Windows 7 bug is no showstopper

Don't cancel the Windows 7 victory parade just yet

Microsoft released the RTM version of Windows 7 yesterday to the Microsoft technical community. The initial excitement quickly turned to sensational headlines about a "showstopper" or "critical" bug that may put a damper on the Windows 7 excitement and cause people and businesses to shun the new operating system as they did Windows Vista. Those headlines are the very definition of FUD (spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

The "critical" bug is related to a memory leak issue with the CHKDSK utility, with one caveat- it's not an issue...or a bug really. Soon after the RTM version of Windows 7 was available to the technical community reports started to pop up that a flaw had been discovered. Apparently, when running CHKDSK, a disk integrity checking and repair utility that has been included with virtually every version of Windows, the system would grind to a halt or even produce the notorious BSOD (Blue Screen of Death).

The bug does not occur just any time you run CHKDSK though. According to reports, the issue only arises if CHKDSK is run on a drive or volume other than the primary boot volume, and only if the '/r' switch is used as well. The '/r' switch tells the utility to locate bad sectors and attempt to repair them and recover the data they contain. When these conditions are met, CHKDSK apparently eats up all available physical memory and slows the system to a halt or crashes it entirely.

Steven Sinofsky, President of the Microsoft Windows Division, has pointed out that the reported behavior is by design. When the '/r' switch is used the CHKDSK utility is supposed to use the maximum amount of resources available to complete the repairs as quickly as possible. CHKDSK is designed to use all but 50Mb of available memory when the '/r' switch is invoked and users should not expect to be able to continue using the computer for other functions during the CHKDSK repair process.

That doesn't explain the BSOD reports, but those reports are actually much more obscure. It seems that there may be certain hardware configurations that result in a BSOD during the CHKDSK process. Those are isolated incidents though related to specific hardware setups. Microsoft has recommended that those experiencing severe problems such as the BSOD first ensure they have current drivers installed before declaring that the sky is falling.

So, to clarify, many headlines have declared Windows 7 potentially dead on arrival as a result of an obscure utility performing as designed and possibly resulting in a system crash in certain isolated situations. I think we can call off the coroner and not cancel the Windows 7 victory parade just yet.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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