Sunday, May 27, 2007

Broken Desktop

My desktop computer at home died this week. It's an Athlon AMD 850 running windows XP, with four harddrives (physically, 2, with one subdivided into three parts by the version of windows 95 it was running years and years ago; the primary drive, with the OS installed on it, is a 20 gig).

I was innocently rearranging files on one of the smaller drives when it spontaneously rebooted. Spontaneous reboots have happened in the past, caused apparently by overheating in some cases, a virus or suite of viruses in another. Those reboots usually lead to a return to the OS, but with another reboot coming if I didn't fix the problem. This time is different - apparently, the computer cannot find the OS.

After the big table of hardware specifications (Hard Disk(s) Cyl Head Sector Size et cetera),
this is what it says:
"Disk error
Press any key to restart"

Or, again after the hardware table, it says:
"NTLDR is missing
Press any key to restart"

So I press a key, and it says:
"Searching for boot record from floppy..."

and proceeds to 'hang', rather than actually rebooting, showing the "Novell NetWare Ready Firmware v1.00 (940809)" screen. After a few seconds it says
"Boot Failure
Insert BOOT diskette in A:
Press any key when ready"

Pressing any key leads to
"Searching for boot record", then reboot, and
"Couldn't open drive Sgibberish
NTLDR: Couldn't open drive Ssamegibberish

It's pretty variable, sometimes when I try to start it I see one or the other message, sometimes pressing any key leads to a restart, other times just a hang. I have also seen it say something about missing a critical windows file, suggesting to me the action of a virus, or it says "Missing operating system". I have the Windows XP CD in the drive, but it keeps failing at "Searching for Boot Record from IDE-0..OK" then "Disk error".

Previous restart or boot failure issues had been caused by loose wiring, especially to the harddrives. I've checked those. It's also certainly not overheating - I left it off for two days and have tried again just now, with no luck. Also, the case is open and I just cleaned the fan and heatsink about 5 months ago.

My thought right now is that my primary harddrive, the 20 gig, is blown. Re-formatting this drive is an option - there's nothing of any great value on my home desktop - but I can't even get the system to recognize the CD in either CD drive.

Does anyone have any advice, or suggestions for on-line forums I could peruse for help?



Anonymous said...

I'm not 100% certain, but it sounds to mee like your Master Boot Record (MBR) is shot. There is a *chance* it can be repaired, however I'd only trust it long enough to recover your data, and install Windows on a new hard drive, if possible.

A quick search came up with a few utilities that may help you out. You may have more luck installing your faulty drive into a working system to perform the recovery from. I use commercial data recovery software (worth every penny), but some of these freeware options may work for you:
(scroll down for HDHacker)
(DOS versions available)

A Google search for "recover mbr" or something to that effect should provide you some more information.

Carlo said...

Sounds like the MBR to me too. I haven't had many good experiences with these things. Usually once they start failing, they tend to fail again and a again.

Two suggestions: Toss the main HD and replace it with the other one (with a functional OS loaded onto it). Or get a cheap 30 GB HD to replace it.

I've had quite a few HDs fail over the years. Now I'm pretty paranoid about keep anything (work-material, game saves, media, etc) on any one PC. Every file is at work AND home.

Anonymous said...

I've had it with drive failures. I lost three hard drives in as many months. So far, I've been able to recover everything, but the process is a HUGE PIA.

No more failures for me, thanks. I'm currently building my new computer with a 1TB RAID5 array. Guess how long I'll be waiting this morning for all the partitions to format!

As for your problem, I would certainly consider tossing the old drive once you have done your best to recover your critical data. Re-formatting it may only be delaying the inevitable -total failure in days, weeks, months. Then you'll be back to square one.

Too bad we don't live closer together! Now that most of my setup is SATA2, I have a pile of IDE drives (and more brand spanking new ones on their way back from RMA) I don't have much use for.

TheBrummell said...

How much would a functioning 20 or 30 GB drive cost? If someone has one kicking around they aren't using, how much might shipping cost?

If the answer to those questions is something like "less than $50", I'd be happy to buy one of your unneeded IDE drives, Mike.

Anonymous said...

Now that I've got my new system up and running, I'm stuffing all the old IDE drives into my new media box. This will house my bloated collection of music, photos, videos, ROMs and recorded TV. The smallest drive is 250GB, so they still provide me some utility, and aren't really worth shipping.

It is tough to find anything smaller than 80GB here in Cowtown, but has some smaller drives at decent prices. Shipping to your area should be about $11.

Aside from finding used drives in the Bargain Finder, you may be better off getting a much larger drive (120GB+) with full warranty, for almost the same price.

Install your permanent Windows setup on a new drive, and then attempt to recover the MBR on the old drive. The drive may still javascript:void(0)operate perfectly fine for years to come, but I'd only trust it to non-essential use.

TheBrummell said...

Thanks for the info, Mike. I think I've met a previous iteration of your "bloated collection"; I'm not surprised you still need multiple 250GB drives for it. I'm going to guess that the total size of your collection is approximately 1.5TB. Am I close?

I'll look into the local situation here in Guelph for second-hand computers and parts - perhaps a used computer store around here has a 20 or 30 or 60GB available for a decent price.

Anonymous said...

I think I've met a previous iteration of your "bloated collection"

Ha! You probably last saw it when the 640MB CD-R was all the rage. It was folly for me to believe that DVD-R would solve my backup woes.

Anyway, I really have no idea how large the collection is. It may be 300GB smaller if I don't recover a dead Seagate drive containing some of Steph's music. Once I have more spare time, I'll be attempting a head stack replacement from an identical donor drive.

For a good while my attention shifted towards lossless formats and DTS-encoded albums. These take up a LOT more space than your typical MP3!

Back to your hard drive hunt, I would recommend the used market provided the price is really cheap. Most new drives now come with 5 year warranties, and the RMA processes are a breeze. All the manufacturers I've dealt with will now ship a replacement drive and give you a few weeks to return the faulty unit. This is particularly helpful when you are still able to extract some useful data off the old drive before giving up.