Uh oh. PC problem "Error loading OS"

So I get home from work today and notice my monitor is looking pretty funky. I degauss, no good. I (following online instructions) unplug monitor from PC and turn on. The ‘self-test’ indicates monitor working properly.

I plug it back in and manually turn on PC.

And damn it if it I don’t get a black screen, flashing cursor in the upper left-hand corner that makes me think it’s working, only to spit out “Error loading OS”. I put in my Windows Upgrade CD and it tells me that no previous version of Windows can be found.

Great. My Dell is over 5 years old, and in anticipation of a meltdown about a year ago I had installed a second 180 GB hard drive, which I copied a bunch of files over in case something like this happened. Am on the girlfriend’s (Mafalda) laptop now.

Is my original harddrive toast or what? How could I tell?

Press whatever key is appropriate (sometimes <del>, sometimes <DF2> or something else) at startup to go into the CMOS setup utility; can it even see the hard drive? It might just be that a cable needs reseating.

In addition to the advise above, make check your settings all over CMOS and BIOS. Something could have gotten corrupted. It may be Ok to just tell it to set everything back to defaults but try other stuff first. Make sure your primary drive is selected and set as the boot drive. After that, it is cable checking time which isn’t that hard if your case is easy to open. Pull those HD cables all the way out and the put them back in. You should have one power cable and one interface cable connected to the drive.

I’m in BIOS now… is that where I need to be? Or is CMOS setup utility something different?


Oh, and I’m using XP, have the case open, and access BIOS with the delete key during bootup.

CMOS setup and ‘BIOS’ are (in everyday terms) the same thing. Without knowing your BIOS type, I’m not sure where the hard drive settings will be; possibly under a category that says ‘basic setup’ - it should probably be set to autodetect the hard drives.

if it is, then the next step is to boot again and watch carefully for what drives the BIOS says it can detect (have your finger ready on the <pause> key if it flashes by too quickly to read (<esc> unpauses the process).

I encountered a similar problem on an XP machine a few weeks ago. I had plugged in a portable USB HDD and later rebooted. It turns out quite a few USB storage devices will alter your BIOS to make themselves the boot drive. Do you have a USB storage device?

OK, the “Dell Dimension 4100 Setup” does ask me if I want to change the CMOS settings upon exit.

At the top, my options are Main, Advanced, Security, Boot, and Exit. It’s hard for me to tell in here where it shows any of the drives.

Ringo, I do have USB ports, which I’ve used frequenlty for the digital cam and flash/jump drive, so any reconfiguration would be odd, but perhaps a possibility…?

There should be keys listed to flip through those screens and maybe pages within each one. The drive page may be Advanced. There should not be a lot of pages. Just read the navigation directions and look at everything.

The Main screen shows I’ve got BIOS Version A06.

Under Advanced, I’ve got IDE Configuration, which lists:

Primary IDE Master [WDC WD102BB]
Primary IDE Slave [WDC WD2000JB-00GVA0]
Secondary IDE Master [_NED DC-5800A]
Secondary IDE Slave [YAMAHA CRW2100E]

Dang, I hate typing on a laptop. I’m not sure if this is where I’m supposed to be looking.

When I entir Primary Master it says:

Drive Installed: WDC WD102BB
Type: Auto
JMaximum Capacity: EMPTY


The only other place maybe is the Boot ‘tab’ where it shows:

1st Boot Device [ATAPI CD ROM]
2nd Boot Device [ARMD-FDD]
3rd Boot Device [IDE-HDD]
4th Boot Device [Disabled]

Bah, I feel completely hardware/PC illiterate :frowning:

This part looks bad: JMaximum Capacity: EMPTY

It is there but something is wrong.

Can you autodetect it on the same screen? Also, put it at the top of the boot order.

Originally, I had put the XP Installation disk in and it booted up accordingly (into XP install). Before continuing, it said there was no previous version of windows detected and prompted me to put in a prior version (since I had the XP upgrade going). I decided to exit, and since, the new error message I’m getting in the upper left hand corner (cursor just below), is this:

NTLDR is missing
Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart

It sounds to me like the most likely cause of all this is a failed HD. However, it’s possible that you accidentally trashed all of the data on the drive. Is your XP install disc a full version or an upgrade version?

It’s the upgrade.

Upon the original “Error loading OS” I had put in and booted with the Upgrade Disk thinking there was a Repair option, but I quickly decided to exit before it went anywhere (or before I even started a re-install)… :frowning:

with the new error message you can try the fixes microsoft lists

Unbelievably, this morning the machine fired up. I did nothing to “fix” the problem last night. The fans work, so it wasn’t overheated, although the monitor/display still looks terrible, and it’s a little cranky/groggy navigating around. I did spend some time this morning moving more files over to the good drive. No files seem corrupt and progams run okay (outlook, excel, etc).

I noticed, to my surprise, that the original (main/primary) 40GB C: drive showed I had only 0.99GB remaining (although a mouse-over of the C drive in My Computer showed 0.53 remaining). I did a Disk Cleanup which removed 3 GB.

I’m not sure if I should defrag, turn it off again or not, or what. I’m completely baffled as to the real problem now.

First: Back up any essential documents/pictures/files etc to some removable media such as CD/DVD/USB flash drive or external disk; DO IT NOW.

After that, if you have your original XP install CD (won’t work if it’s one of those disk image based ones or a ‘restore CD’), then I would dig it out and run the system file checker - sfc /scannow from the command prompt. This will fix any Windows components that are .broken

So I’m not entirely safe simply moving them over to the other internal drive (F)? For retrieval later (a new PC)?

I do have the original XP upgrade CD and give it a try tonight (I run this from the Recovery portion of the Windows boot, or access this within windows?)

Thanks for your help and suggestions. I appreciate it!

No, you are not entirely safe moving them over to another drive and leaving that drive in the machine. (Really, to be reasonably secure about your data, you should have no less than 2 backups, geographically separated. It is not possible to have too many backups.) The chipset controlling the drives may be what is out of whack, and slowly damaging them all. In actuality, it is probably just the chips on the drive that are failing, or its moving parts. With 4 drives in a standard dell case, there is not much circulation around them, and they are all probably getting very hot, shortening all their lives.

Letting it sit overnight, and then it works is not that rare of a phenomenon. It was probably cooling down. At work, when a drive with customer data completely fails, the first thing that we do is take the drive out of the box, and put it in the freezer for a little while. When it has cooled, we take it out, put it in another box, and start trying to copy the data over. My estimate is that it helps about 75% of the time. After that, it goes to the expensive data recovery people, who will take the platters out of the current drive case, and put them in another one to try to get data off them.

I’m curious how long that is. Are you bringing down the Beta of the electronics?