XP on Dell has trouble finding the hard drive to boot
February 12, 2005 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I have a Dell running XP. Sometimes it wants to boot and sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't boot, it's because it can't find the hard drive. If I try to boot from the OS CD that came with the box, it chugs along reading the disc, but then it blue-screens. So I restart lots o' times and eventually it works. When it does boot, obviously it can find the hard drive, because that's where the OS is. Then everything works well until maybe the next reboot.

So what's that likely to be? Something like a disc controller failing? Or a software problem? Why can it find the hard drive sometimes but not all the time.
posted by pracowity to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
It sounds like a dying drive to me, if you have an extra hard drive trying hooking it up and seeing if it does the same thing.

Also, make sure that there is nothing else on the same IDE channel that might be influencing it in any way.

How old is your dell? It might be under warranty. But if you open it to attach another hard drive it'll void your warranty.
posted by jackofsaxons at 6:29 PM on February 12, 2005

Also, try replacing the cable before you do anything drastic, if it's a desktop machine (you don't say). Cables do go bad sometimes.

"[I]f you open it to attach another hard drive it'll void your warranty."

I've never heard of this, and it certainly isn't standard practice in the commodity PC industry. Where did you hear about that?
posted by majick at 7:29 PM on February 12, 2005

First thing I always try -- and tell people -- when it's a hardware issue is to open the box, and reseat card and cable connectors. Blow out the dust if possible, too.

Of course, if the PC is truly decrepit, there's a chance that this will push it over the edge into the abyss, but I can't count the number of times that a quick wiggle of cable or card connections have fixed something for me.

On the other hand, it does sound like the drive is failing. You can also have a look in your device manager (from My Computer -- Right Click --> Properties --> Hardware --> Device Manager to check the maker of the drive, then go to their website and check if they have any proprietary utilities to check the health of the drive. If it's relatively newish, they often do. Dell might have similar tools for download, for all I know.

Sisoft Sandra is a shareware diagnostics tools that might help, as well. I think the trial version is uncrippled.

I like Everest even better, and the home edition is freeware.

If you haven't already, right click on the drive in Windows Explorer, and select Properties --> Tools --> Error Checking --> Check Now. It'll ask you to reboot, probably. Be aware that if the drive is on its last legs, this may also push it over the edge. As with all diagnostics and repair with computer problems, make sure that you have backups before you do anything else.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:31 PM on February 12, 2005

Good suggestions so far: Make a backup, reseat all the connectors, run a utility on the drive. I've seen faulty power supplies produce exactly the same symptoms you are describing.

Troubleshooting PCs is basically a matter of isolating the faulty component. Ideally, if you have two systems with interchangeable parts, you can swap things in a logical fashion until you isolate the defective part and then replace it.
posted by Manjusri at 8:15 PM on February 12, 2005

majick: We have Dells at the office, and every time it boots it will annouce that "the case has been opened" or some such. The machines are several years old. (OK, really old in PC years, but I can't remember how far back they go.)
A lot of companies will void the warranty if you plug in extra hard drives or non-standard bits, at least allegedly. We buy something off the shelf and then I go out and buy a huge honking hard drive to add on, so I always ask about that when I buy it.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:10 AM on February 13, 2005

On Preview: It's probably pretty hard to find one that hasn't been opened for one reason or another, so it wouldn't surprise me if the techs just ignore it. Our support comes from the in-house Helpless Desk, so we never see a Dell tech.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 8:17 AM on February 13, 2005

Is the drive made by Fujitsu?

Fujitsu made millions of drives with defective Cirrus Logic controllers that would die after 1 - 3 years, slowly going from sometimes not detecting, to eventually flat out never detecting ever again.
posted by shepd at 12:40 PM on February 13, 2005

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