SpinRite 6.0 for Linux Users

by Leon A. Goldstein

SpinRite 6.0, released in June 2004, is not a Windows program. In fact, SpinRite always has run in DOS. The Windows cachet comes from the previous releases, which work only on DOS FAT and FAT 32 partitions. What is new with SpinRite 6.0 is it now can test partitions and recover data on a Linux or multi-OS drive. It also can test a new, unformatted drive.

SpinRite 6.0 now runs independently of any installed operating system and associated filesystem and can work on all Windows formats, DOS FAT and Linux. Even Macintosh owners can use it, although they need to cable the Mac drive to a PC.

Long-time SpinRite users need no introduction to the product. SpinRite is a utility for verifying, maintaining or repairing hard drives. Although Linux utilities such as chkdsk look at file integrity, SpinRite tests magnetic media for data integrity and can warn of impending failure. If SpinRite is used after data is lost, it may be able to recover data by coercing unreadable bits back to consciousness. Other handy uses are identifying partitions on a multiple OS drive and benchmarking.

What distinguishes SpinRite from some other hard-drive tools is it works non-destructively. This is particularly important for newcomers to SpinRite; unfamiliarity with the mouse-less user interface cannot cause damage to data. According to SpinRite's literature: "it first reads the data out of a region, then exercises that region with patterns of data that SpinRite has determined are the most difficult for the drive to read and write. In this way, any weak and failing areas within the region are located and removed from use while none of the drive's original data is being stored there. Only after the region has been made absolutely safe, will the drive's original data be restored to that area."

How to Get It

SpinRite 6.0 is available only by download from the SpinRite Web site. The cost ranges from $89 for a first time buyer to $29 for SpinRite 5.0 owners. Owners of intermediate releases also receive a discounted price: $69 for owners of the original SpinRite or SpinRite II, $49 for owners of SpinRite 3.1 or 4.0. You need the serial number from your original SpinRite floppy to qualify.

How to Install It

The download is a small (170 KB) Windows executable. This is a setup utility. The utility can create a bootable floppy, CD ISO or install SpinRite directly on removable media. The executable can run under WINE or CrossOver Office. I was able to run it and create a burnable ISO with Libranet 2.8.1 and its bundled WINE version.

Figure 1. Starting with SpinRite

The ISO already is bootable; it includes FreeDOS. If you use XCDRoast, simply copy the ISO to your image directory and then select it and burn the track.

I had a much harder time creating a bootable floppy. Running the setup under WINE, the utility kept complaining that the floppies were defective. Trying again in Windows 98, it finally made a floppy but only after rejecting a half-dozen other diskettes. The installer claims that it does a media test of the floppy. In fairness, I have been experiencing problems with recently bought floppies. Quality control does not seem to be there any more. The bootable CD is the way to go, however, and making one in a pure Linux environment is fast and easy. This, of course, depends on whether your particular WINE setup is up to it. YMMV.

Figure 2. Creating the Boot Image

How to Use It

SpinRite needs direct control of the system, so it must boot to a clean configuration. SpinRite installs a copy of FreeDOS on the bootable media and works without resorting to any memory managers or device drivers. Insert either the bootable floppy or the CD, and you are greeted by a splash screen.

The splash screen switches to a nostalgic DOS title screen, bearing the owner's name. Press any other key--other than Esc, which exits out of the program--and the copyright and license screen appears. Here the owner's license key is displayed. Another keystroke opens another screen that asks if you are running SpinRite 6.0 for data recovery or drive maintenance. It describes two of the five operational levels, level 2 for data recovery or level 4 for maintenance. You can select any of the other operating levels; instructions are displayed.

You can begin running SpinRite 6.0 immediately and go to the Main Menu. The options are:

1. Select Drives & Partitions 2. View or Change Settings 3. Perform Drive Benchmarks 4. Exit

If you select 1, two windows are displayed; the left side lists all of the partitions and free space ("gaps"). The right window displays system information and status; you can toggle through BIOS info, Hardware, and S.M.A.R.T. Stat for details.

Getting back to the left window, scroll down to the partition(s) you want to examine and select it(them) by pressing the space bar. Of course, you can select the entire drive, or you can test a floppy.

Next, go to 2. View or Change Settings and change the operational level of testing if you want. You can select logging either to a floppy or a connected printer. Other settings concern the log format and content. The five operational levels, in order of increasing intensity and time required, are:

1. Examine surfaces. This is the fastest test and is useful for checking out a new hard drive if time is short. 2. Recover unreadable data. 3. Refresh the surface. 4. Locate surface defects. 5. Restore good sectors.

Figure 3. View or Change Settings

These tests are cumulative; for example, level 5 includes all of the tests, level 4 includes level 1 through 3 tests and so on. For a more detailed description of the various SpinRite tests and the technology, please visit the SpinRite Web site.

While SpinRite 6.0 is running, you can toggle through seven displays:

1. Graphic Status Display: shows the progress and condition of the medium under test. Any bad sectors detected are coded. FAT partitions display used and unused sectors; NTFS and Linux partitions do not distinguish between used and unused space, however.

Figure 4. Graphic Status Display

2. Real-Time Activities

Figure 5. Real-Time Activities

3. Detailed Technical Log: accumulates all of the results and can be copied either to a floppy or to an on-line printer. SpinRite is DOS, so don't expect it to work with a Winprinter.

Figure 6. Technical Log

4. S.M.A.R.T. System Monitor: includes temperature monitoring for those drives that support it. Not all drives I tested reported temperatures. My Seagate 80 GB Barracuda reported temperature but not my Maxtor 20 GB or Western Digital 80 GB "Jumbo" drives. I performed all of the tests with ATA 100 hard drives.

Figure 7. S.M.A.R.T. System Monitor

5. DynaStat Data Recovery: the jewel in the crown. If SpinRite detects possible data in a defective location, DynaStat goes to work to coax the data, bit by bit, out of hiding.

Figure 8. DynaStat Data Recovery

6. Change Operational Level: here you can change from among the five test levels at any time.

7. Screen Blanker: a small window dances slowly around the screen that indicates SpinRite 6.0 is running and lists the completion percentage of the partition under scrutiny.

You can suspend or cancel any operation and resume later from where you left off. SpinRite 6.0 reports progress as a percentage with four decimal places; you can note exactly where you left off and resume later. Because drives are big and getting bigger, and because the time to run SpinRite 6.0 can be considerable, this feature lets you examine the drive progressively, over several sessions, if necessary.

How long SpinRite needs to perform its tests depends on your hardware. From my tests with various computers and hard drives, a level-2 test run on a 10 GB partition can take from about four minutes to over 30 minutes. What determines how fast the test runs depends on, in descending order of influence: the motherboard, BIOS settings and interface; the hard drive; and the CPU. For example, my Compaq 5151 Presario, upbrained from a K6-2 350MHz to K6-III+ overclocked to 500MHz, ran the tests faster than my Celeron 1GHz. The Presario has an add-on Promise ATA100 PCI interface card, while the Celeron box supports only ATA66. The hard drives in both are of equivalent performance. At level-4 testing, CPU power becomes more important, because more SpinRite operations are in play. My Presario with the 500MHz K6-III+ needs 59 minutes to complete a level-4 test on a 10GB partition, while my P4 2.2GHz system can do the same job in 18 minutes.

SpinRite 6.0 is a new product, so new in fact that there is no documentation for it yet. Check the SpinRite Web site for further developments. Because SpinRite 6.0 is an evolutionary development, previous users should feel right at home. For newcomers, the extensive downloadable documentation for the previous release will provide useful help until the new user's guide is posted. As mentioned earlier, SpinRite is simple to use, and it has no hidden barbs or traps.

From the SpinRite newsgroup and confirmed in a private e-mail from Steve Gibson, any future dot updates to SpinRite 6.0 will be available to owners at no additional cost.

Spending $89 for a measly 170KB of code may seem extravagant, but you need to lose data only one time to realize the real cost. For previous SpinRite owners, the update is a double good deal: a SpinRite you can use on your Linux system with no learning curve and at a prorated discount to boot.

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