How Healthy Is Your Hard Drive?

Belarc's free browser plug-in offers SMART ways to check your drive. Virtually all PC hard drives made in the past few years come with SMART (Smart Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) software, which continuously monitors drive parameters such as performance and error rates. SMART uses a technology known as predictive failure analysis to sound the alarm if a drive failure is imminent.

Sounds great, huh? Unfortunately, most drives turn off SMART, because desktop operating systems such as Windows 98 don't know how to gather SMART data. But now you can check your hard drive status from your browser. Belarc's BelDrive, a free plug-in that works with most browsers--including Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator 2.0 and later--turns on your drive's SMART capabilities and analyzes the drive, giving you a graphical status report.

Click on the drive's icon, and BelDrive will also provide information such as your drive's serial number, capacity, and speed capabilities--even if you have an older drive that doesn't support SMART.

Privacy Protected
Sumin Tchen, Belarc's chairman, is careful to address the concern that BelDrive will give the company access to your hard drive. He said the plug-in works locally on your PC, essentially using the browser as its interface. All SMART data from your drive stays on your machine; it isn't sent over the Internet. And Tchen adds that SMART doesn't provide access to normal working data on your drive. Belarc's Web site also offers several other diagnostic plug-ins, including a utility that calculates the performance boost you'd get from adding additional memory to your PC, and one that lets you know which processor upgrades your PC's motherboard will support. The company licenses various diagnostics to major PC and accessory makers, such as Western Digital and Kingston.

Snapshots Only
While BelDrive is a unique concept, it still offers only a snapshot of your drive's health, while SMART is designed for continuous monitoring so that you can address problems immediately. And SMART can't predict all mechanical drive failures--the unexpected can still happen. Note also that there are other ways to get SMART. If you're on a corporate network, chances are that your system administrator uses network management software that monitors the SMART status of all hard drives on the network. And if you're running Norton Utilities, it continuously monitors SMART data, and will pop up a warning if problems occur.


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