of remapping operations
197 Current Pending Sector Count Current quantity of unstable sectors (waiting for remapping)
198 Off-line Scan Uncorrectable Count Quantity of uncorrected errors
199 UltraDMA CRC Error Rate Total quantity of errors CRC during UltraDMA mode
200 Write Error Rate Frequency of errors appearance while recording data into disk (Western Digital: Multi Zone Error Rate)
201 Soft Read Error Rate Frequency of the off track errors (Maxtor: Off Track errors)
202 Data Address Mark Errors Frequency of the Data Address Mark errors
203 Run Out Cancel Frequency of the ECC errors (Maxtor: ECC errors)
204 Soft ECC Correction Quantity of errors corrected by software ECC
205 Thermal Asperity Rate Frequency of the thermal asperity errors
206 Flying Height The height of the disk heads above the disk surface
207 Spin High Current Quantity of used high current to spin up drive
208 Spin Buzz Quantity of used buzz routines to spin up drive
209 Offline Seek Performance Drive's seek performance during offline operations
220 Disk Shift Shift of disk is possible as a result of strong shock loading in the store, as a result of its falling or for other reasons (sometimes: Temperature)
221 G-Sense Error Rate This attribute is an indication of shock-sensitive sensor - total quantity of errors appearance as a result of impact loads (dropping drive, for example)
222 Loaded Hours Loading on drive caused by the general operating time of hours it stores
223 Load/Unload Retry Count Loading on drive caused by numerous recurrences of operations like: reading, recording, positioning of heads, etc
224 Load Friction Loading on drive caused by friction in mechanical parts of the store
225 Load/Unload Cycle Count Total of cycles of loading on drive
226 Load-in Time General time of loading for drive
227 Torque Amplification Count Number of attempts to compensate for platter speed variations
228 Power-Off Retract Count Number of times the magnetic armature was retracted automatically as a result of cutting power
230 GMR Head Amplitude Amplitude of heads trembling (GMR-head) in running mode
231 Temperature Temperature of a drive
240 Head Flying Hours Time while head is positioning
250 Read Error Retry Rate Frequency of errors appearance while reading data from a disk

More Information

SMART attributes

A SMART attribute is anything that the hard drive manufacturer thinks is worth checking and that might be a useful indicator of the health of the hard drive.

The raw values in hex are converted into a value. This value is weighted as a score out of 100 or out of 200 or whatever the drive manufacturer chooses to represent the condition of the hard disk.

Value is the current reading for that attribute. Worst gives you the worst value that the hard disk has recorded for that attribute. Threshold value gives you the minimum allowed before a failure will be recorded.

Not all failures necessarily indicate a hard drive failure. Some attributes are not critical and some can correct themselves over a short period of time.

What to do next?
If it is still under warranty, please log a hardware call.

Other useful Web sites

For further HDD testing, the manufacturer specific tests are available from the links below.

To identify which make of hard drive you have in your PC, please refer to the RM Equipment log. To find this log, follow TEC104348 in the Other Useful Articles section below.

Hitachi Drive Fitness Test for MS-DOS or Windows:

Western Digital (WD) Data Lifeguard Tools for MS-DOS or Windows:

Maxtor/Seagate SeaTools for MS-DOS and Windows

Other Useful Articles

Where is my RM Equipment Log (RMEQUIP.LOG/RMEQUIP.HTM) (TEC104348)

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Document Keywords: SATA, mainboard, BSOD, not detected, hard disk, boot, error, freeze, hang, SMART, health, diagnostic, read, write, temperature, 1142508

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