If you aren't aware of the condition of your hard drives, you may not be able to save your valuable data before it's too late. Not all hard drive crashes are random, so you may have time to backup your data before it fails completely.
All modern drives have a monitoring technology called S.M.A.R.T. (Self Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) that continuously monitors a number of parameters on a hard drive. Many parameters can be monitored by S.M.A.R.T. including read and write error rates, seek error rates, spin up time, temperature and much more.
To effectively warn you when certain parameters are degrading or reaching their threshold you need a program that can track these changes and show them to you. Allowing you to test and see whether a hard drive is capable of storing your data safely, giving you time to backup your important files and start looking for a replacement drive should you need to.
A monitoring program alone is not fully capable of showing you whether the integrity of your files can be maintained on a particular hard drive. It's a good idea to scan for bad (unreadable) blocks of data with either HDDScan or HD Tune at least once a month to ensure your drive is not degrading and data isn't being lost.
See also Why Your Hard Drives Health Matters for a more indepth look.
[Doakio Editor's Note: This article was restored from Gizmo's Freeware archives as a service to the freeware community. Gizmo's Freeware provided high-quality, volunteer freeware reviews for decades. They shut down in July of 2021.]
CrystalDiskInfo A great program to monitor the temperature and health of your drive
License: Free (Open source)
HDDScan An exceptional piece of software for storage device diagnostics
HD Tune A useful benchmark to test your hard drive performance
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
DiskCheckup A capable tool to monitor the SMART attributes of a hard disk drive
License: Free (Private/Educational use)
For continuous monitoring I recommend CrystalDiskInfo for its well rounded set of features and HDDScan which is an exceptional diagnostic program. Both are excellent pieces of software. To ensure your drive isn't degrading in ways that may not be readily apparent with a monitoring program alone, I recommend testing the surface of your drive with HDDScan or HD Tune.
Other Hard Drive Health Monitoring and Diagnostic Programs
- CrystalDiskMark is an Open Source hard drive benchmarking program. The installer has the options to install PC Matic (trialware) and the ASPCA browser addon. The portable zip doesn't include anything extra. It's updated regularly.
- HD_Speed is a benchmark program that measures both sustained and burst data transfer rates of your hard drives, CD/DVD-Rom, flash cards/sticks, floppies, etc. with a real-time graphical display. It's updated regularly.
- Disk Bench is a benchmarking tool that is designed to be a real world benchmark rather than a synthetic benchmark. It requires .NET Framework 2.0
- SpeedFan is a program that monitor voltages, fan speeds, and temperatures as well as S.M.A.R.T. information. It only detected my internal drive.
- S.M.A.R.T. Assistant is designed to monitor the S.M.A.R.T. status and the temperature, as well as manage AAM (Automatic Acoustic Management) and APM (Advanced Power Management). It could not detect my external HD.
- Ariolic Disk Scanner is a portable and simplistic block scanner. No longer updated.
- ATTO Disk Benchmark is a benchmarking program that can be obtained from MajorGeeks instead of registering on the main site.
- HD Tach is a benchmarking tool. They're in the process of completely rewriting it.
- Seagate SeaTools requires .NET Framework 2.0. It has surface and S.M.A.R.T. tests as well as other features. There is also a DOS version.
- S.M.A.R.T. Monitoring Tools offers two utitlity programs (smartctl, smartd) to control and monitor storage systems using S.M.A.R.T.
- Hard Drive Monitor is a simple monitoring program. It hasn't been updated in a while. Doesn't detect my USB HD.
- HDD Health is a monitoring program. It only detects internal hard drives and hasn't been updated in more than a few years now.
- A few all-in-one diagnostic tools that boot directly from a CD/DVD are the Ultimate Boot CD(UBCD), UBCD4Win, and the SystemRescueCd.
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