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I have an 1 TB data disk and the bios and Windows are reporting a "Smart" error. At least, I get a Smart event but it doesn't indicate how serious the failure could be. My system is about 6 months old, including the disk so the warranty will cover the damage. Unfortunately, I lack a second disk of 1 TB in size which I can use to make a full backup. The most important data on this disk is safe, but there's a lot of work data which can be regenerated but this would cost a lot of time.

So I ordered an USB disk of 1 TB which will arrive in three days. By then I can make a full backup of the data and afterwards, it can crash.

But will the disk live that long? (Well, I won't use the PC as long as I can't make a backup.) How serious is such a Smart event? I know it's serious enough to have it replaced, but will it live for another week or could it die any moment?


Update: I purchased an 1 TB external disk and spent most of the day making a backup of the 1 TB disk. It survived that. I then received a new disk, since it was still under warranty and replaced the hard disk. Then I had to spend most of a day again to put back the backup. I need to send back the faulty disk and now have an additional external disk, which could always be practical. :-)

The Smart Error report did not cause any failures on the original disk. I won't advise to ignore these warnings, but the disk still has enough life in it to last a few more days. (Just make sure you have a good back-up.)

And oh, the horror of having to make a complete backup such a huge disk. :-) If your data is important, make sure you have something that supports incremental backups and lots of space. (In my case, the data wasn't very important, just practical to have on-disk together.)

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SMART errors come in many flavors. Since Windows doesn't deem us worthy of knowing the actual error, what are we supposed to do? Guess? If you want to assume the worst to be on the safe side, do so, but we do not know any more than you do. –  Teddy Dec 13 '09 at 14:18
    
Exactly what I was afraid of. So now I know my disk is a bit closer to failure than average. But an hour, day or even month? Then what's the use of a Smart error if it's not smart enough to estimate how long the disk will live? –  Wim ten Brink Dec 13 '09 at 14:34
    
From what @Shoeless posted I guess the use of SMART is to tell you to dig out the spare drive from storage, back up the failing one and replace it NOW. –  ChrisF Dec 13 '09 at 16:52
    
i wouldn't trust this drive with important data anymore. but then, you can adopt the Irish way to deal with 'alerts' and get on with it (the part i'm referring to starts at 4:00 :) youtube.com/watch?v=Ph7XHGmj1NA&feature=related –  Molly7244 Dec 13 '09 at 18:39
    
Get a copy of Speedfan, it is able to query SMART status of the drive and give you a drive health check. This should help pinpoint the error better. almico.com/speedfan.php –  Mokubai Dec 14 '09 at 8:40

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

http://www.hdtune.com/ can show you exactly what the SMART errors are, and from that you can determine how serious it is. Generally I would replace the drive ASAP, but if you are hesitant, run HDTune and see exactly what is running out of spec.

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I'm hesitant because it's a disk with about 700 GB of generated data. I can recreate this data but that takes time. Unfortunately, I ran out of backup disks so I had to order a few new ones. Those will arrive within 2 days from now. So for now, this system has to lie low a few days. –  Wim ten Brink Dec 14 '09 at 9:17

Your questions are difficult to answer. From the Wikipedia article on S.M.A.R.T.

"The purpose of S.M.A.R.T. is to warn a user or a system administrator of impending drive failure while there is still time to take preventive action, such as copying the data to a replacement device. Approximately 64% of failures can be predicted by S.M.A.R.T.[2] Work at Google on over 100,000 drives has shown little overall predictive value of S.M.A.R.T. status as a whole, but suggests that certain sub-categories of information which some S.M.A.R.T. implementations track do correlate with actual failure rates – specifically, in the 60 days following the first scan error on a drive, the drive is, on average, 39 times more likely to fail than it would have been had no such error occurred. Also, first errors in reallocations, offline reallocations and probational counts are strongly correlated to higher probabilities of failure.[3]"

I suggest:

  1. keeping use of the failing drive to a minimum
  2. backing up your data to the new drive asap
  3. contacting the manufacturer of the drive for replacement (if it is still in the warranty period)
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SMART events do not guarantee failure, and drives can live for a very long time after a SMART event. That said, statistically speaking, after a SMART even has occurred on a drive, the likelihood of failure in the next couple of months shoots up.

Your disk is surely degrading, and a SMART event is a very good indication of an imminent problem. But the problem may be weeks or months away or even more. And even if a bad spot appears on the drive, the drive itself may compensate for the error by substituting for the failed sector one of the spare sectors all modern drives keep for that purpose.

In conclusion, no need to enter yet into panic mode. But make sure you have backups at all times.

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SMART errors aren't reported very well in windows as previously answers mention. Ignoring them isn't a good idea though. The previously mentioned HD Tune is a good idea, you can check the Reallocated Sector Count and the Spin Retry Count numbers. Those are the two really bad ones. A SMART error can also be caused by the drive overheating so you should check to make sure it's not getting too hot. If it's painful to leave your finger touching it for more than a few seconds then it's too hot.

In addition to all that you should figure out the manufacturer of the drive and use their diagnostic tools to check the drive's health. These are normally a combo of a SMART data check plus a full drive read sector scan. Just be aware to use the non-destructive disk checks (99% of them are but it doesn't hurt to be careful). If the manufacturer diagnostic tool reports failure then you should RMA the drive.

Be aware, not all manufacturer's diagnostic tools are created equal unfortunately and your drive could be dieing even if the tool says it is ok. A good one to use is the IBM/Hitachi Drive Fitness Test on the ultimate boot cd. If it fails that test I wouldn't trust the drive. That cd also have other various hard drive diagnostic tools as well.

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Well, system and disk are less than 6 months old, so the warranty covers the damage. Just not the data, which I need to keep safe. (I have backup of older versions and two days from now I will have enough disk space to make a full backup.) So basically, I better keep it off until I have the backup disk, then contact the manufacturer to get them to fix it. –  Wim ten Brink Dec 14 '09 at 9:20

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