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Hard drive health

Hard drives die, so we must be ready for that to happen. There are several solutions, such as using RAID to minimize the impact of a disk loss, but even then, we should monitor the bad sectors to see when are our disks dying.

S.M.A.R.T (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology; often written as SMART) is a monitoring system included in computer hard disk drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and eMMC drives. Its primary function is to detect and report various indicators of drive reliability with the intent of anticipating imminent hardware failures.

Between all the SMART attributes, some that define define the health status of the hard drive, such as:

  • Reallocated Sectors Count: Count of reallocated sectors. The raw value represents a count of the bad sectors that have been found and remapped. Thus, the higher the attribute value, the more sectors the drive has had to reallocate. This value is primarily used as a metric of the life expectancy of the drive; a drive which has had any reallocations at all is significantly more likely to fail in the immediate months.
  • Spin Retry Count: Count of retry of spin start attempts. This attribute stores a total count of the spin start attempts to reach the fully operational speed (under the condition that the first attempt was unsuccessful). An increase of this attribute value is a sign of problems in the hard disk mechanical subsystem.
  • Reallocate Event Count: Count of remap operations. The raw value of this attribute shows the total count of attempts to transfer data from reallocated sectors to a spare area. Both successful and unsuccessful attempts are counted.
  • Current Pending Sector Count: Count of "unstable" sectors (waiting to be remapped, because of unrecoverable read errors). If an unstable sector is subsequently read successfully, the sector is remapped and this value is decreased. Read errors on a sector will not remap the sector immediately (since the correct value cannot be read and so the value to remap is not known, and also it might become readable later); instead, the drive firmware remembers that the sector needs to be remapped, and will remap it the next time it's written.

    However, some drives will not immediately remap such sectors when written; instead the drive will first attempt to write to the problem sector and if the write operation is successful then the sector will be marked good (in this case, the "Reallocation Event Count" (0xC4) will not be increased). This is a serious shortcoming, for if such a drive contains marginal sectors that consistently fail only after some time has passed following a successful write operation, then the drive will never remap these problem sectors. * Offline Uncorrectable Sector Count: The total count of uncorrectable errors when reading/writing a sector. A rise in the value of this attribute indicates defects of the disk surface and/or problems in the mechanical subsystem.

Check the warranty status

If your drive is still under warranty from the manufacturer you may consider RMA’ing the drive (initiating a warranty return process).

Wipe all the disk

Sometimes the CurrentPendingSector doesn't get reallocated, if you don't mind about the data in the disk, you can wipe it all with:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/{{ disk_id }} bs=4096 status=progress


SMART error (CurrentPendingSector) detected on host

As stated above, this means that at some point, the drive was unable to successfully read the data from X different sectors, and hence have flagged them for possible reallocation. The sector will be marked as reallocated if a subsequent write fails. If the write succeeds, it is removed from current pending sectors and assumed to be OK.

Start with a long self test with smartctl. Assuming the disk to test is /dev/sdd:

smartctl -t long /dev/sdd

The command will respond with an estimate of how long it thinks the test will take to complete. (But this assumes that no errors will be found!)

To check progress use:

smartctl -A /dev/sdd | grep remaining
# or
smartctl -c /dev/sdd | grep remaining

Don't check too often because it can abort the test with some drives. If you receive an empty output, examine the reported status with:

smartctl -l selftest /dev/sdd

You will see something like this:

SMART Self-test log structure revision number 1
Num  Test_Description    Status                  Remaining  LifeTime(hours)  LBA_of_first_error
# 1  Extended offline    Completed: read failure       20%      1596         44724966

So take that 'LBA' of 44724966 and multiply by (512/4096) which is the equivalent of 'divide by 8'

44724966 / 8 = 5590620.75

The sector to test then is 5590620. If it is in the middle of a file, overwritting it will corrupt the file. If you are not cool with that, check the following posts to check if that sector belongs to a file:

If you don't care to corrupt the file, use the following command to 'zero-out' the sector:

dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda conv=sync bs=4096 count=1 seek=5590620
1+0 records in
1+0 records out


Now retry the smartctl -t short (or smartctl -t long if short fails) and see if the test is able to finish the test without errors:

SMART Self-test log structure revision number 1
Num  Test_Description    Status                  Remaining  LifeTime(hours)  LBA_of_first_error
# 1  Short offline       Completed without error       00%     11699         -
# 2  Extended offline    Completed: read failure       90%     11680         65344288
# 3  Extended offline    Completed: read failure       90%     11675         65344288

If reading errors remain, repeat the steps above until they don't or skip to the bad block analysis step.

Current_Pending_Sector should be 0 now and the drive will probably be fine. As long as Reallocated_Sector_Ct is zero, you should be fine. Even a few reallocated sectors seems OK, but if that count starts to increment frequently, then that is a danger sign. To regularly keep a close eye on the counters use smartd to schedule daily tests.

If Current_Pending_Sector is still not 0, we need to do a deeper analysis on the bad blocks.

Bad block analysis

The SMART long test gives no guarantee to find every error. To find them, we're going to use the badblocks tool instead.

There is read-only mode (default) which is the least accurate. There is the destructive write-mode (-w option) which is the most accurate but takes longer and will (obviously) destroy all data on the drive, thus making it quite useless for matching sectors up to files. There is finally the non-destructive read-write mode which is probably as accurate as the destructive mode, with the only real downside that it is probably the slowest. However, if a drive is known to be failing then read-only mode is probably still the safest.

Bad blocks

Last update: 2022-04-29