Computer repair question

I think my laptop’s hard drive is toast. I was working on it and heard a loud click, seconds later everything froze. Attempted to restart and heard repeated loud clicking noises and was presented with an error message saying could not locate primary hard disk.

I don’t know anything about PC hardware, so my question is whether a broken hard drive (if this is what it is) can be simply replaced and everything is good to go, or whether this is a big deal and I may be looking at getting a new laptop. :frowning:

The machine is one of the Dell lattitude’s, about three years old. Thanks in advance for any advice.

It does sound like a hard drive failure, but it could just as easily be a problem with the drive controller on the motherboard. It could even be something as simple as the drive cable having worked loose.

Laptop hard drives are fairly standard items, so it should be possible to replace it (perhaps even with a larger one) if that’s the problem, but it probably would be worth getting a qualified technician to at least definitively diagnose the fault.

Or… since the machine is three years old, you could use this as an excuse to upgrade to a better machine. I’d only do this if you were unhappy with the performance of the old machine, unless I had money to burn. Replacing the hard drive and reinstalling the OS will make the machine perform noticeably better - like it was when it was a new machine, anyway.

The hard drive can be replaced. It sounds like the hard drives arm failed. Your drive is probably toast. Assuming the HD arm failed it probably damaged the platters which could make data recovery hard or impossible.

Replacing the drive on laptops is either fairly straight forward or an absolute pain depending on the laptop. I have replaced a couple laptop drives that were a snap. I have also replaced one laptop drive that was a nighmare. Had to crack the whole thing open and it was a mess. It depends on where the HD is located and what you need to do to get to it. in my experience the older the laptop the harder it is to get to the drive. The new laptops usually just require removing a screw or two and sliding the drive out.

If you google on +Dell +Latitude +<insert your model number here> +hard +drive +remove you will proably find directions on how this is done.

Since your laptop is 3 years old it might be more cost effective to get a new one.


Laptop harddrives aren’t too bad on price - you can big a 60 gig one for $80-$90 or so. ZipZoomFly has quite a few of them.

Agreed. This is the worst part of a hard drive failure. Replacing the hard drive is usually simple. Re-installing the OS is a bit of a hassle…even moreso on a laptop because they generally need more specialist programs to make everything work right. Once the OS is up and running you need to download all the latest patches to get everything back up to spec (hope you have broadband). After that you need to reload all of your old software and patch all that back up.

The one part that kills you is the loss of all your old data…particularly things like address books. If you have a recent backup of all that stuff then great. If not this is no fun.

Depending on the laptop and how handy your old software is and how many programs you need to reload and so on expect a good 4 hours of work to get it all back together. Been there and done that…I do not envy you.

If you have data on your hard drive that is absolutely critical (e.g. a near completed copy of your doctoral thesis you’ve been working on for 2 years and have no backup) companies do exist that will recover the data off of your hard drive even if it is dead. The process wrecks the hard drive for good but if it is dead anyway no biggie. This is not cheap but can be done if really necessary. Here is one such place:

Thanks for the advice guys. I’m actually OK wrt the data loss, its my back-up machine in any case and I have everything important covered, I just need it to work. Replacing the hard drive looks expensive though, lists the direct replacement for my lattitude drive at 200 quid!
Is this a complete rip-off by any chance, and I could get a far cheaper generic drive? (maybe what RandomLetters is referring to). I guess I have to figure out the compatibility.

Well, as a matter of fact, I just had to replace the hard drive in my daughter’s Dell Latitude. And it is as easy as can be.

But first: The problem is almost certainly the drive itself and not the controller or the cable. The noises you describe are consistent with the read/write arm failing. this is not all that uncommon - hard drive failure is almost always a matter of “when” and not “if”, I don’t care what kind of computer you have.

Anyway, laptop harddrives are almost universal now, but if you do a search on eBay, for example, using Dell Latitiude Hard Drive, you’ll find plenty of compatible ones. I found a 60 Gig drive for fifty bucks there, paid for it online, and it was delivered in a couple days.

To install it: Flip the laptop over. Look near the edge of the laptop, on the right or left, depending on the model, and right near the edge you’ll find two phillips-head screws, about 2 inches apart. Remove those screws - they lock the hard drive caddy in place. After removing the screws, gently slide out the plastic piece that they were screwed into. That’s the edge of the hard drive caddy, and it will slide out like a drawer. Find the four screws holding the hard drive into the caddy and remove them, remove the old hard drive, and replace it with the new hard drive, disconnecting and reconnecting the cable as necessary. After putting the four screws back in, slide the caddy back into the laptop until it snaps into place, and put the two retainer screws back in.

Flip the laptop back over right-side-up and boot up. The BIOS should automatically detect the new hard drive.

You’ll still need to install your operating system and software, either from the CDs you got with the laptop from Dell, or from standard installation CDs if you’re doing it from scratch. With my daughter’s laptop, I installed WinXP from a new CD and then installed the software she’d need for school and casual web use.

Thanks UD, that sounds more like it :slight_smile:

£200 is too much money; have a look on - the only problems might be:
-That your BIOS can’t cope with the size of the new drive - this won’t be a problem if you’re buying a similarly-sized replacement (and to be honest, isn’t all that likely to be a problem at all, on a fairly new machine)
-That the pin layout/positioning on the new drive doesn’t match that of the old - I know there’s variability in the layout of desktop hard drive connectors from brand to brand, but I have a feeling that 2.5 inch notebook drives connectors are standardised.

A generic HD will be fine - if you don’t mind a smaller size, eBay can be quite cheap for replacements. The company I work for supports laptops destined for use on oil rigs, and we have the occasional hardware replacement to make - our IT guy has a half-dozen drives hanging around, and they work in all the brands we use.