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I've looked over similar questions and searched the internet to try to find symptoms of a bad hard drive, but I haven't found anything that seems to be related to my problem.


I have a late 2008 15" MacBook Pro. It has a Hitachi HTS723225L9SA62 250 GB HD. I'm running the latest Lion with all updates.

Recently I've had a few computer failures; first, I was having issues with the computer locking up (staying eternally on the light blue screen—had to be hard powered off) when changing to the high-end graphics card in my MBP. The Apple Store initially suspected a RAM issue, as when they reseated the RAM, it temporarily fixed itself. The symptoms later reappeared, and they replaced the entire logic board.

Less than a month later, my display stopped working. The computer worked fine, as did the graphics card, as long as I was using an external display. They replaced the display (about two months ago), and it's been working since.

For about a month now, my computer will hang at random times. Most of the time, it happens with Safari (this may be because it's my most-used application, though)—the UI is completely unresponsive, I can't quit Safari, I can't change tabs, I can't even click in Safari to switch focus to the window. This will fix itself and act normally after about 10 seconds. This also happens occasionally with TextEdit, iChat, and iTunes. I never had any issues with freezing until recently.

I'm suspecting a possible hard drive failure, as I don't know what else would cause this, except perhaps memory issues. In the past I've had similar issues in an iBook G4 which were caused by the hard drive.

I've ran the diagnostics utility on the install disc, and every test passed.

Does this diagnosis sound reasonable? What can I do to further test my computer's hard drive and other components?

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Have a look at the different log files (either directly in /var/log or via Console.app), especially any error-like entries just before the crashes you experience. If you find any, include them in your question for further analysis. –  patrix Oct 10 '11 at 15:21
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6 Answers

When i am having all sorts of issues like you describe, i try booting up from Disk Warrior and running its tests.

From your description of symptoms I would suggest that it is a possibility your laptop could have directory, memory/RAM or even at its most extreme, motherboard issues.

Apple's Disk Utility only goes so far. Oftentimes the issues it discovers are caused by other problems from the machine. The best indicators I have seen to an HD failing involve files not being able to write to the disk, or files becoming corrupted. Also, if parts of the System files become corrupted, you would see finder and other system issues ... Like you described. A previous poster's suggestion of booting from another drive is a good one to eliminate this as a possibility. (I use an external HD instead of a memory stick.)

The absolute best safe guard against losing data on a HD is regular back-ups.

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Personally, I can recommend Smart Utility. It has accurately shown errors on my drives in the past.

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Actually SMART is quite useless in predicting failure rates, as attested by Google who put the tools through the hoops on over 100,000 drives: static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/… –  cksum Feb 1 '13 at 16:19
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I'm a little late to this discussion, so I hope what I add will be of value to someone.

The problems you're having is why I use a product called Scannerz. There's a lot that can go wrong with a system, and it can't always be traced properly by playing a "guessing game" or swapping out component by component. Simple surface scans just won't cut it, especially if all they look for are I/O errors (which is all most do.)

First, because I personally think the Scannerz documentation is somewhat confusing, allow me to explain it to you in a more "real world" example.

Suppose you have an old LP (vinyl record) or a music CD-ROM that you play on a stereo system. If, every time you start playing a song on the media, and at 3min 21 sec into the song, if it's a vinyl record it skips, or if it's a CD it jumps around and malfunctions, then the problem is repeatable. It occurs every time you play it, and it occurs at the exact same spot in the song, so you're pretty sure (about 100% in fact) that the media is bad. The solution in this case is simple: replace the media.

What if, instead of having a repeatable problem, it's erratic. Maybe the sound drops out with a pop on one speaker intermittently, maybe the sound comes on and off erratically, maybe there's lots of static or hum, but it apparently can't be traced to the media per se. What do you do? You start checking connections, grounds, cables, etc. and you troubleshoot it. Maybe it's a failure in the receiver itself.

Problems with a computer system are somewhat similar. There's a lot that can go wrong with them. You could have a bad hard drive, a faulty drive cable, an intermittent fault in the supply connections to the logic board, but you can't find this out if the problem isn't isolated properly.

A computer system differs from an audio system in that the audio components typically just throw their output to the next device without caring about whether or not the signal is received properly. Computers are different. They go through a process of handshaking before the events can proceed properly, and if the handshaking doesn't occur properly, the event may fail.

Although many people think Scannerz is hard drive scanning software, it's fault detection software - it uses the progress of the scan on a hard drive as a reference point. Just as someone listening to a faulty recording media can determine whether or not the media is the problem because it occurs at the exact same spot, Scannerz allows you to determine whether the problems are related to the drive or somewhere else in the system because surface scan problems are repeatable, system problems are not.

Scannerz will detect a disk problem at the exact same spot if the surface of the drive has problems. However, if the problem is elsewhere, for example if the cable connecting the drive to the system has intermittent faults in it the problems, just like a speaker with intermittent connections in it will produce erratic and unrepeatable results. This is why Scannerz ability to use a cursory mode (this is Scannerz, not Scannerz-Lite which doesn't have these capabilities) is invaluable. If you run a test on a drive and it reports failures, you can re-scan them in cursory mode and if the problems repeat, you know the drive surface has problems. If they don't repeat, then you know the problem is elsewhere. Scannerz monitors system timing, and if problems are present, they'll be exposed either as errors or irregularities (the time it took to complete an event was out of bounds.)

You can isolate the problem by using path isolation. In your case, they've already replaced the logic board, so, unless you're extraordinarily unlucky, that shouldn't be the source of the problems. The remaining sources are likely the hard drive, the cable connecting the hard drive to the system, the supply and/or connections to the supply/battery, or the surfaces of the hard drive (i.e. your suspicion about the hard drive being bad are verified).

You can start isolating this by booting from an external FireWire or USB bootable media, unmount the internal hard drive using disk utility, and see if the system functions properly. If it works great using only the external media, then either the hard drive needs checking or the cable between the logic board and the internal HD is bad. If this is the case you'll need to get the software to test it (or make Apple test it for you, after all, they supposedly fixed it).

If the problems persist even using an external drive, it indicates that the problem isn't the internal drive or cable related, which pretty much points at the supply and/or it's cables (if there are any). Odds are when they swapped out your logic board, the didn't replace the cables, and if they were defective, the problems would persist, as they would if the drive's surface platters are defective. The test software Apple uses is simple surface scanning software and it won't necessarily be able to catch or verify intermittent problems.

I hope this post is of value to someone.

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According to this article on Apple's support site, as well as this article on Macworld, OS X runs hard disk diagnostics on start up every time. You can also follow the instructions on this article at Apple's support site to manually use Disk Utility's First Aid feature and/or the command-line tool fsck to help you diagnose issues from the command line.

These built-in utilities should be sufficient. Having said that, there is a healthy third-party market for disk utilities. A few years ago, I purchased Data Rescue II by Prosoft Engineering (current version is Data Rescue III) and it helped me with recovering deleted files. I believe this same utility has an analysis tool as well. Hope this helps.

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It's of note that Disk Utility (which is powered by fsck) only deals with filesystem integrity and not the physical health of the hard drive. There is no utility in OS X that can reliably and accurately determine the physical health of your hard disk (although there is sometimes a correlation between filesystem damage and a failing disk, but not always). You have to consult 3rd party utilities to get a solid diagnosis. And none are better than the utilities provided by the hard drive manufacturers. The downside is most need Windows to run them. –  cksum Jan 11 '12 at 19:22
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My iMac started behaving unpredictably earlier this year. One good test was to create a bootable USB stick with OS X on it (Snow Leopard at the time) and see how the machine behaved with that (this eliminates the HDD and so allows you to test RAM, etc). I ran up a diagnostic app that found many issues with the HDD and therefore replaced it. Not had any trouble since.

Guide for creating a bootable USB stick

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I would also add that I've had great luck with Disk Warrior to recover a client's old drives full of video projects. If the disk is too jacked to be fixed, it can build a preview copy, mount it and then let you use the mounted preview to copy / salvage files to a different drive. Of course all of this would be unnecessary if the client had bought a backup drive for every drive I have and actually run the backups. Running a video production business in Los Angeles, I've found that clients appreciate backups and often need to go back to their corporate video projects down the road for events and revisions, and backups are essential.

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This doesn't really answer the question. The original poster wanted to know how he could tell if his disk was going bad, not how to recover files if it did go bad. –  daviewales Dec 4 '12 at 6:48
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