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So, believe me, I've read all the related posts on how to fix "NTLDR is missing" issues on SuperUser and this is not that question. I actually did manage to fix my problem, but I don't entirely understand why the fixed worked and its bugging me. I'm hoping someone out there can fill in the blanks for me.

Background

A friend of mine has an old HP laptop from about 2006 running Windows XP Home SP2. I was fixing some various issues, work on the general slowness of the machine and installing new antivirus software (AVG). I was on a horrible internet connection and had to cancel the AVG install partway through downloading (I did this cleanly) and rebooted.

When the computer started up again, all I got was the message

NTLDR is missing....press Ctrl-Alt-Del to Restart

I understand what that means, though how it happened in the first place based on what I was doing somewhat mystifying.

Question 1: Any idea how this error occurred in the first place?

The Needed Fix

So the fun part about this laptop is that all its external drives are kinda busted, so I had to grab an IDE-to-USB cable, pull out the laptop hard drive and hook it up to my desktop. I know that I need to replace the probably corrupt files NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM files in the root of the drive, but no matter what type of search or listing I do, I don't see them at all.

The only hidden or system file sitting in the drive root is pagefile.sys. I couldn't findboot.ini` either.

Question 2: Despite have show hidden files and show system files turned on, I could not find NTDLR, NTDETECT.COM or boot.ini anywhere. Why couldn't I see these files on the laptop's hard disk when it was mounted via USB on my desktop (I find it hard to believe they just disappeared)?

The Actual Fix

In the end, I grabbed a Windows XP install disk and just copied over NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM as well as a generic boot.ini to the root of the laptop drive. I got no file replacement prompts or anything...I just moved the files over with a simple drag and drop. When I put the hard drive back in the laptop and booted it up, it worked.

Question 3: Why in the world did this fix work? Did NTLDR just straight up get deleted somehow originally? Or was I just not looking for it properly?

I love that my problem is fixed, I hate that I don't really understand why. Anyone have any wisdom to share? Thanks much!

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It does sound like the files were just deleted. Generally speaking, I have not idea how this can happen, but if that was the fix, that was the issue. –  soandos Jan 3 '12 at 0:34
    
I've seen NTLDR go missing before too, and have no idea how or why that can happen (and no, I don't have a virus, for those who always explain things using viruses)... –  Mehrdad Jan 11 '13 at 22:47
    
Had you done anything between when you had started Windows that time and when you restarted the computer OTHER than partially install AVG? I don't think that alone would do it... –  K.A Jan 11 '13 at 23:31
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2 Answers

According to ComputerHope.com the causes for a "NTLDR is Missing" error message are:

  1. Computer is booting from a non-bootable source.
  2. Computer hard disk drive is not properly setup in BIOS.
  3. Corrupt NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM file.
  4. Misconfiguration with the boot.ini file.
  5. Attempting to upgrade from a Windows 95, 98, or ME computer that is using FAT32.
  6. New hard disk drive being added.
  7. Corrupt boot sector / master boot record.
  8. Seriously corrupted version of Windows 2000 or Windows XP.
  9. Loose or Faulty IDE/EIDE hard disk drive cable.
  10. Failing to enable USB keyboard support in the BIOS.

copied over NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM

That probably fixed cause #3, corrupt NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM file.

copied over... a generic boot.ini

That probably fixed cause #7, Corrupt boot sector / master boot record.

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If they were corrupt, he would have seen a warning when overwriting them. Because he didn't this is robably not the answer –  soandos Jan 3 '12 at 0:43
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The boot sector/MBR is outside the file system, and distinct from boot.ini. So, copying a generic boot.ini fixes #4, not #7 –  MSalters Jan 3 '12 at 9:33
    
The weird thing to me, like @soandos said, is that if the files were corrupt, I would've expected to be able to find them and/or be prompted when I overwrote them. But for all the searching I did on that drive, I could not find NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM at all. –  Brent Nash Jan 3 '12 at 17:00
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those files were missing because that partition was not the 'boot' partition at that time. In other words, the boot sector was affected by something, and no longer pointed to a recognizable location, hence the error.

FIXMBR and FIXBOOT likely would have also worked.

The question is whether or not you will now be able to access the "System Recovery" partition put there by the MFR for Emergency Recovery.

PS: This also can happen if you have a Flash drive plugged into the computer when you start the computer or reboot. Some BIOS's will just skip it, most XP era PC's will fail to boot with that same message.

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Hey, welcome to Super User! Please do not sign your posts (see faq). –  slhck Apr 9 '13 at 7:32
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