Help Keep Your Hard Drives Healthy with Windows Check Disk (Chkdsk)

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All current versions of Windows come with a disk maintenance tool called “Check Disk,” or as it is more commonly known, “chkdsk”.  Knowing how to use it is important for a healthy computer. Chkdsk inspects the physical structure of a disk and can repair problems related to bad sectors, lost clusters, cross-linked files, and directory errors. It should be part of a regular maintenance schedule. It should also be run after a system crash or sudden shutdown. Chkdsk can be run from a graphical interface but there is a command-line option that offers more flexibility.

Running chkdsk in the command line

The simple command “chkdsk” (without quotes) can be entered in the command prompt or the Run box. (Windows 7 or Vista requires administrator privileges.) It will then run a check on the active drive (normally the C: drive). However, no correction of errors will be carried out.  This simple command can be run while using the computer for other tasks but to repair any problems requires that the command be run with switches that modify the action of the utility. The target hard drive can also be designated. The two commands of practical interest to most average PC users are:

  •    chkdsk /f X:
  •    chkdsk /r X:

Here X: represents the hard drive you wish to check. The first command checks for errors on the disk and fixes them. The second command fixes errors and also locates bad sectors and recovers readable information (/f is implied and need not be added).

Both commands take a substantial amount of time with the /r command sometimes consuming hours. Also note that the commands usually cannot run unless the system is restarted to unlock any files that are in use doing normal operation. You will be unable to use your computer during the time either of these commands is running.

Once it is started, chkdsk should not be interrupted. File structure corruption can result if the system is prematurely turned off. Do not run chkdsk during thunderstorms or if power outages are possible.

There are a variety of  applications for maintaining the health of hard drives but chkdsk is one of the standard Windows system utilities that belong in every toolkit.

Related references

Best Free PC Tune-up Utility
How to Use Chkdsk

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs a Windows blog called The PC Informant and also operates a computer education website.

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