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 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.