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Product review - Supplier-provided disk repair programs.

June 30, 2012

I recently had what I think is the very first Blue Screen of Death I've seen since I started using Windows 7. It was not caused by the operating system, but seemed to result from a problem with the computer's video hardware. Whatever the fault was, it caused the computer to reboot without warning. As I had several programs running at the time there was the real possibility that one of them had been writing to a hard disk at the instant of failure so checking disk integrity was called for. Windows can't check the boot disk while the system is running (because there are always programs and services running with open files), so when you ask for a check you get this:

The next time you start the computer it checks and repairs the disk before Windows starts. The trap here is that a 500 gigabyte disk with more than half a million files on it takes a long time, so you end up looking at a screen like this for a couple of hours.

When I finally regained productivity I thought it might be possible to find something that would do the job in less time. I have disks from Seagate and Western Digital, so they looked like the obvious places to get what I wanted. Both have free disk inspection and repair software, and here are the stories.

Seagate SeaTools

Seagate have a very attractive web site with a nicely understated design. I found the relevant page and after agreeing to Seagate's user agreement I was told that I could download the software. The only problem was that there was no link on the page to actually start the download. Nowhere. I even looked at the page source to see if I could locate the link, but it was what could politely be called a dog's breakfast. Eventually I located a link at download.com and installed it.

The first thing that appeared when I started the program was this informative screen:

Almost immediately followed by:

Remarkably, clicking on the Cancel button did nothing except make the dialog box go away. I was then able to accept the mystery box and the program started.

Do you notice how there is no serial number or firmware revision for the last disk in the list? They were there the last time I ran this program. And you know how Windows uses drive letters? Reading from the top, the drive letters are C:, D:, W:, F:. That makes sense - who cares about alphabetical order.

When you click on a disk in the list the "Basic Tests" icon lights up, and when you click on that you get:

But what do those options mean? Let's click on "Help".

This is really starting to make me feel confident. I tried "Short Drive Self Test" on one drive but cancelled it after a very long period of inactivity. I then tried "Short Generic" and it ran in a few minutes but didn't tell me anything other than it had finished. I have no idea how to actually run a test that will fix errors, and I don't think I want to try. My data is too important.

And one last thing. You can see above that there is a "System Tools" icon. The first option this gives is to check the status of your antivirus software.

I could have sworn that I renewed my licence for Norton AntiVirus just a few days ago. Perhaps I should check.

Seagate SeaTools appears to have no use at all except to show that bad programming isn't confined to amateurs and small companies that don't have an international presence and a reputation for manufacturing high quality electronic components.

I just thought - who writes the drivers and firmware for Seagate disk drives? Perhaps I should be worried.

Western Digital Data LifeGuard Diagnostics

At least I was able to get this from the Western Digital web site, so it is already ahead of the Seagate product. This is what you see when you run the program:

Again the drives are listed in C:, D:, W:, F: in the top panel, although they are listed alphabetically in the bottom panel. Why this should be so is a mystery. You might notice that the two fixed drives have a S.M.A.R.T. status of "Not available", but the two USB external drives have passed the test. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology is a system developed by major disk drive manufacturers to improve reliability.) Remember this set of options for the Seagate test program?

The "S.M.A.R.T." option only appears when one of the internal drives are selected, and when you run the test you see:

So the Western Digital program thinks that the USB drives have S.M.A.R.T. capability and the internal drives don't and the Seagate program thinks the opposite. (And did you notice that the Serial Number and Firmware Revision for drive F: have come back?) The WD program returned what appeared to be valid S.M.A.R.T. configurations for both USB drives, but somehow I don't feel inclined to believe it.

When selecting the tests to run on a drive the following box appears:

At least the Help worked so I could find out how what the options meant, but the Western Digital program inspires no confidence. When repairing disks it stops on every error and if the user says "Fix that" it simply overwrites the damaged bits with zeros, thus destroying damaged files completely. This is not what the user really wants. The "Write zeros" option (which overwrites everything on the drive) might be useful if a drive is to be scrapped, but there are better ways of making a drive unreadable.

The verdict.

Neither program is of any use if you want to detect and correct errors on your hard disks. Neither of them do anything beyond scanning the surface and any repair is rudimentary and possibly disastrous. I've added their scores together and the total is zero stars.

It looks like I'm back to Chkdsk. I'll just have to keep some books handy to read while it does its work.

In case anybody cares:

Seagate web site

Western Digital web site


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