Microsoft

Use the GUI version of Check Disk to analyze the condition of your hard disks

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to use the GUI version of Windows 7's Check Disk tool to perform two hard disk analysis operations.

I know that in my recent blog post, "Access More Troubleshooting Tools with Windows 7 System Recovery Options," I promised that I'd continue to cover the tools on the System Recovery Options menu in more detail and did so in last week's blog, "Use Windows Memory Diagnostic to Investigate RAM Problems in Windows 7."

However, the other day I encountered what appeared to be a hard disk problem and used the GUI version of Windows 7's Check Disk tool to investigate it. As I did, I was reminded that this unsung tool needed more exposure. (I'll continue my coverage of the troubleshooting tools with Windows 7 System Recovery Options next time.)

While not as common as they once were, errors do occasionally occur on today's hard disks. These types of errors can be the result of faulty hardware, power failures, or even software errors. In most cases, Microsoft Windows 7 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 the operating system 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 the DOS version of Check Disk to fix those problems.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use the GUI version of Windows 7's Check Disk tool to perform two hard disk analysis operations.

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Launching the Check Disk GUI

While Check Disk is essentially a command-line tool, you don't have to open a Command Prompt to run it. In fact you can launch it from within Computer. To do so, launch Computer, 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, click the Check Now button, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

To launch the GUI version of Check Disk, click the Check Now button.
While the Check Now button shows a UAC icon, a UAC prompt may or may not appear, depending on your User Account Control Settings. If a UAC does appear, 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 launch Check Disk from the GUI, you select both the Automatically Fix File System Errors and the Scan for and Attempt Recovery of Bad Sectors check boxes and click Start. When you do, the Check Disk GUI will schedule the DOS version to run at start-up 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 a different combination 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 is 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.
Once 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 find 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. (I'll go into more detail on Check Disk's 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 on screen, 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 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. This will run the 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.
As you can imagine, this thorough analysis will take much longer to perform. 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 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

Now let's take a closer look at 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 7 Resource Kit.

Stage 1

In 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

In 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

In 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

In stage 4, Check Disk verifies all clusters in use. Stage 4 runs only when you select Automatically Fix File System Errors check box.

Stage 5

In stage 5, 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?

Now that you know how it works, are you likely to use the GUI version of Windows 7's Check Disk tool to analyze hard disk operations? If you have run it before, what were the results? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums 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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