Resolve your Mac’s SMART hard disk error

6 min read

If you're here, then I'm guessing you found yourself with a SMART hard disk error. It's a warning that no Mac user wants to receive. If you're wondering what that little acronym stands for, how to troubleshoot and fix it, keep reading. Let's jump straight in. 

A SMART hard disk error is enough to raise your blood pressure; one thing is for sure, if you've received an error message, it's time to act fast. 

Backup your data now to prevent complete loss. This little alarm bell indicates that your hard drive has experienced a problem affecting its stability and possible ability to operate. 

Time Machine window

What is a SMART error? Let's start at the very beginning. SMART stands for Self Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology System. It's a mechanism for monitoring your hard drive status, detecting and reporting failures and errors. 

How to deal with SMART error message

Here's a few common reasons you might be seeing a SMART status failing message:

  • Internal mechanical failure.

  • Electrical damage.

  • Humidity or moisture.

  • Excessive heat.

  • Physical damage, shock, or impact.

As clever as SMART might seem, it's definitely not perfect. It can't always warn you of an impending, unpredictable drive failure, but it can sound the alarm to issues that you can troubleshoot before disaster strikes. 

It's worth stating that SMART technology can also throw out a few false alarms or alert you to some temporary issues. I personally had some problems with overheating on my Mac due to inadequate ventilation, which was solved, and my Mac has lived to see many moons since. 

1. Perform maintenance tasks

Third-party maintenence tools can be used to run maintenance scripts, repair disk permissions, and troubleshoot your Mac. 

One app that recently caught my attention is CleanMyMac X by MacPaw. It provides you with a window of insight into your drive's overall health while helping you solve some fundamental issues before heading down the more complex routes. Grab the free version here — It's notarized by Apple and safe to use.

My personal favorite thing about CleanMyMac X, is its simplicity, and that's just what you need while trying to deal with SMART hard drive error messages. 

  • When you install the app, go the Maintenance tab in the sidebar.
  • Now try running the tools presented here. I would definitely check “Repair Disk Permissions”


2. Check your Mac for malware

You might be wondering why this is here; as strange as this sounds, a malware infection can have strikingly similar symptoms as a failing disk. It's worth ruling this out first. Run a full scan. The app I just mentioned has a Malware Removal module, included in the free version of CleanMyMac X

3. Use the Disk Utility tool

Mac disk utility window

Disk Utility is a handy tool that can help to extend your drive life by solving issues before they become critical. 

Use the First Aid process from Disk Utility and repair file permissions and other issues causing the drive to act out. 

This will alert you to imminent drive failures; again, if you haven't already, back up your data. 

How to run First Aid with Disk Utility:

Open Finder, and select Applications, scroll down to Utilities, and select Disk Utility.

  • Select your Main disk drive from the left sidebar and press First Aid at the top.

  • Select Run and follow the guidance.

For First Aid on your startup disk (Macintosh HD):

  • Restart your Mac, immediately press-hold the Command + R keys, when the Apple logo appears, release.

  • Now, on the macOS Utilities window, choose Disk Utility, then press Continue. 

  • From the left pane, now select the startup disk, and then click First Aid. Click Run to repair the startup disk.

If this process doesn't eliminate the SMART hard drive error message, It’s time to back up the disk’s data and then erase it.

4. Erase the disk

You can securely erase your hard drive to start from scratch. If the drive is in bad condition, this may not work. This is not a quick process and can take several hours on a good 1TB drive, so a badly damaged drive could well take a few days or not complete the process at all. 

Securely erase disk:

  1. Startup from macOS Recovery. Immediately press-hold the Command + R keys. When the Apple logo appears, release.

  2. Select Disk Utility and press continue.

  3. Choose View and then, Show All Devices from the menu bar in Disk Utility. 

  4. Now, choose the disk that you want to erase, then click Erase, complete these items:

    Name: Enter the name that you want the disk to have after erasure.
    Format: Disk Utility shows a compatible format by default here.
    Scheme: Finally, select GUID Partition Map.

  5. Now, press Erase to start erasing your disk and every container and volume within it. When complete, quit Disk Utility.

Tip: If you want your Mac to be able to start up from the disk you’ve erased, you'll need to reinstall macOS on the disk. You can read a great post on how to reinstall macOS Catalina the right way here.

How to check SMART Status on your Mac

After completing First Aid or drive erasure on your Mac, you can quickly check the SMART status on your internal disk storage and hard drive using Disk Utility. 

This is a simple way to see if the disk hardware is experiencing any hardware issues.

Disk utility window

Here's how it works:

  1. Open Finder, select Applications, then scroll down to Utilities, select Disk Utility. 

  2. Select the primary disk from the list on the lefthand side, not a partition.

  3. Check the SMART status of the disk information overview in Disk Utility.

  • Verified - Indicates the drive is in good health.

  • Failing - Indicated the drive needs urgent attention.

  • Any message that states the disk has a fatal hardware error or problem means the disk will fail soon, and you need to take action ASAP.

If your Mac is still showing the SMART error messaging, then sadly, sometimes there is no amount of troubleshooting that can help you recover from a failed drive. It might be time for drive replacement or repair from your local Mac store. 

How to prevent SMART disk error on Mac

If your disk is having problems and you suspect failure is just around the corner, there are preventative actions you can take. They may not necessarily prevent the failure, but they put you in a better position to recover and even minimize the impact of the damaged disk.

Keep your Mac in good shape through regular maintenance. The app I've already mentioned, CleanMyMac X, has a great Smart Scan, which will give your Mac a thorough inspection and help to clean up, protect, and speed up your Mac. 

CleanMyMac X - Smart scan module

Start the Smart Scan:

  1. Launch the app and select Smart Scan from the sidebar -  Download the app's free version here.

  2. Press Scan, now wait for the scan to complete, then press Run.

It's never a fun day when a SMART hard disk error darkens your door, but hopefully, you can troubleshoot and hopefully save your disk and your data through these tips.  Regular maintenance and regular backups will always put you in a better position for any future disk failures.

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