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Short version: BSOD on Windows last night, cannot boot to Win or a live Linux CD, moving HD to another comp won't boot.

Update: Had a little success attaching hd to other comps via USB (or plugging it in after booting), but not much.

Final Answer:Ultimately, when Dell replaced the motherboard I was able to boot in and save my data, but still had to send the comp in for major repairs (replacing at least fan/heat sink/ram and possibly hd)

Full story: Last night I left my computer running unattended for a bit (ripping a DVD). When I returned, I saw a BSOD and attempted to reboot. Since then, it always locks up on the Dell Logo loading screen (bar goes about 3/4 of the way). I can't access setup/boot options/etc. I tried booting with a Live CD (Linux Mint, I believe), but that also failed.

Talked to Dell, they had me remove the battery and boot with just the AC power--same issue, no beeping or anything. They're final diagnosis was motherboard issues, so they're replacing that. That sucks and is inconvenient, but then I hit another issue that makes me question that diagnosis.

If I remove the HD, I can boot to a Live CD (although it seemed slow, but that's hard for me to judge because I'd never run Mint on my laptop before, it was just the only disc I had onhand last night). Also, if I put my HD into my desktop (it's a mini-thing that uses a laptop HD normally anyways), it will not boot from the HD or from a live CD. Again, without the HD from the problem laptop, both comps will boot Live CDs without issue.

If this is a motherboard issue, why does the hd seem to cause problems in my other comp? And if it's the hd, how could I go about trying to get data off of it if using it makes me unable to boot a live CD? (It's not that my comp tries to boot the hd first, I know my BIOS is set to have CDs preempt that on the laptop, and I'm fairly certain the desktop does as well). My only other idea was an external hd-to-usb enclosure that could be connected after booting, but I'd rather not spend money on that if I don't have to, unless they comp pretty cheap.

Update: I've had a little success, but not much. Basically, I degutted an external harddrive and used that as a way to connect to my laptop drive via usb, with intermittent success (just barely enough time (not even a full 2 minutes) to grab my important files.

I dug out my old external hd (500gb Maxtor One Touch, I barely used it, but was given a 1tb drive this past Christmas) and tore it apart. After removing the drive from it, I attached my laptop's drive instead and hooked it up.

Windows XP (the only Win I had available) recognized some files on the drive, but couldn't save anything. Ubuntu didn't seem to recognize the drive at all or let me mount it. Crunchbang, on the other hand, was able to recognize my drive for two brief bursts (so far). What seems to make the computers notice the drive is plugging/unplugging the power to the now-external drive (bad idea normally, I'm pretty sure). In those few moments I had, I was able to save my most important files quickly (having pre-typed copy commands on the command line helped) but the drive blinked out again when I tried to grab my music as well.

If anyone else is having this problem, my advice is to be prepared and know exactly what files you are going for as soon as the drive is recognized. I only had seconds to nab whatever I could.

Final Answer: The issue seems to have been a combination of things. Dell's tech replaced the motherboard and eventually got the machine running, but it still has to be sent in to replace heat sink/fan/RAM and possibly the hd as well. Still not 100% sure what happened, but I was able to boot to Windows and backup my data to an external hd after the motherboard was replaced.

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See? You didn't use a universal USB drive converter, but you did use the same concept. The drive was hosed, but still accessible to a degree. –  Bon Gart Apr 11 '12 at 14:08
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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

I agree with Radoo on your diagnostics. You just need to trust your instincts.

Dell was wrong. This is not a motherboard issue. This is a HardDrive issue, and you proved it by removing the HardDrive from the equation.

Now... how do you recover the information? Again, Radoo is pretty much on the money. The only thing he didn't mention was a USB HDD converter. You can purchase a "universal" one like This Multi Converter which will allow you to connect the drive to any computer via USB. The reason why it might work? Well, you can boot to your LiveCD of Linux Mint, then connect the drive to the converter, and plug the converter into the computer. Or, you could plug the drive and converter into another computer running Windows. If the drive is in any way accessible, you should be able to copy data off. The key here is that you are not connecting it to the computer BEFORE boot, where the machine needs to get an OK or FAIL response from the drive to continue. The BIOS of any computer it is connected to is failing to get past the drive once it detects that it is present. Thus, you connect it to the computer AFTER the machine is up and running.

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Connecting via USB is an interesting idea, and worth a try. +1 for that. BUT: If the suspect drive's electronics really are hosed, would there be much reason to hope that it'd behave correctly, even when attached via USB? –  Steven Monday Apr 11 '12 at 2:04
Will a connector like that work specifically for only laptop- or only desktop-style hd's? All the desktop hd's I've handled had very different connectors than the laptop hd's, but then again I've never handled a desktop hd that was young enough to be bigger than 30gb. I just don't want to dive in and order something quick to find out I blew money on something I don't really need. –  SnoringFrog Apr 11 '12 at 4:29
The converter I linked to has IDE connections for both 2.5" and 3.5" drives... as well as a SATA connector. SATA doesn't matter from laptop to desktop form factor, as the connectors are universal. If the suspect drive is hosed, using this connector might prove to be an exercise in futility... OR it might give you access to the data. There is no guarantee it will work or fail. All we know is that the drive causes any BIOS scanning it to hang. I've got one Hitachi drive here that does that, and clicks, but still gave up data with a USB converter. –  Bon Gart Apr 11 '12 at 14:05
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Nice diagnostics you did there. I'm betting on your HDD's motherboard being fried, sort of speak. In this case, your first option is to try getting another identical board and get it replace. I had almost the same issue. Now that HDD stands somewhere in a drawer, I couldn't find a replacement for the board, even at the manufacturer, as they didn't produce that version anymore. Even this solution isn't bulletproof, as I understand some data about the disk is kept on the HDD's motherboard.

If you had very important data, contact a specialist on recovery, if not, forget about it.

If I think about it, you can also try booting from a computer which has another HDD as primary HDD, and set you HDD to Auto or Slave (depends on the model what pins you have, if you have) - if you didn't do that already.

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I don't have the right comp/cables to get two drives in at the moment, although there might be a guy on my dorm who can help. I'll have to ask around. I've got some fellow comp geeks that might have an adequate setup. Barring success there though, what about going into the BIOS to try and skip using the HD to boot entirely? That should also skip over it, right? I'm not sure the BIOS will necessarily let me skip the hd, and simply preempting it wasn't enough, but in theory it seems like it'd work. I'm going to give that a shot. –  SnoringFrog Apr 11 '12 at 4:30
You can try that, don't forget to set the HDD to slave mode. If it still doesn't work, at least you can't say you didn't try. –  Radoo Apr 11 '12 at 7:54
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