Check Hard Drive Health on a Mac

How to Check a Mac’s Hard Drive Health: Best 5 Methods for Beginners & Advanced Users

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Written by Stefan Ionescu Stefan Ionescu Contributing Writer • 11 articles Stefan Ionescu is a contributing writer for Handy Recovery, having commenced his collaboration with our project in 2022. Currently, Stefan focuses on macOS-related data loss and recovery topics and his expertise significantly enriches our content, especially in the area of storage optimization for Apple devices. LinkedIn Approved by Andrey Vasilyev Andrey Vasilyev Editor Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team. LinkedIn

Like every component in your computer, hard drives can occasionally fail. What sets them apart from every other component, however, are the consequences when that happens. A hard drive itself is replaceable, but the data it holds isn’t. And without an adequate system for backing up your data on a regular basis, you’re putting a lot at risk.

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If you want to take things one step further, you should not only backup your data regularly, but also run a Mac hard drive diagnostic tool to ensure that it’s not about to die on you.

Why Should I Perform Mac Disk Diagnostics?

Diagnosing your hard drive is rarely a top priority for most computer users. Which is unfortunate, because a regular test of a Mac hard drive can have various beneficial effects that can help you get more out of your Mac for a longer time.

  • 😱 It helps prevent unpleasant surprises. By keeping your hard drive in check on a regular basis, you’ll have an early warning when something is wrong and the drive might be headed for failure. This will help you secure your data by running an emergency backup outside of your regular schedule, and will also give you more time to shop around for a replacement drive. This can help you prevent data loss.
  • 📉 It’s a good indicator of the quality of your drive for future reference. Wondering if you got your money’s worth? By regularly inspecting the status of your hard drive, you can figure out if it degrades faster than other models in its price class, or compared to the manufacturer’s specifications. The next time you’re buying a drive for your Mac, you’ll have a good frame of reference for at least one model on the market.
  • 💻 It can alert you to other problems with your computer. Although this doesn’t happen often, sometimes a hard drive inspection can lead to the discovery of other hardware issues, especially in terms of internal device communication. If your computer has been running strangely and your drive analysis shows no errors, this can help you narrow down your search and focus your attention on other areas.

Best Methods to Check Your Mac’s Hard Drive

If you want to check a Mac’s disk for errors and overall health, it isn’t as complicated as it sounds. There are various Mac hard drive diagnostic tools available on the market that can assist you with that, ranging from very easy to use to complex solutions aimed at professionals. Familiarizing yourself with at least one of those suites – and keeping it installed on your Mac – is always a good idea as a responsible computer owner who wants to prevent future problems.

Basic: Check Hard Drive Health of a Mac with Disk Utility

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You can scan a Mac disk with your Mac’s own built-in tool for that – Disk Utility. It’s a bit limited in functionality compared to some tools on the open market, but it still gets the job done, and is completely free.

To check your Mac’s disk with Disk Utility, follow these steps:

  1. Start Disk Utility from Applications -> Utilities.
  2. Find your disk in the list on the left side (if you have multiple disks), and click on it.
  3. Click on Info in the top right.
  4. Look at the presented information.

Disk Utility will check the hard drive on your Mac for errors. All results will be listed in the text field in the middle of the window – pay special attention to any red messages. Those indicate errors. Not every error will be critical, and some can be safely ignored, but you should still read over the list in detail.

check your mac hard drive with disk utility

What I liked: Disk Utility is intuitive and easy to use, and available on every Mac by default. This makes it a good option in a pinch.

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What I didn’t like: Doesn’t offer as many features for scanning and repairing your disk compared to professional apps on the market, especially if you encounter more serious problems.

Beginner: Test Your Mac’s Hard Disk with Disk Drill

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Disk Drill is a data recovery utility that comes with a variety of extra features, including the ability to monitor your drives and check the hard drive health on a Mac. The application can also provide you with information about the current S.M.A.R.T status of your drive.

  1. Install and run Disk Drill for Mac.
  2. Go to S.M.A.R.T Monitoring.
  3. Select your drive, and Click Turn On if it’s not already enabled.
  4. You’ll see the drive’s S.M.A.R.T information presented on the right side.

Disk Drill can also help you recover files you’ve lost to accidental deletion. Try running a scan with it to see what comes up – just go to Storage devices on the left. Normally, no files should end up deleted due to disk failure, but it is possible in an extremely small number of cases. If parts of the disk which contain information about which sectors are occupied by files and which are free get corrupted, this could lead to files being incorrectly marked as deleted.

disk drill for mac

What I liked: Comprehensive analysis and direct support for S.M.A.R.T for Macs that still have it. Advanced data recovery that maximizes your chances of getting back accidentally deleted files.

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What I didn’t like: Can seem a bit overwhelming for new users until they get accustomed to the interface – but well worth the effort to adjust.

Advanced: Check Mac Hard Drive Using Advanced Diagnostic Tools

If you’re looking for something slightly more advanced, these tools can help you check your drive in more detail, and provide you with more control over the process. Keep in mind that some of these require advanced skills, so don’t attempt them unless you know what you’re doing.

Option A: GSmartControl

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GSmartControl is built on a popular package, smartctl, which is part of smartmontools. It provides a graphical interface to the console application, allowing you to more easily take advantage of its features without having to type long commands in your terminal and stare at the results. It’s one of the easier ways to check a Mac hard drive for bad sectors.

  1. Install GSmartControl and launch it.
  2. You will be presented with a list of your drives. Right-click the one you want to verify, and click View details.
  3. On the next screen, you’ll see several tabs that will show you various details about your drive. The most interesting ones right now are Attributes and Error log.
  4. Under Attributes, you will see a full list of all technical attributes of your drive. Pay attention to Reallocated Sector Count, Offline Uncorrectable, and any row that has pre-failure in its Type column. Any rows highlighted in red/pink should also be checked. You can hover your mouse over different rows to see an explanation of their contents.
  5. If you want to perform more extensive tests, go back to the main screen, right-click your drive, and select Perform Tests. Keep in mind that those can take several hours.

What I liked: Lots of technical information presented with practically no filters – everything you might need to know is there.

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What I didn’t like: Can be very chaotic and confusing for inexperienced users, and even for some experienced ones who don’t know what information they’re looking for specifically.

Option B: smartmontools

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Unlike most other options on this list, smartmontools works from the command line. This means you’ll have to get your hands dirty in the terminal to use it, which may not be ideal for every user. But if you prefer the terminal for whatever reason, or you’re currently limited to it due to an emergency situation, this can be a great option.

Assuming your drive is in /dev/disk0, here is how to use smartmontools to check its health:

  1. Type sudo smartctl -a -d auto /dev/disk0.
  2. This will provide you with the device’s current S.M.A.R.T parameters.
  3. Type sudo smartctl -d auto -t short /dev/disk0. This will start a “short” test of your drive, meaning that it will run some basic checks but won’t dig into too much detail.
  4. Several other test modes are available – short, long, conveyance, and select. Long tests, as their name implies, take longer to complete, but check your drive in more detail. Conveyance tests specifically check for errors related to physical damage, typically associated with transportation. And with select, you can choose a specific range of addresses to be checked.

smartmontools and terminal on mac

What I liked: Provides a lot of control over the testing of your drive’s health, and plenty of technical details.

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What I didn’t like: Not suitable for inexperienced users at all.

Option C: DriveDx

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DriveDx does one job, but it does it better than many tools on the market. The application is designed to help you monitor the health of your drives, and features a simple but powerful interface that provides you with immediate access to a wide range of statistics about your drive(s).

To check your drive health with DriveDx, follow these steps:

  1. Install DriveDx and launch it.
  2. On the left side, you’ll see a list of your current drives. Click the one you’re interested in.
  3. The right side of the window will be populated with information about your drive.
  4. Scroll through the list, paying attention to the Status column. Look for any indicators that are below 100%, or marked in a color other than green.

driverdx for mac

What I liked: Fast and simple to use, perfect for users of any skill level.

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What I didn’t like: Quite limited in functionality compared to other products.

FAQ

Unfortunately, even the best tools on the market won’t be able to identify all potential faults with your hard drive. Some types of hardware failures are unpredictable, and it’s possible (though highly unlikely) that your hard drive might fail immediately after a successful scan.

Still, running a regular Mac disk check can maximize the chance of catching problems in time, before they turn into something more serious.

Even though SSDs are more resilient to data loss by design, they are by no means immune to failure. Checking the health of your SSD is just as important as it is for a regular hard drive, especially if you frequently use your computer for stressful tasks, such as heavy media applications or design tools that read from the drive in large volumes.

Even though it might take a while until your drive actually fails, you should start taking steps to protect your data against loss as soon as you’ve uncovered a potential problem. You have no guarantee how much longer your drive is going to last, and it’s possible that it’s almost at the end of its life.

If you have a specific procedure in place for backing up your data, just follow the steps as you do normally.

If you have a regular hard drive (and not an SSD), it’s important to understand that it’s very vulnerable to sudden physical motions, especially when the plates are spinning (i.e. when the disk is in use). Modern hard drives are built to resist some stress and abuse, but you should still be more gentle with them compared to most other hardware components.

Avoid moving your computer when it’s working, and if you’re packing it up for transportation, make sure it’s adequately covered to minimize any shaking and jerking during transit. Hard drives can heat up too, so give your computer some “breathing time” every now and then when you’re actively using it.

Symptoms can vary from one case to another. Typical signs include: files disappearing randomly or having their contents altered; programs running slower than expected or crashing without an apparent reason; your entire operating system behaving in unusual ways.

A Mac hard drive diagnostic tool can help you identify bad sectors on your drive and rate the overall health of your drive.

According to most user reports, drives tend to last between five to eight years, but your mileage can vary significantly depending on your actual use case.

If the problem is physical, there’s nothing you can really do, other than ensuring that the corresponding sectors are marked as bad and don’t get written to. Once you’ve seen your first bad sectors though, more will usually follow not long after, and you should already be looking into backing up your data and replacing your drive.

Yes, using smartmontools – follow our corresponding guide above for more details.

Conclusion

Inspecting the health of your Mac’s drives is not something you need to do every single day, but it’s still a good idea to have some schedule for this and follow it as diligently as possible. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to check Mac’s disk for errors, and once you’ve done it a couple of times, it will be just another routine procedure in the maintenance of your computer and its data, just like your regular backups (which you’re hopefully doing already!)

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Contributing Writer Stefan Ionescu

This article was written by Stefan Ionescu, a Contributing Writer at Handy Recovery Advisor. It was also verified for technical accuracy by Andrey Vasilyev, our editorial advisor.

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