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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Hard Disk Drives | Hard Disk Performance, Quality and Reliability | Hard Disk Quality and Reliability | Hard Disk Quality and Reliability Issues ]

Diagnostic Software

All hard disk manufacturers write and maintain special diagnostic software for their drives. The purpose of diagnostic software is simple: to test drives and diagnose potential problems with them. These programs usually come with retail drives on a floppy disk, or can be downloaded from the manufacturer's web site (at no charge). In some cases a single program will function for any of the manufacturer's drives, but in other cases a different program is needed depending on the drive model; check the manufacturer's instructions.

If you suspect a problem with your hard disk, you should always run a diagnostic program to check the status of the drive. For one thing, the technical support department of most manufacturers will require the information provided by the diagnostic tool in order to help you with any problems you experience with the drive. Some will require an error code or other status information before agreeing to declare a drive defective and issue an RMA for it.

Often, the diagnostic functions of these utilities are combined with other features for erasing the disk and are sometimes (incorrectly) called "low-level format utilities". For more information on this software, see this section.

Warning: I recommend against using any diagnostic utility or other software tool written by one manufacturer on another manufacturer's drives, unless the manufacturer of your drive instructs you to do so. While it is very unlikely that a problem will result--such software usually interrogates the drive to determine its type and will refuse to touch a drive made by another manufacturer--there is always the possibility of problems. It's best to use utilities designed specifically for your particular make and model.

Tip: The operative word when using diagnostic software is "software". Like any software program, diagnostic utilities can occasionally have bugs or problems. There was recently a version of a diagnostic utility that was incorrectly returning error codes on drives that turned out to be perfectly fine. Be sure to double-check any error reports with your drive maker's technical support department before concluding that the drive is bad.

Next: Failure Modes and Failure Determination


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