Being smart about S.M.A.R.T. errors

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Reader Christopher Malloy asks, in three parts, just how S.M.A.R.T. Disk Utility is. He writes:

1.) Within Disk Utility, what is S.M.A.R.T. status detailing? 1a.) What does this mean if my S.M.A.R.T. status is “failing?” 1b.) Is there anything I can do to fix this “failing” S.M.A.R.T. status?

Answer 1.) S.M.A.R.T. (or Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) is an open standard for monitoring and reporting a supported hard disk’s health and happiness. Such a supported drive checks the performance of its workings—motors, media, heads, and electronics—and compares that performance to a set of thresholds burned into the drive’s little brain.

S.M.A.R.T. makes its judgments based on predictive factors—if the flying height of the head is starting to diminish or the number of remapped sectors exceeds a certain number, for example. When S.M.A.R.T. sees this kind of trend, it sends up a flare in the form of a warning that can be read by software such as Apple’s Disk Utility. (You’ll see this status message at the bottom of the Disk Utility window when you select a supported hard drive.)

Answer 1a.) If you see anything other than “Verified” in the status area, back up your drive Right Now and don’t rely on it. You can check the integrity of the drive with a tool such as Micromat’s TechTool Pro or ProSoft Engineering’s Drive Genius to get a better idea of what’s going on.

Those in the know suggest that you contact the drive’s manufacturer to learn what you can do about the drive. If it’s under warranty, the manufacturer will often replace the drive when a S.M.A.R.T. error crops up.

Answer 1b.) The S.M.A.R.T. status message is akin to the pain reflex—it’s not the kind of thing you want to cover up or ignore. It’s there to let you know that something unhealthy may be happening. Distressing as it may be to see it, it’s there for your own good.

If you’d like to be alerted to S.M.A.R.T. errors without having to open Disk Utility, download a copy of A. Julian Mayer’s free SMARTReporter. This handy utility places a hard drive icon in the Mac’s menubar that glows green if the drive’s doing well, gray if its status is unknown, or red if it’s failing. It can also pop-up an alert, launch an application, or send an email message if one of your drives starts to fail.

Updated to include SMARTReporter information.

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