How to check Hard Drive Health

Recently I got a donated external hard drive from my brother – he knows I like to take apart old electronics. He thought the drive was dead, but as it turned out, only the electronics that interfaced between the hard drive and USB port were disfunctional. The hard drive itself booted up great once I attached it to the old hard drive USB board I featured in an older post.

testing old hard drive WD

So the hard drive works great now, but I know this hard drive was bought around 2007, so it’s already really old. If I wanted to use it for backup, I wanted to make sure it had plenty of life left.

The first and easiest thing to check is the brand name. This one is from Western Digital.

old hard drive brand and specifications on sticker

They tend to be a middle-of-the-road manufacturer, and I’ve had really good luck with them. (Seagate hard drives on the other hand, seem to ALWAYS fail eventually.) Here’s a great chart from Lifehacker on the various failure rates of different hard drive brands that EXACTLY mirrors my own experience with seagate.


Digging Deeper into your Drive Stats

To really see what’s going on with your drive, install the free trial of a utility called HD Tune. Once it’s fired up, click the “drive health” tab. You should get a screen that looks like this:

testing drive health

The first interesting thing to note is the “odometer” on the drive. This is how many hours the drive has spend spinning. The higher the number, the shorter its remaining lifespan. Anything under 8000 means it has lots of life left (unless it’s a Seagate.) This drive has 21,000 hours on it, so it’s more likely to be on its way out.

hard drive mileage

Signs of Impending Doom

There are two entries in this table that show us the drive is getting ready for a catastrophic failure. Pending Sectors, and to a lesser degree, Reallocated Sectors.

reallocated sectors and pending sectors mean drive is failing

Ideally you want these both to be zero.  If Reallocated sectors is above zero but never continues to rise, it might be ok.

In the case of this drive, we have a very high hours count, and over 500 bad sectors. It’s not looking like a good candidate for keeping backups on. It’s a shame to not use 320gb of a still-functioning hard drive, but it can still be used for installing programs on, just not for keeping any vital data.