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Ionut Ilascu
June 17, 2010
Full text of original article at Softpedia web site

Hard Disk Health Status Check

For a long time, hard disks failures were like earthquakes: you would never know when disaster would strike. Save for some hints that were generally overlooked or not detected by most users, such as sluggish read/write operations, transfers completed with errors or strange sounds coming from the computer box, nothing would give away the fact that the hard disk was spinning its platters for the last time.

Fortunately, those days are gone and predicting drive failure is a simple matter of taking a look at the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) attributes readings. Software capable of offering this feature come in different shapes and sizes, but there is a newcomer in town, which combines disk failure warnings with backup alerts. This way, you can keep track of storage devices on the brink of collapsing and copy data off them to a different, problem-free unit.

This sort of tool has been recently introduced to users by Acronis and it is called simply Drive Monitor. The application is absolutely free of charge and comes as a 17.3MB package, which installs quickly, without complications on the system.

Simplicity and ease of use are the main attributes for the interface design and the way the application has been constructed. You can easily navigate from one section to another while the configuration panel poses no obstacle, not even for less experienced users. All the menus roll down in the left hand side of the interface and provide details about monitored disks, backup state and critical events. There is also a “Summary” page listing general information on the status of the three monitored areas (Disks, Backups and Critical events) giving you a warning in case something is not okay.

As the application has been specifically designed to monitor and interpret S.M.A.R.T. attributes in order to determine the health status of the hard disks, the “Disks” area is the most important section of the program. You benefit both from an overview section, as well as from detailed information about each S.M.A.R.T. attribute and their interpretation.

One of the best features of Acronis Drive Monitor is that regardless of the way the information is presented, less experienced users can also read it. For instance, if you go to the “Disk overview” tab, you’ll be given the watered down version of the program’s reading and interpretation. Everyone can draw a conclusion based on this info. The “S.M.A.R.T. parameters” tab seems to present the condensed data about the disks as each attribute comes with a value, based on which health status interpretation is extracted. Yet this tab can also be accessed by newbies because the program provides its own interpretation of the readings.

As far as the accuracy of the reading is concerned, Acronis Drive Monitor seems to be limited only to a set of hardware. We tested the program on four different systems and only in one case did the application manage to pick correct readings. The first two systems were equipped with hard disks from Seagate (ST9500420ASG and ST310005 28AS, respectively) whose S.M.A.R.T. parameters could not be read.

On the third system, Acronis Drive Monitor faced another challenge that could not be overcome: the Fujitsu MHW2160BH PL hard disk whose S.M.A.R.T. attributes are misinterpreted by the product. In our case, we were reported 30% health for the disk because of numerous reallocated sectors registered. However, after having put the storage device through several performance tests, the results showed no issues.

A fourth system was thrown into the test, served by a Western Digital WD3200BEVT-22ZCT0 hard disk. Everything went fine this time and the software caused absolutely no trouble at all. The readings were of utmost accuracy, with Acronis Drive Monitor correctly determining the drive’s health at 99% because of a pending sector count (the drive suffered from one bad sector).

Moving on to the “Backup” section, more trouble lurked ahead because on the Fujitsu-powered system, the application was not able to determine the status of recent backups or initiate a new backup task for a selected partition despite the fact that it detected the latest Acronis True Image Home installation on the system. The hard disk and all its drives were grayed out and could not be selected.

On the computer, Drive Monitor worked fine and the app continued to record no problems and behaved correctly. It detected the installation of the Acronis backup solution and allowed us to initiate backup procedures right away using Acronis software.

The application also retrieves critical event messages from Windows Event Log. Although this feature is just a simple way to view Windows logs, it can help you determine the cause of some problems and eliminate them.

Working with Acronis Drive Monitor is no difficult task and neither is configuring the program to suit your needs. You can set it to send warning messages about warnings and critical alerts or regular reports about the state of the hard disk. Temperature (if the information is available among S.M.A.R.T. attributes) is displayed automatically either in Fahrenheit or Celsius degrees, according to your computer’s Region and Language settings, and can be set for warning and critical values.

For critical events, disks and backup monitoring, the only option available is enabling or disabling the verification. However, in the case of disks, you can opt for monitoring by using a custom script if your drive does not support S.M.A.R.T., and for backups, you can enable/disable monitoring for each of the drives available.

Acronis Drive Monitor is no challenge to use and configure, regardless of your computer knowledge. If it detects S.M.A.R.T. attributes on your hard disk, it should offer accurate information about the health of the hard disk(s). On the system we managed to test the application at its fullest, all the details retrieved from S.M.A.R.T. attributes and their interpretation was accurate and reliable.

The Good

It is a lightweight application that reads and interprets S.M.A.R.T. attributes to give you reliable information on the current health state of your hard disk(s). Moreover, it retrieves Windows Event Log information that can warn you of imminent hard disk failure.

If you have the Acronis backup solution installed on the system, it will alert you in case a backup operation failed to complete successfully or if it has not been run for a long time. All warnings and critical alerts about the monitored storage devices can be sent to an email address of your choice.

The Bad

Fourth time’s a charm in our case because that is the number of systems we tried Acronis Drive Monitor on in order to see its true nature. For the first two, no S.M.A.R.T. parameters were detected, while in the case of the third, the Fujitsu hard disk, the application displayed erroneous readings and interpretations; and the problems with this one extended to the backup monitoring feature.

The Truth

Although our trouble with the Fujitsu storage device was quite a tough pickle and for an application coming from Acronis, this was utterly unexpected, the support forum already features a response to the problem. However, the issues with the other two Seagate drives still remain and should be addressed as soon as possible.

On a brighter note, when installed on a system with a storage device it supports, Acronis Drive Monitor does a great job, offering correct interpretation and reading of S.M.A.R.T. attributes. Getting it on the system is definitely worth trying as it does not abuse resources and could indicate imminent hard disk failure just in time to backup all important data.

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