Windows

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.

35 comments
Rajdeep Singh
Rajdeep Singh

Never knew this existed. Wasted  one and  a half hours per CHKDSK  doing nothing ! Now will follow  this !!

Thanks for the  great article Greg.

Michaelss
Michaelss

Thanks Greg, I never thought to run chkdsk with no options selected, nice tip! Who'd have thought that no options was an option, LOL.

allonadmiral
allonadmiral

@JCitizen i am totally agree with you that "I like the factory original drive conditioners, because the drive geometry is correct. I've been told Windows 7 is capable of selecting the proper geometry upon formatting for the installation process. Maybe that is true for newer drives - I have my doubts about older ones, though. "

JusWonderin
JusWonderin

Another good tool! When you've run chkdsk with no joy run DBAN! It's free and Google will find it for you. A year or so ago I got bored and decided to play with DBAN. I ran 21/22 drives thru and from those came 19 serviceable drives, some from back when we measured them in MBs. The drives were pulls from garage sale/yard sale machines that I bought for little or nothing. The DBAN project was a real shocker. Try it! You'll like it!

bvolpone
bvolpone

I get a kick out of the guys puffing out their collective chests and declaring that this is a crap article. We are not worthy to read your rants (we are not worthy we are not worthy). First, this was very well written. Kudos to you, because that isn't always the case on sites like this! Second, it progressed logically so that someone with very rudimentary knowledge could follow from the beginning. As for the content, I hadn't noticed or realized that you could uncheck the boxes and run in read-only mode. That little time saving tidbit made it worthwhile to read. Thanks!

replytoaghar
replytoaghar

To ALL you out there saying that this article is old or whatever. At least, write something before you criticize the article or the one who wrote it. READ other posts he wrote & if you can do half of what he writes then Criticize & say it's a useless article. If a renowned Chef boils an egg, he is still a renowned Chef!!!!

Rkerr63978
Rkerr63978

Speed fan from www.almico.com/speedfan.php has a S.M.A.R.T. function which reads diagnostic information stored by the disk manufacturer and compares the values with normal values for that model disk. I find it more informative and much quicker to run than chkdsk which only checks the files and not the actual drive condition.

squirrelpie0
squirrelpie0

HDD seem to fail more often now. Initial quality or virus? But very common to see newer drives fail while old clunkers keep on going. Sometimes find scandsk or chkdsk solves prob but usually by time I see them they are dead and can not be revived or data rescued even with specialized disk recovery software. Don't do back ups ?Tough Luck!

mayres
mayres

Agree with you Greg But do you Know it also works with usb attached Drives saved many an external with Gui

DimBulb
DimBulb

I use Piriform's Defraggler to run the 3 stage disk check prior to defragging a drive. If it finds problems you are given the option of running chkdsk/f at the next startup.

d_g_l_s
d_g_l_s

Who is referring to DOS in Windows 7? Let's be more clear on what it is taking place here. There is no DOS in Windows 7 as it ceased to be used in Windows XP. The command line option to preform commands that looked like DOS were performed through a completely different file. DOS used command.com and NT systems use cmd.exe to execute commands and batch files. Disk checking is vital to the health of the PC and to the ongoing health of the hard drive. As far as hard drives not failing as often these days I'm not in agreement as I see them daily in the overall workplace of small businesses and residences. Hard drives old and new are failing regularly. Sometimes it's due to negligence such as overloading the hard drive with data (more than 80% full) and not regularly defragmenting them. Auslogics has one of the best defragementers that also optimizes the hard drive. So regular treatment, hard disk checking, cleaning (CCleaner), and defragmenting/optimizing are highly necessary. I personally advise weekly such disk treatment and the time to do so becomes minimal due to continual application.

rwparks.it
rwparks.it

Haven't yet tried the GUI chkdsk. Have run chkdsk from the command line (CLI) several times over the years. Surely brought back the pc on a couple of occasions. But Microsoft Windows most always wanted a reboot running chkdsk via the CLI . The GUI version doesn't require restarting the pc?

Layllah
Layllah

If you're getting paid as a tech and do not know how to use scan disk YOU SHOULD BE FIRED! devote articles to solving real problems the most prevalent: VIRUS IN THE WILD and SECURITY. If you're gonna write this crap please don't bother to send it

drowlfs
drowlfs

A whole page article on how to click a button that has two checkbox options. Nice.

iansavell
iansavell

It may just be me, but I've only ever found Windows disk checking to be a total waste of time. Occasionally it might find orphaned clusters where a program has crashed but in these days of terabyte drives the odd kilobyte wasted space is neither here nor there. However, disks (especially these big ones) do fail, and when they do, does Windows know about it? Not a chance! The first sign of trouble might be that regular click . . . click . . . click as Windows repeatedly tries and fails to read a sector. Many people just think "oh, its locked up" and reboot. Often the sector is in a temp file or little used part of the swap file and is not seen again for a while, other times the disk itself repairs the problem, marking off yet another bad sector. SO, you suspect a bad disk and run ChkDsk in one of its forms. It clicks and whirrs for a few hours and declares all your security descriptors are good, all your files are good. So no problem? NO! if you're lucky you might ask it to check for bad sectors and hours later, or the next day, you realise your PC has rebooted after a crash. YUP, Chkdsk found the error by accident, tripping over it. It took days, it doesn't repair anything, the disk must be replaced. So don't waste time, if your disk seems bad, buy a new one immediately for ??50 online and restore your fresh image backup (you DO have one, don't you?), saving hours, and especially if you're a pro hours cost ??????. (oh, and don't bother with that "scheduled defrag" - Windows is routinely defragging anyway and won't do any better at 9pm or whenever). Ian.

replytoaghar
replytoaghar

I'm a little newbie when it comes to SSDs. Hence, does the same principle applies on a SSD? I mean do you get bad sectors & errors just like the ones we used to encounter on the traditional HD. My OS & programs are on a SSD while the data is on a regular 1TB drive

AssemblerRookie
AssemblerRookie

My UNIX admin training has me firmly rooted at the command prompt which I'm very comfortable with. I have a batch job that is scheduled on my kids PC which defrags and checks the disk then shutsdown. I think I've used the GUI about 6 times in my career. It appears to work well. I've never had a HD crash on me and not expected it (at home, work is a whole new ball game).

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

After it has completed it sometimes requests to run at next boot in order to work with files before they are opened by the OS. You should allow it to do this. The DOS report is similar so this information still applies.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you used the GUI version of Check Disk before? Now, that you have a deeper understanding of how it works are you going to use the GUI version now?

brainstocker
brainstocker

@@  I must say that, you said very well and really it happens alike. 


JCitizen
JCitizen

Although I usually use the diagnostic program from the OEM, DBAN can usually get the same results. For some reason they've replaced the words " low level format", with the words " disc drive diagnostic". This can be very confusing for newbies and techies as well. I like the factory original drive conditioners, because the drive geometry is correct. I've been told Windows 7 is capable of selecting the proper geometry upon formatting for the installation process. Maybe that is true for newer drives - I have my doubts about older ones, though.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Great article! Even I learned something new, and I use the CLI at least half the time. I will probably use the GUI more often now! Anyone who declares they know all about the large and varied forest of setting in Windows, must not have much of a life, otherwise. I focus on security, so I rely on articles like this to keep me up to snuff in other areas of simple PC maintenance!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Thank you for this comment - I could not have said it better.

JCitizen
JCitizen

which is the way I always do it. I've always wondered how to take advantage of the GUI analysis, without the CLI. This is a very informative article.

henselkp
henselkp

It was only with the flag /f or if errors were found that it asked for a reboot though. I would say that this is identical. Surely it is the same program, just a different interface.

Cybrduck
Cybrduck

This goes to show that you are only thinking of yourself and what you can get, and not what you have to offer those who are seeking this information. There are plenty of articles on this site that fit your need. Why did you choose this one? It also sounds like you have a bounty of knowledge. Share the knowledge, not your criticism.

Chug
Chug

I totally agree. This has been the same all the way back to Windows 2000, mabye even before. This should be an 11 year old article, not a July 2011 article.

dhamilt01
dhamilt01

On my 5 year old Asus system with 2 IBM 500 Gig drives, PerfectDisk 11 does a far better job of defragging. especially when it does a boot-time defrag such that my Windows 7 boot-up times go from up to 3 minutes down to 50 seconds. I fully defrag once a month and it noticeably speeds up my system. Windows defrag is a hack job of the Diskkeeper product and does a very poor job IMHO.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Mine included. Eventrually I had to change the drive geometry to save the hard drive. But - I typically get 8 or more years out of my hard drives; so I will continue to use this handy tool. I rarely need it; I only use it after a bad malware or other recovery, or as regular maintenance twice a year, but I ALWAYS follow up with a thorough defrag. This has paid back in my opinion.

JCitizen
JCitizen

how are newbies and up and coming IT kids going to learn anything. It always cracks me up that the naysayers even bother to click on the headline if they are so knowledgeable! :)

d_g_l_s
d_g_l_s

would be preferable I believe. Please accept my apology JCitizen. I know I can sometimes come across that way. Was not meant that way just want us to be more specific in accuracy as some things can lead to assumptions that then lead to errors and such. I am one who did like the article and believe it is much needed. Even swordsmen and marksmen have to keep practicing the rudimentaries and that's what we've got here, right?!

JCitizen
JCitizen

As much as I've used this tool I was not aware of the analytical settings! Very interesting!

hillelana
hillelana

Some of us out here are wanabee techies, who aren't making our living from IT but like learning about it, even the more basic stuff.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I really got confused when MS MVPs use the same terms, and even experts on some of the better forums! It can be a mess explaining to newbies what that blue screen text situation is when installing windows, or when the system is doing some kind of pre or post boot maintenance.