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Old laptop can't see hard drive. Easy fixes?

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dragontology    441

My friend loaned me his laptop to take a look at it... I've built a couple computers and installed Windows from scratch and I can use Google, so  I suppose that makes me an expert. Or at least a computer repair guy. And I've done a bunch of custom firmware stuff on Android when I had one (or four), so I'm That Guy in the group. So he said the computer won't boot and won't recognize anything attached. All he told me.

 

I burned Windows 10 1709 on a DVD-R and figured I'd be reinstalling Windows, but the computer can't see its hard drive. Looked in the BIOS, and it literally says there is no hard drive.

 

Popped off the bottom panel and there is a hard drive, it's a WD 500GB laptop hard drive. Easily removed, I've got one of those "make your internal SATA drive an external drive" kits, hooked it up to that, plugged it into my laptop, and it came right up. Appears the computer has been factory reset recently as there's nothing custom about it and most of the space is free. Plugged it back into the computer and the computer still doesn't see the hard drive. Pins are all good on the drive, drive is firmly seated. If you've been in a laptop, and I've been in a few (just 2-3 actually), you know once you get the drive in there, it's in there good.

 

It's an old Dell Inspiron, I haven't got the model handy (should have taken a picture of the BIOS). Some crappy Pentium, 4GB RAM, came with Windows 8, upgraded to 8.1. Friend wants me to put 10 on it.

 

I'm thinking there's some kind of physical damage I'm not experienced enough to work on. A couple keys look like cigarettes were put out on them, and the whole thing smells like it's been around heavy chain smokers.

 

My friend is going to take it back tomorrow. I told him the motherboard/BIOS isn't seeing the hard drive, and he thinks he may be able to test for that. I don't know how, as the SATA power and data port is soldered right onto the board. My best solution was a live Linux distro on either a CD/DVD, or better yet, a USB 3.0 flash drive. Samsung makes some nice metal flash drives that have good r/w speeds. I wouldn't want to run an OS off of one, but if it can't read a perfectly good (?) hard drive, it would be cheaper than dumping it for a Chromebook, which was my first recommendation.

 

Just fishing for ideas, really.

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Grinch    178

I may have missed you mention it but have you tested the drive to ensure it isn't in failure state or tried another drive in the laptop?

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Kelxin    208

"Old laptop can't see hard drive. Easy fixes?"

 

New laptop.  Easy answers.

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T3X4S    4,530
24 minutes ago, Kelxin said:

"Old laptop can't see hard drive. Easy fixes?"

 

New laptop.  Easy answers.

This ^

 

Here's the deal - 

Be nice to your friend - tell him/her to dig deep down into his/her pockets and go get a new HDD.
Put Win10 on it - and tell your friend how easy it is to backup a computer.

If the drive is damaged (and it sounds like it might be)  EVEN IF YOU ARE ABLE TO get Win10 on it - how reliable is it ?

Is it really worth your time ?

 

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dragontology    441
1 hour ago, T3X4S said:

Here's the deal - 

Be nice to your friend - tell him/her to dig deep down into his/her pockets and go get a new HDD.
Put Win10 on it - and tell your friend how easy it is to backup a computer.

If the drive is damaged (and it sounds like it might be)  EVEN IF YOU ARE ABLE TO get Win10 on it - how reliable is it ?

Is it really worth your time ?
 

 

3 hours ago, Grinch said:

I may have missed you mention it but have you tested the drive to ensure it isn't in failure state or tried another drive in the laptop?

Drive is fine. I don't have another drive to put in the laptop. But the drive was fine when I hooked it up to my laptop using an external cable.

 

Problem exists between the hard drive and BIOS/chipset/whatever. I don't think another hard drive will help, since another computer was perfectly capable of reading the hard drive. Sorry I wasn't clearer on that point.

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+DevTech    1,223

- if BIOS was reset see if there are any SATA settings

 

- if by RESET you meant clean O/S then do a CMOS RESET on the BIOS. For laptops that often means unplugging a tiny wire going to the tiny button battery and shorting the contacts you unplugged it from. Static electricity, lightning strikes in neighborhood etc can cause CMOS to go wonky

 

- If you have already done the above, the remember there are two SATA channels on a laptop. Unplug the DVD drive and plug the hard drive there to verify if it is just a bad connector or SATA channel

 

- Also, make a USB boot drive and then see if laptop recognizes it on a USB port. That will test the power on BIOS

 

- Make a Memtest or Linux Live CD to boot and confirm there are no other hardware issues

 

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dragontology    441

I did see the battery, but I didn't see a wire I could unplug. Can't I just pop the battery out for 5 seconds and put it back in?

 

There may be a second SATA channel for the laptop, but there's only the one plug for the hard drive. Didn't see any SATA settings in BIOS. There were boot settings, that's about it. Very basic. I could take another poke at it.

 

I actually have a boot flash. The Microsoft Media Creation Tool made it. It's a 32GB (maybe 64?) flash drive, USB 3. Has Windows 10 1709 on it.

 

Not too familiar with Memtest but I can look that up. No stranger to Linux but not a guru either. I can get around in Ubuntu. I'm not (very) daunted by the command line, though I've been spoiled by GUI... do live Linux distros typically come with diagnostic tools, or is there a specific one you recommend?

 

I also couldn't get it to boot off the CD (well, DVD, I have a Win10 1709 DVD-R I tried) but I know OEMs are real funny with disc booting anyway, it's probably a setting in BIOS. My experience with neutral BIOS (as in, motherboard from Amazon/Newegg) is that they'll boot from a disc if they see one, but OEMs (Dell, Asus, etc.) tend to tuck it away, pain in the neck.

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T3X4S    4,530

Sometimes grabbing an updated BIOS will provide more options [in the BIOS].

 

I didnt see where you updated the BIOS, have you done so ?

 

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+DevTech    1,223
2 hours ago, dragontology said:

I did see the battery, but I didn't see a wire I could unplug. Can't I just pop the battery out for 5 seconds and put it back in?

 

There may be a second SATA channel for the laptop, but there's only the one plug for the hard drive. Didn't see any SATA settings in BIOS. There were boot settings, that's about it. Very basic. I could take another poke at it.

 

I actually have a boot flash. The Microsoft Media Creation Tool made it. It's a 32GB (maybe 64?) flash drive, USB 3. Has Windows 10 1709 on it.

 

Not too familiar with Memtest but I can look that up. No stranger to Linux but not a guru either. I can get around in Ubuntu. I'm not (very) daunted by the command line, though I've been spoiled by GUI... do live Linux distros typically come with diagnostic tools, or is there a specific one you recommend?

 

I also couldn't get it to boot off the CD (well, DVD, I have a Win10 1709 DVD-R I tried) but I know OEMs are real funny with disc booting anyway, it's probably a setting in BIOS. My experience with neutral BIOS (as in, motherboard from Amazon/Newegg) is that they'll boot from a disc if they see one, but OEMs (Dell, Asus, etc.) tend to tuck it away, pain in the neck.

I thought I was being clear. Try not to overthink any of this. Your thinking is not based in reality of how computers work so trying to figure out an explanation will just muddy the waters and extend the time to fix the issue.

 

1. RESET the CMOS. If you can pull the CMOS battery, then do that. You will also need to pull the main battery. Then with BOTH batteries disconnected, press the POWER-ON button for 20 seconds.

 

2. The second SATA channel is being used by the DVD. Pull out the DVD drive. If you don't see a STANDARD SATA to plug the hard drive into, then the DVD will be encased in a metal "CADDY" that you need to remove the DVD from so you can insert the Hard Drive into it.

 

3. OEMs are NOT funny about disk booting. If you can't boot from the DVD the BIOS settings are wrong or you burned the disc wrong or it provides a clue about what is wrong with the laptop.

 

4. Download any version of Memtest. Burn it. Boot from it. Watch it run, run it for a few hours with no RED error messages.

 

5. The point of booting Linux was initially the simplest way to verify that an O/S can boot to a graphical desktop. It shows CPU, graphics, RAM are all somewhat working.

 

6. There are all sorts of diagnostic boot CDs - After you have reported back on items #1 to #5, we can consider further investigations.

 

 

 

 

 

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+DevTech    1,223

Please post the Dell Service Tag so we can look up the exact specs of the laptop.

 

It should be on a white sticker right in the center bottom of the case with 7 letters and numbers.

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+Mando    5,113
4 hours ago, DevTech said:

Please post the Dell Service Tag so we can look up the exact specs of the laptop.

 

It should be on a white sticker right in the center bottom of the case with 7 letters and numbers.

yep, if you get that to the posts, we can point you to driver files and any BIOS updates. It should also be present inside of the BIOS of said laptop (landing page on old dells preUEFI) , if the sticker has lost the numbers. 

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