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"Checking drive for inconsistencies"

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I've had this happen a few times, just yesterday it was a laptop. An XP
machine will want to check the drive for inconsistencies and when it
gets done, everything is scrambled. I've stopped it from running on a
machine or two in the past and was able to boot up and save the data.
But yesterday it kicked into this checking mode on it's own and was
almost done when I found it. Now the data is scattered all across the
drive in a zillion globules. Is there any way of performing magic on
this to save the data or is it simply replace the drive and reinstall?

I know about data recovery and the associated costs, don't think that's
going to happen with this one. I'm afraid to experiment in case there's
a loophole. What do you think Spinrite would hurt or help?
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