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I own a 4-5 year old Dell Dimension E510 with Windows XP: Media Center Edition. I have 2 drives installed:

  1. C Drive: Windows XP: Media Center Edition
  2. G Drive: 2 partitions:
    1. Windows 7 (beta)
    2. Windows XP (professional)

That is also the order they are connected. The C Drive is my primary drive. When I attempt to boot the computer, the bios loading screen appears normally; the progress bar moves and it's fine. The very next page, however, supposed to be a boot choice.

When I installed Windows 7 onto the G Drive in context of the C drive it added a boot selector to the C drive's boot sequence. It gives me the option of booting Windows 7 or Windows XP: Media Center Edition.

However, my problem is now this: After the bios screen I previously mentioned, instead of a boot selector, I receive the following error:

A disk read error occurred.
Press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart.

The drive is spinning up normally. I hear no odd noises/clicks/scraping coming from it, even after disabling the other drive to listen to it carefully.

According to me, it's a boot sector issue. I have never experienced this before, but maybe during a recent shutdown, Windows XP: MCE errored out and ruined the boot sector.

Dilemma! I don't have the Windows XP: MCE disc, because it was installed by the factory. I have accessed the hidden partition on the drive before (you hit a key combination on the bios screen and it comes up with an interface to fix your drive). However, I don't want to reformat the drive (which is what the interface gives me the option to do). I want to possibly fix the boot sector.

How can I achieve that?

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Turns out it wasn't a boot sector error. How did I diagnose it? Well, it's quite simple, really. The disk makes loud scratching noises whenever I run it now. So I guess the problem was more along the lines of a hardware issue!

Thanks for your suggestions; I guess I'll just see if I can get it replaced under warranty. :)

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disks that make noises, that is never a good thing – Jeff Atwood Sep 4 '09 at 17:05

If I was you, bung in the Windows 7 (or a vista, but 7 is better as that is what you are using) install disk and go in to setup. There are a bunch of tools there that can diagnose many common start up problems including boot sector.

If that fails, go in to command prompt (again from the Windows 7 disk) and type "chkdsk /f" (without the quotes).

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If the first suggestion does not work, you could try Spin Rite

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It's a bit of a cliche but I'd try putting an ubuntu live cd in it to see if the disk will mount. At least that way you can copy your data off before you do anything too drastic.

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