Microsoft

How do I ... use the Vista Check Disk tool for hard disk analysis?

Greg Shultz shows you how to use the GUI version of Vista's Check Disk tool to perform two hard disk analysis operations.

While not as common as they once were, file system and sector errors do occasionally occur in Microsoft Windows Vista. These types of errors can be the result of faulty hardware, power failures, or even software errors. In most cases, Vista will recognize hard disk problems and automatically schedule Check Disk to run the next time the computer is restarted.

However, if you're the proactive type, you might want to keep tabs on the status of your hard disk's health yourself rather than wait for Vista to recognize a problem. If so, you'll be glad to know that you can use the GUI version of Check Disk to perform a hard disk analysis operation at any time. If during the analysis you discover problems, then you can use Check Disk to fix those problems.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll show you how to use the GUI version of Vista's Check Disk tool to perform two hard disk analysis operations.

This blog post is also available in PDF format as a TechRepublic download.

Launching the Check Disk GUI

While Check Disk is essentially a command-line tool, you don't have to open a Command Prompt Window to run it. In fact you can launch it from within Computer. Once you have Computer open, simply right-click the hard disk that you want to check and select the Properties command from the context menu. When the Properties dialog box appears, select the Tools tab. Then, in the Error Checking panel, shown in Figure A, click the Check Now button.

Figure A

To launch the GUI version of Check Disk, click the Check Now button.
When the UAC appears, you'll need to respond appropriately. As soon as the UAC closes, you'll see a Check Disk dialog box similar to the one shown in Figure B.

Figure B

You'll use the option in this dialog box to configure how you want Check Disk to run.

Typically, when you go to run Check Disk from the GUI, you select both the Automatically Fix File System Errors check box and the Scan For And Attempt Recovery Of Bad Sectors check box and click Start. When you do, the Check Disk GUI will schedule the DOS version to run at startup and prompt you to restart. Check Disk will then fix any problems it finds.

However, to run Check Disk in analysis mode, you'll use other combinations of settings. Let's take a closer look.

Performing a basic analysis

If you want to get a quick look at the state of your hard disk, clear both the check boxes and click Start. This method of running Check Disk is relatively quick and is completed in read-only mode, which means that it runs right from within the GUI interface. As it proceeds, you'll see status messages appear in the center of the Check Disk dialog box that let you know what is happening at each stage of the operation, and, of course, the progress bar lets you know how long the operation will take, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

As the analysis operation proceeds, you'll see status messages appear in the center of the Check Disk dialog box.
When the operation is complete, you'll see a dialog box that contains a brief summary of the operation. However, if you click the See Details arrow, you'll see a fairly detailed report of the operation, as shown in Figure D. As you can see, in this operation Check Disk goes through three stages as it examines your disk. (More on the stages in a moment.)

Figure D

When you click the See Details arrow, you'll see a fairly detailed report of the operation, which in the case of a basic analysis runs through three stages.
In addition to the report shown onscreen, Check Disk saves the report in the Application Event Log with a source code of Chkdsk and an Event ID of 26212, as shown in Figure E. The Event Log entry will contain the entire report as well as details about any changes that Check Disk made.

Figure E

Check Disk will save its report in the Application Event Log with a source code of Chkdsk and an Event ID of 26212.

Performing a more thorough analysis

If you would like to perform a more thorough analysis of your hard disk, clear the Automatically Fix File System Errors check box and just select the Scan For And Attempt Recovery Of Bad Sectors check box, and then click Start.

Selecting just the Scan For And Attempt Recovery Of Bad Sectors check box will run this operation in read-only mode, which means that Check Disk will only scan for and identify bad sectors, it will not attempt to recover them. Read-only mode will also mean that Check Disk runs right from within the GUI interface, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

When you run Check Disk in this configuration, it will only scan for and identify bad sectors, it will not attempt to recover them.
When the operation is complete, Check Disk will save the report in the Application Event Log as well as display the report in the dialog box, as shown in Figure G. As you can see, when performing a thorough analysis Check Disk goes through four of its five stages as it examines your disk.

Figure G

When performing a thorough analysis, Check Disk goes through the first three stages and then skips to the fifth stage.

The stages

When you run Check Disk in fix-and-recovery mode, it performs its operation in five stages — three major stages and two optional stages. However, when you run the basic analysis, Check Disk goes through only the three main stages. When you run the thorough analysis, Check Disk goes through the three main stages and the second optional stage.

(Note: My description of these stages is based on information culled from the Windows Vista Resource Kit.)
  • Stage 1: Check Disk examines each file record segment in the volume's Master File Table (MFT). A specific file record segment in the MFT uniquely identifies every file and directory on an NTFS volume.
  • Stage 2: Check Disk examines each of the indexes (directories) on the volume for internal consistency and verifies that every file and directory represented by a file record segment in the MFT is referenced by at least one directory. Check Disk also confirms that every file or subdirectory referenced in each directory actually exists as a valid file record segment in the MFT and checks for circular directory references. Check Disk then confirms that the time stamps and the file size information associated with files are up-to-date in the directory listings for those files.
  • Stage 3: Check Disk examines each of the security descriptors associated with each file and directory on the volume by verifying that each security descriptor structure is well formed and internally consistent.
  • Stage 4 (optional): Check Disk verifies all clusters in use. Stage 4 runs only when you select the Automatically Fix File System Errors check box.
  • Stage 5 (optional): Check Disk verifies unused clusters. Stage 5 runs when you select the Scan For And Attempt Recovery Of Bad Sectors check box. (Keep in mind that in the thorough analysis mode described in this article, stage 5 will only scan for bad sectors.)

What's your take on Check Disk?

Now that you know how it works, are you likely to use the GUI version of Vista's Check Disk tool to perform hard disk analysis operations? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this technique, please take a moment to drop by the Discussion area and let us hear from you.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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