Chkdsk: Life-Saver or Disk-Drive Killer?

June 25, 2014

CHKDSK is an often misused utility that resides on almost every Windows Operating System. The basic usage of the program is to check your disk for errors (notice the acronym), and also to attempt to locate damaged sectors if you enable the correct configuration. The total process could take anywhere from a few minutes on up to a few days, again, depending upon the configuration that is used at the command prompt. There are a few basic questions that you should ask yourself before attempting to recover data from a damaged drive with this utility:

How valuable is the data contained on the drive?

What would I do if the data is damaged beyond the point of repair or retrieval?

How large is the disk drive in question?

What is the cause of the damage to the hard disk drive?

The first question, about the value of the data, also relates to the second question. If the data contained on a drive is so valuable that you cannot bear with the thought of losing it, CHKDSK is a bad idea. It can be a useful utility, but unfortunately, it has the basic limitation of running your drive for an unnecessarily long time period. Additionally, CHKDSK will write files straight back onto your hard-drive, which is most likely already damaged. If there is any sort of damage beyond file corruption, there is a very strong risk that valuable data can be lost permanently. It is advisable to seek the expertise of a data recovery professional, who can make this assessment for you. A large amount of the time hard drives experience mechanical or electrical failures, which CHKDSK cannot fix. In these cases, the utility will actually serve to make the problem much more complicated, and in the worst case scenario, unrecoverable.

Another limit of the CHKDSK utility is the issue of hard-drive size. Large hard drives will take an extremely long time to scan, sometimes up to a few days. When a hard-drive has experienced some sort of severe malfunction, every second can make a difference. Time spent scanning the drive and spinning the platters can ultimately result in worse damage or complete failure of the drive. The cause of your hard-drive malfunction can also be a major deciding factor in whether or not to use CHKDSK. As mentioned previously, the utility cannot repair mechanical or electrical problems to the drive. These sorts of repairs must be completed by a qualified professional in data recovery to preserve data and minimize damage.

Judgement should be exercised on a case by case basis, but CHKDSK can become a powerful tool if used properly. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for the average computer user to determine whether their situation merits its usage, so it is advisable to seek the help of a professional data recovery company.