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I have an old (2006 manufacture date) Western Digital Caviar SE 250 GB with a SATA interface that I pulled out of a system that wouldn't boot. Further testing revealed that plugging in that drive into another known good system, with another drive set as the main drive prevented the system from booting and be stuck in the boot sequence and the drive would 'click' repeatedly.

Now, if I was to plug in the drive after post POST, either in BIOS or in an OS, it detects. In Gsmartcontrol, the drive shows a lot of prefailure or old age (well, all flags are one or the other) related flags. It passes the quick self check, but the full one fails. Drive appears visible to the OS, as are the contents, but i didn't bother to check if the contents were retrivable (since it was a bare OS install).

So, why would a drive having what's obviously mechanical failure keep a system from posting? I'd be willing to run any (free) tests I could run on a linux system if need be, but this seems lower level. Electrical/system failure is contraindicated by the drive apparently working fine after the system boots, but there's no other reason for it to stop the system from booting.

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It may have to do with the BIOS attempting to report size/health of all drives attached, and the BIOS being less error tolerant than an Operating System gets stuck... Are there any options for a 'quick post' that might help get the BIOS ignoring anything but the boot drive? –  Nick Josevski Sep 21 '11 at 1:00
Not on the system i'm using to test it, i'm afraid. I set the new drive lowest on the boot order to try to get around that. –  Journeyman Geek Sep 21 '11 at 1:05
Further testing revealed that plugging in that drive into another known good system, with another drive set as the main drive prevented the system from booting and be stuck in the boot sequence - Define "set as the main drive". I assume you mean in the BIOS correct? Check to make sure that it is still set as the boot device after you plug in the bad drive. –  Bobson Sep 21 '11 at 2:53
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3 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Further testing revealed that plugging in that drive into another known good system, with another drive set as the main drive prevented the system from booting and be stuck in the boot sequence

This part sounds like your BIOS is changing the boot device without your realizing it.

Some BIOSes allow you to specify a drive by its position in the hard-drive list as below (eg HDD-1, HDD-2, etc.):

enter image description here

Some BIOSes let you specify a specific drive by its name:

enter image description here

Some BIOSes let you specify a single boot device per device type:

enter image description here

For such BIOSes, you need to separately specify the specific device of that type if there are more than one (eg multiple HDs, multiple CD/DVD drives, etc.):

enter image description here

What happens is that if you plug a new drive in, sometimes a BIOS will change the order of the drives or reset the boot device list, so you need to make sure to specify the correct device again.

As a result, what is probably happening is that when you plug the bad drive in, the BIOS changes the boot device from the good drive to the new drive, thus causing the boot to block on it. Simply change it back to the good drive.

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you might want to merge both answers. They're both good, but in general, SO convention is one answer per question. Considering the amount of effort involved, i'd likely think one of these answers is correct. –  Journeyman Geek Sep 21 '11 at 3:29
Fixing the boot order worked. Merging the two answers should give a canonical answer to what one should do in the situation. Thanks! –  Journeyman Geek Sep 21 '11 at 3:51
Sorry; they are separate answers, with different steps to address different issues (both of which were potentially the problem you were experiencing), so I thought it made sense that way. –  Bobson Sep 21 '11 at 4:10
The reasoning behind the one answer per question convention - in case i've upvoted both answers, since they address possible causes. I suppose these count as 'radically different answers' - my bad –  Journeyman Geek Sep 21 '11 at 4:13
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When you boot a system, the IDE/SATA/RAID/etc. controller tries to initialize the attached drives. If one of the drives is bad, then it can take a while before it times out and the controller gives up. The boot process (especially the POST) blocks on most of its initialization processes, so if the controller stalls, then it will prevent the boot from continuing until it times out.

If you attach it after POSTing, then you will notice that the system freezes for quite some time while the controller tries to initialize the drive. This is particularly noticeable when you plug a bad removable drive in while running an OS; the system becomes unresponsive, even to the point of the mouse cursor freezing until the drive times out and the controller moves on.

Technically, the same thing can happen with any of the component tests during POST. For example if the RAM is bad and fails the POST RAM test or the video-card does not complete its own POST fast enough. Even the keyboard and mouse could stall the boot, but most of the others fail pretty quickly, while drives (any kind of drives) are usually the ones that do this because they require some time to spin up and such, and so have time-outs built in. Some BIOSes let you specify how long to wait for drives to initialize as seen below (there may be more than one related setting).

enter image description here

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+1 for being the most plausible reason so far. There's no delay post posting however. It seems to be identified almost immediately. –  Journeyman Geek Sep 21 '11 at 2:41
Then I am not clear on what is happening. You said that it prevents it from booting. Are you saying that the bad drive becomes the primary? Did you check the BIOS to set the good drive as the boot drive? Some BIOSes will allow you to specify which drive to use as the hard-drive option in the boot priority list and plugging in a new drive can change it without notice. –  Bobson Sep 21 '11 at 2:43
yes. If i have the drive plugged in, its stuck on the splash screen. If i wait for the splash screen to pass, and throw it into bios, THEN plug in the drive, or plug it in while an OS is booting, it works. –  Journeyman Geek Sep 21 '11 at 2:49
Disable the splash screen in the BIOS so that you can see exactly what is happening behind it. I suspect that it is stuck in the controller initialization phase of the POST. Also look at the HD light on the system. Is it on and solid during the time that it is stuck? –  Bobson Sep 21 '11 at 2:51
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The BIOS tries to detect the drives during POST, the problem drive may be taking too long to respond, try turning off the autodetection.

Also, are the jumpers set correctly, it sounds like the bad drive might be set to master or cable select.

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no jumpers, on account of it being a sata drive, and not having master and slave. –  Journeyman Geek Sep 21 '11 at 1:30
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