Sunday, August 24, 2008

My hard drive won't boot!

We have a 4 year old Dell laptop running XP. It died last night while we were using it. From what I have been able to figure out online, it looks like her hard drive might be dead, but maybe you can give me your opinion:

The first thing that happened is that we got a blue screen with a message at the bottom -- something like "physical memory dump successful" Then, we ran some sort of diagnostic and got: ...

It sounds like you have a “Type 2” failure below. Sorry.

There are two types of “fatal” problems with disc drives. Sometimes they spontaneously recover from either of them – at least for a short time. Take that opportunity to immediately back up your data. 1) Windows won’t load, but the drive is physically mostly OK. 2) The drive has some sort of mechanical failure. I lost 2 drives in my older Dell laptop; probably due to overheating.

1) Your data are probably in fine condition, although it may be awkward to retrieve it, especially with a laptop.

2) Cross your fingers and pay homage to any angel of fortune you use. Generally the computer doesn’t even recognize that it has a drive attached when you look at the status page at power-on Setup (for most post-2002 Dells, press F2 at the Dell splash screen). Suggested steps to attempt include: repeatedly powering it up until it comes on, lightly tapping the case while it is turned off, or chilling the drive before it’s turned on. If you hear a “clicka-clicka” when you power it up, you’re probably toast.
In either case, my first response is to minimize the chance of further corruption until I preserve the data. I do this by removing the drive from it’s current computer and installing it as a secondary drive in another computer. (See mechanical handling notes below.) You can connect it directly to the motherboard’s interface in the alternate computer or use a USB adapter.

Once the alternate computer recognizes the disc drive, you should immediately copy critical data off it before proceeding with any other recovery attempts. If you encounter missing password file access problems, you can try logging on to the alternate computer as an administrator. If necessary, create an account on that computer with the same name and password as the administrator on the failed computer. In an extreme case, you can break the user rights with a Bart’s PE boot CD. Start here:

Now that you have your data, what do you do with the old drive. If it is showing hardware issues, physically decomission it and throw it away. If the only problem is that Windows wouldn’t boot:

a) Run the SpinRite ( disc recovery utility.
b) Run Windows recovery from a Windows installation disc.
c) Reinstall Windows from your manufacturer’s distribution discs. You will also have to reinstall all your programs, drivers, and accessories; but your data will probably still be where it was. There is also a chance you will trash everything in the process.
d) Install Windows on a new drive and install this one as a secondary drive (not applicable to laptops). Same comments as c) apply.
e) Install Windows on a new drive and copy all your data back to it. Same comments as c) apply.

The mechanics of moving a hard drive around.
Drives come in 2 flavors, SATA and IDE/ATA/PATA, that use a different cable to connect to the computer. SATA is the newer standard although most aftermarket drives are still available in either format. Very few computers support both versions natively on their motherboards although you can get add-in cards for either version. Furthermore, older IDE laptop drives (2.5”) use a different cable and power adapter than IDE desktop (3.5”) drives, but otherwise are interchangeable. Most USB adapters (such as support all versions although there may be some old IDE-only adapters still on the market.

Always disperse any static electricity by touching a grounded metal object before working with electronics. Never handle a disc drive that is powered on (ie spinning). Always disconnect the power supply from the wall before connecting or disconnecting cables. Don't forget the main battery(ies) in a laptop.

On most laptops the disc drive can be removed with one or two screws without disassembling the case. If you remove a screw that opens a panel into the electronics, that’s probably the wrong one.

When temporarily installing a drive in an alternate computer, you will probably have the least problems if you use the cables for that computer’s CD drive. Using a USB adapter may require that you change jumper settings on an IDE drive.

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