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Old 2007-12-15, 16:31   Link #1
xris
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Dell laptop problem, "No boot sector"

I have a Dell Inspiron 6000 running Windows XP SP2. I get the following error message when I now try and boot.
No boot sector on internal hard drive

No bootable devices--strike F1 to retry boot, F2 for setup utility
The laptop had been working fine until this issue. My guess is that it's either (i) the boot sector has been corrupted or (ii) that the hard disc has died.

If (i) then it should be possible to fix by reinstalling Windows.
Since the system was pre-installed by Dell, it didn't come with a Install disc but I have a Windows XP Home Edition CD which I could use (I have the Dell service key so it should be possible to rebuild the OS).

The main reason I do not want to do this (at least without trying some other options first) is that I would like to try and recover the data on the hard disc if at all possible.

If (ii) then I guess it's a simple case of replacing the disc and rebuilding Windows.
Before I do this I would like to ensure that it really is a disc problem and not simply a corrupt boot sector.

Spoiler tag to save space.
Spoiler for Other things I've tried:

The above implies to me that the partition tables have been corrupted (i.e. boot sector corruption) and if tried to set up Windows then it would wipe out any data on the disc.

So my question.
Does a utility exist that can repair a corrupted partition table? Is it possible to build a boot CD with such a utility that can inspect the hard disc and check to see if it's possible to rebuild without destroying the data on the disc? I've had Partition Magic suggested as a possible way to do this, any comments on this idea.

Any other suggestions welcome. If I need to obtain a new hard disc and/or simply rebuild Windows from scratch then fair enough, as mentioned I would like to aviod this if there is an alternative.

BTW, the hard disc is a Toshiba MK4026GAX (HDD2193) 40Gb
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Old 2007-12-15, 17:52   Link #2
WanderingKnight
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Quote:
If I now select "R" (Recovery Console) I get the following message
Microsoft Windows XP(TM) Recovery Console.
The Recovery Console provides system repair and recovery functionality.
Type EXIT to quit the Recovery Console and restart the computer.
The path of file specified is not valid.
C:\>
Note: If I try anything while at the C prompt I just get the "The path of file specified is not valid." message.
Perhaps it's stupid of me to ask this, but since you didn't mention it explicitly, I'm wondering if you tried entering "fixmbr" (or was it "fixboot"?), which supposedly should make the Windows CD attempt to repair the boot sector.
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Old 2007-12-15, 18:11   Link #3
xris
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WanderingKnight View Post
Perhaps it's stupid of me to ask this, but since you didn't mention it explicitly, I'm wondering if you tried entering "fixmbr" (or was it "fixboot"?), which supposedly should make the Windows CD attempt to repair the boot sector.
Ah yes, I did try both of these. Thanks for reminding me as I thought there was something else I wanted to add.

FIXBOOT
C:\>fixboot C:

FIXBOOT cannot find the system drive, or the drive
specified is not valid.
FIXMBR
C:\fixmbr
FIXMBR could not detect a master boot record signature.

** CAUTION **

This computer appears to have a non-standard or invalid master
boot record.

FIXMBR may damage your partition tables if you
proceed.

This could cause all the partitions on the current hard disk
to become inaccessible.

If you are not having problems accessing your drive,
do not continue.

Are you sure you want to write a new MBR?
Due to the message, I didn't want to "experiment" with this at this point in time.
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Old 2007-12-15, 18:23   Link #4
SeijiSensei
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I recommend (if you have another computer available) downloading a Knoppix CD image and booting from that. It will discover all your active hard drives and mount them onto the desktop. You should be able to see what's working and what's not and extract any informaiton that you need onto another medium (flash drive, maybe, or a network drive if you're on a net).

Knoppix also comes with the world's supply of disk management utilities; just browse the menus to see what's available.
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Old 2007-12-15, 18:24   Link #5
WanderingKnight
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I don't know of any specific wizardry software solutions, but if data is essential to you and you have a DVD-burning drive in the laptop, I have to make the eternal suggestion of saving your data through a Linux distribution. You could try running something like Damn Small Linux (which is 50 MB in size and can be booted from a USB flash drive), mounting your drive on the system and see if you can access your files.

With that, you can also make sure of the state of the hard drive. If it can't recognize it, then something's wrong with the hardware. On a related note, how old is the laptop? There's the 6-Month Period of Death for new hard drives, so if the laptop was relatively new (< 6 months) then the hard drive could have been faulty from the beginning.

EDIT: Wah, Seiji beat me to the Linux tip
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Old 2007-12-15, 18:53   Link #6
xris
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Thanks both of you. I'll give the Knoppix CD a try during the coming week and report back.

To answer some of the other questions mentioned. I do have a Windows XP desktop (which is my main PC) and the desktop and laptop were networked together via a Dell router. The laptop is 3+ years old if I remember.

One of the reasons I want to try and recover the disc is because I don't want the hassle of rebuilding the system which will mean trying to remember how to set everything up again
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Old 2007-12-15, 19:09   Link #7
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Just a side note: once you do have your laptop fixed, you may want to make imaging your hard drive a regular practice (at least once a month). This will save you from having to reinstall Windows and reinstall all your programs from scratch in case you do have future issues.

Drive XML is a free program that will let you image your hard drive. I've read a few recommendations for it, though I had absolutely no luck with it on my own laptop. I'm using an older version of Paragon DriveBackup on my laptop instead that came free with a computer mag, actually.
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Old 2007-12-15, 20:29   Link #8
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I read about a similar case where somebody lost the MBR after using Partition Magic, and the suggestion was the same as the comment on using Linux Knoppix.

Another way to retrieve all data is to pull that harddrive out, connect it to another computer and boot from that other computer. Getdataback or PC file inspector utilities should allow for recovery of contents from your laptop HDD. I have personally used Getdataback one time when my MBR could not be repaired... and that was frustrating.
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Old 2007-12-16, 20:56   Link #9
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On a related note, do you happen to play Eve Online? Because the latest version deletes Windows' boot.ini.

http://myeve.eve-online.com/devblog.asp?a=blog&bid=526
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Old 2007-12-17, 04:34   Link #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eviltape View Post
On a related note, do you happen to play Eve Online? Because the latest version deletes Windows' boot.ini.

http://myeve.eve-online.com/devblog.asp?a=blog&bid=526
While it's true that they did accidentally take out people's boot.ini with their patch (it's fixed now), would boot.ini affect what the Windows Recovery CD can do?

The fact that a Windows installer disk reads the whole drive as "unformatted" seems to indicate a problem with the disk itself having lost information particulars. Possibly damage to the MBR, rather than a windows boot file being damaged or deleted.

The only other suggestion I can make is that if you hook the drive into another Windows XP computer, when you boot up, windows will automatically attempt to repair the drive. Dunno if it will work here, but that's how I fixed a non-bootable drive for one of my desktops once. Might not be a viable option though, since sometimes they stick those warrenty void if removed stickers on some components in laptops.
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Old 2007-12-17, 04:42   Link #11
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Once you have backed up all your data it would be worth it to run a diagnostic on it.

Tosh's site is a nightmare to find stuff, I was looking for a boot to dos and check the disk utility but I'm not too sure what it is...
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Old 2007-12-17, 05:29   Link #12
Jinto
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I'ld clone the drive, and try the fixmbr option. Chances are good that this might fix the problem. If the drive was not formated in FAT(32) but NTFS chances are high that fixmbr finds the second copy of the mbr on the disk and copies it to the start sectors assuming there was just one partition on the drive.

Since you mentioned Partition Magic... that software should be able to create drive images.
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Old 2007-12-17, 14:53   Link #13
Sides
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Running
Code:
Fixmbr
fixboot
bootcfg /rebuild
should fix your system. But honestly get a new drive, unless you're 100% that the corruption wasn't cause due to a hardware failure.
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Old 2007-12-17, 17:18   Link #14
xris
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Thanks for the replies
Quote:
Originally Posted by jpwong View Post
The only other suggestion I can make is that if you hook the drive into another Windows XP computer, when you boot up, windows will automatically attempt to repair the drive. Dunno if it will work here, but that's how I fixed a non-bootable drive for one of my desktops once. Might not be a viable option though, since sometimes they stick those warrenty void if removed stickers on some components in laptops.
The problem here the connector on the disc drive. The hard disc in the laptop utilises some sort of 44 pin connector (which deals with both signal and power) while my Desktop (the only other PC I have) has the usual 40 pin IDE connector with separate power connector.

So in other words, I can't plug the laptop disc in any other system since the connectors do not match.
Quote:
Originally Posted by grey_moon View Post
Once you have backed up all your data it would be worth it to run a diagnostic on it.
As mentioned, I have run a Dell Diagnostic CD and it can read, write and seek to the hard disc OK. How good a diagnostic it is I do not know but at this point in time there is no indication that the disc is faulty (apart from the fact that it can't find the boot sector).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jinto Lin View Post
I'ld clone the drive, and try the fixmbr option. Chances are good that this might fix the problem. If the drive was not formated in FAT(32) but NTFS chances are high that fixmbr finds the second copy of the mbr on the disk and copies it to the start sectors assuming there was just one partition on the drive.
Again, the problem is that I can't clone the disc since the laptop doesn't boot and I can't connect it to the Desktop.

The drive should be NTFS.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sides View Post
Running
Code:
Fixmbr
fixboot
bootcfg /rebuild
should fix your system. But honestly get a new drive, unless you're 100% that the corruption wasn't cause due to a hardware failure.
My worries with FIXMBR is the rather worrying message it gives when I run it (see my post above). Not having ever run it before I don't know if the message is something I should be worried about or if it's just an indication that while it can't find the MBR it will happily find another copy and recover the disc OK.

If it is just a case of running FIXMBR, great, but someone will need to give me some confidence that it won't make the drive even more unrecoverable (as the message seems to imply might well happen).
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Old 2007-12-17, 18:49   Link #15
Sides
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xris View Post
If it is just a case of running FIXMBR, great, but someone will need to give me some confidence that it won't make the drive even more unrecoverable (as the message seems to imply might well happen).
Come on show some guts ^^
IIRC i tried using fixmbr a few times, worked once or twice. But the last time used it i ended up reinstalled Windows and imported the profile folders from the previous installation. That was before i knew about the bootcfg command, but than again i did hade a funny setup, windows 98se on C: drive, win2k on F: drive and winxp on M: drive. You should be fine.
If you want to hook up your 2.5in drive to your desktop computer, either get a adapter or an external case for 2.5in drives.
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Old 2007-12-17, 19:54   Link #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sides View Post
If you want to hook up your 2.5in drive to your desktop computer, either get a adapter or an external case for 2.5in drives.
I took this approach when I needed to fix my daughter's laptop. Here's the cable I used: http://www.cablestogo.com/product.as...3004&sku=17705; $10 plus shipping. I'd send you mine, since I don't need it any more, but you can probably scrounge one up in the UK before mine would arrive!
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Old 2007-12-18, 00:53   Link #17
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Maybe mentioned, but, if your BIOS supports it, you can try booting using an external hard disk (or a USB flash drive), and check your laptop disk after that. As I haven't tried that method before, I cannot say if they would require any special methods to start up from those. But, if you have an access to USB drives, you can at least try that without doing any modification to your existing system, and be able to connect to your disk to retrieve any necessary data. Then you can do what is needed without any restriction.
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Old 2007-12-19, 06:10   Link #18
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Depending on the value of data on the drive I would first consider making a clone of the drive before you try to do anything with it (by booting from a linux cd and cloning the drive to an external hd, for example). This way, you have an additional security if a restoration application actually damages your data even more.

I've been recently trying to restore some files from a failing drive and tested some restoration utilities. The one that made the best impression was Active Undelete. It seemed to find more files faster than other utilites and was really easy use.
Most importantly to your case, it can scan the disk bit by bit and "Recovers files from deleted, damaged, formatted or reformatted partitions" plus "Scans partitions damaged by virus or with damaged MBR".
There's a demo you can try to see if there's anything still recoverable but you need a running windows to use it.
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Old 2007-12-19, 12:56   Link #19
xris
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SeijiSensei View Post
I took this approach when I needed to fix my daughter's laptop. Here's the cable I used: http://www.cablestogo.com/product.as...3004&sku=17705; $10 plus shipping. I'd send you mine, since I don't need it any more, but you can probably scrounge one up in the UK before mine would arrive!
I went down to a nearby Maplins and picked up a adaptor cable (as it happens is seems identical to the one you pictured). 2.5inch to 3.5inch Hard Drive Adaptor

Unfortunately, when I had a closer look at my disc and the adaptor I noticed they were in fact incompatible My disc (Toshiba MK4026GAX) has a 44 pin connector set out in a 2 x 22 grid, spacing 2 mm between pins but it's not an IDC connector (in fact I'm not sure what this type of connector is called). Sigh, that was a waste of time.
Quote:
Originally Posted by anime_layer View Post
Depending on the value of data on the drive I would first consider making a clone of the drive before you try to do anything with it (by booting from a linux cd and cloning the drive to an external hd, for example). This way, you have an additional security if a restoration application actually damages your data even more.

I've been recently trying to restore some files from a failing drive and tested some restoration utilities. The one that made the best impression was Active Undelete. It seemed to find more files faster than other utilites and was really easy use.
Most importantly to your case, it can scan the disk bit by bit and "Recovers files from deleted, damaged, formatted or reformatted partitions" plus "Scans partitions damaged by virus or with damaged MBR".
There's a demo you can try to see if there's anything still recoverable but you need a running windows to use it.
As it happens I downloaded the Utlimate Boot CD and included in the utilities is Active@ Partition Recovery.

I now have a CD that I can boot, from it I can select
Filesystem Tools > Partition Tools > Active@ Partition Recovery V2.1. (Demo)

UBCD then builds a memory based environment to run in and kicks off Active@ Partition Recovery. Trouble now is, what do I do It isn't exactly obvious from the interface Active@ Partition Recovery presents to me (see pr_guide.pdf page 5, Figure 2.3). All I get is an empty section on the left under "Drives" and on the right section all the Physical drive details are set to "0".

If you have run it before, then some guidance would be appreciated
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Old 2007-12-19, 13:29   Link #20
Sides
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xris View Post
I went down to a nearby Maplins and picked up a adaptor cable (as it happens is seems identical to the one you pictured). 2.5inch to 3.5inch Hard Drive Adaptor

Unfortunately, when I had a closer look at my disc and the adaptor I noticed they were in fact incompatible My disc (Toshiba MK4026GAX) has a 44 pin connector set out in a 2 x 22 grid, spacing 2 mm between pins but it's not an IDC connector (in fact I'm not sure what this type of connector is called). Sigh, that was a waste of time.

MK4026GAX manual (pdf) the connector looks like every 2.5" HDD, the pitch should be 2mm on a 44pin cable/connector, 2.54mm on the 40pin.
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