How To: Check Your Hard Drive Health With A Linux LiveCD

Previously, I wrote a guide on monitoring your drive’s status with S.M.A.R.T. tools from a running system [see Check your HDD’s S.M.A.R.T. Status].  Although these programs work well for checking the live status of your hard drive, you may run across a situation where you cannot boot the operating system to access these programs.

If you system does not boot, it may be necessary to use a boot disc to check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive.  This is easily done with a Linux LiveCD such as Knoppix and a program called smartctl.  Although almost all versions of Linux come with this utility preinstalled, I recommending using Knoppix for booting your system, as it tends to have better out-of-the-box hardware support, especially for older hardware.

Important Note: For reasons unknown, the smartctl utility is not included in the newest version of Knoppix 6.0.1.  For this reason, it is necessary to use Knoppix 5.3.1 DVD or Knoppix 5.1.1 CD/DVD.

Download Knoppix 5.1.1 LiveCD via FTP.

Download Knoppix 5.3.1 LiveDVD via BitTorrent.

The Process

Once you have downloaded and burned the LiveCD ISO image, insert the disc into your CD/DVD drive and boot from it.  Unless there are hardware problems, your computer will automatically boot to the KDE Linux Desktop.  If you are not able to boot, enter failsafe at the Boot: prompt.  The KDE desktop looks like this:

Knoppix 5.3.1 Desktop
Knoppix 5.3.1 Desktop

When the desktop is shown, select the terminal icon as shown below.

knoppix-terminal-icon

Type the following command to check the first hard drive on the system:

smartctl –all /dev/hda | less

This will check the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of the hard drive and display then on the screen in scrollable form.  A description of the common attributes can be found here.

When you have reviewed the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of your drive, you can simply press q to return to the terminal input.  Type reboot at there terminal to reboot the computer and eject the LiveCD.

How often have you used a Linux LiveCD to help diagnose your computer?  Is there another Linux program or LiveCD that you use to check your hard drive S.M.A.R.T. status?  Let us know by commenting below.

How To: Add Panels (Toolbars) to a Secondary Display in Ubuntu 9.04

If you’re using multiple monitors in Ubuntu, you may find it frustrating that the Panels (Windows users will recognize these as toolbars) are only available on your primary display.  This means that if you’re working with applications on a secondary monitor, you have to look back to your primary to do any application switching, as shown below:

panels

Adding panels to a secondary monitor is not difficult, but is not particularly intuitive either.  Here’s how to do it:

  1. Right click on any panel and select New Panel. By default, this will probably create a Panel on the right side of your primary display.panels2
  2. Right click the newly created Panel and select Properties.panels3
  3. Set Orientation to Bottom and uncheck the Expand button.  This will create a small movable Panel at the bottom of your primary display.panels4
  4. Drag the new Panel to your secondary display, allowing it to automatically dock to the bottom of the screen.
  5. Right click the Panel and select Properties again.
  6. Check the Expand box and click Close.  Now that you have a full length Panel on your secondary display, we need to make it display a list of your open applications.
  7. Right click the Panel and select Add To Panel.panels5
  8. Type Window List into the search box and click the Add button.panels6
  9. If necessary, you can adjust the position of the Window List by grabbing the far left end and sliding it to a desired location.

There are dozens of additional items you can add to your newly created Panel, so feel free to play around with it and come up with an ideal customized setup.

Have any tips on creating the perfect workspace?  Share them in the comments!

How To Check Your HDD’s S.M.A.R.T. Status

As your hard drive begins to age, the chance for failure and resulting data loss increases.  Today’s hard drives feature a monitoring system called Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology or S.M.A.R.T. for short.  With S.M.A.R.T. and the appropriate software, it is possible to keep updated on the status of your hard drive and the important data that resides on it.

To check the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive, there are many programs that are available.  The two programs that I have found to be most useful and user-friendly are:

Speedfan S.M.A.R.T
Image from almico.com
  • Speedfan
    • Although S.M.A.R.T status is a secondary feature of Speedfan, it offers the date in an easy to understand webpage format.  You can also view and control fan speeds and temperatures of your motherboard.  Attribute stats must be check manually.
  • HDD Health
    • HDD Health provides the same S.M.A.R.T. attribute information as Speedfan, but runs in the system tray and constantly monitors for problems.  If a problem does occur, HDD Health will warn you.

There are several attributes that makeup a S.M.A.R.T. status.  It is important to know what each one means for the health of your hard drive.  A good description of each status is available here.

Knowing the S.M.A.R.T. status of your hard drive is not an alternative to backups.  Having up-to-date backups is the only way to fully protect against hard drive failure.

Do you check the S.M.A.R.T. attributes of your hard drive?  Which attributes do you watch the most?  Are there other programs that you use to check S.M.A.R.T. attributes?  Let us know by commenting below.

Cleanup Your Computer With CCleaner

As a computer begins to age, many problems can arise such as slow startup, slow program execution and increased memory usage.  Many of these problems are caused by improper shutdowns, viruses, excess temporary files, and residual uninstall files.

CCleaner is a free program, available at http://www.ccleaner.com, which will give your computer the thorough cleaning that it deserves.

CCleaner is able to clean Cookies, Temporary Internet Files, History and Search results from all popular web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari.  CCleaner also removes temporary files from Windows and other third-party applications.

Download and Install CCleaner

  1. Download CCleaner from http://www.ccleaner.com.
  2. Install CCleaner.
  3. Select Install Options as shown below
  4. CCleaner
    CCleaner Install Options
  5. Continue through the installation process.
  6. Run CCleaner.

Now that you have CCleaner installed and running, it is time to select what you would like to clean.  As there are many options, it is important to select the correct ones so that you do not lose important information.

Cleaner

CCleaner Cleaner

Once CCleaner is running, the Cleaner button should be selected on the left side of the window.  Once selected, you will see a list of check boxes of the many different cleaning options available to you.  Although all of the options are able to clean your computer, the most important options fall under the System and Advanced categories.

There is also the Applications tab near the top of the window.  Under this tab, you will find that CCleaner has the ability to remove any temporary files associated with the listed applications.  Many of these programs have the ability to remove the files, but CCleaner groups all of these features together.

Once you have selected the Windows features and Applications that you wish to clean, you can click the ‘Analyze’ button on the bottom of the window to preview the number of items that will be removed.  Once the analysis has finished, complete by clicking ‘Run Cleaner’ in the bottom-right corner.  Note: You can skip the analysis step and click ‘Run Cleaner’ first.

The time it takes to analyze and remove the files will depend on the speed of your computer and the number of files CCleaner must scan.

Registry

CCleaner Registry Button

Many computer problems can also be caused by obsolete or improperly removed registry entries.  A cluttered registry can be caused from the following action:

  • Improperly uninstall software.
  • Frequently installing or uninstalling software.
  • Viruses/Spyware
  • Driver problems.

CCleaner has a very powerful Windows Registry cleaner.  This registry cleaner can be used to scan your computer’s registry for problems such as:

Advanced features to remove unused and old entries, including File Extensions, ActiveX Controls, ClassIDs, ProgIDs, Uninstallers, Shared DLLs, Fonts, Help Files, Application Paths, Icons, Invalid Shortcuts and more…

From CCleaner.com

The Registry cleaner will often resolve many problems associated with the Windows Registry by scanning the Registry and removing any unnecessary entries.  CCleaner gives you the option to backup the removed entries, so that you may restore them if you have any problems.

Final Steps

Once you have ran both of the above cleaners, it is important that you restart your computer.  Once the computer has restarted, it may be necessary to run CCleaner another time to removed any residual entries.

What has your experience been with CCleaner?  What is the most number of Registry items CCleaner has removed from a system?  How many MB or GB of files were removed?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

How To: Use Your iPhone/iPod Touch as a Wireless Flash Drive

airsharingOne of the most useful applications I’ve used for the iPhone/iPod Touch is Airsharing ($4.99, app store), which allows you to use your device as a wireless flash drive.  Not only can it store (and view!) files wirelessly, it also works on Windows, Mac, Linux and even through a web browser.  If that wasn’t enough – Airsharing also includes helpful instructions on how to setup and connect to your device for your specific operating system.

Airsharing Initial ScreenThe initial screen in Airsharing displays a list of files and folders on the device, as well as the IP address of your device which can be used to view and upload files through your web browser.  Airsharing is capable of viewing many different types of files, including Word, Excel, Powerpoint, PDFs, and images which is extremely useful for viewing files on the go.

To protect your data, Airsharing comes equipped with security options such as password protection as well as sleeping after a period of inactivity.  Airsharing also offers the option of keeping your device password-free, which is convenient if you’re using it exclusively on a secure private network.

Connecting to your device via a web browser is as easy as entering the provided IP address into your location bar, but for a more permanent connection method you can use the included instructions (accessible via the ? button) to mount the device as a network drive.  I found this very to be very practical when transferring multiple files because the browser-based uairsharing31ploader only allows one file transfer at a time.

Do you have any suggestions for expanding the storage uses of your iPhone/iPod Touch?  Share them in the comments!

Windows Won’t Boot? Try The Recovery Console

bsodIt is all too easy for the Windows operating system to become damaged and render your computer unusable, stranding you from your critical applications and documents.  Events such as power outages, electrical surges, or even an improper shutdown can damage or corrupt important system files which may cause the operating system to fail when loading.

This guide will show you how to use the Recovery Console feature provided on the Windows installation CD to repair your system files and get your computer working again. Continue reading “Windows Won’t Boot? Try The Recovery Console”

Conficker Worm: How to Check If Your Computer Is Infected

keysToday is April 1st, and with that comes the fear of your computer being infected with the Conficker worm.  Besides following Lifehacker’s tips to protect your PC from Conficker, you can follow a more advanced method of scanning your computer in this guide.

UPDATE: There are new and easier methods to scan your computer for the Conficker worm: