"Error loading operating system" after laptop fall
November 24, 2006 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Dropped my laptop (IBM Thinkpad T42) from about 3 feet. It seemed ok for a week except that it randomly rebooted from time to time. However now it says it can't even load the operating system. I don't have a recovery disk. I don't have the original XP CD. I can't send this to a repairman because I have very sensitive information stored in files on the desktop. How sunk am I?

The error message given is "Error loading operating system". It appeared to happen after running Evidence Eliminator but I'm not sure if this problem is related to that. It had been running XP.

When it first happened I vaguely remember a blue screen flashing up which gave a whole lot of information and mentioned a .SYS file which I think started with N, possibly NTFS.SYS. It did not give me enough time to read the message before it gave the operating system error message.
posted by zaebiz to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
First thing I'd try is a linux boot disk like knoppix or ubuntu, then delete what you need and take it to the shop.

Of course, that depends on the cd drive still working.
posted by pompomtom at 1:46 AM on November 24, 2006

Yes, it might have been a ntfs.sys bluescreen. I had one of those and the system shut down immediately after bluescreen, presumably to protect data on the disk. I recovered almost all of it with an Ubuntu CD and an external HDD.

The HDD is probably the part of your computer that would be most affected by drops, so the rest of the system might still be okay. If it were me, I would still run MemTest86 to check that my RAM were undamaged and not loosely connected, as unlikely as that seems.

Can you get media from IBM?
posted by grouse at 2:17 AM on November 24, 2006

If you haven't fucked with your XP installation, the media is on a seperate partition on your disk. When you boot up press the Access IBM button & reinstall the media from the partition (if you can).
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:24 AM on November 24, 2006

[First, though, booting with a linux distro & dding a copy of your drive might not be an unintelligent thing to do. Or you can try mounting it with NTFS support, but make sure you do it RO if you do that]
posted by devilsbrigade at 3:26 AM on November 24, 2006

You can also remove the disk from the laptop (usually quite easy to do), get a 2.5" USB hard disk enclosure and connect it to another computer to backup data, erase data or format the drive.
posted by rpn at 5:05 AM on November 24, 2006

You might find, however that if there was an ntfs.sys bluescreen, then this might happen when the drive is hooked up to another Windows machine, even it's not being booted from. I think backing up using Linux is definitely the right first step.
posted by grouse at 5:22 AM on November 24, 2006

If you just want to wipe that drive you can use dban.
posted by damn dirty ape at 5:54 AM on November 24, 2006

If you can find a bootable XP disk (check to see if perhaps a friend has one), or if the recovery partition on your system is still functional, try booting up in Repair Mode. Run a chkdsk on the C drive. That may fix it, at least well enough for you to get your files off. It could be a hardware failure from the drop, but it could also be an Evidence Eliminator bug.

NTFS is very robust, and if the problem is software, rather than hardware, a simple chkdsk might well do the trick.

If you can reasonably do this, storing sensitive files on an external device of some kind (USB hard drive or flash drive) will give you some protection against this kind of thing. If you use encryption, make sure you back up your keys to some other media. I've lost data that way... reinstalled the OS but forgot that I had encrypted some of my files. Once the key is lost, the data is gone, even though you can still see the files.

If you are completely stuck and can't do anything, you can safely wipe the drive (THIS WILL DESTROY ALL DATA) by booting up a Linux LiveCD of some kind, opening a root command prompt, and typing:

dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/hda bs=512

That will overwrite the drive with random data. For maximum security, do that several times. Each pass will take several hours to run. At that point, it should be completely safe to give to a repairperson.

Note that this will also erase any recovery partition you may have, so definitely try the Access IBM idea above.

If you get an error other than 'out of space' from dd, then I'd suggest taking out the drive before giving it to a repairperson.... I'd just replace it completely. You can get laptop drives fairly reasonably.
posted by Malor at 6:10 AM on November 24, 2006

You have two other options.

Download a copy of XP from a network like eMule or BitTorrent.

Get a USB adapter for your laptop disk and extract the files with another computer.
posted by fake at 6:42 AM on November 24, 2006

As far as I know you can ask IBM/Lenovo for Windows XP Recovery Disks.
posted by donut at 6:43 AM on November 24, 2006

If your machine started playing up after you dropped it, your problem is hardware, not software, and you want to be using the machine as little as possible until you've backed that sucker up. Don't mess with reinstalling Windows or any of that - you'll only bust the drive a little bit more.

Boot Linux from CD, plug in an external hard drive, and back everything up. Then do what Malor said to destroy the contents of your hard disk (except use bs=1M instead of bs=512 to make it run faster). Then give it back to IBM and have them fix it.

If "sensitive information" means pr0n, don't sweat it. Repair guys have seen everything.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 AM on November 24, 2006

Thanks for your help. I tried using Ubuntu just now but the harddrive won't mount (tried using nfts and vfat, followed instructions on ubuntuguide.org). Going to try XP but not hopeful.

Sounds like the harddrive has issues and I'm sunk?
posted by zaebiz at 7:01 PM on November 24, 2006

Actually says "invalid boot sector checksum" and "primary boot sector is invalid" amongst other things.
posted by zaebiz at 7:05 PM on November 24, 2006

I was just dealing with a similar issue on a Thinkpad T30, oddly enough. Also couldn't mount the drive using a Knoppix boot CD, but I was able to boot up with a Windows 98 boot disk using DOS-mode USB drivers as described here to copy files off to an external USB drive. The only problem was that, being DOS mode, it truncated all the filenames to 8.3 format, but the files themselves were intact.

However, the hard drive on the Thinkpad was FAT32, not NTFS, so if yours is NTFS it will likely not work.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:45 PM on November 24, 2006

I saw a lot of technical answers here and flabdablet had the best one.

Dropping laptops is a bad thing. Random reboots are not ok. Sensitive information should be backed up. You can try shareware and payware file recovery software. If you're really desperate, you can pay a professional to bring them back with special equipment, but that can run hundreds and thousands of dollars.

I'd write it off, get a new hard drive and destroy the old one. They have cool magnets inside.
posted by Area Control at 8:13 PM on November 24, 2006

Um, this may help you get some stuff back on your own.
posted by djgh at 7:06 AM on November 25, 2006

If the XP install disk doesn't work, you could try BartPE.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:14 PM on November 25, 2006

Ok turned out the thinkpad had a corrupt boot sector and was fixed with an XP CD repair program called fixboot.

Picked up lots of useful tips along the way. Thanks.
posted by zaebiz at 11:23 PM on November 25, 2006

I don't want to dis Fake, but don't *ever* run binaries you got off file-sharing networks, much less OS's... if you give a crap about... well, anything.

You can probably get factory XP media locked to ThinkPads off eBay (we get HPaq install disks that way all the time) and that would be your best bet, if it didn't sound like the drive was dying.

Grab Spinrite 6, if you can, and try running that against it.
posted by baylink at 11:17 AM on November 26, 2006

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