How to Test a Hard Drive

I had a hard disk drive (HDD) I wanted to sell. I wanted to check it carefully, so as not to burden the buyer with a dud, and not to have to reimburse and pay return shipping if s/he knew more about drive testing than I did. So I decided to look into the recommended ways of checking an HDD.

Note that this was completely different from the question of how to check a solid state drive (SSD). Note also the advisability of having a backup of any data to be preserved, before starting to screw around with diagnostic tools that might wipe out everything.

For this particular drive, I had already wiped the data using DBAN. (Note, again, that SSDs required an entirely different procedure.) The only task at issue here was that of checking for flaws on the drive. Gizmodo suggested using a zero-fill utility as an alternative way of wiping HDDs.

Lifehacker said that wiping the drive could be, in itself, a way of testing the drive. I did not think that would be adequate. I, myself, had once sold a drive that I had not only secure-erased, but had also tested with one or more programs; and yet the buyer found problems with it. Here is what the buyer sent me (click to enlarge):

Bad HDD 1

As that image indicates, the buyer of that Samsung HDD used two programs, HD Tune Pro and PassMark’s DiskCheckup. (See also PassMark’s BurnInTest.) The developer’s website said that HD Tune Pro was free for the first 15 days, and would then cost $34.95. I knew that sometimes developers would say something like that, but then would allow free use thereafter, perhaps with an occasional nag. I downloaded and installed version 5.50. The DiskCheckup website said it was free for personal use. I downloaded and installed version 3.3.

Those two programs were among many recommended by various sources. A search led, for example, to 1 2 3 4 sites recommending CHKDSK, SCANDISK, Seagate SeaTools, PassMark DiskCheckup, Western Digital’s Data Lifeguard Diagnostics, HDDScan, HDDLife Pro, Hard Disk Sentinel, GSmartControl, Windows Drive Fitness Test, Samsung HUTIL, Bart’s Stuff Test, Fujitsu Diagnostic Tool, Free EASIS Drive Check, Macrorit Disk Scanner, Ariolic Disk Scanner, and/or CrystalDiskInfo.

Unfortunately, it was not as easy to find sources that had actually tested these programs on real-world hard drive problems. Time permitting, I would buy a used drive on eBay, marked as failing or for parts, and test it in various ways. But that project would have to wait. At the moment, I had to find a faster way of choosing among these various tools.

Another search led to a handful of websites that offered lists of the best drive-checking utilities. In a recent review of free HDD diagnostic programs, Gizmo recommended CrystalDiskInfo, HDDScan, HD Tune, and DiskCheckup, in decreasing order, ranging from 4.5 stars down to 2.5 stars. A PC World article from 2011 recommended DiskCheckup. HowToGeek recommended CrystalDiskInfo. GFI Blog recommended HD Tune, CrystalDiskInfo, and HDDScan. Raymond recommended HD Tune. A discussion in an forum leaned toward HD Tune, with positive comments also for Hard Disk (HD) Sentinel and WindowSmart.

In the case of the hard drive that I thought was OK, where my buyer’s HD Tune Pro and DiskCheckup said otherwise (above), I dimly recalled using CHKDSK and probably a manufacturer’s utility — in that case, probably HUTIL or some other Samsung tool. My impression now was that those tools were OK for some kinds of monitoring — indeed, I ran CHKDSK regularly — but they had obviously failed to detect problems that HD Tune Pro and DiskCheckup had detected. The comments summarized in the previous paragraph, and the recommendations of the various websites cited above, combined to make me think that I should use those two (i.e., HD Tune Pro and DiskCheckup), along with CrystalDiskInfo and perhaps Seagate SeaTools.

I tried running those four tools against a 2TB Seagate HDD in an external dock. HD Tune Pro 5.50 returned immediate results, informing me that the drive was OK across all criteria, most of which were Greek to me (e.g., Unsafe Shutdown Count, Current Pending Sector). PassMark DiskCheckup 3.3, by contrast, did not seem comfortable working with an external drive: it reported null values for a number of criteria, and its Disk Self Test reported “Unable to retrieve self test status.” CrystalDiskInfo 6.3.2 (portable, Standard Edition, with 64-bit exe files) immediately reported “Good” health status, as HD Tune had done.

Judging from their immediate responses, those three tools all seemed to be relying on the HDD’s own internal self-monitoring. I was not sure what was covered by the drive’s Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.). This was different from the approach taken by Seagate’s SeaTools for Windows. It offered four different tests: Short Drive Self-Test, Drive Information, Short Generic, and Long Generic — plus several so-called Advanced Tests that were not really tests: they were Firmware Update and, within the USB Erase Tracks option, a choice between Basic and Full Disc Erase.

Three of the four tests in SeaTools took time. In those tests, that is, the program was not relying on the drive’s self-reporting; it was doing its own direct investigation of drive status. The Short Drive Self-Test took only a minute or so, and likewise for the Short Generic Test. The Long Generic Test took more than an hour and began with a warning:

Only Seagate or Maxtor external drives may be repaired.

Now is a good time to make sure that you have a current backup of your important data. This test has the ability to repair problem sectors that are difficult to read. For more information on this subject, see the Help file topic “Bad Sector Found.” This test may take several hours to complete. You may abort the test at any time. After the test completes, at the Help menu, note the drive’s serial number and view the test log file for details about any errors. If you select “Repair All,” SeaTools will scan sequentially and repair as needed. SeaTools will FAIL the drive if the repair is unsuccessful. If SeaTools repaired sectors, you can verify the status by running the Long Generic test again.

So it sounded like the SeaTools Long Generic Test was the Seagate counterpart to the CHKDSK tool in Windows. That is, this seemed to be the test that would go over every square millimeter of the drive, checking its individual sectors for damage. I was not sure whether the SeaTools test was more thorough than CHKDSK, but I suspected it was: there would have been no reason to limit changes to Seagate and Maxtor drives, if SeaTools were merely implementing CHKDSK.

Within SeaTools, the Drive Information test was the only one with instant feedback, and that feedback was interesting: it stated that SMART was not supported. Browsing the results of a search, I gathered that drive diagnostic tools varied in their support for USB drives. There were reports that CrystalDiskInfo, in particular, did support external drives. Thus it seemed that, when CrystalDiskInfo told me (above) that the USB drive was in Good health, it was not just making it up; apparently it was actually checking the drive.


This post looked for utilities to test the health of hard disk drives (HDDs). Many sites recommended various tools for that purpose. Short of obtaining various defective drives and comparing the results provided by various utilities, it seemed the best one could do was to review recommendations. HD Tune Pro, PassMark DiskCheckup, and CrystalDiskInfo seemed to be among the most widely recommended HDD diagnostic programs. All three seemed to provide instant reports of HDD self-diagnostic information. It was not clear, at this point, whether HD Tune Pro would become nonworking after the expiration of its 15-day trial period. PassMark DiskCheckup did not seem to work with USB external drives, and unfortunately I did not have an internal bay to use for testing this drive. Hence, if I had to choose just one of these three programs as my medium-term HDD diagnostic solution, it would probably be CrystalDiskInfo. That said, I would still try to use HD Tune Pro if possible, since that was the one that had detected problems in one drive that my own tools had not detected.

Seagate SeaTools offered a different kind of HDD diagnostic. Along with its Short and Drive Information tests, SeaTools also offered a Long Generic test that seemed to be going over each sector of the drive, testing its data recording surfaces directly instead of relying on the drive’s self-reporting. SeaTools would offer to make repairs only on Seagate and Maxtor drives. I was not sure whether one of the alternatives (e.g., Western Digital’s Data Lifeguard Diagnostics) would attempt repairs on other kinds of drives. The Windows CHKDSK program, I knew, would attempt certain kinds of repairs on any drive. Pending further information, it appeared that it would be wise to supplement HD Tune Pro or CrystalDiskInfo with some such drive surface tester — SeaTools, if possible, but at least CHKDSK.

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2 Responses to How to Test a Hard Drive

  1. J.T. Talks says:

    Loved this and great job man. Putting together a project. I needed this. —- I do a good bit of tech vids. Working on a live cd and a USB tool set for techs.

  2. J.T. Talks says:

    Oh and SpeedFan is another little one that people tend to miss. It monitors your computers temp along with your HDD temp and runs smart scans. Kinda neat.

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