TECH SUPPORT QUESTION

If any readers could offer me guidance on a hardware problem with my PC I'd be most appreciative, although obviously the anonymous nature of internet readership places you under no obligation to do so. I will try to be succinct.

I build my own PCs and run Windows XP. Four days ago, I had what I believe was a hardware failure. System was unresponsive and unable to boot even in safe mode. I removed the HDD (3 year old WD Raptor, which have a notoriously high burnout rate) and tested it with my laptop via an external HD dock. It appears to be a write off (unable to format, bad sectors, etc). So I grabbed another drive – for some reason I have about 9 laying around my office – formatted it clean, and attempted to do a fresh install of XP with the new drive. No other components changed.

I got halfway through the install and at the first reboot I go into an endless loop of trying to resume the installation but being unable to do so. I can't make any keyboard inputs (unresponsive) even though the generic USB drivers supposedly loaded in the first part of the install. So it just loops through "Press any key to boot from CD/DVD…" to restarting. I disabled all boot options other than 1) the DVD and 2) the HDD.

I'm flummoxed. The reason I'm suspecting a hardware problem (mobo?) is that I've never heard of being unable to do a clean install on a clean hard drive before. WTF?

Any suggestions welcome. Thanks in advance.

17 thoughts on “TECH SUPPORT QUESTION”

  • Sounds to me like something is wrong with your motherboard. I suspect the drive controller (which would also explain why your old HD got fucked). Time to head over to newegg.com and buy a new mobo.

  • Mobo would be my first guess as well, but check your power supply while you're at it. A few months back I lost a HDD and a stick of RAM due to weird power fluctuations.

  • Before you replace the motherboard, try removing any non-essential cards you might have installed – sound, network, or whatever – and see if it'll boot without those. If you have more than one memory stick, try it with only one installed. If you have an integrated video chip on the motherboard and a video card, take out the card and use the onboard video. It sounds motherboard-related, but it might be one of your peripherals fuxxoring things.

  • I'm guessing none of the above. There is some kind of setting in the BIOS about how the motherboard addresses the hard drives or something. And I kind of recall that there is some effect of this when you try to install Windows, where you have to set this thing for the old-style "legacy" setting while installing Windows. Once it is installed, you can change it to the more advanced setting.

  • Hi.

    Just to add to the confusion, I had the exact same error a few months ago, where I thought the problem was a bad hard drive, then when a hard drive swap failed to fix the problem, I went to the Motherboard.

    It turnes out the problem was actually a bad stick of RAM, and apparently RAM can fail in such a way that it utterly corrupts a hard drive or burns it out. This one, I couldn't explain, having had to go to a repair shop, but the fix was a) new stick of RAM to replace the old, and b) new HDD.

    The Mobo and power supply were not at fault.

  • Nathan Wrigley says:

    I've run into this problem before and in my case it was a limitation with Windows correctly configuring a hard drive's parameters. The BIOS often attempts to auto-detect the disk mode by reading the MBR partition table. Windows can fudge up and cause it to be detected in large mode. This basically means that your hard drive will just not be detected at all.

    To correct this, try manually setting the parameters in your BIOS. The setting you should be most concerned about is "hard drive access mode" which you will likely need to set to LBA. Of course, check the manufacturers specs first.

    If this doesn't work, I would also try booting with the keyboard and mouse unplugged and see if this makes any difference.

  • from my boyfriend, a computer consultant: as mentioned above, remove all non-essential items – cards, modem cards – so that all you have up are your video card and one stick of RAM. Download memtest86, burn that to a CD, then boot on that CD and let it test your single stick of RAM. If it fails, take out that stick and put in your other stick of RAM (if you have 2 sticks, ie test them one at a time) and if that second RAM stick fails, then you're probably looking at a Motherboard or processor failure because it's unlikely 2 sticks of RAM will fail at the same time. Since it's hard to determine whether it's the Motherboard or the processor it might be worth the trouble to replace both. Most of the above suggestions – bio settings for the hard drive being set to autodetect, etc. – are good, in my professional opinion. I just wanted to point out the approach of testing each particular part in order to eliminate, one by one, the possible culprit, and to test the easy stuff first. It's a good trouble-shooting technique in general as well as your specific case, of course. Daphne here: hope I transcribed this as dictated. Any misspellings may be blamed on my computer ignorance.

  • This sounds almost exactly like a RAM problem I had at work a couple weeks ago. I'd also suggest clearing and (if that doesn't work) updating the BIOS.

  • Thank you kindly for your suggestions and free advice. I re-formatted the new HD (the Raptor is toast, I'm afraid) and I will remove all cards/RAM and start over from square one tonight. If I can't detect an obvious problem with any of those components I'm just going to buy a new mobo. The $75 isn't worth much more of my time and effort to avoid.

  • And oddly enough, I CAN make keyboard inputs in the BIOS. As soon as I exit into the regular startup environment, nada. That's what's so weird about this – I know the USB keyboard drivers have loaded.

  • Ed – I'm late to the party, but is your new drive significantly larger or newer than your old drive? I've seen some older MOBOs have issues correctly writing the boot sector to hard drives that came out a significant time after the last BIOS update (ie, mobo is no longer supported). In pariticular, I had a mobo that couldn't write the boot sector on any drive larger than 80GB, despite the fact that it officially supported drives much larger. Everything else worked, but it could not boot off that drive.

    On second thought, I guess I don't know if it wasn't writing correctly, it could also have easily just not read the boot sector correctly too. I never tested it across other mobos to see.

    Anyway, good luck!

  • Oh and make sure that "legacy USB support" is enabled in the BIOS if your mobo has that option. That might fix the usb recognition issue. That feature specifically is for pre-boot USB keyboard/mouse support (I believe it just emulates PS/2 inputs for the pre-boot environment).

  • This may be of some help.

    Over the course the past 12 months we have had several computers boot as far as the XP or WIN2K splash screen, then reboot.
    Result of testing:
    The Antec Power supply will restart while booting past the Mother Board to the peripherals IE., hard drives, disc drives, or PCI cards.

  • This will be no help whatsoever: Wow, Ed, I appreciated your intelligence before now, but I never knew you were also a tech-weenie. Now I'm even more in awe.

  • Ed,

    I am unable to confirm from your original post if you had HDD as the first boot option or the DVD. Given the first stage of installation is already done, you might try setting the only boot option to be HDD.

    I have had trouble installing a fresh install of XP on a new harddrive but the problem has almost always been a SATA drive or SATA HDD controller for which vanilla XP does not have proper drivers or fucked up CAB files in the XP installer.

    Good luck,
    -ag

Comments are closed.