What should I try next?
February 10, 2012 5:49 PM   Subscribe

Help me diagnose/repair my Toshiba Satellite A355D-S6889. When I try to boot, I get BOOTMGR MISSING. When I try to reinstall XP from a CD it seems to start out fine, copying drivers and such, until it gets to the message Starting Windows, at which point I get a blue screen o' death with the code 0x7B which google informs me is a hard disk error.

Since the disk light flashes while copying files from the CD, I assume the disk had been working up until that moment, and that if the disk really was non-functional, it would never get to the BOOTMGR MISSING message. The only boot option beside HD and CD is LAN.
I even tried a knoppix live DVD (4.0) but got (after it scanned the hardware): 'Cannot find KNOPPIX filesystem, sorry. Dropping you to a (very limited) shell.'
posted by Obscure Reference to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
Make an Ubuntu liveUSB with unetbootin or the pendrivelinux installer. That will allow you to determine whether or not the CD drive is busted or not.
posted by wierdo at 5:51 PM on February 10, 2012

Try FIXMBR or `fdisk /mbr` from the Recovery option of the XP install disk. I would think that the install would notice and complain if the MBR was bad, but it might only check the partition part of the MBR and not the BOOTMGR part.

Unless your disk it hosed in some way (first block is bad beyond fixing), the rough idea is:

magic boot code
partition table
more magic code
And when the computer boots it looks for and trys to run the magic code. FIXMBR or `fdisk \mbr` will re-write the magic code part but leave the partition table part untouched. If you install other bootloaders (like GRUB for Linux), they will write their own version of the magic code (again leaving the partition table untouched).

Usually the "Can't find System Disk" or "BOOTMGR" type of problems are messed up magic code.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:26 PM on February 10, 2012

1- The install rewrites the mbr when it installs, so there should be no need to rewrite it again.

2- the 0x7b message can often mean that Windows is loading the wrong driver for the disk controller. Usually this means you have a SATA controller in native mode, but failed to load the drivers for the SATA controller during setup (F6).

3- Are you sure that Knoppix dvd is functional? Are you sure your cd/dvd drive is functional?

You might want to run a memory test like memtest86+ and also the diag disk for your hard drive.
posted by gjc at 5:59 AM on February 11, 2012

Best answer: Just chiming in that I have had that specific problem gjc mentions before, if you try to install Windows XP from a sufficiently old install CD to a computer with a SATA drive the install will fail. The solution is to have a CD with SATA drivers on hand and supply it when Windows requests it during the early, text screen portion of Install.

If you are installing from an OEM copy of XP that came with your machine you probably won't have this problem, because the drivers will be included. It's also possible to make a Windows XP install disk with drivers already rolled in, but that will require some searching around on the internet and work on a separate computer. Later versions of Windows (including, I believe, later editions of XP) will have SATA drivers rolled in.

I'm not saying this definitely is your problem, but it's not unknown.
posted by JHarris at 8:32 AM on February 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can't boot from usb so pendrive linux is out.
I get the BSoD right after loading files but before I get to a stage where I can run FIXMBR
I've run my Knoppix DVD before but I can't be sure it was on a machine with SATA drives.
I'm pretty sure this is a SATA machine.

After trying every bootable CD I had in the house without success (including BeOS 5), I downloaded the latest UBUNTU release and it booted up. Does this mean, aside from a missing MBR (and OS of the HD) the only harware problem is a lack of SATA drivers in my previous attempts to make it work?
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:02 PM on February 11, 2012

Best answer: If Ubuntu works, can install, and present no issues then your problem almost certainly is SATA drivers. If you picked this moment up upgrade to a newer version of Windows you'll probably have no problems since versions since Vista have all included the drivers. I think later service packs of XP have them too -- if you can find an install disk with SP2 you should be good to go.

However I should emphasize that the problem still might not be SATA-related, or that the problem might be both SATA and a failing hard disk. It would help a bit if you could provide some insight into why the computer stopped booting. Was it an out of the blue thing, had there been a malware infestation just when the problem started happening, has the computer experienced any sudden shocks or jolts while operating? Hard drives contain failsafe measures to try to protect the disk platters from movement-related damage, but I don't think they're foolproof.

(Disclaimer: I've helped some friends with their computers, had some successes and some less-than-successes. I have no certification. Just trying to help.)
posted by JHarris at 8:49 PM on February 11, 2012

How-To Geek has this page that might be useful. Note however, that it says SATA drives simply aren't found if your XP disk is too old -- it sounds to me like it IS finding the drive but it's erroring out while installing.

The problem could be bad install media too. There are lots of niggly little things that could go wrong with this. I can suggest that, if you're burning an install disk, that you do it at slower burn speeds, and don't give up if the first disk you burn fails. I have had real problems with CD-Rs being hard to read or having an error or two this in the past when trying to rescue systems. (Maybe the age of the media is a factor?)

If you can boot to Ubuntu it might be worth it to use it to salvage needed files off the affected drive, copying them to a flash or portable USB hard drive, then scanning for bad sectors. (You should salvage files first since, if the drive is failing, then you're probably living on borrowed time already.)
posted by JHarris at 8:58 PM on February 11, 2012

(Actually, above I said that you needed a CD with SATA drivers. I was wrong -- it actually wants a floppy disk with the drivers at that point. Yes, in the 21st century. It's because of that requirement that one needs to slipstream in the drivers into a Windows XP install disk as described in the How-To Geek page.)
posted by JHarris at 2:00 PM on February 12, 2012

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