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I have been having intermittent boot failures on my 3-year old pc lately. When I power it up, it sometimes can't detect my primary harddisk (SATA, and it is a Maxtor), and I get an error like 'DISK BOOT FAILURE - INSERT SYSTEM DISK AND PRESS ENTER'.

Usually, when I turn off my computer and boot it again, it can suddenly find the drive, but it still can't boot. I then have to go to the BIOS and re-set the disk as my primary hard disk and then it boots again (at least I think that fixes it, but that can be coincedence, as I have changed some random settings before in the BIOS and it boots again).

So, then it boots again, but a couple of days later, the problem can come back. Here is what I have tried:

  1. At first I thought it was the heat, being summer and all, my appartment gets pretty hot. But, it is cooler now, and I completely removed all the dust from inside my pc, and it doesn't get that hot actually, but still the problem persists. So I ruled that out.
  2. When opening my case to clean it, I checked the SATA and power cables. They were all connected fine.
  3. I have tried using the Seatools and Western Digital Diagnostics tools on both my harddrives (I have another SATA drive where I just store data). I ran full diagnostics but I don't recieve any errors, so I guess all sectors are just fine.
  4. I have tried enabled SMART monitoring in the BIOS, but none of the tools above seem to be able to read the SMART data...
  5. I have installed an anti-virus tool but nothing really came up, so I doubt it is a virus.

I have tried anything I can think of, except replacing the harddisk, but I don't want to buy a new harddisk when I'm not sure if my disk is failing. Could it be something else, for example, the motherboard or memory? If so, is there anyway to run some kind of diagnostics for this? I could update the BIOS, but I doubt that this is the problem, since I haven't installed any new hardware or software lately, so I can't see why this problem would suddenly come up. The mobo is an Asus A8N with a AMD 3800+ cpu, the failing disk is a SATA Maxtor, I don't know which type and I can't check it from here.

I would love to hear some suggestions. What do you think is likely the cause of this? Are there any recommended tools (preferably free) I could use for further diagnostics? Thanks!

EDIT: I eventually bought a new harddisk, installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 and so far all is well. I'm pretty sure it was the harddisk. Thanks all!

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If Col was correct please accept his answer. –  Diago Aug 31 '09 at 7:39
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

From what you've said it would have to be either the motherboard or the disk that's the problem, it's at too low a level to be software. I suppose you could try a bios update but I think the most likely source of the problem is the hard drive itself. The first thing you should do is take backups while you still can. Since it's an intermittent problem it's not too surprising that the diagnostics didn't find it. I think it might be time to bite the bullet and buy yourself a new hard drive.

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Yeah I might just borrow a harddisk somewhere and see if that fixes it. If not, it's time for a new mobo I'm afraid... :/ –  user8841 Aug 28 '09 at 14:36
    
I look after a network of 100+ pcs and have done for over a decade I've had dozens of hard drives fail and only two motherboards so I know which I'd check first. –  Col Aug 28 '09 at 16:25
    
yeah, that's my experience as well (though I've had only a fraction of pcs to deal with). Harddisks are pretty fragile. Anyway, I installed a new harddisk and so far so good. Thanks. –  user8841 Aug 31 '09 at 7:37
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I've had the same problem as you on an Asus motherboard (M2N-E) with an AMD Athlon64 3000+ processor.

The problem appeared every few weeks; sometimes nothing happened for more than a month. I replaced my hard-drive because it made some weird sounds and the whole "DISK BOOT FAILURE - INSERT SYSTEM DISK AND PRESS ENTER" problem went away for a while. It started up again with the new hard-drive. I think the problem is with the motherboard, but the problems are rare enough that I'm not bothered by them that much.

If the problem happens often enough, could you try to borrow a motherboard from someone? You could then try to boot up a few times. If you don't get any errors, then the hard-drive is ok, it's the mobo that's broken (my money's on the mobo being guilty).

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Interesting, sounds like the exact same problem. Strange thing is, all was well for the past 3 years but all of a sudden this occurred, making me believe that it is not a motherboard problem, though I can't rule it out completely. –  user8841 Aug 28 '09 at 14:35
    
Well, you'd be surprised how many things can go wrong for a motherboard. This is how mine started to go downhill: first, the Gigabyte Ethernet controller started flooding the network (I had to but a cheap NIC to replace it); second, it sometimes refused to get past POST, because it thought my CPU cooler didn't start (it did); then, the whole DISK BOOT FAILURE started. –  alex Aug 28 '09 at 14:44
    
I installed a new harddisk and so far so good. Though I must admit, everytime I boot it up I'm litteraly affraid it will give me the 'DISK BOOT FAILURE' message again :-) –  user8841 Aug 31 '09 at 7:39
    
Hope this works for you; I know what a pain it is to get that error. The first time I got it, I thought my hard drive was toast. That was not a good feeling! –  alex Aug 31 '09 at 7:41
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It might be worth testing the hard drive with SpinRite (http://www.grc.com/sr/spinrite.htm) - it sounds as if you have a failing drive.

However, I had a case where my PC kept 'losing' my second hard drive and in the end I found it was a loose SATA connection that was being knocked when I replaced the case on the PC.. I assume you've tried replacing the cables and checking all the connections?

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yeah I read about that tool. Too bad it ain't free, or that you can't at least try some of it functionality before you purchase it. I might consider this, though. –  user8841 Aug 28 '09 at 14:33
    
I think the idea behind it is that it is an "all or nothing" tool so it either works & you get your data back (drive fixed or at least working well enough to rescue data...) or it doesn't. Having checked out their site, they offer a 30 day money back guarantee so might be worth looking at anyway? grc.com/cs/licenseinfo.htm –  PhillC Sep 1 '09 at 8:46
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