Failing Drive? SMARTReporter is a Great Diagnostic Utility

| Quick Look Review

Every hard disk has a Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology system buit-in, called S.M.A.R.T. It reports on the health and pending failure of a rotating disk system. If you've received an alert in Apple's Disk Utility app, but are not certain what's going on and want more information, SmartReporter can provide a wealth of information on a continuing basis.

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Recently, I had an alert from Apple's Disk Utility that one of the SATA drives in my Mac Pro was failing. However, Drive Genius 3.2.2 was not reporting a problem. (A few days later, it did.) My first reaction was that perhaps I needed a specialized tool to both break the tie and also report more details.

One of the things to know about any computer technology is that there's a lot going on behind the scenes: whether it's just the UNIX core of OS X, deeper kernel or security issues, or perhaps storage technology. UI designers have to make a trade. They can't tell us everything, or we'd be so immobilized by data overload that we couldn't make a decision. So, often, only the barest, essential of information is surfaced to us. While that's helpful, it can also lead to mysteries. Or even rash conclusions about the perceived simplicity of the system and how much we think we know about computers.

My starting point was this article at CNET about what to do when you see a S.M.A.R.T. error. The author recommended a couple of good tools, and so I started with SMARTReporter, which happily is available from Apple's Mac App Store for under five bucks.

The very first thing the app did was firmly and unambiguously announce, yes, my Seagate 1.0 TB drive was going to fail, and fail soon. That's the drive where I keep my iTunes library (not on the boot SSD), and so I was more than a little concerned. Not to worry, though, because I have been using Data Backup 3 to do a versioned backup of that drive to another SATA drive. Still, it was time to act.

SMARTReporter

SmartReporter is a full featured system tool by Albert Mayer. It has a host of functions and reporting capabilities. It can run continuously in the background and check your drives at a defined interval, throw up alerts of several kinds, and even send e-mails. This kind of tool could be useful in a more critical environment where one has to know, right away if a drive is close to failure.

Features include:

  • Complete S.M.A.R.T. reporting status, in detail.
  • Monitoring of the kernel log-file for I/O errors.
  • R.A.I.D. system monitoring.
  • Alert optons: on screen, Notification Center in OS X 10.8. email, Growl, dock and Menu bar.
  • Low disk space alerts.

System Requirements

The minimum OS X system is 10.6.6 (Snow Leopard) and an Intel Core 2 Duo or better. If using Mountain Lion, Notification Center is supported.

Note that only internal SATA drives that report S.M.A.R.T. status are supported. External drives do not report S.M.A.R.T. status because there is no mechanism via FireWire and USB. (Although, the author points out that there is some specialized software available that can check the status of external drives.)

Also, many internal SSD drives do no report S.M.A.R.T. status because there is no rotating platter to fail. However, some SSDs report pending write cycle exhaustion through the S.M.A.R.T. channel. You might want to check on this a the time of purchase.

The User Interface

The is a very brief splash screen that sets up two important options, then gets to the point right away with a summary of the S.M.A.R.T status, I/O errors, R.A.I.D. and disk space status.

Opening ceremonies

More information is provided under the "Disk Checks" tab, and in general, the app is designed so that you can drill down further and further to get more technical details.

The high level details.

If you really want to dig down, you can view a very detailed report of the S.M.A.R.T. report from the drive.  There's also a running log file you can inspect.

The whole story in text.

Very quickly, you'll realize that there is a monumental amount of information made available, likely more than you can use as I described above. But if you're interested in learning more about you're drives, this app has it all.

Most likely, the real advantage of an app like this is that it can be set to continuously monitor and report via many different reporting channels. As a result, you're much more likely to catch an impending failure. That's a lot better than having a drive start to make noise and fire up Apple's Disk Utility, only to find that the drive is cooked and the data can't be safely copied elsewhere.

I was impressed by the customization options.  You can configure any of the checks at desired intervals or not at all. The ways you can be notified are just about every method known to OS X.

An alert will pop up in several different, defined ways.

Documentation

This app has not only an informative README, but also a complete version history and an FAQ. Just reading the FAQ will make you a better informed Mac user and also provides some nuances about the performance of the app. For example, you can set the interval to integrate well with the Energy Saver settings for the disks. For technical reasons, it won't run when no user is logged in.

Extensive FAQ

Easy instructions for uninstall are in the FAQ.

Summary

I was greatly pleased with the technical detail yet the straightforward approach to the User Interface (UI). The app will run in the background continuously and alert you immediately if you have a problem so that you can respond in time. For me, that's a lot better than having a problem crop up at just the wrong time and then not having an adequate tool to diagnose a failing hard disk.

SMARTReporter is visually informative, goes deep by degrees in technical detail, is easily configurable, and well documented. I highly recommend it as part of any Mac user's toolkit.

Product: SmartReporter 3.0.5

Company: CoreCode

List Price: US$4.99

Pros:

Provides enormous amount of detail on the S.M.A.R.T. status of a hard disk, does it in a hierarchical way with a good User Interface. Runs continuously in background. Lots of reporting modes. Does I/O analysis.

Cons:

None noted.

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Comments

furbies

John, I’ve been using SMARTReporter for a while and like you I think it’s rather handy. One setting that I do change is the wait period for “pinging” the SMART in my HDDs, I changed the “ping” period to 3 hours.

iJack

This is exactly the kind of utility that Apple should automatically include in OS X, and it should report to both you and Apple, so Apple can send you a warning email, if you’re a simpleton, like me.

furbies

Actually SMARTReporter can generate & send an email if it detects an issue…

iJack

Yeah, I saw that after I downloaded it/.  grin

Rototill

My only complaint about SmartReporter is that it kicks in the separate graphics processor on my MacBook Pro 8,1.  Since it wants to be left running continuously, this cuts down battery life (the integrated Intel graphics chipset is less power-hungry).

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