Friday, January 8, 2010

Top 10 Tech #10: How To Test And Repair Damaged Sectors On A Hard Drive

An In-Depth and Systematic Approach to Problem Solving
by Dennis Faas Senior Editor
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Infopackets Reader Melissa P. writes:
" Dear Dennis,
Is there an easy way to fix and repair damaged sectors on a hard
drive? Windows keeps reporting to me that my hard drive may have
damaged sectors. "
My response:
A damaged sector *may* be an earlier warning sign that your hard drive
is about to fail. If you have 1 damaged sector, you probably don't
need to worry. If you have many damaged sectors, however, that's a
different story.
Here's the skinny --
Inside your hard drive are typically 2 ~ 4 discs (called "platters")
stacked on top of one another. The read / write heads sit between each
platter, which is responsible for collecting or retrieving information
that is written on the platter. Click below to see a picture of a hard
Because the read / write heads sit *extremely* close to the platter, a
single particle of smoke traveling between the two could cause the
head to crash. That being said, bad sectors on the drive may be a
result of corrupt medium.
How to Check your Hard Drive for Damaged Sectors using MS Windows
In both Windows XP and Vista, there is a disk repair utility called
"Check Disk", and it has an option to "Scan for and attempt recovery
of Bad Sectors." But before you use this option, let me give you fair
warning ...
Before using Check Disk to "Scan for and attempt recovery of Bad
Sectors," you should backup all your data on the drive onto another
hard drive or backup unit. If Check Disk finds a bad sector on the
damaged drive, it will perform an "integrity check" by writing data to
that sector.
Note that the Integrity Check may corrupt any data stored on the bad
sector -- worse off than what it was previously -- so it is highly
advisable that that you FIRST backup your entire hard drive and THEN
run checkdisk in an attempt to recover / repair any damaged sectors.
By copying all your data to another hard drive / backup unit, you are
essentially forcing the "damaged" hard drive to read the bad sector as
many times as it possibly can and store it elsewhere (on another hard
drive, for example) -- before Check Disk attempts to make any changes
to it. Also note that once a damaged sector is marked as invalid, your
hard drive will no longer use that sector. In techy lingo, this is
called "mapping a damaged sector."
For simple file backup, we highly recommend Genie Backup because it
has the ability to test the validity of your data after it has been
copied to the destination hard drive, ensuring that your data is
Assuming all your data has been backed up, you are now ready to
proceed with Check Disk.
Starting Check Disk
1. Go to My Computer (Start -> My Computer in Windows XP, or Start ->
Computer in Vista)
2. Right click your hard drive (It's the "C Drive" most likely)
3. Select Properties, then goto the Tools options menu, and select
4. A new window will appear. Select the option "Scan for and attempt
recovery of Bad sectors".
Note that this test may take up to a few hours to complete, depending
on the size of your hard drive.
Test Again Using the Manufacturer's Software
Next, test your hard drive again using the hard drive manufacturer's
testing software. This software will advise you if your hard drive
needs to be sent to the manufacturer for repair.
To find out the manufacturer of your drive:
1. Right click My Computer (or "Computer" in Vista via the Start
Menu), select the Properties.
2. Go to Device Manager. In Windows Vista: select Device Manager from
the top left of your screen. In Windows XP, select the Hardware button
on the Window and then choose Device Manager.
3. Navigate to Disk Drives in Device Manager and collapse the menu.
Your hard drive should be listed there.
If you still have trouble figuring out the manufacturer of your hard
drive, download Belarc Advisor and have it scan your system.
Once you know your the hard drive manufacturer, go to their web site
and download their hard drive integrity testing program. This will
likely be under the download or support section.
Other Possibilities
It is also possible that something else inside your computer is
causing the errors on your hard drive (such as a bad cable, bad hard
drive controller on the main board, etc), which is why we also suggest
you take your hard drive out of your computer and re-run these tests
on another computer with the damaged hard drive. If you are wary about
opening your computer, we suggest you take it to a computer repair
shop and have them test it.
If you still get errors, then you can rest assured that the drive is
most likely at fault and not another piece of hardware causing the
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