HD Tune (Windows Freeware)
The last time I had a serious issue with a hard-drive, it was with the one that came with my Toshiba laptop. This was quite some time ago, when I was still running Windows XP and regularly using Windows freeware.
To diagnose the hard-drive issue, I downloaded this great little freeware tool - HD Tune. I've visited the site recently, and a free version is still available, along with a paid-for version.
I'm not sure if there is an equivalent on Linux - there probably is, but I just haven't come across it yet.
HD Tune - Diagnostic Output
This is the output from the diagnostics I ran on my Toshiba Sat Pro A10 hard disk drive - it confirms that the problems I've been having are due to a serious problem with the drive.
Drive Performance Benchmark
This graph shows that the drive is currently performing as expected but when I tried a more accurate reading, the process halted with a drive read-error.
HD Tune - Disk Performance Benchmark Stats
Shows the features supported by the drive.
HD Tune - Drive Information
Drive Health Report
HD Tune can read the S.M.A.R.T. statistics that most modern drives can supply. Here, the red highlight indicates a problem with sector relocation - this is a critical attribute.
HD Tune - Drive Health Report
Disk Surface Error Scan
I initially did a 'Quick Scan' - it detected no problems with the drive.
The regular scan took just under 30 mins for my 30GB drive - so you can expect to wait several hours for a large drive (120GB+). The red squares indicate serious problems with the disk surface. Things can only get worse - better to replace the drive rather than risk losing something important.
HD Tune - Disk Surface Error Scan