Inspiron 5160 "no boot sector" message

By astrom33 ยท 40 replies
Jun 5, 2009
  1. I have a Dell Inspiron 5160. Pentium 4 2.8 Ghz hyperthreading. Was running Windows XP Professional edition. System BIOS v. A08.

    My hard drive on my Dell Inspiron recently died. Here is what I have done:
    1. I went to frys and bought a new 160 gb hard drive.
    2. I removed the old hard drive.
    3. Put the new hard drive in and put Windows XP install cd in cd tray.
    3. Rebooted.
    4. Went into BIOS. Made sure the new HDD was listed in BIOS (it was). Set boot order to CD ROM 1st.

    I am now getting "No boot sector on hard drive" and then says press F1 for retry or F2 for setup. The CD drive seems to be running because the lights blink and I can hear the disc spinning. After a couple of seconds with a blank screen and blinking underscore _ the above message appears.

    Any suggestions as to what else I can do? Any help will be GREATLY appreciated!!!
  2. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Go to the Inspiron F10 or F12 screen, and reset your boot order so that the optical drive is first, and hard drive is second. Then reboot. It should find the Windows install CD. If not, your optical drive may be bad.
    Be sure your install disk is not scratched or dirty.
  3. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    Thanks for the quick reply, but:

    I have already set the boot order so the optical drive is first and hard drive is second. I have rebooted and I get the message I listed above: "No boot sector..."

    I am pretty sure the optical drive is not bad because, again, the lights blink and the disc spins. What's more, I opened up the laptop and made sure all the cables and links were firmly attached.

    I also put the Windows XP install CD into my desktop and it ran and asked me if I wanted to install XP. That is how I know that scratches or a dirty install CD is not the problem.
  4. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Then your hard drive is defective or installed incorrectly. What version of Windows are you using with what service pack?
  5. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    Good question. I honestly do not know as I am at work and don't have the disk in front of me. I want to say SP2 though.

    Would the BIOS still show the new HDD and its size even if the drive is defective and/or installed incorrectly?

    By the way, I had read somewhere else that Dell's are known for this type of issue. They are set to look for some sort of restore partition, but I am not sure as to the validity of this theory.
  6. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    It could detect the drive, and still not boot if any of the outer 8 sectors are damaged. There are other reasons why it would not find the boot sector.
    Can you put the drive in another laptop or an USB external drive and format it with WXP?
    Are you using the blue, green, or lavender Dell WXP boot disk? Or regular Windows XP disk?

    One would think a newly purchased drive would work properly... but you know nothing about how it was shipped... it doesn't take much more than a 15 inch drop of a shipping box to ruin a hard drive.

    If it is nearby, I would take it back to frys. They will likely trade with you, then test your returned drive before considering a sale as an open box. If you received it from a UPS or FedEx driver, it could easily have been banged around enough to bugger it up.
    Returning the drive may prompt frys to test it, or give you an exchange... They are a very good supplier of anything electronic.
  7. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    Yes that is basically what I was going to do as an option of last resort. I didn't want to return to Frys until I had pursued every avenue possible. If the BIOS can indeed read and list a bad hard drive and its size, then it is most likely a bad hard drive.

    I guess I will try and put in a USB drive and see if I can format it with the XP Cd. I would simply make sure to set the boot sequence as 1st optical drive and USB drive 2nd, correct? Then follow the prompts that the XP CD gives me?
  8. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    If it is detected in the computer, it should be detectable in a USB external box... or another computer.

    Be sure your hard drive caddy isn't buggered up, or that your hard drive pins are not off by one pin.
  9. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    By "detected in the computer" you don't mean HDD detected by the BIOS, do you? As I said earlier the HDD is detected in the BIOS, but not once I try to boot from the CD and install windows on it.
  10. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    As I understood your posts, your drive was detected, but it had no boot sector. That usually means the drive has some impact damage, or magnetic media that is bubbling up or flaking off, at the outer edge of one or more of the three hard drive plates.
    If the boot sectors are not detected in another computer, it is toast... but many of those can be used for storage... the OS just cannot setup boot sectors... I may be rong, but we have been told the boot sectors must be on the first 8 sectors of the hard drive. Those are frequently the first parts of the drive to have damage to the magnetic media on other drives... centrifugal force can make that material at the outer edge bubble up and flake away... but so can impact damage in shipping.

    This happens often enough that Fry's is not going to give you trouble, and neither with the hard drive manufacturer... they can tell from the date code an other info on the name plate when and where your purchased it... and will have no trouble sending you a replacement... Western Digital has to see the drive before they will send a replacement, but others will sen you a new one immediately and bill you if it doesn't receive the bad one in 30 days.
  11. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    Thanks a bunch. That explains why the BIOS detects. I guess I'll return it to Frys this weekend.
  12. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    The worst that can happen is that Frys will perhaps check the drive on one of their test systems... But don't worry about it. Fry's is very good outfit, and they want their customers happy and telling their friends good things about Frys.
  13. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    If they give me a hard time I will just tell them that I will unfortunately have to return the $1600 surround sound system I purchased there last weekend. :p.

    Actually, they would be doing me the favor of running a test. That way I can be sure if the problem is my laptop or the hard drive.

    Again, thanks a lot.
  14. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Well, I meant to say that is unfortunate only as it may take extra time when you visit frys... Otherwise, it is just helpful in troubleshooting... Otherwise, you could theoretically face the same problem when you arrived home with another drive.
  15. Rick

    Rick TechSpot Staff Posts: 4,572   +65

    Optical drives go bad all the time. Don't rule this out. It can go through all the motions, make the sounds and light up... But the read laser itself may not be working properly.

    About the booting problems - The XP setup loader detects whether or not there is a boot sector on the primary hard drive. If it detects one, it will prompt you to "Press any key to begin setup". It only lasts a couple of seconds and disappears afterward, allowing the computer to give you a "No boot sector found". Conversely, if no boot sector has been detected, the CD should begin the setup automatically.... But keep your eyes peeled for that "Press any key" message, in case you're poppping in the CD and stepping away from your computer.

    Of course, the problem I see with this is on a brand new drive, there should not be a boot sector. So it *should* load the Windows setup immediately. It's worth checking though.

    ... or it's a brand new drive with no boot sector. :)
  16. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    When I boot up I sit there and watch everything happening on the screen. All I get is a blinking underscore _ for a few seconds and then the "no boot sector found..." message.
  17. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Have you still not taken that back to Frys?
    Please let us know what happened when you do.
  18. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    Unfortunately I have not taken it back to frys. I had a really busy weekend. I think I will pick up an optical drive to see if that is the problem. That is, of course, if they have one that I can put into my laptop.
  19. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    Ok. I finally took it back to frys. Got a brand new drive (not a returned one). I asked the sales associate if there was a way they could test the drive to see if it had a problem, but she said they could not.

    I swapped in the new drive in the parking lot, powered on the laptop, got the blinking underscore for a couple of seconds, and then, same problem, the dreaded "boot sector not found.." message.

    I guess now it seems like it might be the optical drive. I went back into Frys, but they told me they did not carry any internal drives for laptops.

    Any suggestions as to how I can figure out if the optical drive is not functioning without having to buy one online? I want to know what is really the problem without having to go and buy more parts only to return them later.

    Let's say it's not the optical drive. What else can be causing me to get this message?
  20. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Dell has some pretty awful optical drives. Post the model of the one you have here. I am sure you will get a response.
    There are test disks that repair shops have that do read and write tests... that is the best way... spend a few bucks to save money in the long run.
    Or just copy a complex disk, then see if it is readable in a desktop of known quality.
    Then try to read a complex disk from another machine (not store bought) to see how well it reads
    You can also try something like Nero's CD-DVD Speed. It comes as part of the Nero ToolKit Utility Suite, but you can get a free download They update it routinely as they try to keep up with new hardware. It supports all types of CD's, DVD's, even Blue Ray and HD DVD media.
    Check the CD Creator website as well, as they used to have some good test stuff that we haven't tried for a while.
  21. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    The drive says its a Model : SN-324S/DAC and says "designed by Toshiba Samsung Storage Technology."

    In terms of the read write test programs found on, do I burn it on a disk and see if the drive reads it? I don't see how I would be able run the optidrive control program. How would I even see the results if the computer doesn't have windows installed?
  22. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Read, write, copy... and to both music and data CD's and DVD's... should tell you all you need to know... or at least give enough clues as to what the next step might be.
  23. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

  24. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    We install hundreds of Samsungs and know of no problem more than the average in the Industry... if any rates better over time for us, it would be Teac, which is clearly superior for reliability. Also Toshiba, LG, Lite-On, Panasonic, and to a lesser extent, Quanta and Sony. Avoid HL Data or HLDS at all costs.
  25. astrom33

    astrom33 TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 21

    hahaha. Thanks. The HLDS was the first one on the list because of the price. I probably wouldn't have gone with that because it had no name recognition for me, but good to know I should avoid it at all cost.

    If, as you say, the Teac will work with my laptop I will go with that one. Thank you very much.

    I will let you know if I can install windows with the new optical drive. If the problem "no boot sector found" persist even with a new optical drive I will probably take a sledghammer to the laptop. :p
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