| Even if the laptop harddrive was removed the POST screen should show something....|
The LED for the hard drive says a lot as well...but first see if you can enter the BIOS (set-up) by using the appropriate key during boot......F2, Del, whatever it is for that modle of laptop. The system should show something, whether the hard drive is bad or not. If it doesn't I would look at trying a different monitor.
connect the external monitor...boot the computer and then use the Fn (Function) key and the monitor logo key. to switch it.
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