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My cousin gave me her laptop to "fix a virus" she had on it.

I got home, turned it on and found that when starting up the computer gets stuck at the Windows Vista load bar cycling forever. It doesn't go beyond that.

I reboot and try and enter safemode and get the same thing. Same with last known good config...

When rebooting and trying to use a repair disk I created, it loads up the files and leaves me with a black screen and cursor. I cannot right click or do anything.

I ran the Inspiron diagnosis software and had a few hard drive errors come about. Would a bad hard drive cause this? Could it be a bad windows start up file?

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A corrupted hard drive could definitely cause issues like this. Since you are unable to boot even to a recovery disk, and Dell Diagnostics is giving you warnings, that indicates that it is more than just that particular Vista installation.

I would recommend using a hard drive analysis tool to check the drive for errors. Most hard drive manufacturers have bootable disk images you can download to boot off of and check the hard drive without having to boot into Windows. If files critical to the boot-up process have been damaged, that could prevent Windows from booting successfully.

If you determine that the hard drive is indeed corrupted, you will need to buy a replacement. Since the Dell Diagnostics indicate that there is a hard drive error, this will most likely be the case. If you want to recover the data from the hard drive, you will need to find software that can help you with that.

If you can manage to boot into a Windows Recovery Console, you could use chkdsk to fix the disk (to the extent possible), allowing you to copy off files. Failing that, see if a Linux Live CD can successfully boot - I haven't personally used it, but Ubuntu Rescue Edition may do the trick. Otherwise, you may need to turn to something else. I use SpinRite for this, which is fantastic software but not free. There probably exists a free alternative; you would have to do some googling.

If you need help determining what type of hard drive to get to replace this one with, let us know.

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I appreciate the quick response. How would a program like SpinRite help me in this situation? Would it possibly fix the drive and allow me to boot in, or how would the data be recovered? –  Paul Lovato Sep 5 '10 at 2:45
    
Programs like SpinRight attempt to recover the damaged sectors of the disk. It does not recover them to another disk, but instead, tries to repair the existing disk itself, allowing you to subsequently copy data off. There is other disk recovery software which performs a similar process but saves the recovered data to an external drive. If you use software like SpinRite, it could potentially repair the disk far enough to allow you to boot into Windows (or preferably to a system recovery disk). –  nhinkle Sep 5 '10 at 3:35
    
    
Much appreciated for the information! –  Paul Lovato Sep 5 '10 at 5:11
    
Happy to help; I hope you get it working somehow! Don't forget to update your question as you find out more information. –  nhinkle Sep 5 '10 at 5:22
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