Troubleshooting Hard Drives

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Hard drives are a common culprit in PC problems. These problems can range from easily correctable to disastrous. As mentioned earlier in this chapter, making sure S.M.A.R.T. drives are enabled in the BIOS will be helpful to catch some of these problems sooner than they otherwise would be caught. This section covers some common hard drive problems and solutions.

Operating System Is Missing

One of the most obvious signs of a hard drive problem is an error message early in the boot process saying that the system can't find an OS. However, before jumping to conclusions, make sure there is no floppy in the floppy drive. It is most common for a BIOS to be set to boot first from a floppy, so if there is a non-bootable floppy in the drive, you'll probably get a message such as "Non-system disk or disk error," or "ntldr is missing." Remove the floppy and restart before taking any other measures.


If a computer is in early stages of booting or is running in DOS, pressing <Ctrl> + <Alt> + <Delete> will restart the system.

If there is no floppy in the drive and you continue to get a missing OS message, it is time to check the hard drive for problems. You can try the following:

  1. Listen for hard drive activity and look at the indicator light on the case. The light should flicker and you should hear some sounds. Buzzing or clicking, however, is a possible sign of drive failure.

  2. Check the BIOS to make sure that it recognizes the hard drive. Set the BIOS to autodetect the hard drive and to enable S.M.A.R.T. drives.

  3. Check the power and data cables. Make sure they are plugged in correctly and securely. If the data cable looks damaged, try a replacement cable. Try disconnecting the power cable and using another one from the power supply.

  4. Check the hard drive jumpers. Make sure there aren't two slaves, two masters, or a mixture of slave or master and cable select.

  5. Run a diagnostic program such as Micro-Scope or PC Certify, or a utility offered by the hard drive manufacturer or Ontrack ( Also helpful are the Partition Magic Rescue floppies. You can boot the machine with these and run the program even if Partition Magic isn't installed on the system. You can access drive information and check for errors, as well as perform other operations. Just make sure to use a version of Partition Magic as recent as the OS installed on the system. For example, running a version of Partition Magic older than 7.0 on Windows XP or 2000 with Service Pack 2 or later will likely produce false error messages.


    If you use a hard drive software utility, make sure to read the directions carefully, and, if so instructed, back up the data before running tests. In addition, make sure to follow the terms of the software license for any program you run.

  6. Use a hardware-based EIDE hard drive tester such as the Western Digital Quick Tester (

  7. Run FDISK and select number 4 from the menu to view partition information. Note that if the partition is formatted as NTFS, FDISK will label the partition only as a non-DOS partition. Sometimes the use of drive overlay software such as EZ-BIOS will actually interfere with the system's recognition of the drive.

  8. Remove the hard drive and check it on another computer. Look for the Windows folder to make sure it is intact, and scan the drive for viruses.

  9. Try a different EIDE device in the same channel to make sure the problem isn't in the motherboard or EIDE controller.

  10. If there is another EIDE device on the same channel, disconnect it and boot the computer. One malfunctioning drive can cause the other device to stop working.

The System Doesn't Recognize the Full Capacity of the Hard Drive

There are a few different reasons why a computer might not make full use of a hard drive.

Many BIOSs are limited as to the maximum size of a supported partition. In the past, the only way to get around these limitations was to partition the drive so that each partition fit into the size limitation. However, today, unless the computer is very old, there are more satisfactory ways to get around this problem. The following list will be a helpful guide.

Enable large drive support in the BIOS, if available. This includes a setting called LBA support.

Check for a BIOS update. The source of the update should show a list of changes from the previous BIOS version. If there have been any BIOS versions released after the one installed on the computer but before the newest update, you might have to view them to see if any of them have a fix to this problem.

Install drive overlay software. This is available for download from the hard drive manufacturers, although it's not always called "drive overlay" software. If the computer locks up on boot and the hard drive is larger than 33GB, check to see if the BIOS is Award 4.5x. If so, drive overlay software should solve the problem.

Remove drive overlay software. Oddly enough, this software can sometimes cause the problem it was designed to solve, especially if it is installed on a newer computer. You will probably have to boot the computer with the drive overlay floppy and elect to uninstall the software once you get to the main program page.

Other Hard Drive Problems

Disk too full: Whenever a system runs poorly or if you get Windows Protection errors, check to make sure that at least 10 percent of the drive is unused. The paging file and other temporary files need this space. If less than 10 percent of the disk capacity remains, you will have to delete or transfer some data to another location. You might have to install the hard drive on another computer to do this. Another choice is to copy all or some of the data onto a larger drive and install the new drive in the computer. We discuss data backup later in this chapter.

The system suddenly can't read data on the drive: This is a sign of possible hard drive failure. If Windows is still running, run ScanDisk (9x), or Error-Checking/CHKDSK (2000, XP) (see Chapter 2 for more information). Make sure to select the "Thorough" and "Automatically fix errors" check boxes on ScanDisk, or the "Automatically fix file system errors" and "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors" check boxes on Error-Checking/CHKDSK before running. You can also try the methods described in the previous list under "Operating system is missing."

If you have removed a hard drive from a Gateway computer with 98 or Me, and installed it in another machine and find that the second machine can't read any data from the drive, Gateway's Go Back utility might have been installed on the drive. Reinstall the drive in the Gateway machine, boot to Windows if possible, and uninstall Go Back. To do this, go to Control Panel, Add/Remove Programs.

If Windows stops running, you can boot a system with a Windows 98 or Me startup disk and scan a FAT or FAT32 partition by typing SCANDISK at the command prompt and pressing <Enter>. With NTFS partitions, you'll have to use a third-party program such as Norton Utilities or Partition Magic. Diagnostic programs such as Micro-Scope and PC Certify can also be very helpful.

Hard Drive Trouble Indicators

Some hard drive problems are indicated by blue screens or a message in 2000 or XP's Disk Management. This will usually require you to write down the entire error message and search Microsoft's Knowledge Base. In Disk Management, there is a status indicator on each partition's graph. Underneath the drive letter, size, and file system you'll see a word; hopefully the word is "Healthy," although you could see words like "Failed" or "Unreadable." For more information, access the Help files in Computer Management and search for "healthy." Then, select "Disk status descriptions" or "Volume status descriptions" and click the Display button.

If you get these indicators or other serious error messages, but the drive appears to work, there is no time to waste to back up important data, covered next.

For more help with hard drive problems, go to series/1,,5+26+35994+34536+24365,00.html, or go to, click Computers, and navigate to the hard drive section.

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PC Repair and Maintenance(c) A Practical Guide
PC Repair and Maintenance: A Practical Guide (Charles River Media Networking/Security)
ISBN: 1584502665
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 175 © 2008-2017.
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