BIOS won't recognize any hardware

March 19, 2009 at 10:32:45
Specs: Windows XP, Pentium III / 680MB RAM
I have a DELL Optio Desktop. It has two hard drives (Primary / Secondary) and a CD-ROM.
It has XP Pro installed on it.
Everything was working like a charm from 2yrs.
All of a sudden when I switched on my desktop yesterday, I get this error message after the BIOS screen,
"strike f1 to retry reboot, strike f2 to enter setup".
It is strange because nothing happened to my machine before, no virus either, no complains before this problem.
Then I checked the BIOS set-up screen, It says something like,
Primary Hardive 0 Unknown,
Secondary Hardive 1 Unknown.
Boot sequence is CD-ROM, HD1, HD2
Then I tried with Bootable-CD and switched on the m/c with CD in it... it didn't work.. so I checked BIOS again.
Suprising thing is, it won't recognize CD-ROM drive also. CD-ROM - Unknown
All of a suden, it doesn't recognize any hard-drives and CD-rom.
(Everything was working the day before, starting XP seamlessly.)
Can you help me trouble-shoot as what could have happened. I always shut it down after use. How to identify the cause of this problem.
Thanks in advance...

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March 19, 2009 at 11:54:35
There are only a few things that can cause all those symptoms.

If the PS is no longer producing enough +5v or +12v, the hard and optical drives cannot be recognized by the bios.

Failing power supplies are common and can cause your symptoms.
Check your PS.
See response 4 in this:

Or - your motherboard has been damaged

The ATX mboard is always powered in some places as long as the case PS is switched on and is plugged into AC power and that AC power is on, even when the computer is not running
- a power failure event that produced power spikes or surges could have damaged the power supply or the mboard or anything connected to the mboard

- even if the AC power to the case was off, if it or anything that plugs into AC that is connected to the computer, and the cable that connects you to the internet, is still plugged in, a nearby lightning strike or a lightning strike on the power grid near your location can damage the computer or anything to connected to it, even if you are using anti-surge anti-spike protection.

Or - you may have the bad capacitor problem.

Open up your case and examine the mboard to see if you have bad capacitors, and/or other findable signs of mboard damage .

This was the original bad capacitor problem - has some example pictures.
History of why the exploding capacitors and which mboard makers were affected:

What to look for, mboard symptoms, example pictures:
Home page that site
- what the problem is caused by
- he says there are STILL bad capacitors on more recent mboards.

Pictures of blown capacitors, other components, power supplies, Athlon cpu's, etc.:

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March 19, 2009 at 16:54:25
Thank you for the detailed reply. appreciate your time on this.

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March 19, 2009 at 22:46:05
Might be the cmos battery. Replace it or at least take it out and put a DC voltmeter to it.

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Related Solutions

March 20, 2009 at 09:31:11
"Might be the cmos battery"

If the cmos battery is too weak or dead, or is installed backwards or has a poor connection, if nothing is wrong with the power supply or the mboard, you always get a message every time you boot "Cmos Checksum error" or similar.

Are you seeing that?
If you aren't that's probably NOT what is causing your problem!

I mentioned the bad capacitors possibilty because I have personally replaced two mboards of about the same age as yours that had that problem.

The bios has two components
- the cmos part has changable data and retains the current time and date and any other custom settings the computer user makes - the battery is required to retain those settings when the mboard has no power to it.
- the read-only part contains the data that allows the mboard hardware to communicate with the operating system you are using - that data is mostly invisible to the user and can only be changed by flashing the bios - it does not need the battery to retain the data in it.

The battery is usually shaped like a coin, and it's usually in a socket that's flat on the mboard . The + polarity is marked on the battery and that side must be upwards. Unplug the case or switch off the AC the power to the case before you remove it and keep the AC power removed until you have replaced it or have installed a new one in it's socket.

Cmos batteries typically last about 5 years. Since you have a PIII cpu, that indicates your mboard is probably at least 8 years old, and your battery may be too weak or dead if it has never been replaced, or if it hasn't been replaced for along time.

When you remove the battery, wait, then replace it, you
you always get a message "Cmos Checksum error" or similar.
You have to set at least the date and time in the bios Setup - otherwise you will get the same message when you boot the next time.

If the battery is okay, is installed the right way, and has a good connection, you will NOT get the message "Cmos Checksum error" or similar when you boot after that.

If the battery is NOT okay, the bios will retain the time and date and any other custom settings while you continue to use the computer, but when the computer is shut down , then booted, you get a message "Cmos Checksum error" or similar again, because the cmos is unable to retain the custom settings.

Even if the battery is too weak or dead, the bios defaults should still recognize at least whatever drive is connected to the Primary IDE header as master, because the bios defaults would have at least that one drive connection detection enabled by default, if not all of them.
If you tell us the make and model of the mboard, we can probably find the manual for it, and in that manual there is usually info about the bios settings and often what they are set to by default.
The mboard model is frequently printed in larger characters between the slots. If you see a Rev or R or Ver or V number, supply that too - that may be beside the model number, or elsewhere on the mboard in larger characters.

If there is no obvious model number on the mboard, then we need the bios string.

The bios string is usually a long string of numbers/letters at the bottom of the first black screen as you boot your computer - it often begins with a date - usually you can press the Pause key to freeze the display at that point, read it, and copy it down.
Press any key but Pause to continue booting.

It could also be higher up the screen under or beside the bios version line, e.g. under or beside Award or AMI or Pheonix...

Supply the bios string to us, and include any dashes, etc.
Please make sure you copied it right. Most Award and AMI Bios strings do not have spaces. Newer Phoenix bios strings, based most often on those for Intel mboards, are often like so:

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