Hard Drive Health

By Don Trauger, Kennett

            The hard drive in a computer is where all of your data, programs, and the Windows operating system are stored. This electromechanical device is critical to the operation of a computer. You have all heard the term backup. This means to store copies of your data files in another safe place besides the hard drive in your computer. These devices do fail and without remote access to your data then all could be lost.


            Hard drives can relate to phonograph players and records. Substitute the tone arm for a magnetic pick-up head and the turntable for a motor that spins a disc with magnetic properties. The disc has magnetic tracks instead of grooves as on a phonograph record. Each track is divided into sectors where your data is stored. Hard drive manufacturers document all of the hard drive’s operating conditions in a table called S.M.A.R.T.             which stands for Self Monitoring and Analysis Reporting Technology. Don’t let that scare you away from continuing to read this because I’m recommending a program that makes this technical jargon easy to understand.


            We all get medical tests to find out if we are in good health or need follow-up with a medical problem. We don’t understand the technical aspects of how medical tests are accomplished but we do understand the results. It’s the same with analyzing the health of your hard drive. The name of the program to monitor the health of your disk drive is called Crystal Disk Info. To download this free program go to http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskInfo/index-e.html. You can copy this address into your browser. At the CrystalDiskInfo web site, click a blue image with the number 5 on the left side to download the installer file. The current version is 5.0.5 but that may change by the time you read this. Choose your Desktop as a save location. After it is downloaded double click the new CrystalDiskInfo icon to start the installation. Follow the screen prompts and remember not to install ANY other software (toolbars, etc.) that may be piggybacked on the installer. Uncheck or decline any options to install additional software.


            After the program is installed you may delete the installer file that was downloaded. Double click the CrystalDiskInfo program icon (not the installer icon) and immediately you will see the health of your disk drive on the left side of the window under Health Status. Shaded in blue, it should say “Good”. If there are problems with the drive it will be shaded in yellow and it will say “Caution”. If it’s red, you are in trouble!


            Since this program only monitors and does not correct problems what else should you do if you see “Caution”? Basically there is only one utility that can be run to fix hard drive problems. Click the Start button on your Desktop and to the right you should see “Run”. Click Run and type “chkdsk c: /r” (no quotes) and OK the window. When a black DOS window opens answer the question with a Y and press the Enter key. Reboot and this utility will run and analyze your hard drive for errors and make repairs if it can. It may take 2 hours or more to do this. After running the utility your hard drive will have be repaired if necessary. This will not change the reading from CrystalDiskInfo even if repairs were done. The reason is that once data is entered into the S.M.A.R.T. table it can’t be changed. To gain further insight into the using CrystalDiskInfo and interpreting the results of the chkdsk utility please attend our PC Club meeting. A decision to replace a hard drive can easily be made once you understand the reported results.        


            Our PC Computer Club is open to all residents. There is no formal membership or experience required. Your questions and problems will be addressed at the meeting. We meet the 2nd Tuesday of each month at 7:00 PM upstairs in the Ardmore room of the Community Center.