OK...I'll do the honorable thing and dispense with any suggestive lines that come to mind just now.
Suffice it to say, it's always good for a system administrator to have a variety of tools to manage and diagnose potential hard-drive trouble spots.
Here is a mid-sized collection of freeware utilities I use to accomplish hard-drive service tasks.
All are free, and all are (or can easily be made) portable to carry on USB drives.
The Main Players
Xinorbis - (freeware) - Really, really powerful heavy-duty hard drive analyzer. Uses graphs, tables, and directory tree views. Provides a really extensive report on just what is going on on that drive. Even sorts the files into categories based on file-type. Supports singe or multiple drives, report generation, report comparisons, and shell integration. Scan-times depend on size of drive and number of items it contains. I installed it first, copied the program folder to my USB drive, then uninstalled the product. Seemed to work just fine off USB that way. Spotted recently on Download Squad
Drive Manager - (freeware) - Beautiful tool from Alex Nolan. Lists all drives, label, the type, information on the format of the drive, the size (freespace/used), volume serial number, if it is visible or not, vendor information, SMART drive details (if drive supported), file system flags and what has been enabled on each drive, a check disk (CHKDSK) wizard, an optical drive information and capabilities wizard, and filtering, and you can "hide" drives from Windows Explorer. Supports both local and network (mapped) drives. Runs fast and has a very well designed GUI. It's a single EXE file, so it is highly portable on USB.
HD Tune - (freeware) - I've been using this tool for a very long time. It is updated pretty frequently. It provides temperture information, a benchmarking utility, disk information (partition numbers, drive letters, label, capacity and usage %, format type, and boot identification. It provides a checklist of features the installed drive(s) support, firmware version, the serial number (something REALLY useful so you don't have to physically rip out the drive to get this info), the capacity, buffer, what standard it uses and which modes it supports. It has a Health report for supported SMART drives, and can do an error scan displaying any damaged blocks found. Easily portable off USB by copying the installed program files into a 2nd folder location.
DiskCheckup - (freeware) - This tool from PassMark is a SMART hard drive monitoring utility. Unlike others that have the ability to provide SMART information as part of what they do, this tool ONLY does SMART drive work. Once ran, it provides a list of all supported drives it locates on your system. Select the target drive and you can view detailed device info on the hard-drive's hardware, SMART drive information and monitoring points (Raw value, status, value, Worst, threshold, and TEC date. If so enabled, you can save records of your drive's condition periodically and then compare the results over time to build a history report. That alone is a valuable feature. I was able to install the application, copy the program folder to another location, then uninstall the program from the system. I then went back and could run it from the copied location or USB just fine.
WinDirStat - Windows Directory Statistics - (freeware) - A popular highly graphical utility to visualize just how much space applications/folders are taking up on your hard-drive. This is a really popular hard-drive utility. The last version was released in 09/2007 with the promise of a new version coming "soon" with new functions. I'm looking forward to this one. Can be run "portable" off a USB drive if program files are copied from the installation location.
Sequoia View - (freeware) - This tool from the Technical University of Eindhoven (TU/e) is very similar to WinDirStat. In fact, it amazes me that WinDIrStat seems to get all the attention here in the States, while Sequoia View gets very little recognition. I actually prefer Sequoia View, myself. It is fast and provides a great visual view of what is taking up space on your hard-drive. Can be run "portable" off a USB drive if program files are copied from the installation location.
TreeSize Free - (freeware) - Handy little tool from JAM Software. Run this tool and it clearly and quickly tells you just how much space on your drive a folder and its contents are taking up. It's not easily apparent, but there are semi-transparent bar-graphs displayed under each folder. You can configure it with a lot of optional settings. It is fast and comes in both an "installer" and Zip version which can be run off USB.
FolderSize - (freeware) - Brilliant tool by Jan Horn out of Johannesburg. Select a drive or folder, click the "Calculate Size" button and away it goes. When done (very quickly) it provides either a color-coded folder-tree view showing how much space a folder takes up, or you can view by a bar-graph. You can change the size thresholds for the folder colors depending on your needs. It uses a single EXE file so it is very portable and truly "standalone" on USB drives.
Special Teams Players
These tools aren't ones that I commonly use. I expect that most home users would do well to steer away from them.
Roadkil's Sector Editor - (freeware) - With a name like "Roadkill" it must be good! This tool allows users to display, edit, print and search hard-disk data by individual sectors (in Hex code or ASCII). Sectors can be copied and exported to files. Really useful when doing a "mid-level" disk investigation or looking at a malware file. Portable as it uses a single EXE file.
Disk Investigator - (freeware) - Much more powerful than Sector Editor, it also allows you to explore, view, and copy drive sector information. It claims to bypass the operating system and view the raw drive secotors. You can view information based on drives or directories. Disk information is provided, and you can copy/view information found by Hex, Text, or Decimal formats. What I really like about this program is that it allows you to increment the view and lists the specific sector you are viewing. There is also a slider bar to scroll through the sectors and disk from front to back. Very handy. You can search for strings in the sectors or the drive. Handy. As well as view the cluster ins a breakout detail window. Disk Investigator is a simply amazing tool. I have used it "portably" for a long time off CD media and USB drives.
Dimio's HDHACKER Tool - (freeware) - Written by Dimitrios Coutsoumbas, this tool is a "micro-utility" that "...saves, visualizes, and restores the MBR (from a physical drive), the BootSector (from a logical drive) or any specified sector from any disk (even removable disks). HDHacker can be used, for example, to save and restore a particular boot manager (such as LILO, for example)
before a new Windows setup (which, obviously, overwrites it)." Again, not a commonly used tool, but nice to keep handy in a pinch. Portable and supports Windows 2000/XP/Vista.
Bart's Stuff Test 5 - (freeware) - I don't usually recommend thrashing a hard-drive, but Bst5 does just that. I've used it when I wanted to see if a drive at work was going bad. Says Bart, "Bst5...is a small win32 application for long term heavy stress testing storage devices. Bst5 supports testing at file and device level. File level support enables you to test any local or remote volume by file access. This makes it possible to test almost any storage device. As long as the operating system can write or read files from it, you can use bst5 to test it. In Bst5 this is seen as a "high" level test, you write/read data to/from a file using the file system support from your operating system. Device level support enables you to test local devices directly block-by-block. You can use this to test any removable or fixed logical drive, physical hard disk, or tape device. In bst5 this is seen as a "low" level test, bst5 writes/reads data directly to/from the storage device without the use of any file system. In other words, the storage device or media does not need to be partitioned or formatted before testing. If any file system exists on a storage device or media, a non-read only test will overwrite any data on it. Bst5 supports very large volumes, up to 16 exabyte (17.179.869.184 Gigabyte) enough to last for at least 30 years." Portable and handy to have when you really need it.
TeraByte Unlimited - Disk Info (DOS) - (freeware) - OK. First, this is a DOS program that ONLY works when run from a DOS boot floppy (or boot CD). It doesn't work from a Command-Line DOS box opened in Windows. OK? So don't waste your time trying. What it DOES do, better than ANY utility I have ever found, it get a ream of hard-drive hardware data about your drive. Lots and lots. Have you ever secure-wiped a hard-drive and then forgot you needed the serial number of the physical drive for auditing purposes in your company? Yep. Time to open up the case. However, if you have this tool on a boot floppy or boot CD, you can type "diskinfo.exe > a:Info.tx" and it will pipe the output to a text tile for review. Be amazed and the wealth of data you can get with it and not have to crack the case open and pull the drive. See also "The All In One Boot Floppy" or "FREEDOS Ripcord BootDisk"
Ultimate Hard-Drive Utility Package
Ultimate Boot CD - (freeware) - Why include a highly advanced and specialized boot CD in this list? One reason, it contains the largest collection of "off-system" hard-drive utilities assembled in one place that I know of. All geeks and sysadmins should have this in their CD case. Period. It's that good when you need it. Certainly a "niche" product and not quite approachable as a BartPE or WinBuilder VistaPE disk, but certainly more useful for most folks than a basic Win PE 2.0 boot disk.
What hard-drive tools does it come with? Try this out:
Hard Disk Diagnostic Tools - Drive Fitness Test (IBM/Hitachi) 4.09, Diagnostic Tool (Fujitsu) 6.90, SeaTools for DOS (Seagate/Maxtor) 1.09, SHDIAG (Samsung) 1.25, HUTIL (Samsung) 1.21/2.03 , DLG Diagnostic (Western Digital), 4.15/5.04c, Data Lifeguard (Western Digital) 11.2, SCSIMax (Maxtor/Quantum) 1.21, GWSCAN (Gateway) 3.15/5.09, ESTest (ExcelStor) 4.20, Salvation HDD Scan and Repair 3.0 (Demo version), MHDD32 4.6, ViVARD 0.4, HDAT2 4.52 (For personal use only).
Hard Disk Device Management Tools - Feature Tool (IBM/Hitachi) 2.05, AMSET (Maxtor) 4.00, MAXLLF (Maxtor) 1.1, UATA100 (Seagate) 3.06, Ultra ATA Manager (Western Digital) June, 2003, SUTIL 1.01, ESFeat (ExcelStor) 2.10, ATA Password Tool 1.1, SMARTUDM 2.00, ATAINF 1.3m,
Partition Tools - Ranish Partition Manager 2.40, Free FDISK 1.3.0, SPFDISK (Special FDISK) 2000-03t, XFDISK (Extended FDISK) 0.9.3 beta, Cute Partition Manager 0.9.5, PTDD Super Fdisk 1.0, Partition Resizer 1.3.4, FIPS 2.0, Active@ Partition Recovery 2.1.1 (Demo version), TestDisk 6.5, Partition Saving 3.40, MBRtool 2.3.100, MBRWork 1.07b.
And those are just the ones addressing hard-drive. There are a bunch more other utilities on this monster CD image as well.
Download the ISO file and burn it to CD, or play with it on a virtual pc session to get your feet wet.
These final utilities are not really directly related to hard-drives, but as they are useful for working with files that are on them, I still find them to be very beneficial "kissing cousins".
Process Monitor - (freeware) - Ultimate monitoring tool to show what files, registry items, and process threads are open on your Windows hard-drive. Very useful to tracking down and understanding just what is actually going on on your hard-drive. Not for the feint of heart, but I can't imagine a successful desktop support tech being unfamiliar with this tool. From Microsoft Sysinternals.
TCPView - (freeware) - Tool for listing all TCP and UDP listening and open ports and the processes that created them on your system. From Microsoft Sysinternals.
OpenedFilesView - (freeware) - NirSoft's tool to show you what files are open on your Windows system. Another great diagnostic and troubleshooting tool, especially when dealing with pesky malware and files that refuse to allow you to delete/terminate them.
CurrPorts - (freeware) - Another NirSoft tool to show which files are open on your system that have opened up network connections. Great for tracking down malware and unknown sources of network chatter on your systems, especially if your enterprise systems don't run (leak monitoring) firewalls within the company network.
VStat - (freeware) - Another network connection monitoring tool like CurrPorts, this one from Robin Keir. Has a bit more "polished" GUI interface, but that's about the main difference. Again, good for finding out what program on your hard-drive is connecting to the network.
Pick and choose, it's your pocket. What you decide to keep in it is your business!