Windows’ primary disk-checking tool gets stuck

Fred langa By Fred Langa

Windows’ built-in disk-repair tool, chkdsk.exe, has come a long way over the years, but some disk problems are simply beyond its ability to remedy.

When Windows’ disk check is not up to the task, third-party repair tools may be your ticket back to a healthy hard drive.

Chkdsk runs and then fails at every boot

Tom Vetterani’s PC has a disk error that Windows can’t fix.
  • “This is my seemingly impassable issue at Windows start-up. I restart my computer and it notifies me it needs to run a file system check. It says the usual ‘checking file system on C:’ (file system is NTFS). Then it gives me a 10-second countdown to start the checking.

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    “However, the check never starts. The countdown gets stuck on one second, but never begins the check (never being about one to two hours, which is how long I left it for). I forced shutdowns, rebooted, tried everything I can think of.

    “When I try to skip disk-checking by ‘pressing any button’ during the countdown, nothing happens and the countdown runs to one second and gets stuck again!”
Wow! That must be frustrating.

Windows’ chkdsk.exe is an odd tool. Crawling out of the primordial ooze that was early DOS, chkdsk could find and fix several types of errors that were all too common to disk structures based on the simple File Allocation Table (FAT) format.

As DOS evolved in the days of Windows 95 and later editions, chkdsk.exe was supplanted by the somewhat more-capable scandisk.exe. But when the NTFS (Windows NT’s “New Technology File System”) went fully mainstream in Windows 2000 and XP, an enhanced chkdsk retook center stage as Windows’ primary disk-repair tool. Chkdsk.exe remains a core element of Vista’s and Win7′s maintenance apps.

Chkdsk‘s default mode automatically finds and fixes simple disk errors, but you can activate several more-targeted and powerful repair modes via software switches — for example, command-line options such as

chkdsk D: /x /r

This command dismounts (deactivates) an NTFS-formatted D: drive; closes all open file handles to the drive to help prevent any software from interfering with the scan; fixes any errors found on the disk; and attempts to recover information from any bad sectors. This is far more than a plain-vanilla chkdsk command will do on its own.

Microsoft’s online XP Chkdsk documentation explains how it works, lists all seven available software switches, and provides information on how to use them.

That documentation is XP-specific, but chkdsk works essentially the same in Vista and Win7. You can find additional troubleshooting help in “CHKDSK not completing,” a Microsoft Vista Answers forum thread, and in “Chkdsk runs every time Window 7 boots” in a similar Windows 7 Answers post.

But despite the improvements, chkdsk is still not the ultimate disk repair tool. If it’s your bad luck to encounter one of those more-stubborn errors, I suggest you try a disk diagnostic/repair utility such as Seagate’s free “SeaTools” (download site), which can work on many non-Seagate drives, too. Use the DOS version of SeaTools, if you can, to avoid any interference from your Windows-based software.

Still no joy? A commercial tool, Gibson’s $90 Spinrite (site) is perhaps the most-powerful disk-repair utility available to the general public. If a damaged disk and its data are capable of being repaired or recovered by software alone, Spinrite probably can do it.

One of those approaches should surely get your disk error-free again!

(P.S. I sure hope you have a complete and current backup of all the disk’s contents, especially now that the drive is showing signs of trouble!)

Change the size of the C: drive partition

Julie Crego’s C: partition is overstuffed.
  • “My C: drive is full and so my system gets bogged down. I’ve cleaned up everything, and because it has less than 15% of free space, I cannot even defrag. I bought a second hard drive, hoping to move the data from the current D: partition (on the same hard drive as C:) and then expand the C: partition to the full drive. I used to have software that did, it but it’s outdated. Any suggestions on what to use to remove the partition?”
You’re on the right track and almost there, Julie.

If you’re using Win7 or Vista, Windows provides everything you need to add, remove, and resize most partitions. See, for example, the nicely illustrated HowToGeek.com article, “Resize a partition for free in Windows 7 or Vista.”

XP’s built-in disk-management tool isn’t quite so advanced. It lets you create or delete partitions but won’t let you resize an existing one. For that, you’ll need a third-party tool. Fortunately, there are dozens available, many of them listed on this thefreecountry.com site. (For more information on XP’s built-in partitioning tool, see Microsoft’s Support article 309000.)

A larger C: drive is just a few clicks away, Julie!

Network ‘improvement’ tool ruins connections

Dean tried a tool that promised to improve his Win7 networking speed. Instead, it trashed his networking setup.
  • “I recently purchased a new Dell Studio XPS 9000 computer with Windows 7 Ultimate. It worked fine when I received it, but I thought the network connection was a bit slow so I ran an Internet speed tester on it. At the completion of the speed test, I allowed it to change some of the networking settings to improve the speed. What it actually did was make the computer impossible to connect to the Internet after that.

    “Unfortunately, the saved default settings were lost and I was not able to restore the original settings to the computer. Although I back up religiously, I did not back up prior to this fix and my existing backup was very outdated.

    “Now, three months later, almost every download is still corrupt, especially if it is 10 MB in size or larger. Images are often corrupt as well.

    “I have tried download managers, but they often do not help in this situation. I have also tried resetting WinSock and TCP/IP settings (netsh.exe), to no avail. Since both the older computers work on my network, I do not believe my router or any other part of the network is failing — only my tweak to improve Windows 7 seems to be the problem.

    “Any help you could provide, Fred, would be greatly appreciated.”
First, let’s try to prevent other readers from having the same problem. Earlier versions of Windows (including XP) can sometimes benefit from a deep-geek tweak of their internal networking parameters. But Win7 and Vista automatically adjust themselves to network conditions. This means they usually can set themselves up as well — or better — than manual or third-party tools can.

In short, with Win7 or Vista, you usually don’t need (and shouldn’t use) third-party network-tweaking tools.

OK, now on to the repair. You may be able to reset Win7′s network settings by following the steps in Microsoft’s “Setting up a home network” article. The article looks pretty shallow at first glance, but there’s good info if you drill down through the article’s many links.

Windowsnetworking.com also offers a nicely detailed walk-through of the Win7 network setup process in their article, “Windows 7: Understanding network administration and configuration.”

If still-stronger medicine is called for, sometimes the best and most-effective fix for any seriously hosed hardware subsystem or device (networking, video, audio, and such) is to make Windows completely forget all about the current device and to treat it as if it were a brand-new, freshly installed piece of hardware.

It’s easy to do in all Windows versions. Under Control Panel/System, click on the Hardware tab. Next, open Device Manager, right-click the malfunctioning device, and select the Driver tab. Choose the Uninstall option and reboot. When Windows restarts, it will detect the device as new hardware and set it up from scratch. (See Figure 1.)

uninstall problem hardware via device manager
Figure 1. The Windows 7 Device Manager with one of the network cards selected and about to be uninstalled.

The specifics of accessing and using Device Manager vary a bit by Windows version. Here are links to the appropriate Microsoft instructions:
  • Support article 283658, “How to manage devices in Windows XP”

  • Windows Help & How-to page, “Open Device Manager” (Vista/Win7)
One of those approaches should do the trick for you, Dean!

More reader input on desktop icons that move

Here’s a nice tip from reader Peter Vincent:
  • “Referencing the article, ‘Desktop icons move mysteriously on their own,’ in the May 20 issue:

    “Install a program like DesktopOK. It’s free and it works. It keeps track of settings for different resolutions.”
DesktopOK is available from SoftwareOK.com’s info/download page.

Nice find, Peter. Thanks!

Have more info on this subject? Post your tip in the WS Columns forum.

Reader Peter Vincent will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of his choice for sending the tip we printed above. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

Fred Langa is a senior editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He was formerly editor of Byte Magazine (1987–91), editorial director of CMP Media (1991–97), and editor of the LangaList e-mail newsletter from its origin in 1997 until its merger with Windows Secrets in November 2006.
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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.