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Running Diagnostic Tests on a Hard Drive

Disk Data

Running tests on your hard drive can be useful in determining the health of the device and its propensity to failure. Test applications can be typically found under Windows Administrative Tools Menu.

Slow operation or frustratingly long response times can be an indication of media degradation and bad data sectors.

Free Hard Drive Diagnosis:

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What are Bad Sectors?

Hard drives consist of several circular platters that use magnetism to store the bits of data. Each platter is then divided into tracks, which run in a circular pattern around each platter. Each track is broken into many smaller pieces called sectors. To reduce overhead, sectors are grouped together in clusters.bad sector occurs when there is physical damage to a part of the hard drive. Modern hard drives are created with many spare sectors. When the disk controller’s firmware in the hard drive detects a bad sector, it remaps that sector to another physical sector on the hard drive. This remapping is transparent to the operating system. Once the hard drive runs out of space sectors, meaning it can’t remap existing bad sectors, the operating system will begin to detect these bad sectors. Once detected, the operating system will mark these sectors to prevent them from being used in the future.

As the hard drive accumulates more bad sectors, you may begin to lose data, have your system crash more frequently, or have your entire system become very slow and unresponsive. This means that you should be backing up your data and replacing your hard drive.

Hard drive Test Utilities.

Manufacturers and O/S providers along side others have available some useful test applications that will put your hard disk drive through its fitness paces:-

Hitachi Drive Fitness Test.

Hitachi Drive Fitness Test is free hard drive diagnostic software available for use on most drives available today.

The Hitachi Drive Fitness Test software is available as an ISO file which can be burned to a CD and then used to boot the computer. See the installation instructions from Hitachi in the link below for details.

Note: You do not need to own a Hitachi hard drive to use Drive Fitness Test (DFT).

HGST Align Tool.

Most modern operating systems have been designed to work efficiently with Advanced Format drives. For optimum performance, it is important to ensure that the drive is partitioned correctly and that data is written in 4K blocks by both the operating system, and the application. Modern operating systems handle this automatically. When using Advanced Format drives in legacy environments, special tools may be required to optimize read/write performance and keep the data sectors aligned. Users who have created a misaligned partition may download the Windows utility below to correct this condition by re-aligning the partition.

Microsoft Windows Built-In Error Checking.

Error Checking, sometimes referred to as scandisk, is a hard drive testing tool that comes with Microsoft Windows that can scan your hard drive in search of a wide range of errors.

This tool can also attempt to correct a number of hard drive problems.

Samsung HUTIL.

Samsung HUTIL is a free hard drive diagnostic utility for Samsung hard drives. HUTIL is sometimes called ES-Tool.

Samsung's HUTIL tool is available as an ISO image for burning to a CD. This makes HUTIL operating system independent and a better testing tool, in general, than those designed for use within Windows. It's also possible to run HUTIL from a bootable floppy disk.

Note: HUTIL will only test Samsung hard drives. HUTIL will load and find your non-Samsung drive you will not be able to run any diagnostics on the drive.

Western Digital Data Lifeguard Diagnostic.

Western Digital Data Lifeguard Diagnostic is free hard drive testing software designed for Western Digital branded hard drives only.

The Western Digital Data Lifeguard Diagnostic software is available in a bootable, ISO format and allows for a number of hard drive tests. See the installation instructions from Western Digital in the link below for details.

Note: Data Lifeguard Diagnostic will also run diagnostics on hard drives from other manufacturers but the primary drive in the computer must be a Western Digital drive.

Bart's Stuff Test.

Bart's Stuff Test is a free, Windows-based hard drive stress test. There are not a lot of options in Bart's Stuff Test and it's not as thorough as some other tests on this list. However, it's a decent addition to your hard drive testing arsenal, especially if you're having problems testing with an ISO based tool above but want something besides Window's default tool.

Bst5 uses the free space on the disk, and if you don’t stop it, it will use almost all available disk space. So better be careful if you run a “hard drive stress test” on a virtual disk that grows dynamically. However, you can configure how much free space Bst5 will leave. If you are afraid that the disk space that contains data is corrupt, Bst5 won’t be of much help.

It makes sense to use Bst5 before you install a new OS on an old disk just to ensure that the hard drive still works reliably. After you format the disk, you can boot Windows PE and launch Bst5 from there.


BST5 is also helpful if you want to quickly find out how fast a hard drive is since the tool measures the minimum, maximum and average speed for read and write operations. I tested Bst5 5.1.4 on Vista, Windows 7 and Windows PE 3.0.

The commercial edition of Bst5 also supports stress testing on the device levels, without involving the file system. This also allows you to stress test other storage media such as tapes.

Seagate SeaTools.

Seagate SeaTools is free hard drive testing software that comes in two forms for home users:

• SeaTools for DOS supports Seagate or Maxtor drives and runs independent from your operating system on its own CD or disk, making it highly reliable.

• SeaTools for Windows is a program that installs on your Windows system. You can do basic and advanced testing of any kind of drive - internal or external - from any manufacturer.
For those looking for SeaTools Desktop, SeaTools Online, or Maxtor's PowerMax software, please note that the two tools above have replaced all three. Seagate now owns the Maxtor brand.

Note: You do not need to own a Seagate or Maxtor hard drive to use SeaTools.

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