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SMART Utility Frequently Asked Questions

Q. My drive says FAILING or FAILED! Is that true? What should I do?

A. Most likely your drive is dying, and it should be replaced. If it says FAILING, it will probably die soon. While sometimes the drive will be fine for years if it only says FAILING, taking that chance is up to you. If it says FAILED, it WILL die soon. In either case, you should back up your data, and replace your HD. You can click on "Show All" button that is red beside the Attributes section to see which attributes SMART Utility is reporting as failing. If you think the information is wrong, turn on "Output Debug Messages" in the Preferences, and email to the SMARTUtility.log file in the Library/Logs/ folders in your home folder, and someone will get back to you and explain why it is reporting as failing or failed.

Q. Is it really true that having a few bad sectors means my drive is failing?

A. In most cases yes. Some people had drives that with a few bad sectors, that lasted for years but in my experience, when a couple of bad sectors are found, more will follow. You can try to zero out the drive and force the drive electronics to reallocate the sectors, but that may or may not work. In the end, it is up to you whether to replace the drive or to take a chance with your data on that drive, hoping that it will last for years. Personally, I'd rather be sure that the drive is 100% okay.

Q. SMART Utility is freezing on "Updating SMART Information". What should I do?

A. This should be fixed in versions 1.0.2 and later, though there may be instances where it still occurs. First, try restarting your computer. Sometimes this will fix the problem. If that does not work, hold down shift immediately after launching SMART Utility. This will temporarily enabled debugging messages. Email the "SMART Utility.log" file in ~/Library/Logs to

Q. What does each of the attributes mean?

The best description of all known attributes is at the SMART Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, the meaning of each attribute is usually proprietary and specific to each drive manufacturer (although some have taken on standard means, ie attribute 9 is usually Power On Time). That is why some attributes show up as "Unknown"- nobody has figured out what the attribute means yet.

Q. What does "Pre-fail" and "Old age" mean under "Type" in the attribute window? How about "Always" and "Offline" under "Updated"?

The "Type" column indicates what the "FAILING_NOW" means for an attribute. "Pre-fail" means that when an attribute says it has failed the drive will soon fail; ie its a warning that the drive is ready to die. "Old age" means that when an attribute says it has failed the drive has reached the manufacturer's suggested lifetime, and the drive may fail at any time(or not- it may keep going); ie it says the drive is old.

The "Updated" column indicated when the attribute is checked. "Always" means that the drive constantly monitoring that attribute and updates it immediately. "Offline" means that when the drive is not currently accessing data on the drive and is in a special offline state.

Q. What are the differences between threshold, worst, value, and raw numbers in the attributes window, and why do some attributes show a super high value, like 426900000?

A. The raw number is the actual, real value of the attribute. How the drive measures it is up to the manufacturer. Some put the data in a human readable format (for example, 50 in Temperature Celsius for 50 degrees Celsius), while others have a proprietary format for the data, which may be display as an extremely high number. This varies for each attribute, some are human readable, some are not. So if a number is unusually high, it's possibly not a human readable number. So how does one figure out if an attribute is okay if the raw number is in a proprietary format?

Well, that's where the other three numbers come in: "threshold", "worst", and "value". "value" is the normalized equivalent of the raw data, converted internally to a number between 0 and 255 and displayed. The manufacturer defines a threshold number against which the "value" is compared, and if the "value" drops below that threshold, SMART reports that attribute as FAILING_NOW, and sets the overall health as FAILED. That is how SMART determines the status of the drive. Sometimes the "value" falls below the "threshold", but then rises again. This is shown as an In_the_past failure, and SMART Utility marks this as a FAILING status. The final number, "worst", shows how low the value actually got. This is probably the best way to tell just how bad the raw number is. If it is close to the threshold, the drive may be failing.

Q. What do the errors mean? And why is SMART Utility saying failing because I have a lot of them?

A. The error log will tell you two important pieces of information: the type of error, and the time. The types of errors included interface errors (ICRCs) and uncorrectable errors (UNCs). For Uncorrectable errors, this means that when the drive tries to read or write to a sector, and can't (because the sector is bad), it will throw that error. This also happens when utilities try to force the drive to reallocate those bad sectors(because they try to read/write to the sectors, and the drive should realize that they are bad, and reallocate them.) For Interface errors, something caused an error in transmitting data, like a bad cable.

It will also record the time of these errors. The time will be recorded based on attribute 9, power-on hours. Errors occuring with times close to the current power-on time is very worrisome.

Personally, if SMART Utility is saying FAILING because of a lot of errors, I would replace the drive, just in case. If its an interface error, I would at least reseat the cable, or try a new one.

Q. How often does SMART Utility check or poll the drives?

A. SMART Utility only checks the drive when launched, and when the user manually chooses "Rescan Drives" or "Update SMART Info" from the Drives menu. In future releases there may be a background daemon to poll the drive automatically to check the status.

Q. Why are all my external drives showing up as unsupported? Why can't SMART Utility scan these?

A. This is a limitation of the external drive enclosures, and possibly the drivers used. Put simply, there are special commands in the ATA specification (the protocol that the drives use to communicate with the motherboard, which includes IDE and SATA) that the drives understand to access the SMART data. Most external drive enclosures only support the bare minimum of the ATA specification over the external connection interface (USB, FireWire, or eSATA), and that does not include the commands to access the SMART data. There are a few enclosures that do support it, but they are few and far between. Hopefully this situation improve in the future.

Q. Isn't smartmontools, the software SMART Utility works with, a GPL covered software? And don't you have to release the source code?

A. Yes, smartmontools is covered under the GPL, but no, I do not have to release the source code. First, the project manager of smartmontools, Bruce Allen, has agreed that the software can be used in this way. Second, the GPL only covers distribution, modification, and copying of the source code that falls under the license. As SMART Utility only parses the output of smartmontools, and does not modify or copy the original source code, the application falls outside the GPL, except for distributing the source code. This is called the "at arms length" exception.

A good explanation of this is available here. That is an email message from Stanislav Brabec, a smartmontools developer.

I may release the source code in the future, but I am not required to. I am however, required to offer the source code of smartmontools for three years from the date of this document. Please contact Volitans Software at to obtain the source code to smartmontools.

Updated: 01/17/08

Last Updated: 03/06/13
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