Is Disk Read Error definitely hardware?

April 28, 2010 at 17:18:30
Specs: XP latest version, Unknown
I received a message when I tried to boot up my desktop PC, saying A "Disk Read Error Occured. Press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart". It didn't respond to the cntrl+alt+del and I investigated the problem via Google (on my laptop). Eventually I managed to get to my desktop but my apps weren't working properly, and I tried the chkdsk - type remedies, and attempted to repair the NTFS file system with the XP disk. Eventually I felt there was nothing for it but to wipe my C drive and reinstall XP. When I did this, I got the reformat done but it wouldn't install the Windows files, telling me there was 'no bootable partiton (partition?) on table'. I did some more Googling which led me to remove all USB devices. Then, after that, I got a message saying 'Windows could not start because of a configuration problem. Could not read from the selected boot disk. Check boot path and disk hardware'. That's the message I still get, even when I direct the boot sequence to the CD drive and disable the HDD, making me think maybe it's the motherboard and not the HDD.
That said, before 2 years ago when I got my laptop (which I presume eased some of the burden off my desktop PC) I had to buy a new HDD almost every couple of months. The computer shop -- and everyone else -- could never understand why, and I am still at a loss; but after the several years I spent with that state of affairs I am quite neurotic about the state of my HDD.
Can anyone help?

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April 28, 2010 at 21:07:29
First check your memory with Memtest. A bad memory stick can give you problems just like a bad hard drive and having trouble booting to the install CD for windows (hard drive not in use) would also indicate possible RAM issues. If Memtest shows any errors and you have more than one stick of memory, remove all but one and test them one at a time to find bad stick (be sure to 'ground' yourself to the computer case, then unplug the system before handling memory), replace as appropriate.

Other possible problems (if memory is good and/or problem persists) include the need for good clean power. While most people use a surge protecting power strip for their computer systems, in some areas it may not be enough. A surge protector will (assuming a decent one) protect against brief power peaks, including lightning, but other power problems can cause computer hardware problems. Power drop outs (sudden LOWER line voltage) and 'brown outs' (more gradual voltage reductions due to overstrained power utility/feeder line) To get a more complete power protection, especially in areas prone to these problems, use a UPS which gives you battery back up to supplement power drop outs and keep power flowing smoothly during brown outs and black outs until you can properly shut down (usually 10 to 20 min).
Another possible problem is an improperly wired home. An electrician can give you an evaluation of this, but you can purchase a ground fault tester fairly cheaply and test many outlets in your home. If you find a problem with it, I would advise you to get an electrician in to evaluate and repair (an improperly grounded outlet is the simplest possible, but even that can cause problems with electronics and is a fire hazard).
My last hard drive lasted 9 years before giving me any sign of problems, My daughter lost her hard drive after 5 years when she left her desktop in sleep for a number of months while away at college (instead of shutting down), it failed to resume and it turned out the drive was gone (good thing she backed up on our home network before she left).

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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April 29, 2010 at 04:16:39
Hi Fingers,

<<First check your memory with Memtest.>>

Are you sure it will work, with my computer getting no further than the first screen (i.e. the one that gives the option of going into the bios)?

<<Other possible problems (if memory is good and/or problem persists) include the need for good clean power.>>

The thing is that I had all my computer problems (Windows getting messed up); then several years ago the whole of the wiring of the house was modernised, with proper trip switches and so on. My computer problems persisting, every time I queried the power I got the answer that there could be nothing wrong with it.
The guy in the flat above me (himself a computer expert) had never had any of the problems I was experiencing; and nor had anyone else who had lived there.

<<To get a more complete power protection, especially in areas prone to these problems, use a UPS>>

Will that be costly?

<<My last hard drive lasted 9 years>>

I had to throw away about twenty over the period of five years.

With many thanks.

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April 29, 2010 at 05:42:26
For Memtest look here:
and go down to (download prebuilt & ISO) the ISO image can be used to create a bootable CD that will run entirely within memory and will not involve the hard drive or windows and therefore may run when nothing else is running. (there is also a version that will create a bootable floppy disk if you have a floppy drive).
For your power look here:
For around $10.00 you can be sure that some electrician's helper did not connect some of your outlets with neutral and hot reversed say or an improper ground somewhere.
For a UPS, look here:
Though I would generally recommend one between $50.00 and $100.00 and I prefer APC simply because it is the only one I have used back since windows 95.
Finally, if your memory is good, and the power is clean to your computer, then you might consider replacing your computer's power supply: $40.00 to $60.00 for a basic set up and $70.00 to just over $100.00 for a entry level gaming rig.

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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April 29, 2010 at 09:35:41
Thanks but I have got this infuriating thing of not being able to burn to disk in such a way that it will be readable by XP. I'm on Vista and there's supposed to be a dialogue box that springs up asking about how you want files to be burnt to CD when a blank CD is inserted. With some fiddling around I got Vista to produce a menu, one of whose options is 'burn to disk'. But then when I click on it, it just says there aren't any files to be burnt. Where are the files supposed to be put for them to be recognised?

Also, on the power tester, are US sockets the same as UK sockets? (I find it hard to believe the sockets weren't tested when the new wiring went in, though.)

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April 29, 2010 at 21:51:26
UK sockets and voltages are different but you should be able to get something similar at a home center, hardware store, or electricians supply store. The general principals are the same. Not all electricians and electrician's helpers are created the same, not all are as careful as they should be. Not all jobs like that are government inspected (and how careful are they).

CD burning software usually has a double window. Typically the left side you need to populate with files to be burned. Look online for detailed instructions for your particular burning software, or purchase a quality aftermarket software package with manual.

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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May 1, 2010 at 05:59:31
I have burnt memtest onto the CD but it's not being read by my PC.
I get the same error message telling me that the boot drive isn't readable. It'd be a coincidence and a half if the CD drive had decided to fail just at the time when all my other problems with my PC sprang up.

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May 2, 2010 at 10:25:42
I do not know where to even begin with so many myths and rumors.

The power supply's job is to make electrically anomalies irrelevant to the disk drive. Anything a UPS might do (except the power backup function) is already inside every computer power supply. Incandescent bulbs can dim to 50% intensity and the computer must still work perfectly normal. Why? That is what the supply does - make AC mains variations irrelevant.

If AC mains voltage drops even lower (bulbs dim less than 40% intensity), then the UPS does something useful. It provides temporary (and very dirty) power. Dirty? Of course. Power often so dirty as to be harmful to small electric motors and power strip protectors. But again, that is what the supply does. Make even dirtiest power from a UPS completely irrelevant.

AC receptacle tester will not report anything useful to your problem. It may find other problems. But again, circuits inside power supplies make those problems irrelevant.

Memory tester is also irrelevant. If memory was defective, the OS saw the problem, worked around it, and stored error messages in the system event logs. But you wiped the disk drive. Important history messages (relevant to your failure) destroyed.

Now you are confused by the BIOS, Windows, and hardware. A well understood diagnostic procedure breaks a problem down into parts. Then solves each part one at a time. In your case, stop working with or using Windows or the BIOS. Your computer manufacturer (if the fewer more responsible ones) provides a comprehensive hardware diagnostic for free on the CD or from their web site. If yours is not so responsible, then download the disk drive manufacturer's diagnostic from their web site or from the Ultimate Boot CD web site.

Simply work with what is known bad. And do so only with software designed to find problems - not mask them (as Windows is designed to do). That is a diagnostic that boots from a CD (that your burn) or a memory stick (or floppy if you still have one).

Without facts, other are doing the 'try this and fix that only on wild speculation' technique.

Just because someone uses a computer or programs one does not mean he knows anything about hardware or electric power. Good diagnostics means break a problem down into parts - then learn what is bad. First you must learn what the defect is before trying to fix anything.

Power is only a problem if your power supply was a crappy type dumped into the computer assembler market - that is missing essential functions that make power variations irrelevant. Even that APC recommendation does not claim to solve those power problems - despite popular myths that say otherwise. (IOW view manufacturer spec numbers to learn what it really does).

Nobody can provide anything (but wild speculation) without facts from that diagnostic. First establish hardware is good. Only then move on to other suspects such as the BIOS or how Windows is being installed. Solutions are (as they say in CSI), "Follow the evidence". Start with diagnostics to first learn what you have. Solution come later.

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May 2, 2010 at 20:11:02
You took a lot of words and said very little.
You are right about somethings.
You are wrong about other things.
Get your facts straight.
BAD power such as voltage drops of of more than ten or fifteen volts CANNOT be compensated by the power supply. ONLY a battery can compensate that much. On the raw side, the transformer and rectifier converts the 110 Volt AC to approx. 14 volts DC, Capacitors and power transistors (etc.) clean up the power to a much smoother 12 volts DC (temporarily ignoring the other voltages used) that the system can use. The power supply can 'chop' off the peaks and 'fill in' the lows very well (that's what it is designed to do), BUT it is limited by the amount of 'extra' it's capacitors can hold if the power fluctuations suddenly drop too much or for more than a number of milliseconds, you WILL get a power fluctuation through to the computer proper.
I HAVE seen hardware problems due to bad power. I HAVE seen computer crashes, shut downs, and restarts due to power problems. I HAVE seen a power supply fail due to bad power even with a surge protector. I HAVE seen a seen a server network need rebooting completely when ONE computer NOT protected by a UPS dropped off when a breaker tripped even though the server itself was protected.
A logical systematic approach is always good, but don't discount important facts just because you personally have not seen them (you can assume that the earth is flat if you never flew high enough).

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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May 3, 2010 at 08:09:49
<<Your computer manufacturer (if the fewer more responsible ones) provides a comprehensive hardware diagnostic for free on the CD or from their web site. If yours is not so responsible, then download the disk drive manufacturer's diagnostic from their web site or from the Ultimate Boot CD web site.>>

Thanks for the reply but why should *any* boot procedure work if neither the xp disk nor Memtest boot the system?
Incidentally, I would use my floppy but I don't think it works.

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May 3, 2010 at 08:52:53
Assuming you have set the optical drive as first in boot order and it will not boot to XP disk or Memtest bootable disk then you are left with a hardware issue definitely. If you can get into BIOS and see/adjust some settings, then you have at least marginal power and marginal RAM and some motherboard activity. There are some who can tell you if your power supply is going by the digital readouts of a test meter on each wire color, but I cannot (you can post results) or if you have access to borrow another power supply, you can be able to identify or eliminate that possibility. If you have multiple memory modules, try removing all but one and retry with each module (it is unlikely that two or more is bad unless they received a major voltage spike), or borrow one. Since you cannot boot from either HD or CD, it less likely that you have a CD drive issue, but you can swap that if you have access to one to borrow. You can purchase very cheaply a new floppy drive and try memtest, that way you can assume it is not related to hard drive and your CD drive is probably OK too. At this point, you would narrow it down to motherboard or BIOS, but first shut down and unplug your system and remove and replug in each connector including your memory modules, expansion cards, etc. (absolutely ground yourself before touching anything inside your case since static discharge can destroy memory and other components). This actually does help sometimes. If not, try flashing your BIOS via your floppy drive (instructions and download on motherboard mfg.'s website), if you cannot do that and you tried everything else above, your motherboard is probably gone.

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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