Physical bad sectors on a hard drive are areas of the drive that will not hold data. These bad sectors are not actually repairable, but hard drives can be forced to avoid using the bad sectors by software that keeps track of which locations contain the bad sectors. This software comes in the form of error checking software, such as that built into most versions of Windows, or third-party utility software designed to solve this kind of error. Hard drives with a significant number of bad sectors can occasionally be partitioned and formatted into smaller logical drives as well.
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Back up any important files on the hard drive before attempting to recover a drive that is having errors due to physical bad sectors.
Click "Start," "My Computer" and right-click the drive that is having trouble. Choose "Properties" from the menu. Click "Tools," then click "Check Now" under the Error Checking section.
Check the box that says "Automatically Fix File System Errors" as well as the box that says to "Scan For and Attempt Recovery of Bad Sectors." Allow the computer to scan for problems the next time it boots if prompted for this option by Windows, and then close all programs and reboot to begin the scan, which will program Windows to avoid using any sectors found bad, and may or may not recover any information currently stored in or near those sectors.
Repeat this scan regularly to ensure the operating system is aware of any new physical bad sectors and is programmed to avoid storing data in the affected areas.
Back up all files and be prepared to reinstall all software, drivers or files that are on the drive, including the operating system, prior to adjusting the partition information on any hard drive, as these steps will normally erase any files on the drive.
Run the Disk Management Utility, which is part of Computer Management under the Administrative Tools section of the Control Panel.
Right-click the drive that is experiencing problems and delete the partition. Right-click the unallocated space and choose "New Simple Volume."
Enter a smaller size than the full capacity of the drive, such as one-third capacity, and proceed to create a new partition and format it using the default values for everything except the size.
Run the disk error checking utility with a full scan to determine if the new partition is error-free, and if so continue by creating another partition with the next available section of the drive following the same steps for unallocated space. Determine which partition contains the physical bad sectors by running error checking and avoid using that partition for data, or delete the partition and further divide it into smaller partitions until much of the drive is usable.
Tips and warnings
- Third-party software is also available for hard drive error-checking and error correction but that is beyond the scope of this article. Creating many small partitions and scanning each one can narrow down the bad sectors and allow the drive to be partitioned into larger partitions once the locations are determined. Error-checking utilities and software packages do not fix bad sectors, they locate them and make a table of their locations so that Windows can avoid using those sectors to store data.
- Back up files located on hard drives that are experiencing trouble, because bad sectors can be a sign of impending failure of a drive. Never use a drive that has known bad sectors for critical data functions as these drives should be considered unreliable and more likely to fail than drives that have no bad sectors.
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