Drive responsibly: Disk diagnostic tools

Sysadmins need to have lots of useful tools in their toolbox. This is especially true for those of us who administer small to mid-sized computing environments, since these tend to grow organically over time instead of being process-driven as enterprise IT generally works. A small network with 25 or 50 PCs is likely to include systems from multiple vendors and several different makes and models. With smaller businesses, procurement of new PCs and other infrastructure hardware tends to happen in bursts as the need arises — often without a clearly developed long-term strategic plan in place.

The resulting heterogeneous mix of newer, older, and even legacy hardware can be a royal pain to administer. Tools that work with one platform like HP may not be of any use when you have to configure, troubleshoot, or repair systems from another vendor like Dell or Lenovo. And utilities that work well with hard-disk drives may not be best when you need to tune or troubleshoot a machine that has a solid-state disk in it.

Tools and utilities are one of the favorite topics of the almost 100,000 IT pro readers of our WServerNews Weekly Newsletter. The recommendations and tips on disk diagnostic and recovery tools that are included in this article have been drawn mostly from the many helpful reader suggestions we’ve published in our newsletter — which, by the way I encourage you to subscribe to right away. If you aren’t already receiving our newsletter, it’s the largest of its kind in the world and has been running weekly now for almost 20 years!

The utilities below are presented “as is” as recommended by our readers, and are listed in no particular order. They’re just a bunch of tools you may want to consider adding to your sysadmin’s toolbox depending on the type of systems and storage hardware you have deployed in your environment. For simplicity I’ve divvied up these utilities into two broad categories: tools for diagnostic and health monitoring (including utilities from disk vendors themselves) and tools for data recovery. This first part of this article will focus on tools in the first category that can help you monitor the health of disks and diagnose problems you may be having with them by using both third-party and vendor-sourced tools. In a future article (coming soon!), we’ll look at some of the HDD/SSD data-recovery tools and services that our WServerNews newsletter readers recommend you keep handy in your sysadmin’s toolbox..

And by the way, if you have additional tools you’d like to recommend for either of these two categories, feel free to express your suggestions via the commenting feature in these articles.

Diagnostic and health-monitoring utilities

Fernand, a computer and network consultant who lives here in my own home town of Winnipeg, Canada, recommends Hard Disk Sentinel (HDSentinel) for diagnosing various disk problems. “By far the best drive diagnostic tool I’ve found is HDSentinel,” Fernand says. “It is very accurate and works great. It will not only provide the S.M.A.R.T. details, but also does a credible analysis of the results.” HDSentinel works with both HDDs and SSDs and is available in various editions including a free trial edition.

One disk tool that I’ve used myself to troubleshoot missing free-space problems on several systems is CrystalDiskInfo. This simple utility has been around now for over 18 years and is constantly being improved. CrystalDiskInfo retrieves S.M.A.R.T. data that can tell you about the health of a disk and may indicate its possible imminent demise. This utility now includes support for NVMe drives on Windows 10. It’s available in several different editions and is released under a simplified BSD license. You can even download a Japanese version of this tool that includes a cute image of Shizuku Chan, a female character popular in children’s manga and anime.

Simon, one of our newsletter readers who hails from Romsey in the UK, recommends a different tool called HD Tune Pro, which he says sysadmins “might want to take a look at” if the tools they are currently using don’t do the job. There’s also a free version of this tool called HD Tune, but be aware if you want to purchase the Windows 10 version of HD Tune Pro you’ll need to visit the Windows 10 App Store in order to buy it as it’s only available from there.

Another disk utility that several of our newsletter readers have recommended is Hiren’s BootCD. Although this particular tool hasn’t been updated for a couple of years, a reader named Jeff says it’s “a first-aid kit for your computer and contains a whole collection of different hard disk tools” that Jeff personally has found useful many times in his IT job.

Utilities from disk vendors

Some disk utilities are designed or intended only to work with the vendor’s own storage hardware. And since storage hardware companies tend to come and go as they get bought up by other companies, if you still have older systems with legacy HDD disks in them you might need to hunt around a bit should you need one of these tools for troubleshooting the vendor’s disk drives on older systems. To make this job a bit easier for you, here is a quick rundown on where you can find or download some of these hard-to-find disk vendor tools:

And to finish things off for this category, here are a couple of disk utilities from well-known SSD vendors:

Photo credit: FreeRange Stock

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