How to Check and Repair Storage Media on a Windows PC

The Windows Check Disk program seeks out errors on your hard drive or removable media, fixes them if it can, and does other routine household disk chores. It doesn’t look impressive, but it is very useful.

To run Check Disk, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Computer window.

  2. Right-click the icon for the media storage gizmo you want to check.

  3. Choose Properties from the shortcut menu.

  4. In the Properties dialog box, click the Tools tab.

  5. Click the Check Now button.

  6. If prompted, type the administrator’s password or click the Continue button.

    The Check Disk dialog box appears.

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  7. Ensure that a check mark appears by the option Automatically Fix File System Errors.

  8. To check more thoroughly, place a check mark in the box next to Scan For and Attempt Recovery of Bad Sectors.

    You have no reason to choose this option when you’re not experiencing disk trouble.

  9. Click the Start button.

  10. If you see a warning regarding checking a disk in use, click the Schedule Disk Check button or the Yes button.

    By scheduling a disk check, you place a one-time task into Windows Task Scheduler, which runs later, when you’re not using the specified media. Often, that’s as far as you get in this operation, especially when you attempt to check drive C, the PC’s main hard drive.

    If you choose to schedule a disk check, the operation is over. The disk check takes place the next time you start Windows, so there’s nothing else to do for now. Skip to Step 12.

  11. Click the Close button in the Checking Disk dialog box.

    Hopefully, no problems were found. If they were, the dialog box explains what to do. Or not.

  12. Close the storage device’s Properties dialog box.

  13. (Optional) Close the Computer window.

If you had to schedule a disk check, the operation takes place when you restart Windows.

If anything awry is discovered, it’s fixed automatically. That’s why you selected the Automatically Fix File System Errors box.

  • Certain disk utilities are more thorough than Check Disk. Or, at least they seem to be more thorough. Honestly, if the hard drive is malfunctioning, it’s probably a hardware issue. Though software cannot fix hardware problems, it can help you avoid them. Check Disk quarantines unusable portions of a hard drive, but it cannot repair them.

  • Generally speaking, bad sectors and disk errors are signs that a hard drive needs replacing. These errors increase dramatically over time, especially when the disk is more than five years old.

  • Check Disk is good at cleaning up lost files, or file fragments that exist on storage media but don’t belong to any specific file. These missing clusters can hinder disk performance. Check Disk eliminates them automatically.

  • The number-one cause of a missing cluster is an improper shutdown.

  • The Check Disk routine runs automatically every time your computer recovers from a bad shutdown. For example, if you just turn off the computer without properly shutting down, Windows is smart enough to run Check Disk automatically the next time the computer starts.

  • For a while, the Check Disk program was renamed ScanDisk. The name was retired after Windows 95.

  • Even though the program is now named Check Disk, and its command line counterpart is chkdsk, it isn’t the same program as the original DOS chkdsk.

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