Windows Chkdsk Utility

By | May 28, 2009

The Chkdsk (acronym for check disk) utility tool is an integral part of Windows that you can use to check and repair hard disk errors that might occur. It’s one of the first steps you can take to check your hard drive if it is giving some problems.

One of the things to bear in mind is that chkdsk is not the perfect tool to fix hard drive cluster problems, and in rare instances can even make the problem worse. If you used floppy drives before (the little 1.44 MB ones), you’ll know what I mean.

Although normally it should run, most PC users who are running XP will notice that their chkdsk utility occasionally will not run after an improper shutdown, which can happen for whatever reason, like a power failure for example.

The chkdsk utility is only meant to run when the auto-check system detects a problem at start up. If the auto-check does not detect any issues, chkdsk will not be automatically prompted.

How to run Chkdsk utility

But if you want to run chkdsk even though the auto-check did not detect any problems you can do so anytime from the DOS command prompt.

  • Just go to Start > Run, and in the box, type in CMD. The DOS screen will appear.
  • Normally it will be defaulted to Documents and Settings\Administrator.
  • To change directory, just type in cd\ and you’ll be taken to the top level of C drive.
  • To check a different drive, like D drive for example, just type in D:
  • To run chkdsk, just type in chkdsk and it will run

You can refer to my screenshot below, showing all the steps:


Now, here are a few things to remember about chkdsk. If you want to run just a simple scan without letting the system auto repair any errors, using the command chkdsk is enough. But if you want to allow chkdsk WITH fix, use the command prompt chkdsk/f. This can take a much longer time (an hour or more) than the simple chkdsk command alone, because it will attempt to fix any errors it encounters.

A full list of chkdsk command parameters can be found on this Microsoft page.

The chkdsk/f command requires you to lock your drive first by typing in the command prompts (examples below):

  • lock D:
  • unlock D:

I would not recommend you to do this manually as it can be a bit dangerous. You should let Windows do it for you. More information on locking/unlocking drives can be found here. If you want to do it manually, it’s a good idea to back up your files first and run it in Safe Mode to avoid any mishaps.

If you run chkdsk/f and the drive is not locked, you may get this message (see below) that goes like this:

Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another process. Chkdsk may run if the volume is dismounted first. All opened handles would then be invalid. Would you like to force a dismount on this volume? (Y/N)

If you press Y, chkdsk will close all processes in that drive and lock it. If chkdsk is unable to lock the drive/volume, or if you hit N, you can specify that you want to check the volume by running Autochk the next time you restart your PC. In that case, chkdsk will autorun the next time you start up your PC.

Please refer to my screenshot below. In my case, I chose N (for obvious reasons).


You can also use the command prompt chkdsk/f/r to get it to recover missing files whenever it encounters any disk errors. This option will take an even longer time to complete, depending on the size of your hard drive and number of files.

The most convenient method of using chkdsk with the F parameter on is running it from the windows XP disk itself and employing the recovery section of the disk.

To run chkdsk from the Windows XP disk is easy:

  • Insert the XP disk into your CD drive. By default the XP disk will auto run. You will see the following screen. Click on Install Windows XP and you’ll be taken to the setup screen.


  • On the setup screen use the second option which indicates you should repair the Windows installation using the recovery command we talked about earlier, by pressing the ‘R’ key
  • On the following page you will need to select the drive that has Windows XP installed on it. Most probably you have Windows installed on the C drive. If you only have one partition or one drive you will see the DOS screen; otherwise you might have more than one drive option to choose from.
  • If you have selected the C drive as your partition that contains the windows installation you should see a command prompt that is defaulted to C:\Windows>
  • At this command prompt type chkdsk then hit enter to check your disk. This will check only the drive that you selected.  If you have more than one drive this will check only the drive that has Windows.

If your hard drive is physically damaged, you might be able to still use it temporarily but in most cases, they are more likely to fail and cause complete loss of drive data.

It is important to know that the checkdisk utility that comes with Windows XP is specially designed for use with Windows XP.  If you use a different check disk utility (other than the default one) they can cause further damage, or fail to report back on errors correctly. Then again, chkdsk is not a perfect disk repair tool like I said earlier, but it’s the best we have for Windows.

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