One of my family members is still using Windows XP on an older computer and they got a “no boot device found” error. Apparently the hard drive had finally given up. But the computer does what they need it to do and they don’t want to buy a new one and of course, there’s stuff on the hard drive that they didn’t want to lose. Here’s what I did to get the system disk switched to an SSD and get them back to where they were before the hard drive failure.
When I first got the computer, I thought about trying to turn it on to check to see if there really is a problem. But my concern was that if there really was a problem, the hard drive might spin up one more time and that one more time might be my last shot to get data from it. Besides, with the symptoms described, it was pretty clear what had happened. And even if the drive worked fine, with those symptoms described for an hold hard drive, there really is no reason to risk declaring it “fine” only to discover it dies completely a few weeks later. As soon as a hard drive shows some sign of trouble, it should be migrated from and put out of service ASAP.
So instead, my first task when I got the computer was to pull the drive out. I wanted to know the size of the drive I was dealing with and to confirm that it was a SATA drive. I found a Seagate 160G “refurbished” SATA drive. Curious that it was a refurbished drive. I set up this computer originally and I usually only work with Western Digital so I have no guess where I got a refurbished Seagate.
Knowing I had a SATA drive to replace, I shopped for a replacement. I could have ordered online for the replacement but I had limited time and there was a chance things would need to be returned so shopping local seemed smarter. And rather than go to MicroCenter, I just went to my closest BestBuy so the return could be done easier if need be. However, this significantly limits the choices for drive. They had only two sizes of hard drive: 1TB and 2TB. The 1TB was $44.99 which is a good price but boy that’s a lot of space that is just going to go unused. And I want something simple that will not fail again for the rest of the life of this computer. So I shifted my thinking to an SSD. Lots more expensive per GB but with such small needs, I could get a 120GB drive and I was pretty sure that I’d find the 160GB wasn’t full. BestBuy was selling the 120GB SanDisk for $54.99 – so only $10 more to go SSD. Sure, it’s one ninth the capacity, but if I am only going to use less than 120GB, any space more than that is irrelevant. Well, there was another catch: I needed to also get the $9.99 bracket to mount the SSD in the hard drive bay. So in the end it was $69.04 including tax.
Back home with my new parts, it was time to plan my attack. I had a 160GB hard drive to clone to a 120GB SSD. And I really didn’t want to do a reinstallation. I had used Clonezilla for this sort of thing before but it was always a challenging process with multiple steps and it didn’t handle the shrinking of the partition very well. I found software called EaseUS Todo Backup which claimed to do what I needed and I figured out that you could really get fully functioning software for free so I decided to install that on my Windows laptop. And in terms of the physical cloning procedure, I could use the laptop to run the software and hook up both the new drive and the old drive through external connections. For the old drive, I used the Sabrent USB bare drive USB dock to connect to the laptop through USB 3. And for the new SSD, I used the external drive bay extension for my laptop’s dock and the media slot adapter to connect the SSD. I know that sounds like a lot of hassle but I had all the parts – it was just a question of remembering which box I had put them in. And it’s way better than dealing with creating a drive image that would need to be held temporarily somewhere and then written separately.
With the new software installed and the source hard drive and target SSD attached, it was time to turn on the old hard drive. I pushed the power button on the Sabrent dock and heard some bad noises. They weren’t normal hard drive noises. It sounded a bit like a sad cat, although not as loud. And you could tell that the hard drive kept retrying whatever it was doing because the noise would reset. Over and over. I tried “percussive maintenance” – powered off the Sabrent dock, removed the drive, rapped on the exterior, then put it back in and tried powering it up again but got the same noise. Then I stepped it up a bit and decided to try the percussive maintenance while the drive was powered up and making those noises. Still no change. Continuing down the line of what not to do with a hard drive, I next opened the hard drive up. Yep, it’s a hard drive. Nice and shiny. I tried forcing the spindle to turn and sensed resistance. Not knowing if that is normal or not when a drive is powered off, I just spun it a bit to see if I could free it up and then replaced the cover and tried powering it up again. Still the same noise. So now, the last trick I could think of was to try removing the cover and attempting to spin up the drive while it was uncovered. I did and I could see the platter trying to move but failing. So I made sure I grounded myself, used a plastic handled screwdriver and pushed on the top of the spindle ring to force it to turn and as I did, it then took over spinning and spun right up! Cool!
Before the old hard drive stopped spinning I wanted to get to work right away with the cloning. Todo Backup didn’t show the new drive until I figured out that there was a “Refresh” in the Tools menu. I guess I could wait to start Todo Backup until all the drives are running. Then it showed all the partitions on the old drive. Including a MacOS partition. Oh yeah! This is a computer I set up to dual boot. I forgot about that. Interesting, so the actual Windows partition in use was smaller than the size of the new SSD. And since the owner of this 4700 doesn’t use the MacOS partition at all, I didn’t need to copy that over. I clicked to identify the Windows partition from the old drive and tried to find the new drive. It didn’t show at all. Apparently for the drive to show in Todo Backup, it needs to be formatted for the OS to include it. I did that and then used Refresh again and saw the new drive. Then I could pick it as a target and start the clone.
The progress meter was confusing. Progress would proceed with a time estimate that went down, then up twice as much as it had gone down, then down again, and so on. But the bar did slowly make progress. More interesting, however, were the sounds the hard drive made. There were a couple of squeals that sounded like fingers on a chalkboard. I thought to myself that it might mean some data would end up corrupted during the clone. But the clone completed and the drive mounted and a quick visual inspection showed that the drive looked the same as the original. Great news!
I put the new SSD in the old computer and booted it up. I got the following error message:
Windows could not start because of a computer disk hardware configuration problem. Could not read from the selected boot disk. Check boot path and disk hardware. Please check the Windows documentation about hardware disk configuration and your hardware reference manuals for additional information.
Hmm.. An MBR problem? How do I fix that? I figured I’d try to run diskpart on the drive. So I moved the drive back to my laptop, ran diskpart and made the partition active. Nope, same problem. I figured out that the problem is because the dual boot setup had the MacOS partition in control of the boot and bouncing to the Windows side by default which means that there is no bootloader to copy. Hmm..
Next I found an article at Neosmart describing how to fix the problem using their software but it also included steps to fix it manually. Following the instructions, I booted from the Windows XP install CD and when the option came up, I chose the Repair Console. This part worked perfectly and it found the partition with the Windows install I wanted to repair – great! I selected it and then it asked for the administrator password. Uh-oh. I don’t have an administrator password for this computer. I tried the user’s login password but that didn’t work. I tried blank but that didn’t work. I tried “administrator” but that didn’t work. Argh.
I figured there must be a way to tell the rebuild to skip the password and found a Tom’s Hardware post describing what to do. I would just need to change a registry key. But, umm, that registry key is on a hard drive that I can’t boot from so I can’t run regedit. That led me to a post about modifying the registry of a “remote” system. After I found my copy of Hiren’s Boot CD, I ran Mini Windows XP and started the “Registry Editor PE”. The selections are a little confusing, especially when you don’t read the prompt at the top of the dialog boxes! I figured out that first you select the directory “C:\Windows” and use that. Then the next selection is to find the “SAM” “hive”. Just pick the file named “SAM” in the dialog box. Then you need to select “SOFTWARE”, “SECURITY”, and “system”. It will ask if you want a user hive too but it can be skipped for the one key we needed to get. I got through that and then was able to find the key for HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\WindowsNT\CurrentVersion\Setup\RecoveryConsole and changed the DWORD value from zero to 1. Then I rebooted and I retried the recovery console and… same problem. Wait – that registry key – that was for the Mini Windows XP run. That wasn’t for the “hive” that I loaded. The other ones that are loaded actually come in as “REMOTE” branches. So I needed to find the key in the “REMOTE” branch instead of the normal branch. I found that and changed that one to 1. I retried the Repair and it didn’t ask for the admin password. Yay!
I got to the recovery console and was able to type “bootcfg / rebuild” per the instructions. It asked for the Load Identifier where I entered “Windows XP” and for Options, I entered “/fastdetect”. Then I rebooted and…
It worked! Everything appears to be here and back to normal. Way cool.