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Originally published Friday, December 6, 2013 at 3:39 PM

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CHKDSK warnings? Better back up older computer’s hard drive

CHKDSK scans computer drives for logical file errors and corrupt sectors, Patrick Marshall writes, and a rise in CHKDSK error messages could be a sign your hard drive is going bad.


Special to The Seattle Times

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Q: I have an HP Pavilion laptop running Windows XP. A year or so ago, I started getting an error message on boot-up that said Windows needs to run CHKDSK because a file might be corrupted. It offers me the choice to cancel CHKDSK by hitting any key, which is what I do to continue the boot-up without running CHKDSK.

However, if I let it, it runs CHKDSK and comes back with “Filerecord segment 156680 is unreadable,” then stops. I can power down the laptop, then restart, skipping the CHKDSK, and everything works fine.

The other day, I had a flash on the screen for the first time that I believe said there was a corrupt file somewhere in RealPlayer, but it passed too fast for me to see where exactly it was. So I tried to uninstall RealPlayer to see if it might solve the problem.

I powered down and restarted the computer and the boot-up stalled as usual, wanting to run CHKDSK. So if the corrupt file was indeed in RealPlayer, my uninstall didn’t get far enough along to eliminate the corrupt file even though RealPlayer did disappear from my installed programs. When I tried to reinstall RealPlayer, it stalled at 88 percent and wouldn’t continue. Any ideas?

— Ernie Long

A: CHKDSK scans your drives looking for logical file errors and corrupt sectors on your drive. Logical file errors include such things as incorrect file pointers, and corrupt sectors are portions of your drive that cannot be read, either because of physical damage or corruption in the formatting.

If CHKDSK finds such errors, it can generally fix them, even if only by marking a bad sector as unusable so that the operating system no longer tries to access it.

If CHKDSK can’t fix the problems, it’s possible that reformating the drive may eliminate the errors. But if you see an increase in CHKDSK errors, it can be a sign that your hard drive is failing.

You don’t say how old your computer is, but since you’re running XP I’m guessing that it’s at least 5 years old. It would not surprise me if the hard drive is going bad. At the very least, that’s a warning to you to back up your data in case the drive fails entirely.

Q: I have a computer running Windows Vista that was working fine until one day, when trying to connect to the Internet via my normal desktop shortcut to comcast.net, I was greeted with a brief view of the Comcast page loading. Next, the page closed and the download manager page shows up (I believe that is what popped up) asking where I want to save the download.

I have tried to find a setting for the download manager but have not found anything that fixed the problem. I downloaded the free AVG anti-virus scan, but it found nothing. I tried Malwarebytes free software, and it found a dozen files to remove, but still the same results using my Comcast shortcut or the Windows Explorer shortcut. Firefox does connect to the Internet fine.

I am convinced it is a simple fix, with some setting switched incorrectly, just can’t find it.

— Jeff Osstyn

A: Sounds like you have either a piece of malware or a problem with the Windows registry. The first thing I’d try is uninstalling and then reinstalling the browser.

Q: I have a 5-year-old Compaq PC running Windows Vista Home Premium. It gets very little use, but it’s fine for our minimal needs.

A few days ago, when I got the message “Windows updates need to be installed,” I went ahead and “accepted.” Unfortunately, I still keep getting this message, and when I start up the computer I get a message that says “Updates not installed correctly, reverting changes.” Then it proceeds to try and install the updates again.

I saw a similar question in a recent column, and you suggested the computer owner go into the Control Panel and try to uninstall recent updates. I tried that, but there aren’t any updates to uninstall.

I’m getting very frustrated because I have to go through this process every time I start my computer. We are not very tech savvy and have no idea where to go from here. Help!

— Lori, Kirkland

A: First, I’d really urge you to update your version of Windows. Windows 7 and 8 offer much better performance as well as stronger security.

If you really want to stick with Vista, Microsoft does offer a troubleshooter for problems with installing updates. You’ll find it at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-vista/troubleshoot-problems-with-installing-updates .

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by email to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/

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