How To Scan a Hard Drive Using 'Error Checking'

Quickly Check Your Hard Drive With This Windows Version of CHKDSK

Screenshot of the Error Checking (chkdsk interface) tool in Windows 10
Error Checking (chkdsk) in Windows 10.

Scanning your hard drive with the Error Checking tool can help identify, and possibly even correct, a range of hard drive errors, from file system issues to physical problems like bad sectors.

The Windows Error Checking tool is the GUI (graphical) version of the command-line chkdsk tool, one of the more well-known commands from the early computing days. The chkdsk command is still available and offers more advanced options than Error Checking.

Error Checking is available in Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, but there are differences, all of which I'll call out below.

Time Required: Checking your hard drive with Error Checking is easy but could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours or more, depending on the size and speed of the hard drive and what problems are found.

How To Scan a Hard Drive With the Error Checking Tool

Tip: Windows 10 and Windows 8 check for errors automatically and will notify you if you need to take action but you're welcome to run a manual check anytime you like, as described below.

  1. Open File Explorer (Windows 10 & 8) or Windows Explorer (Windows 7, Vista, XP). If you're using a keyboard, the WIN+E shortcut is the quickest way here.

    Without a keyboard, File Explorer is available via the Power User Menu or can be found with a quick search.

    Windows Explorer, in earlier versions of Windows, is available from the Start Menu. Look for Computer in Windows 7 & Vista or My Computer in Windows XP.
     
  1. Once open, locate This PC (Windows 10/8) or Computer (Windows 7/Vista) in the left margin.

    In Windows XP, locate the Hard Disk Drives section in the main window area.
     
  2. Right-click or tap-and-hold on the drive that you want to check for errors (usually C).

    Tip: If you don't see any drives under the heading you located in Step 2, tap or click the little arrow to the left to show the list of drives.
     
  1. Tap or click Properties from the pop-up menu that appeared after right-clicking.
     
  2. Choose the Tools tab from the collection of tabs at the top of the Properties window.
     
  3. What you do now depends a lot on which version of Windows you're using:

    Windows 10 & 8: Tap or click the Check button followed by Scan drive. Then skip down to Step 9.

    Windows 7, Vista, & XP: Click the Check Now... button and skip to Step 7.

    Tip: See What Version of Windows Do I Have? if you're not sure what you're running.
     
  4. Two options are available before starting an Error Checking scan in Windows 7, Vista, and XP:

    Automatically fix file system errors will, if possible, automatically correct file system related errors that the scan detects. I highly recommend that you check this option every time.

    Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors will perform a search for areas of the hard drive that may be damaged or unusable. If found, this tool will mark those areas as "bad" and prevent your computer from using them in the future. This is a very useful feature but could extend the scan time as much as a few hours.

    Advanced: The first option is equivalent to executing chkdsk /f and the second to executing chkdsk /scan /r. Checking both is the same as executing chkdsk /r.
     
  1. Click the Start button.
     
  2. Wait while Error Checking scans the selected hard drive for errors and, depending on options you selected and/or what errors are found, fixes any errors found.

    Note: If you get a Windows can't check the disk while it's in use message, click the Schedule disk check button, close any other open windows, and then restart your computer. You'll notice that Windows takes much longer to start up and you'll see text on the screen as the Error Checking (chkdsk) process completes.
     
  3. Follow whatever advice is given after the scan. If errors were found, you may be asked to restart your computer. If no errors were found, you can close any open windows and continue using your computer normally.

    Advanced: If you're interested, a detailed log of the Error Checking scan, and what was corrected if anything was, can be found in the list of Application events in Event Viewer. If you have trouble locating it, focus your attention on Event ID 26226.

More Hard Drive Error Checking Options

The Error Checking tool in Windows isn't the only option you have - it just happens to be one that's easy to use and included in Windows.

Like I mentioned above, the chkdsk command has a number of more advanced options available which might be better suited to exactly what you want to accomplish... assuming of course that you're familiar with this sort of thing and want some more control or information during the hard drive error checking process.

A better option for most users if they want something a little more powerful is a dedicated hard drive testing software tool. I keep a list of the best freeware ones in my Free Hard Drive Testing Programs list.

Beyond that still are commercial-grade tools which major computer repair companies often use when trying to correct issues with their customer's hard drives. I've listed a few favorites that I've used over the years in my Commercial Hard Drive Repair Software list.

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