Free Hard Drive Diagnostic Utility

March 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Seagate offers a great tool for testing the health of your hard drive called SeaTools. If your computer makes a periodic clicking, screeching or other mechanical sound, it’s likely caused by an electronic or mechanical failure in the drive. Any drive making odd sounds should be considered a ticking time-bomb and all important files should be backed up as soon as possible. When you’ve backed up those important files you can use SeaTools to check the health of any hard drive, even non-Seagate drives!

Any drive making odd sounds should be considered a ticking time-bomb and all important files should be backed up as soon as possible.

SeaTools is a boot-disk, which means you will need to download it and burn it to a CD. You’ll find the steps required to make the boot disk at the end of the article. Once created, leave it in the CD/DVD tray and restart your computer. At that point your computer should automatically run the SeaTools CD and you’ll see a list of hard drives connected to your computer accompanied with some information about the drive(s).

Click on the Basic Tests menu at the top-left and run the Short Test first. This test takes only a couple minutes at best, and if it finds problems then you didn’t have to waste time going through the Long Test. If, however, the hard drive passes the Short Test, you can put it through the Long Test which will basically test every part of the drive.

If your hard drive makes funny noises and passes both tests, then it probably isn’t the hard drive! Try running the Acoustic Test which will actually shutdown the hard drive so that it is completely silent. If you still hear those clicks, screeches and whirs, then it has to be something else like a fan, CD/DVD-ROM or floppy. There are often several fans in a desktop computer – one to draw air into the case, one to cool the CPU, often two to cool the power supply, and sometimes there is a dedicated fan for the video card and another for overall exhaust. With up to six fans or more spinning between 3k-10k RPM, often clogged with dust and pet hair, there is plenty of opportunity for failure. It is important to identify those failures as a slow or stopped fan can quickly cause components to fail. A fan is maybe a $10 part, but a new CPU with installation can cost hundreds!

How to burn SeaTools to CD

SeaTools is provided in the common “ISO” form. An ISO file is basically a bit-for-bit image of the contents of a CD or DVD and is much easier to work with than ZIP files or folders full of individual files. The ISO file format is especially useful for Administrators as they can store them on a hard drive, and use virtual CD-ROM software to emulate a CD-ROM and open the ISO file without having to burn it to disk first. But I digress… here is how you can turn this downloaded “ISO” file into a CD:

  1. Download SeaTools by clicking “Download SeaTools for Windows setup file” if you haven’t already
  2. Insert a blank CD and open your CD burning software (Nero for example)
    • If you have no CD burning software and are running Windows XP or Vista, download and install ImgBurn from FileHippo, then right-click on the SeaTools file you downloaded and choose “Burn using ImgBurn”
    • Windows 7 (and maybe Vista?) include the “Windows Disk Image Burner” so you don’t need a third party program to burn ISO files to CD. Simply right-click on the file, and choose Open with -> Windows Disk Image Burner. Choose the appropriate disk burner and click Burn.
  3. Most disk-burning software has an option to burn an image file from the File menu. Choose this option and locate the file you downloaded, then follow the bouncing ball choosing any default options when they are presented to you until the burning process starts
  4. When you’ve burned your SeaTools boot-disk, make sure to label it, then put it back into your computer and restart
  5. At this point most systems will start from the CD by default and you don’t need to do anything further
  6. If your computer boots to Windows as usual instead of booting from the CD, then you will need to press a key during startup to choose a different startup device, or if there is no option to choose a temporary startup device, you will need to enter setup. The magic button for these options are usually F1, F12 or Delete, but your miles may vary. Be warned that if you enter the BIOS and make the wrong changes, your computer might not work the way you want it to until those changes are reversed.

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