What is SMART and How Does it Work?
SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) is a monitoring system included in computer hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs) (Wikipedia). It monitors various attributes related to drive health and reliability, such as reallocated sectors, spin retry count, and overall drive temperature (Digital Citizen). By tracking these attributes, SMART can detect emerging drive issues and predict possible failures before they result in catastrophic data loss.
SMART works by monitoring and analyzing a drive’s internal performance, error rates, and other diagnostic data. The attributes it tracks are based on statistical algorithms designed to estimate a disk’s mechanical wear and tear and help determine its remaining useful life. If SMART detects a concerning attribute threshold or that a failure is imminent, it will return a warning or error to the operating system. This serves as an indication that preventative action or drive replacement may be necessary.
Why Do SMART Checks Fail?
There are a few common reasons why a SMART check can fail and report errors on a hard drive:
Mechanical issues like bad sectors, worn out parts, and mechanical failures can trigger SMART errors as the drive has difficulty reading from or writing to problematic areas on the platters. These types of issues tend to get worse over time. Seagate notes that SMART detects when reallocated sectors reach a threshold, indicating potential hardware problems on the drive.
Environmental factors like temperature, vibration, and power fluctuations can also cause transient SMART errors. CleanMyMac points out that overheating is a common culprit for false positive SMART errors.
The type of SMART error indicates the severity – read/write errors may indicate the early stages of failure while imminent failure errors suggest the drive is about to stop working. However, SMART cannot predict sudden catastrophic failures.
Since SMART relies on self-monitoring and statistical reporting, it can sometimes report false positives. So a single SMART error does not necessarily mean the drive is about to immediately fail. But repeated errors likely indicate real problems.
First Steps After a Failed SMART Test
Finding out that your hard drive failed a SMART test can be alarming, but it’s important not to panic. While a failed SMART test means your hard drive is experiencing issues and may fail completely in the near future, there are some steps you can take right away to protect your data and minimize potential data loss.
One of the first things you should do after a failed SMART test is to immediately backup any critical or irreplaceable data. Copy important files and folders to an external hard drive or cloud storage. This will ensure you have backups if the drive fails entirely before you’re able to recover or replace it (Seagate).
You may also want to consider switching your hard drive to read-only mode if possible, to prevent any additional data writes. This can reduce the risk of file corruption or data loss on a failing drive. Consult your operating system or disk utility documentation on how to enable read-only mode (Diskpart).
While a failed SMART test means your hard drive health is deteriorating, quick action can help prevent catastrophic data loss. Focus first on securing critical data via backups before taking steps to try repairing, replacing or recovering data from the failing drive.
Repairing or Replacing the Drive
When a SMART check fails, you have two main options – attempt to repair the drive or replace it entirely. There are pros and cons to each approach.
Trying to repair the drive may be cheaper and allow you to recover data without migrating to a new drive. Many manufacturers like HP, Dell, and Lenovo have built-in drive utilities that can perform repairs and diagnostics. You can also use third party software like HDDscan or HD Sentinel to scan, monitor, and repair hard disk problems.
However, repairs are not guaranteed to work, and some experts argue it’s better to simply replace a clearly failing drive. Replacing the drive ensures you won’t lose data from future failures, and migrating the data to a new healthy drive is safer than keeping it on questionable hardware.
When replacing a drive, you have options like getting a new internal HDD or an external HDD. Internal drives allow you to maintain the full storage capacity inside your computer. But external HDDs give you more flexibility, portability, and ease of data transfer between devices. Models like SSDs can also offer speed advantages over traditional HDDs.
Overall, if the SMART error indicates an imminent failure, replacing the drive may be the best way to avoid catastrophic data loss. Weigh the costs vs. benefits of repairing vs. replacing your specific drive.
Recovering Data from a Failing Drive
If the hard drive is showing signs of failure through failed SMART tests, it’s important to recover any important data before it’s lost forever. There are a few options for data recovery:
First, try using built-in OS utilities like CHKDSK in Windows or Disk Utility’s First Aid on Mac to repair disk errors and recover data (source). These tools can fix some basic software issues with the disk and recover corrupted files.
If built-in tools are unsuccessful, use advanced third party data recovery software like EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard to scan the disk and restore files (source). These programs can recover data even from disks with bad sectors or hardware issues.
For extremely critical data, consider professional data recovery services as a last resort. Companies like DriveSavers use specialized tools in cleanroom facilities to attempt extracting data from failing drives (source). However, these services can be expensive.
The key is to act quickly to recover data before the hard drive fails completely. Following proper SMART monitoring and backup procedures can also help prevent catastrophic data loss.
Preventing Data Loss
One of the most important ways to prevent data loss from a failed hard drive is to regularly back up your data. Services like Backblaze and Carbonite make it easy to automatically backup important files, while software like Acronis True Image can create full system backups.
Using a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) setup can also help prevent data loss due to drive failure. RAID arrays spread data across multiple drives so it can be recovered if one fails. Popular options like RAID 1, 5, and 10 provide different levels of redundancy and performance.
It’s also important to follow the hard drive manufacturer’s guidelines for proper handling and care. Avoid excessive vibration, shock, and environmental hazards like heat, moisture, and magnets. Replacing drives before they exceed the rated lifespan can prevent failures. Monitoring SMART stats regularly helps identify issues early.
Monitoring SMART Regularly
It’s important to schedule periodic SMART checks on your hard drives to catch potential problems early. Many monitoring tools like HDD Guardian and GSmartControl allow you to schedule automatic disk scans and alerts based on SMART attributes.
You can also enable SMART monitoring in your operating system or BIOS settings. This allows the OS and drive firmware to monitor SMART in the background and warn you of issues. Enabling SMART is recommended to provide an extra layer of monitoring and protection.
Regularly checking SMART attributes can alert you to a degrading drive before failure occurs. This gives you a chance to back up your data and replace the drive if needed. Monitoring tools make it easy to keep an eye on drive health and take action when problems arise.
When to Replace a Drive
If the drive continues to fail SMART tests or experiences other issues that cannot be repaired, it’s best to replace it immediately to avoid potential data loss. According to Seagate, multiple damaged sectors or excessive growth in bad sectors over time are signs that the drive is failing and should be replaced.
Ideally, you want to replace the drive before catastrophic failure occurs. If the SMART tests reveal issues with read/write heads, servo positioning, or motor problems that cannot be fixed, replacement is recommended. These types of mechanical issues tend to worsen over time if left unchecked.
Likewise, if the drive is reporting an increasing number of reallocated sectors where data is being moved from bad sectors, this indicates the drive is having trouble reading/writing data reliably. Allowing this to continue without replacement risks more data loss or corruption.
In summary, immediately replace any drive that is consistently failing SMART tests or experiencing mechanical issues or bad sectors that cannot be repaired. This will help you avoid bigger problems down the road.
Choosing a Replacement Drive
When selecting a replacement drive after a SMART failure, you’ll want to match the form factor and interface of the old drive. For example, if you are replacing a 3.5″ SATA hard drive (HDD), look for another 3.5″ SATA HDD or SSD. Matching the physical size and connection interface ensures compatibility with your computer.
You may also want to consider upgrading to newer technology like an SSD over an HDD. SSDs have no moving parts so they tend to be more reliable than traditional HDDs. According to Backblaze’s hard drive stats, SSDs had an annualized failure rate of just 1.2% compared to over 2% for HDDs . The performance boost of an SSD over HDD can be substantial as well.
When selecting a specific replacement drive model, be sure to verify compatibility with your OS, motherboard, and any other hardware in your system. Check documentation, forums, or contact support to ensure the new drive will function properly before purchase.
Migrating your data and OS to a new SSD can breathe new life into an aging system. Just be sure to match the physical and interface specs of the original drive.
Migrating to a New Hard Drive
After a SMART failure prediction, it is best practice to migrate your data and applications to a new hard drive as soon as possible to avoid potential data loss from drive failure. One of the easiest ways to migrate is using disk cloning software like MiniTool Partition Wizard.
Disk cloning allows you to make an exact copy of your original hard drive, including the operating system, programs, settings, and files, and transfer it all at once to the new drive. This enables a seamless transition without having to reinstall the OS and applications from scratch.
It’s recommended to reinstall any programs on the new drive after cloning, just to clear out any corrupted data that may have led to the SMART failure. You’ll also want to restore the latest backups to the new drive, to make sure no recent files are lost. Backups are critical before beginning any migration, in case any issues arise.
With disk cloning software, migrating to a new drive after a SMART failure can be a quick and painless process. The key is acting swiftly as soon as a failure is predicted, to avoid the original drive failing altogether and causing permanent data loss.