Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Your Good Health

I've spent quite a lot of time over the last few weeks reacquainting myself with Windows Vista and it occurs to me that, while Microsoft definitely does some things really well (in my opinion, Windows Media Player is superior to anything I've yet found in the open-source world), I've not found anything that Windows can do that Ubuntu can't. For instance, a week or so ago I was blogging about i-nex, an open-source alternative to CPU-Z and this week I set myself the challenge of finding an alternative to CrystalDiskInfo - almost too easy!

If you don't already know, CrystalDiskInfo is a utility for Windows that supports S.M.A.R.T1 and reports on the health of a system's disk drives. For obvious reasons, being forewarned about a disk drive failure is quite handy and, as my hard drive in the DELL Dimension is five years old or so (this is my second hdd in this system!), disaster is likely to come sooner rather than later. In Linux, you can access S.M.A.R.T via the terminal using a utility called smartmontools2: the two programs in the package are smartctl (on-demand disk scanning) and smartd (continuous monitoring): both come with multiple switches and it's worth spending some time reviewing the manpages in order to get to the information you want.

Whilst smartmontools is an excellent suite of utilities, I don't find the output particularly user-friendly despite it being concise. That said, it's easy to pipe the output of multiple commands to a text file and read it at your leisure3 but it's so much better if you can view all this information in one place without having to type multiple commands into a terminal.

Enter GSmartControl.

GSmartControl is Ubuntu's equivalent of CrystalDiskInfo without the colourful display icons. It's easy to install from the Software Centre, just search for GSmartControl and click the install button. The information available from S.M.A.R.T is fascinating: for instance, you can see how many times your disk has been started (mine is 2,607) and how long the disk has been running (mine is 7,675 hours or nearly 320 days!). Intrestingly, my Windows Vista machine (purchased when my first hdd died) has only been powered on 889 times and been running for 4,958 hours; demonstrating succinctly how my experiment with Ubuntu eventually (and quickly) became my OS of choice.

A word of warning though, installing GSmartControl will slow your boot times unless you un-check the Scan system for drives on startup option in the preferences/General dialog.

Sources & References:


  • 1 Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology
  • 2 In Ubuntu, install smartmontools by opening a terminal and then sudo apt-get install smartmontools
  • 3 For instance, if you wanted to view the disk information and the disk health output, you could do:

    sudo smartctl -d sat -i /dev/sda >> /home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

    Followed by:

    sudo smarctl -H /dev/sda >> home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

    The output of the second command will be appended to the end of the text file in /home/[user_name]/Documents/smartmontools.txt

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