Volitans Software

SMART Utility FAQ

Q. Does SMART Utility support SSDs?
Q. How often does SMART Utility check or poll the drives?
Q. How do I configure email accounts? What about Gmail accounts?
Q. Why are all of my external drives showing up as UNSUPPORTED? Why can’t SMART Utility scan these?
Q. My drive reports FAILING or FAILED. Is that correct? What should I do?
Q. Does having just a few bad sectors actually mean my drive is failing?
Q. My drive is failing because of Attribute 196- “Reallocated Event Count “- and this is the only reason it is reporting as failing. Is this accurate?
Q. My drive is failing because of Attribute 190- “Airflow Temperature”. Is this correct?
Q. What is the difference between FAILING and FAILED?
Q. What does each of the attributes mean?
Q. What does “pre-fail” and “old age” mean under “type” in the attribute window? How about “always” and “offline” under “updated”?
Q. What is the difference between the threshold, worst, value, and raw numbers in the attributes window? And why do some attributes show a very high value (like 426900000)?
Q. What do the errors mean? And why is SMART Utility saying failing because I have a lot of them?
Q. What is the difference between short and long tests?
Q. I have a MacBook Air (1st Generation) and SMART Utility is saying its failing because of a lot of errors. Is this correct?
Q. Isn’t smartmontools, the software SMART Utility uses, a GPL covered software? And don’t you have to release the source code?


Q. Does SMART Utility support SSDs?

A. Yes! SSDs are fully supported by SMART Utility. Further support is always being added, and the algorithm is constantly being tweaked to provide better, more accurate health status.

 

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

A. SMART Utility can poll the drives every hour, day, or week depending on the choice set in the preferences. And if Growl is installed  or its running on 10.7 or later, SMART Utility will use notifications to display notifications on the status of the drive. Users can be notify if the drive is good, failing or failed, or only if it is failing or failed. There is also email notifications for the same things.

 

Q. How do I configure email accounts? What about Gmail accounts?

A. The settings to configure are in SMART Utility->Preferences->Notifications->Configure Email Options. The proper settings to enter here should be available from your email provider.

For Gmail accounts, the SMTP server is “smtp.gmail.com”. Authentication is “Password”, with the username and password the same as the one to log into Gmail. The connection is Custom Port 587, and “Use SSL” is checked.

 

Q. Why are all of 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.

However, SMART Utilty now includes a driver called SAT SMART driver. This allows reading SMART data from some external enclosures. They only way to know which ones are supported is to just install the driver. It is very safe and stable. To install, go to the SMART Utility menu, and choose “Install SAT SMART Driver. An Installer window will pop up, and proceed to follow the instructions to install the drive. You should not have to restart SMART Utility or the computer.

 

Q. My drive reports FAILING or FAILED. Is that correct? What should I do?

A. SMART Utility usings various attributes and other information from the drive to determine the FAILING or FAILED status. The algorithm is based on experience as well as research. Most of the time it is accurate, though sometimes there are false positives.

However, 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.

SMART Utility will mark the reason it thinks the drive is failing in red. Click on the button or reading the text that is red will explain the failing condition.

If you think the information is wrong, turn on “Output Debug Messages” in the Preferences, and email to support@volitans-software.com 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. Does having just a few bad sectors actually mean 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.

 

Q. My drive is failing because of Attribute 196- “Reallocated Event Count “- and this is the only reason it is reporting as failing. Is this accurate?

A. There has been mixed reports about the accuracy of this attribute- especially by itself. It is supposed to note when a bad sector was removed from active service. However, it is also supposed be matched with an increase in the “Reallocated Sector Count”- but some drives do not do this.

So while it may be an indication of a failing drive, it also may be an indication that the drive is okay but giving a false positive. This is why there is an option to ignore this attribute- and if the drive is failing other attributes will indicate that instead.

 

Q. My drive is failing because of Attribute 190- “Airflow Temperature”. Is this correct?

A. There has been mixed reports about the accuracy of this attribute. Some people have reported it is a debugging attribute for the drive maker. Others have stated that if its in the SMART attributes list, it is important.

Most likely the drive will be last- however there has been no long term study of the correlation between drive failures and this attribute. The recommended course of action is to scan once a week to check for problems and back up all files- just in case.

There is also a preference to ignore failing conditions from this attribute.

 

Q. What is the difference between FAILING and FAILED?

A. The FAILING status is SMART Utility’s pre-fail algorithm warning about a drive that may fail in the future. The FAILED status is the drive’s internal algorithm warning about a drive that will fail in the future. Volitans Software devised the pre-fail algorithm, while the drive’s internal algorithm was devised by the drive’s manufacturer.

 

Q. What does each of the attributes mean?

A. 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”?

A. 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 is the difference between the threshold, worst, value, and raw numbers in the attributes window? And why do some attributes show a very 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?

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. Reseating the cable usually fixes the error, though sometimes the cable needs replaced.

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.

SMART Utility marks a drive as failing when it has a lot of errors because most drives have just a few errors- if any.

 

Q. What is the difference between short and long tests?

A. Short tests do a quick scan of the HD, which takes only about 2 minutes. Long tests do a sector by sector scan of the HD, and hence takes about 80 minutes or more depending on the drive

 

Q. I have a MacBook Air (1st Generation) and SMART Utility is saying its failing because of a lot of errors. Is this correct?

A. Based on research of MacBook Airs, this seems to be a problem with the first gen drives throwing incorrect errors. To ignore this incorrect failing message, go to the Preferences, and choose the “Algorithm” tab. Under “Only mark drives as failing if:” check the “a failed test is new from last scan” 

 

Q. Isn’t smartmontools, the software SMART Utility uses, 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 info@volitans-software.com to obtain the source code to smartmontools.