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Microsoft Offering Improved CHKDSK Utility in Windows 8

Microsoft explained this week that it has updated its venerable CHKDSK utility for Windows 8 such that you won't really need to use it anymore.

In Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, CHKDSK is still there to be used from a command line, if you want to do that. However, those operating systems now have a new improved version of the program that's accessible from an "action center" in Windows. This new CHKDSK will fix disk corruption problems automatically in the background, for the most part. It's based on a new "health model" that Microsoft has implemented in the two new OSes, and that model is identical between the client and server, according to Kiran Bangalore, senior program manager for Microsoft's Windows core storage and file systems, in a blog post.

CHKDSK is well known to Windows users as that annoying DOS screen that appeared on bootup, hijacking the system until it finished its repairs. The appearance of that screen was the signal to go and get a cup of coffee, walk the dog or scrape the dust off the Windows manual that came with the 3.5-inch disks. It generally meant lost production time. This time around, with the new CHKDSK, Microsoft set out to cause "nearly zero" downtime for users, Bangalore explained.

Most of the fixes now occur while the system is online via a self-healing process. Microsoft changed the behavior of CHKDSK with Windows 8 and Windows 2012 so that "the data drives will not be checked or fixed during boot of the system." Drives instead get repaired during idle time. With Windows Server 2012, the repair time is left up to the IT pro to decide via the action center. Windows Server 2012 users also have control over disk health states via Server Manager. Windows Explorer is yet another means to access CHKDSK.

The only time that users need to run the old CHKDSK is in cases of severe volume corruption, Bangalore explained. Command-line aficionados can always use PowerShell to check and repair disks using the new REPAIR-VOLUME cmdlet, which Bangalore said can be useful when the repairs are done remotely.

The new CHKDSK will have a new "spotfix" capability that fixes corruptions in about two seconds. That's a magnitude shorter than the old version, which sometimes took hours to grind through files. But despite such welcome improvements, CHKDSK eventually will become irrelevant. The reason has to do with the file systems used in the new Windows versions.

Microsoft will roll out Windows Server 2012 with a new file system, called the "Resilient File System" (ReFS). The Windows 8 client, currently at beta, still uses the older New Technology File System (NTFS), but Microsoft eventually plans to transition it over to ReFS. The two file systems are compatible.

In a FAQ, Bangalore explained that "ReFS follows a different model for resiliency and does not need to run the traditional chkdsk utility." So, that statement appears to mean that CHKDSK will disappear in the not too distant future.

Microsoft has explained that ReFS is specifically designed to support the Storage Spaces feature in Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, and the new and improved CHKDSK utility will work even when the Storage Spaces feature is activated. Storage Spaces allows IT pros to created pooled storage from a bunch of disks. They can hot-swap the disks in and out of the pool, as needed, without affecting the production environment.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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