Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why Windows Users Suffer

I have spent the last few days repairing a friend's system. He had put Vista on the system when he had problems, but Vista didn't recognize some of his hardware. It turned out that his 200 GB hard drive had 4,000MB of bad sectors. 4GB/200GB equals roughly 2% of his hard drive. Initially, he didn't know the drive was bad, and I assumed that it was good. When I booted the system up with a Linux Live CD and started moving files around, to get his Windows XP back, the system started a file integrity check when I booted back to Windows. That's when I started to notice problems. To make matters worse, I couldn't see his subfolders under Documents and Settings after I had tried to move the folder to its proper location. At first, I tried to be conservative and repair the drive and the operating system. The drive was unrepairable and Windows XP would freeze at 34 minutes into the repair setup routine because it couldn't find a specific driver. I didn't have this driver discovery freeze error if I did a clean install. To make a long story short, I spent over 25 hours recovering his drive with ddrescue by copying it to an identical size hard drive. I recovered all but the missing 4GB of bad sectors. I also recovered his Product keys using a program called Keyfinder. Once I had rebuilt the system, I reinstalled his software whose install files he kept on another drive on his computer. I then copied his data from the pristine copy to a pristine drive with an NTFS partition. I then copied those copies to his computer.

I realized that a lot of this pain could be avoided if Windows ran chkdsk more often. Windows only checks the hard drive's integrity when it is setup the first time. After that, it is up to the user to check the hard drive. If the hard drive starts becoming corrupted, Windows will do the best it can until a critical file is damaged at which point the operating system will likely fail entirely. I've seen a system lock up and freeze with no errors logged. When a chkdsk c: /f/r was run, bad sectors were found and marked and the computer acted normally again. But Windows will never complain about a dying hard drive, it just tries to function until it dies. I haven't had a major data loss in several years because I run Linux and the designers decided several years ago to include an automatic file system test after 25 reboots of the system. I have had a hard drive start to fail, but the damage was minimized by the file system check routine. If Windows had this feature, a lot of people wouldn't lose their important data and have such heartache. You can google "schedule chkdsk" to find ways to configure a Windows system to check itself, but when I tried to set something up, Task Scheduler balked because my normal user account didn't have enough privilege to run it, which means only an administrator account can schedule a chkdsk to run. The easiest way to run chkdsk is manually. Just go to your menu, Start -> Run -> enter the word cmd in the box and click OK. You'll get a command prompt. At the prompt, type chkdsk c: /f. You'll be asked to enter Y or N, enter y (yes). The next time you start up, a disk check will be performed. Get a cup of coffee while your computer is doing the disk check. If you get errors and it notices bad sectors, rerun the chkdsk command like this chkdsk c: /f/r . Then go to the store or doing something else for a half hour or an hour depending upon your hard drive size.

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