Find Hard Disk Drive Errors, Model, Serial, Firmware with GSmartControl on USB Flash Drive

Check your hard drive for low-level or physical errors using the GSmartControl tool from a USB flash drive.

Are you getting hard drive errors? Would you like to check the status of any hard drive and run the on-board self-tests? Would you like to lookup the exact model, serial number and firmware of any hard drive?

I'll be booting an HP laptop from the "Admin Key" flash drive from CraftedFlash.com. The software on this USB flash drive provides access to the standard SMART monitoring system, which is included with the firmware on most modern hard drives.

This USB 3.0 flash drive comes preloaded with system administration linux distros. No installation is necessary on the target computer because everything loads from the flash drive. This can be very useful for diagnosing problems when the computer can not boot from its own hard drive.

To get started, I'll insert the USB drive in any available USB slot and the power on the computer.

Once the list is displayed, we can use the arrow keys to select the distro we wish to boot. I'm going to select the "Parted Magic" distro and start the boot process.

The boot loader is now loading the distro into memory and will launch it once this is complete.

When troubleshooting hard drive related error messages, it is often useful to determine whether there is a physical failure versus a file corruption error. The information in this video indicates the physical status of the hard drive. If the drive shows physical errors, then it needs to be replaced. If the hard drive shows no physical problems, then the error messages likely indicate corruption of the partition, file system or individual files. In that case you need to repair the corruption.

I am going to use the GSmartControl tool to review the status and specs of the main hard drive. This tool will not modify the hard drive. I will also show you where you can invoke the hard drive self-tests for diagnostic purposes.

When you launch GSmartControl via the Disk Health icon, it scans the system for available drives and presents you with a list. Select the hard drive in question and GSmartControl will display the device information window.

The device information window presents convenient tabs to organize the SMART information retrieved from the hard drive. The "Identify" tab is displayed initially and it contains useful information about the hard drive.

  • Model Family - manufacturer, model and possibly form factor of the drive
  • Device Model - precise model number, useful for ordering a replacement
  • Serial Number - useful for inquiring about warranty status
  • Firmware Revision - useful for troubleshooting against known issues

    The "Attributes" tab shows a list of readings reported by the SMART system. These readings are vendor specific and can therefore be difficult to describe and interpret for all drives. The convenient "Failed" column shows whether the drive firmware considers any of the readings to have fallen outside allowed ranges during the entire lifetime of the drive.

    The "Capabilities" tab shows supported features of the drive as reported by the firmware.

    The "Error Log" tab shows the lifetime drive error count and the actual errors most recently detected. Under normal circumstances, you would expect this section to be empty. Modern firmware works very hard to transparently reallocate physical sectors that fail. So, when an error is recorded in the error log, it indicates that the firmware was unable to compensate for the problem.

    The "Perform Tests" tab provides you with options for testing the drive. All of the SMART self-tests provided are safe to user data.

    Now I am going to open a terminal window and show you a couple command line options for the underlying "smartctl" tool.

    The first command displays information similar to the Identify tab on the GUI.

    sudo smartctl --info /dev/sda

    The second command displays the SMART error log.

    sudo smartctl -l error /dev/sda

    Finally, you can display all of the command line options with the help parameter.

    smartctl --help

    There are several ways to obtain the GSmartControl tool for your use. You can visit CraftedFlash.com and order the "Admin Key" flash drive shown in this video.

    If you already have Linux installed on the system with the target hard drive, then you can probably install GSmartControl from the distro repositories.

    On Ubuntu or Debian
    sudo apt-get install gsmartcontrol

    On CentOS, Redhat and OpenSUSE
    yum install gsmartcontrol

    Having GSmartControl on a USB flash drive with a bootable OS like Parted Magic allows you to troubleshoot almost any laptop or PC regardless of the hard drive status. Even better, you can take the flash drive with you when assisting customers, family and friends.

    I hope this video has been instructive. Please visit the forums at CraftedFlash.com and let us know if you have any questions or suggestions.

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