Data loss can take many forms, but one of the most devastating is through physical drive failure. There’s no knowing how long your hard drives will last – one drive might last well beyond its projected five-year lifespan while another identical model fails within six months. But it’s not just bad luck that can shorten a drive’s life – it’s the physical environment it operates in (hotter hard drives die sooner) and how well it’s maintained (a fragmented hard disk works a lot harder, and the physical stress again shortens its life).
Windows can provide some built-in tools for monitoring hard drives, but you’ll need a good third-party program to check on its physical status. The good news is, keeping an eye on your hard drive doesn’t have to cost a cent, thanks to the freeware tool CrystalDisk Info 5.5.0.
CrystalDiskInfo, also available as a portable build, allows you to monitor the health of all the physical hard disks attached to your PC – internal and many external USB drives – using their own built-in SMART tools plus any temperature-monitoring tools that may be present in the computer or hard drive.
Each physical disk is clearly marked with a rating of Good, Caution or Bad, colour-coded accordingly. Also displayed is the drive’s current temperature, allowing you to see just how hot your drives are running (anything over 50 degrees C in a desktop should be considered bad for your drive’s long-term health).
Click on a drive’s entry and you’ll see plenty more information about the drive – its key statistics such as firmware, serial number and interface, plus its supported features. Also displayed are two useful figures: power-on count (the number of times the drive has been booted up) and power-on hours. These help monitor how long the drive has been in operation, which in turn can give you an idea of whether or not a replacement may be in order sooner rather than later.
The tool also displays detailed SMART information about the drives – it’s these figures which are used to generate the drive’s overall health rating, and those marked yellow or red will be responsible for potential problems. It’s worth Googling attribute names before panicking too much however, and with issues marked with Caution, simply keep an eye on the Current and Worst figures over a period of time to determine if the potential problem is stable or rapidly deteriorating, suggesting the drive will need replacing (after backing up).
Version 5.5.0 has just been released with improved support for Intel and OCZ support, better support for Internet Explorer 10 and improved drive letter mapping.