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Much ado about nothing?

My first reaction to the stories about an alleged bug in Windows 7 CHKDSK utility that might "derail" the launch of Windows 7 was that it is probably just another mountain being made of a molehill.  After doing a little reading and research, I am beginning to doubt if the bug is even worth calling a molehill.  That's because all the "research" that had supposedly replicated the bug didn't actually replicate the bug and all they did was verify CHKDSK's normal behavior.

Randall C. Kennedy who supposedly replicated the bug admitted that he wasn't actually able to get any of his test systems to crash yet he still called for a halt to the launch of Windows 7 in his InfoWorld blog.  Others like Jason Mick who accepted Kennedy's analysis as gospel concluded that Microsoft was trying to pass the buck and that this "underlying file system issue" would likely delay Windows 7.  But it is clear that Kennedy and others citing him haven't really thought it out nor are they qualified to determine what constitutes a bug.

To get to the bottom of this, we first need to understand what CHKDSK is and what role it plays.  CHKDSK is a Windows disk checking utility that repairs hard drive errors.  Even if the tool has some incompatibilities with a small percentage of hardware, that should hardly derail the launch of the much awaited Windows 7 operating system.  CHKDSK using the /r switch looks for bad hard drive sectors and tries to salvage any good data that it can.  Most people don't even run CHKDSK much less with the /r switch because they simply don't get hard drive errors.  Even when they do have hard drive errors, they probably don't even notice unless it is something severe.  But even if there is a bug in the way the CHKDSK utility, it is not a flaw in the underlying file system.

But as the president of the Microsoft Windows Division Steven Sinosky pointed out, the mere fact that people are replicating the heavy memory consumption behavior of CHKDSK when using the /r switch doesn't prove a thing.  That's because CHKDSK is supposed to use maximum resources to repair a corrupted hard drive as soon as possible and that users shouldn't be doing anything else on the system while they wait for this to complete.  This makes a lot of sense because you certainly wouldn't expect to drive your car while someone is changing out the oil.  The priority here is to complete the repairs as soon as possible and this is precisely what CHKDSK does so it consumes all but 50 megabytes of available memory to finish repairs as soon as possible.  Then when it completes, it releases the memory so that the user gets the system resources back.  Since there was no crash replicated, it was silly for Randall Kennedy and everyone else to call this a bug much less a critical bug that would halt the launch of Windows 7.

Now for the very few people who actually get their Windows 7 machines to crash, there is a very likely possibility that the underlying firmware, drivers, or hardware isn't completely stable.  I know this first hand because one of my computers and a friend's computer that used to run fine on Windows XP refused to run on Windows Vista due to some memory problems.  Because the bad memory was near the end of the addressable memory space and Windows XP never used that much memory, the problem never materialized in XP until we used an OS that consumed more resources.  I had to download MemTest86+ and burn a bootable CD using ISO Recorder 3.1 which I booted to inspect my memory.  In both cases, my friend and I had to get Corsair and Kingston to send us new memory at no cost.  Anyone who owns a computer should be running this test anyways just to validate their own hardware.  MemTest86+ also managed to fail when my friend had a faulty CPU so it indirectly detects some CPU problems as well.

Another lesson I've learned in the past is that it is always a good idea to update motherboard firmware when you want to install a new Operating System.  It is simply a fact of life that older motherboard firmwares may not handle newer CPUs or newer Operating Systems very well.  Even if you're not going to install a new Operating System, it's a good idea to inspect your hardware and update the firmware to make sure your hardware is completely stable so that there is less possibility of silently corrupting data.

So can we conclude that there is no bug in CHKDSK?  We can't say for sure but we should definitely not conclude that there is a bug.  Microsoft has been testing 40 machines over night since yesterday and they haven't replicated the problem yet so it's starting to look like a hardware, firmware, or driver issue in some rare configurations.  We can conclude for certain is that this issue if there even is an issue will not derail Windows 7 launch.




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OUch George, I thought we were buddies
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/7/2009 9:39:13 AM , Rating: -1
Hey George,
Kidding aside, thanks for the comments.

I would also suggest that people try Microsoft's free memory diagnostic tool:
http://oca.microsoft.com/en/windiag.asp

I'm not convinced with your assessment that this is a drivers only issue, I agree that having faulty/failing hardware or buggy drivers could be compounding it. This may be the case in those whose system blue screened with the bug.

The key aspect I believe here is the 90 percent memory usage, I think it is a bug, an out of control feature -- fixing the main boot partition, if damaged, ASAP is one thing, but secondary drives or partitions can wait and be processed at a fast, but not quite as intensive pace. I think you will see a patch from MS released over Windows Update that reigns in the memory footprint.

Ultimately this is likely a design philosophy debate -- should a Chkdsk utility be able to fully stress the system resources to try to fix a secondary drive? Should this be done and boot time or at boot time and during normal OS operations (for example plugging in a normal external drive)? My take is that its worth it at boot time, but not at run time. Scale back the usage to something like 40 percent during OS runtime. It will still run faster, but won't swamp the system quite as much.

Ultimately, I agree that Randall Kennedy's analysis is a bit overboard, and my original post followed in suit, and I apologize for that. I wrote a new post on the topic, which is a bit more levelheaded -- you should see it soon.

I think it's dangerous to make a mountain out of a molehill -- because there's plenty of real mountains around. However, its also not good to step on the molehill (dismiss the legitimate debate about whether runtime utils should be taking 70-80 percent or more of system memory) or to call a molehill an ant hill (say that its a drivers only issue, when its a software issue likely compounded by bad drivers).

Everyone's an expert, so the best approach with these things is often to wait and try to analyze them fully, as well as seeing how the corporate party reacts (if Microsoft fixes this issue, there's certainly no reason to B&moan).

Cheers,
Jason




RE: OUch George, I thought we were buddies
By kattanna on 8/7/2009 10:19:10 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
I think it's dangerous to make a mountain out of a molehill


yet.. thats what you do with just about every single article you write.

george's post here is so utterly refreshing compared to your writing, that for a second there i thought i might have gone to the wrong site.

I'm hoping soon that you will end your tabloid antics and start to deliver real news in your articles. I starting coming here for real tech news. when i want tabloid antics i go to http://www.theinquirer.net/

all the best


RE: OUch George, I thought we were buddies
By TomZ on 8/7/2009 10:22:22 AM , Rating: 5
I agree - I'd like to see sensationalist, alarmist articles banned at DT. If I want trash, I'll go to a trash site.


By InvertMe on 8/7/2009 11:03:05 AM , Rating: 5
I would just like to see the authors name next to an article before I click on it. I would NEVER click his articles ever again.

I can get my daily fill of bull from the Enquirer or Fox News.


By crystal clear on 8/8/2009 4:27:17 AM , Rating: 2
No need to go to another site you get it right here on Daily Thrash (D.T.)

Time for a change- bring in new talent !

Outsourcing is the solution !

There are plently CHEAP,talented,good quality technology writers in India, who write perfect ENGLISH (UK english) & get the job done.

You can give those writers an american sounding name to hide the real identity of the writer.

Just like those call centres based in India.


By Morphine06 on 8/9/2009 10:50:55 AM , Rating: 2
I'd like to see this in the quote system at the bottom of the site:
quote:
I wrote a new post on the topic, which is a bit more levelheaded -- you should see it soon. -Jason Mick

I believe that comment will prove to be both ironical and humorous.


RE: OUch George, I thought we were buddies
By tastyratz on 8/7/2009 10:44:47 AM , Rating: 5
I agree,
Sorry Jason but we have to read between the lines when we see your articles. Take this as constructive critisism because it seems like a common comment on most of your posts. Tabloid was a perfect way to sum it up. I am sure you can write them from a more realistic point of view, and we seem to all respectfully (and not respectfully) "remind" you that is what we want/request. Take it as you will.
Thanks


By GaryJohnson on 8/7/2009 1:10:26 PM , Rating: 5
What I want to know is what has happened to Kubicki? He hasn't written an article in over a year. I think I've seen just a few comments from him since then. There hasn't even been anything on his personal blog since April.
http://kristopher.us/

It was his writing style, his integrity, and his rationality that got me hooked on DT.

Has he sold out or something? I can't otherwise believe he approves of some of the articles that have made it onto DT lately.


By vanka on 8/7/2009 11:39:03 AM , Rating: 1
quote:
The key aspect I believe here is the 90 percent memory usage, I think it is a bug, an out of control feature

If a piece of software is working as designed, but not in the way you like; can you call it a bug even though 90% of all other users have no issue with it? Does Microsoft have an obligation to contact you on each and every feature in their software to make sure it is worthy of your approval?

quote:
Ultimately this is likely a design philosophy debate -- should a Chkdsk utility be able to fully stress the system resources to try to fix a secondary drive?

Now you're actually admitting that it is not, in fact, a bug; but rather a design philosophy that you happen to not agree with. I believe that Microsoft's rational makes much more sense than you vague "no software should use more than 40% resources at runtime.

As Microsoft and George pointed out, very few users run Chkdsk; the only time they ever see it is when it appears at boot time and they have very little control over it. The only time a user will run Chkdsk themselves if a system admin/tech support agent tells them to or they are system admin themselves. An even smaller percentage will run it with the /r switch, and yet smaller on a secondary drive.

I don't know about you, but as a system admin myself I want a scan to finish as soon as possible. If I'm running Chkdsk, especially with the /r switch, that means I'm troubleshooting/repairing a PC and am not trying to work on it. There is no reason why it shouldn't use all system resources to finish as quickly as possible; this isn't as if I'm playing solitaire waiting for an installation to complete.

quote:
Ultimately, I agree that Randall Kennedy's analysis is a bit overboard, and my original post followed in suit, and I apologize for that.

A bit overboard? That's like saying the Titanic had a minor accident in the Atlantic. You did absolutely no independent research or verification and blew the whole thing completely out of proportion.

At this point you're like the kid at the city pool who gets caught with his shorts down while in the pool; he tries to be cool, to not act embarrassed or cry - but we know better. It's not a pretty sight, but it sure is funny.

Your attempts to rationalize and defend your earlier comments along with your half-sincere apology just lets everyone know that you either don't know and understand what's going on or refuse to understand or acknowledge what's what's going on.

Jason, you lost your shorts; everyone can see that and they called you on it. Don't try to explain it away or rationalize; you're naked - nothing you say will change that. Just admit it and we'll move on.


By Smilin on 8/7/2009 12:32:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
so the best approach with these things is often to wait and try to analyze them fully


Is this what you did?


RE: OUch George, I thought we were buddies
By GeorgeOu on 8/7/2009 3:46:09 PM , Rating: 2
Jason, the fact that CHKDSK stresses your systems and exposes problems is a BONUS as far as I'm concerned. I would rather expose these problems and deal with the underlying hardware or firmware issue than a "see no evil" philosophy.

Running CHKDSK on a secondary disk is less common usage. It argues that Microsoft might offer a command line switch that tells CHKDSK to only use no more than X amount of memory.


RE: OUch George, I thought we were buddies
By JasonMick (blog) on 8/7/09, Rating: 0
By adiposity on 8/7/2009 5:35:52 PM , Rating: 3
quote:
Differentiating between command line runs and GUI-driven runs would be easily. Just memory limit the GUI-launched scans, and leave the command line ones as is, would be my suggestion.


In case you didn't know, this is already the case, and has been since Windows 95. Chkdsk is not the same as scandisk. They are different programs. That you don't seem to understand this might explain why you overreacted the way you did.

Go ahead, do a disk check in windows (drive/properties/tools/check now). Does the process chkdsk.exe spawn anywhere? No, it doesn't. Does it use up all your memory? No, it doesn't. Hmmm...

So really, unless you go to the command prompt, and do a chkdsk /r, this won't happen. Oh, and you'd need admin access to do that, by the way, so any old command prompt won't work. And you can't just click on chkdsk.exe, because that won't set the "/r" switch.

-Dan


RE: OUch George, I thought we were buddies
By omnicronx on 8/7/2009 5:11:46 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
It argues that Microsoft might offer a command line switch that tells CHKDSK to only use no more than X amount of memory.
Hmm, my view has kind of changed since yesterday, and I am starting to wonder what exactly this increased RAM usage really does. What it certainly does not do is speed up the time it takes to complete. Times were within 3 minutes between XP and Windows 7 (XP was faster) on a completely full 120GB drive. Perhaps this improves when it is actually finding and fixing errors on the disk, but for a scheduled check, the excessive ram usage is pretty much pointless. I do have to say I was using 32 bit XP and 64 bit 7, so a 32bit CHKDSK app may be the reason it was slower, but it really does appear that the high memory usage is pointless.

Kind of hard to benchmark too, as once you run it the bad sectors are marked as unused, so its not like you can directly compare the same dying HD in two environments.

What I think they should do, remove any changes made and revert back to the old version, don't fix what aint broke and either way on a big drive chkdsk will take hours to finish.


By GeorgeOu on 8/7/2009 5:35:55 PM , Rating: 2
If it turns out that having that much RAM designated to the task doesn't really improve performance by a meaningful amount, then Microsoft should stop using that much RAM or at least cap it significantly. It might be one of those point of diminishing return things where 500 MB of RAM does a lot of good but anything beyond that is almost unnoticeable.


By crystal clear on 8/8/2009 4:11:10 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Ultimately, I agree that Randall Kennedy's analysis is a bit overboard, and my original post followed in suit, and I apologize for that. I wrote a new post on the topic, which is a bit more levelheaded -- you should see it soon.


Dont you ever do some research before posting your articles on D.T.?

Thats exactly your problem !

You do NO research or verifications etc required from a levelheaded author of an article.

You base your articles on one source which is NOT reliable at all.

Check other sources for some levelheaded explaination/information.

You end up being torn apart into pieces.

Randall Kennedy's analysis is a bit overboard is NOT the right explaination,rather its plain thrash.

You get even more overbaord by usage of words that rebound on you very hard,there are plenty of examples besides the Showstopper,absconding etc

You use words/sentences like - Apple begs for mercy !

I responded with a comment-

Did you bother to check with Apple ?

You based your article on one source namely that guy from Microsoft,then you later post an "Microsoft gives into Apple"

quote:
I think it's dangerous to make a mountain out of a molehill


Thats what you exactly did in the previous article,I responded with a comment so crystal clear.

RE: Too Late To Delay
By crystal clear on 8/6/09, Rating: 5
By crystal clear on 8/6/2009 11:34:17 AM , Rating: 5

Blowing it out of proportions with statements like

Microsoft is reportedly trying to abscond with the responsibility

shows other motives rather than simple reporting.

Hey whats the problem simply patch it ...this is not a showstopper,the SHOW goes on.....


quote:
so the best approach with these things is often to wait and try to analyze them fully, as well as seeing how the corporate party reacts


Thats exactly what you did NOT do with you previous article on the subject.

Practice what you preach !

Dont be in big hurry to post your articles rather do thorough research/verifications on the subject matter,atleast you will not make a fool of yourself.

Focus on accuracy & neutrality.


"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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