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Disk Utility may not warn of a failing hard drive
Authored by: softraid on Sep 30, '10 09:19:36PM

There is another option when you suspect a drive may be failing, and that is the SoftRAID software. You can use it for 30 days free. If all you want to do is test a suspected bad disk, or check to see if you have any disks likely to fail, download it and try it out.

SoftRAID 4.x has many tools for checking disks.

The best is "Predictive Failure Analysis". SoftRAID engineering studied the Google findings extensively, and incorporated an analysis of the findings of this study, which allow the SoftRAID application and driver to reference patterns in SMART data to determine when a disk is "highly likely to fail" in the next few months. This only works on internals, or externals which can pass SMART data to the system. Its an incredibly powerful feature.

SoftRAID also has disk "certification", which lets you run 1 to 8 passes on a disk, which will write a pattern to the disk, then read it back. 3 passes should suffice for typical testing. At the end of the certification, a disk is tested with intensive random IO activity for 15 minutes (if this is a well cooled disk, you can extend this time, but be aware that this can damage a disk that does not have adequate cooling.) Certification will enable you to take a new disk and be highly confident of it before putting it into service. Most disks that fail in the first year, will fail in the first 30 days, and certification is one way to avoid those disks. Yes, brand new disks can fail a 3 pass certification test.

There is also verification, which can be run on either disks and volumes. (Because SoftRAID is a RAID software application, it is often important to verify that both disks in a stripe/mirror are readable, and in the case of Mirrors, that both disks are identical). Verification is a standard read of an entire disk/volume, except it can be run in the background, without affecting your use of the system.

There is error tracking if you choose to use SoftRAID to control your disks. Any disk that is controlled by SoftRAID tracks and logs all disk errors. We have found that OS X ignores most (80%+) disk errors, not letting the user know they happened. This is partly why disks fail "suddenly", as you are not getting the clues that a drive is failing until it is too late.

SoftRAID is normally used on Servers and "prosumer" systems, and these disk management capabilities are pretty unique. We are investigating whether we should integrate some of this technology into a standalone product, but tracking disk errors would require our driver to control the disk. In the meantime, feel free to download the application and use it for testing your disks.



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