|1. "is my MIL's hard drive dead?"|
"Use test suite for hard drives to diag them."
Check your hard drive with the manufacturer's diagnostics.
See the latter part of response 1 in this:
(thanks to Dan Penny for this link:)
Hard Drive Diagnostics Tools and Utilities
If you don't have a floppy drive, you can get a CD image diagnostic utility from most hard drive manufacturer's web sites, but obviously you would need to make a burned CD, preferably a CD-R for best compatibilty, on another computer if you need to.
If the drive itself passes the long test, you can fix virtually any software problem Windows has, and there's many things we can suggest you could try, but if it's a real puzzle you may have to re-install the original software for the system, or buy a regular Windows CD, load Windows with that, and get the drivers for your system for the model from the HP site.
2. "Can I still get her files off of it ?"
If there's nothing wrong with the drive itself, sure.
If there is something wrong with the drive itself, maybe, maybe not. You must be able to access at least parts of the drive.
You can do certain things booting with a regular Windows CD, but there are better ways to recover her personal files, such as connecting it to another computer as slave on either IDE or as master on the secondary IDE.
3. "If I do replace the hard disk, where will I reload WinXP from? There was no recovery CD that shipped with the machine"
The common thing these days is brand name systems at most come with one Recovery CD; often they come with no CDs at all.
What you are supposed to do is use a program supplied by the brand name system builder, in this case HP, that is already on the hard drive and accessible in your Programs list, to make a single Recovery disk if the system didn'y come with one, AND a Recovery Disk set, while Windows is still working fine.
Brand name systems always have two partitions on the original hard drive. The second partition is smaller and is nearly full - it has all the data necessary on it so that you can use a single Recovery CD to restore all the original software that was on the first partition, C, when you got it, or to reload some software that isn't working properly, if you need to.
The second partition is sometimes visible to the user as the D drive, and may be called the Recovery partition or similar, in which case you are often warned not to alter it's data contents or are prevented from doing so when you attempt to access it; sometimes it is invisible to the user and your D drive is something else, usually the (first) CD or DVD drive.
The single Recovery disk requires that the second partition is intact as it was when you got the computer and has no data errors.
If the second partition is not there or has been altered or has data errors on it, or if the hard drive is faulty and you can't access it, the single Recovery CD is useless, and you can only re-load all the original software on a good existing drive or a new drive using a Recovery CD set.
Unfortunately, most people who buy a brand name system neglect to make a single Recovery CD if the computer didn't come with one, and/or the Recovery CD set.
Some brand name system builders these days have made making the recovery CD set mandatory when you first start up the computer after first getting it.
If you have (she has) not made a Recovery CD set, if the model is new enough (say, no more than 3 to 5 years old) you can probably order a Recovery CD set from the HP web site, using the exact model number found on a sticker on the outside of the computer case.
e.g. I got a Recovery CD set (6? CDs) for a friend's HP computer for $5x including shipping. It got to me in about three days. You boot with the first CD, load the rest when prompted. The hard drive requires no preparation beforehand - if it already has data on it it will be wiped. You don't need to do much other than load a CD when prompted.
More info available on the HP site - look up Recovery.
If you can't order a Recovery CD set, you have no choice but to buy a regular Windows CD, load Windows with that, and get the drivers for your system for the model from the HP site, and possibly also get the main chipset drivers from the main chipset maker's web site.
E.g. you can get OEM XP Home SP2 for under $100 from smaller places that have lots of computer parts and software, or from the web, but you must buy at least some minimal hardware, such as a mouse, at the same time to qualify for buying it.
Whatever way you go to reload the hard drive, you must then go to the Windows site and Windows Update and get and load at least all the Security and Critical Windows Updates (the ones you find with Express).
"....used this two commands on the
chkdsk /r does everything chkdsk /f does plus it checks the entire partition including the free space, and more -
you don't need to run chkdsk /f if you run chkdsk /r.