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linux hdd errorsFrom personal experience, whenever I have a problem with any component in my computer, it’s more often the hard drive than anything else. My CPU has never failed me, nor my RAM, and my motherboard only once – partially. However, if I still had all the hard drives which have caused me some sort of grief or failed completely, it would sum up to a good-sized pile.

However, you can prolong the life of your hard drives through careful monitoring and maintenance. If you’re a Linux user, there are a number of tools which you can use to achieve this. There should be a tool for every type of user, including graphical tools as well as command line commands.

Gnome Disk Utility

linux hdd errors

The Gnome Disk Utility is my recommended pick when it comes to graphical tools, and it should be more than enough for most users. Overall, you can do a lot with this program, but it also has a number of features pertaining to disk faults and errors.

First and foremost, Gnome Disk Utility lets you look at the S.M.A.R.T. data of your hard drive (a special area on your hard drive which keeps track of what works and doesn’t work on your hard drive) and lets you know if there’s anything you should be aware of in case you haven’t noticed any operational issues yet. You can also initiate self-tests of your hard drive so you can be sure that the S.M.A.R.T. data being shown is current and accurate.

Gnome Disk Utility should already be installed by default on most distributions.

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GParted

linux hdd error check

If you’re familiar with GParted GParted - The Ultimate In Partitioning Software GParted - The Ultimate In Partitioning Software Read More , you can also use it to run checks on your filesystems to make sure that they do not have any issues either. These checks can also help fix issues which may be caused by physical hard drive issues, primarily by marking the affected blocks as unusable. This way, if the only issue with your hard drive is a couple of bad sectors, you can let the filesystem know about the issue so that it won’t be tempted to use those bad sectors.

Then, you can continue using your hard drive as if there was nothing wrong with it – albeit with a tad bit less total storage since you won’t be able to use those sectors anymore. You can also use GParted to not only check your Linux partitions, but also a certain number of other filesystems as well, including NTFS. To see which types of filesystems GParted can check, click here.

GParted usually needs to be installed from your respective repositories, but it should be found under the name gparted.

smartctl

linux hdd error check

A popular command line tool to look up S.M.A.R.T. information on a drive is smartctl. Although it’s not nearly as user-friendly simply because it’s a command line tool, it is still very useful for people who feel comfortable in the terminal and know how to use it or look up commands that go along with the tool.

To check whether a hard drive supports S.M.A.R.T., you can run smartctl -i /dev/sdx where you replace the x with the letter of your drive. If you only have one drive, it’s most likely going to be a, otherwise you’ll need to look it up via your preferred method. You can then check if a hard drive is failing by using smartctl -d ata -H /dev/sdx, again replacing the x for your drive’s letter.

There’s much more you can do with smartctl, but those are some commands you can use to get started.

gsmartcontrol

linux hdd errors

Thankfully, there’s a graphical tool which uses the smartctl tool called gsmartcontrol. With this tool you can still see a lot of technological data about your hard drive, but in a more organized and relatively visually appealing form when compared to the command line tool. There are a good number of things you can configure, and worth checking out.

Conclusion

Armed with these tools, you should be able to easily monitor the status of your hard drive and know what’s happening to it. When you’re informed, you can prepare appropriately to either prolong the life of the drive or have a substitute ready when it’s needed. These are the tools I definitely recommend checking out first, although there’s always others which you can use.

Don’t forget to make sure your data is safe in case your hard drive does fail! Check out our MakeUseOf guide for data recovery.

Are hard drive failures an issue for you? How often do they occur, and what do you do to detect or prevent them? Are there any other tools worth noting? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Sim75 (Simon Lane Photography)

  1. Mark S Bilk
    August 10, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Gnome Disk Utility runs fine under KDE3. I think that Gnome
    programs in general run under KDE and vice versa. Your software
    installation program will bring in any needed libraries
    automatically.

    What a great program for looking at SMART data this is --
    excellent user interface! Having had a hard disk failure a year
    ago, I've been filtering and checking the kernel log for disk
    errors when I thought a disk operation was taking too long.
    Checking for a green light for the drive with Gnome Disk Utility
    is much easier, and you can also instantly examine all the SMART
    information in detail.

    Thanks, Danny!

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 7:11 am

      No problem Mark! :)

  2. MerVzter Balacuit
    August 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    please hope there is for windows as well

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 7:10 am

      Tools like these for Windows, you mean?

  3. John Wilson
    August 5, 2012 at 4:55 am

    I keep thinking back to the early days when I discovered Linux and GParted was a command line tool instead of graphical and still packed with information once you get used to reading it.

    One of the things that has kept me from leaving Mandriva, well there's a ton of things that have managed that, but the main one has been the Mandriva Control Centre. From one location I get to check all kinds of functionality out including access GParted with Mandy's layer over top of it. It also has a disk health daemon running under GNOME and KDE as well as other desktops Mandy can install. The MCC also makes it easy to troubleshoot and reconnect networking, sound and so much more, all from one location.

    One of the beauties about Linux being network-centric is that it does do a much better job monitoring hardware such as hard disks and checking ahead for signs of impending failure. That is the UNIX heritage.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 7:11 am

      I've always found Mandriva to be a special distribution among the whole bunch. I'm still not quite sure why Ubuntu grew compared to Mandriva...was dependency hell an issue back then? I don't remember. :P

      • dragonmouth
        November 18, 2012 at 5:39 pm

        Over its existence, Mandrake/Mandriva never had strong corporate leadership. This led to a few corporate meltdowns during their history. For some reason, every couple of years, they find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy. Every time that happens, development is interupted, developers leave and the company has to start just about from scratch. These repeated interruptions in development cycles induced some former Mandriva developers along with community supporters to create Mageia. While Mandriva was going through its problems, Mark Shuttle worth has maintained firm control of Canonical and Ubuntu.

  4. Terafall
    August 5, 2012 at 4:37 am

    Just wondering,will Gnome Disk Utility work on other DE or only specific to Gnome?

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 7:09 am

      It should work in any DE, but it'll most likely have a lot of Gnome dependencies. If you're using KDE, that may not be welcome news, but if you're using a GTK based DE like Xfce or LXDE, then it should be just fine.

  5. Ashwin Ramesh
    August 5, 2012 at 3:54 am

    Cool! thanks!

  6. elhaj
    August 5, 2012 at 2:30 am

    nice article,
    if you can just change the name to something like "avoid hdd faults with Linux" instead of "avoid Linux hdd faults" cause with the later it seems like Linux is causing the faults

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 7:08 am

      Oh good point!

  7. Randy Luczak
    August 5, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Thanks for the info!

    Being relatively new to Ubuntu, it's good to know about some of the
    disk utilities that are available out there for Linux.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 7:08 am

      Glad you're finding it useful, Randy!

  8. Elijah Swartz
    August 4, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Do any of these tools work with other filesystems (non GNU/Linux related ones) such as NTFS?

    I wonder if SSDs have similar error rates. While HDDs have moving parts which can contribute to problems, most errors seem to be filesystem errors. I don't have a SSD yet, so I don't have experience with them. What do you think? Would SSDs have similar errors or not?

    From within Windows I have found that Hard Disk Sentinel to be a very good tool. It does more than a lot more than the just tell you "SMART" information. It tells your the temperature, errors, performance, set alerts, and do various drive tests. They even give you two additional ways to calculate the drive's health (vendor calculated and a more strict version for servers). You can even boot the program up via a flash drive if you can't get into Windows (although, I haven't tried that yet). For regular users, There is a free "trial" version with most features, and a Pro version with everything accessible. It was recommended to me, so I tried the free version, and lucky for me I soon got the Pro version for free from a giveaway a week or so later. There website contains a bit of a large and useful Knowledge Base regarding hard drives, partitions, SMART, and things of that nature.

    • Danny Stieben
      August 14, 2012 at 7:07 am

      Most of these tools are filesystem-independent, so it doesn't matter which file system you have. GParted is the only tool which is filesystem-oriented, and it works with most types.

      I don't have an SSD myself, but I believe SSDs behave similarly to SD cards. So, whatever issues are common with them, should be more common with SSDs.

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