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[Windows] AltrixSoft Hard Drive Inspector monitors hard drive health and warns of potential issues

hard_drive_inspector_pro [1]Hard drives, especially traditional non-solid state drives, are one of the least reliable pieces of hardware in your computer. Indeed, if anything is going to be fail on your computer, chances are it is the hard drive. This is why it is important to regularly backup your important files with a backup program [2]. In addition to backing up, another useful tool to have is a drive health monitoring program that warns you of potential failure before it hits you in the face. Hard Drive Inspector by AltrixSoft is one such program. Let’s see if it is worth your time.

What is it and what does it do

Main Functionality

Hard Drive Inspector is a drive health monitoring and potential failure warning program. It works by utilizing S.M.A.R.T hard drive failure detection warning system, and provides you easy-to-understand parameters in regards to the health of your drive.

Take note there are two versions of Hard Drive Inspector, Professional ($29.95) and Notebooks ($39.95). Hard Drive Inspector for Notebooks is especially designed to work on laptops and notebooks while Hard Drive Inspector Professional is more for desktops.

Pros

Cons

Discussion

2013-11-04_025329 [3]There are dozens of hard drive health monitoring programs out there that read S.M.A.R.T. data. What sets Hard Drive Inspector out from the pack is it doesn’t simply provide you with raw S.M.A.R.T. data — it interprets that data for you and provides you with easy-to-understand stats about the health of you hard drive vis-a-vis reliability, performance, and error resistance ratings. This makes the program more useful than rival hard drive health monitoring programs, because not every has the technical knowledge to understand what S.M.A.R.T. data is saying. Plus, for those that do prefer direct access to S.M.A.R.T. data, Hard Drive Inspector gives users the option of switching to Advanced mode, which gives direct access to S.M.A.R.T. So a win-win for almost everyone.

Hard Drive Inspector is not one of those programs that you run once in a while. Rather, the program is designed to always be running in the background (it minimizes to system tray), automatically regularly checking the health of your drive; by default the program sets itself to run at Windows boot and automatically check health of your hard drive every 10 minutes. And the program isn’t really that resource intensive, using less than 5 MB of RAM while idle — which is a very good thing since it is always on.

I can understand why the developer has designed the program to be always on; after all, we want to be notified as soon as possible for potential drive failure. However, I disagree with the developer’s logic.

You see, hard drive failures can generally be put into two categories: gradual failure and out-of-the-blue failure. Gradual failure is when your hard drive’s health deteriorates over time while out-of-the-blue failure is when a perfectly healthy drive fails all of a sudden. S.M.A.R.T. is able to identify gradual failure; as of this moment in time, it is technically impossible to identify and predict out-0f-the-blue failure simply because there are no warning assigns of a potential failure — it is out-of-the-blue — and as such S.M.A.R.T. won’t detect it. Because S.M.A.R.T. identifies gradually failing drives and not out-of-the-blue failures, there is very little need to have Hard Drive Inspector continually running in the background and regularly taking S.M.A.R.T. readings because running Hard Drive Inspector once or a few times a day is good enough to identify a gradually failing drive before it fails. So why always have it always run?

That said, there is a caveat to the argument I just made. Continually running Hard Drive Inspector and letting in regularly take S.M.A.R.T. readings helps improve the accuracy of Hard Drive Inspector’s prediction of when your hard drive will die (this death prediction feature, by the way, is disabled by default — you need to manually enable it from options) because it has more data points to analyze. But for simply identifying warning signs of potential failure, you don’t really need to have Hard Drive Inspector always running.

The good thing is, Hard Drive Inspector allows you to disable it from automatically running at Windows boot — so it won’t be running unless you manually turn it on and don’t close it. The bad thing is, you can’t disable the automatic analysis that takes place every X minutes and you can’t tell Hard Drive Inspector to close itself when you hit X instead of minimizing to system tray… so you need to remember to manually close Hard Drive Inspector once you are done using it, if you don’t want to remain on and run analysis in the background.

Anyway, enough of that. Let’s discuss my favorite aspect of Hard Drive Inspector — data interpretation.

As mentioned earlier, the attraction to Hard Drive Inspector is that it takes raw S.M.A.R.T. data, analyzes the data, and provides you with three easy-to-understand parameters that help you determine the health of your drive: reliability, performance, and error resistance. I like this feature because many other hard drive health monitoring tools simply just give you raw S.M.A.R.T. data, which is only useful if you know what it means. However, the downside is of this approach is that the reliability, performance, and error resistance ratings are an interpretation of S.M.A.R.T. data; as with all interpretations of data, there is the issue of how accurate are the interpretations. I tested Hard Drive Inspector on my drives but I know my drives are perfectly healthy and Hard Drive Inspector found no faults, so that wasn’t a particularly useful test. However, I did do some research and came across a screenshot (found in the Help documents for Hard Drive Inspector) that rated 58% reliability and performance as “good”:

2013-11-04_024131 [4]

It is very good that Hard Drive Inspector gives the percentage rating (58% in this case) which allows people to make up their own minds instead of relying on the “good” rating, but labeling 58% as good? That is questionable and may mislead some users.

Conclusion and download link

When I first sat down to review AltrixSoft Hard Drive Inspector, I expected it to be another barely par program that just provides you with S.M.A.R.T. data. As it turns out, Hard Drive Inspector shines above the pack by not only providing S.M.A.R.T. data but analyzing the data and combining it into easy-to-understand stats about your hard drive. I particularly like how the Notebooks version is specifically designed with laptops in mind, with specific features aimed to better improve hard drive monitoring on laptops. Now, there is the question of how reliable Hard Drive Inspector is in regards to its interpretation of the S.M.A.R.T. data it collects — and that question prevents me from conclusively deciding if this program is worth the grab or not.

I do find Hard Drive Inspector to be a good tool and better than many other S.M.A.R.T. monitoring and analysis tools I’ve come across, but I won’t be formally recommending it due to the question mark above its analysis. Rather, I will let you decide if you want to get it or not; be sure to try the trial before purchasing, if it comes to that.

For those of you that don’t want to or can’t pay for Hard Drive Inspector, there are plenty of free hard drive monitoring and analysis tools you can try: Ashampoo HDD Control 2 [5], HDD Expert [6], HDD Scan [7], and more.

Price: $29.95 (Professional), $39.95 (Notebooks)

Version reviewed: 4.20

Supported OS: Windows 8/7/Vista/XP

Download size: 2.7 MB

VirusTotal malware scan results: 

Is it portable? No

AltrixSoft Hard Drive Inspector Professional homepage [8] | AltrixSoft Hard Drive Inspector for Notebooks homepage [9]