Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

What causes my computer to fail a Smart Short Self Test, and do I have to reformat?


Hi, Leo. Today, I ran a driver test from Dell support center and my laptop, six
months old, failed the SMART short self test. It passed all the other tests,
though. So what do I do now? Should I just ignore this or format my computer? I
also want to know what’s caused it, because I can neither play high-end games nor
download random software.

In this excerpt from
Answercast #12
, I walk through the purpose and results of a SMART test and
suggest preventative measures to take if your computer has failed the test.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

Hard drive health

SMART stands for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology.
It is software that runs on the hard disk controllers: actually, on the hard
disks themselves. This SMART technology monitors the health of your hard

If you’re facing a SMART failure, then the place to be looking is at your
hard disk.

Will reformatting help?

Just reformatting your computer isn’t going to solve that. It’s actually a
failure, or an impending failure, inside the hard disk itself.

What it really means is you want to actually replace the hard disk for
safety’s sake.

Yes, that’s going to involve reformatting the computer after you replace the
drive. But the point is that it’s not the reformat that’s fixing anything; it’s
replacing the hard disk that does so.

False positive readings

I will say that, particularly on older drives, the SMART Self Test has been
known to be somewhat unreliable.

In my case, however, if I face a SMART Self Test failure, I take the safest
path and assume that it’s accurate; that it’s telling me something that I need
to know.

In many cases, the absolute safest thing to do is to replace the hard drive
that’s failing that test.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

2 comments on “What causes my computer to fail a Smart Short Self Test, and do I have to reformat?”

  1. Just to comment on the original question which suggested that a SMART failure might have something to do with playing high end games – there is no reason to suspect that playing high end games would cause this.

  2. I am just in the process of replacing a failing drive, after getting a SMART warning from the BIOS at boot.
    I downloaded a program that displayed the SMART data and at that time some 1800 sectors had become unusable and had been relocated to other sectors. By the time I copied the data off the drive the number had increased by several hundred and by the time I removed the drive from my system (a few days later) the number of relocated sectors was over 3000.
    The manufacturer had a downloadable test tool which verified that the drive needed to be replaced under warranty. Keying the test result code into their website generated an RMA, authorising the return for replacement of the 2 Tb drive.
    I am waiting with bated breath for UPS to deliver its replacement.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.