How to check and monitor your hard drive’s health

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How to check and monitor your hard drive’s health

Of all the PC components, few require more care and attention than a hard drive. We’ve all heard the admonishments to defragment drives, and clean up junk files to keep all our 1s and 0s sparkling. No matter how well you care for it, however, at some point that drive is going to fail. Sometimes you can hear it coming, sometimes it happens suddenly in the middle of a project, and other times it just refuses to boot one morning.


Whatever way your hard drive meets its end, it’s a certainty you’ll see it happen if you use a PC long enough. Hard drives are complicated little devices. The primary components are the magnetic platters that contain the data, as well as the head that reads and writes the data.

Those moving parts are the great benefit and big flaw of your hard drive. One ill-timed drop of a laptop, or a sudden move of a desktop tower, and the drive can be irreparably damaged. Wait long enough, however, and the drive will just fail on its own.

That’s why hard drives need closer monitoring than a solid state drive, which has no moving parts. They die too, but usually not under the same conditions. If you’re thinking about using an SSD as your primary boot drive, check out our roundup of the best SSDs.

While you can’t always predict when or how your hard drive will bite the dust, you can take a few steps to see it coming.

Get SMART

The first tool for keeping tabs on a hard drive is its Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology, or SMART, feature. This system is built into most modern hard drives and SSDs, and it’s designed to report when your drive is failing or encountering issues. Drive manufacturers can take their own approaches to SMART, but they generally measure similar performance points such as read error rates, mechanical shock, hard disk temperature, seek time performance, and so on.

Most of the time the SMART system works in the background, but you can bring it to the fore in a number of ways.

The simplest way is to use the Windows command line utility WMIC, which stands for Windows Management Instrumentation Command-line (utility). This basic tool is a simple yay/nay health result based on the SMART statistics. Open a Windows command prompt and enter the following: wmic diskdrive get model,status.

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