Using the Windows Utilities
by The F@t Guy
Back... Home.. Forward... Checking your Hard Drive


With all operating systems it is very important to make certain that the hard disk is in good shape and that it's files are indexed in a way that the operating system can access them. Windows is no different in this respect, so this page is designed to help you use the available utilities to maintain your hard disk properly.

The symptoms of a hard disk problem can range from slow performance or inaccessable files all the way to disappearing files and "freezing up", or even an inability to boot up at all, so it is very important to check the disk every now and then to make sure it is "ok", and especially so if the machine is "acting weird" in any way. Hard drive troubles are only second to virus activity in terms of likelyhood of occurrance and also in terms of data loss.

But while important, it isn't recommended as a part of your critical regimen... Usually it is acceptable to check your disk(s) about once a month or so, with some noteable exceptions:

Of course, if symptoms are present which might be attributed to disk problems, checking the disk would be a high priority.

If the machine has lost power without being properly shut down the unexpected power loss can prevent the file system from writing "exit" information to the disk causing errors. This is another good time to check the disk, and especially so if the machine has suffered multiple power loss incidents.

It is always a good idea to be sure your data is backed up (off the machine or at least off the volume in question) before running any system utility.

Depending upon your operating system, you must use a different utility:

Choose this link if you are on a Win9x system (Win95, Win98, Win98SE, WinME)

Choose this link if you are on a WinNT system (Win2000, WinXP)

WinNT Systems

On WinNT systems (Win2k, WinXP)  the utility is called Chkdsk

Chkdsk can be run using a number of different methods. The easiest way to use checkdisk on all Win2000 and Win XP systems is as follows:

Open "My Computer". Find the drive (partition or volume) you wish to check. We'll use "C:" for the purpose of this exercise.

Right-click the desired drive and choose "Properties"

The "Properties dialog" will appear. Select the "Tools" tab

On the "tools" tab, within the "error-checking" section,  poke the "Check Now" button.

You are now looking at the gui interface for the chkdsk utility. Here it is:

Pretty anti-climactic, huh? We now have a decision to make... Do we do a Simple Check or a Full Check? I will explain both, though I would really recommend a "full check" as detailed a bit further on...

The Simple Check

For a simple check, one can just press start...If you do, the utility will only do "3" of the possible "5" tests because it must be able to lock or control the volume to do the rest. It cannot lock the volume if Windows is running. You can run it this way, and if you do, you'll soon see the zippy-bar ca-chugging along as chkdsk dutifully reports which phase it is in:

When it's done, it will let you know:

The Full Check

I would really recommend against the "simple" check, mainly because I have never in my life seen it fix a single thing. I would much prefer the "whole 9 yards approach"- After all, even though the full scan takes a while, and is irritating in that one must reboot, when it is done properly and completely, it leaves no room for error (pardon the pun). This adds a level of confidence in the process that is most necessary- Especially when faced with problematic symptoms.

So lets start again... we pick up at the "Chkdsk Gui" (as before, "My Computer"=> Rclick "C:", choose "Properties"=>Tools tab=> "Check Now" button):

This time, lets check the two boxes, "Automatically fix file system errors" and "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors". Then press "Start":

Now, things will be different from the "simple check". In the first place, if the drive (volume, partition) you chose is "lock-able" the scan will take a considerable amount of time, much more time than the "simple check". Be prepared for a wait equal to the time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, and possibly even a couple of hours, depending upon the size of the volume you are scanning. 

If the operating system is using files on the volume it will not be "lock-able". This is always the case if the operating system is located on the volume (as is the case most of the time with Drive C:), and may also happen with other volumes where the operating system is "tracking" any files therein. If the volume is not lock-able for any reason, the following notice will be displayed:

That's o.k... It is just saying that it cannot do the check with Windows running and asks to run it's check on the next restart of the machine. Choose "Yes" and shutdown_and_start or restart the box.

During the boot sequence an unusual DOS-looking program will run. This is the chkdsk utility as it apears in it's boot-mode. Don't touch the keyboard, as pressing any key while chkdsk is starting will cause it to quit (though it will continue to come up at any future startup until it is allowed to complete it's job).

During the check, chkdsk will display the various phases it is going through (there are 5 phases). The first three phases go by rather quickly, though the last two phases are insufferably slow. Be prepared to wait a long while for access to your computer.

While the check is running, it may cause the machine to reboot and come back to chkdsk. It may even happen several times. This is indicative that there was a problem of some consequence, but is not necessarily "bad".

When it is finished, your machine will boot into Windows normally.

If you find your machine is running chkdsk automatically at boot, especially if it does it often, special care should be taken: This is often a prominent sign that the file system is crashing or that the hard drive is physically failing. If this is happening to you, save your data ASAP and call me (or your own tech)

The  Chkdsk utility can also be run from a console, or from the installation CD, but that is a lesson for another day.

This conclludes the WinNT portion of this lesson. The rest of this page is dedicated to the Windows 9x Scandisk utility.

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Win9x Systems

The Win 9x disk utility is called Scandisk.

This section coming soon.


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