A day like any other: You turn on your PC, but instead of the familiar Windows logo you see nothing. You think, "My hard disk crashed!" You're frantic. Have you lost weeks of work, hours of free time, and maybe even your job? What do you do?
Exactly the same thing a well-trained pilot does when facing a serious problem: Take out your emergency checklist and try to set things right - one step at a time.
1. Don't panic. Sit back, take a deep breath, and relax. A blank screen or a failure to boot up doesn't always mean you have a crashed hard drive. Today's hard disks often outlast all other key PC components, and running system utilities unnecessarily or removing and reinstalling your hardware can do more harm than good.
2. Try to restart. Turn your computer off, wait 10 seconds, and turn it back on. This resets the computer - which is often all that's required to solve the problem.
3. Check the obvious. If your screen stays blank, check all power cords, cables, and connectors to make sure they're firmly attached. Check your surge protector to make sure it hasn't blown a fuse or been destroyed by an errant voltage spike. And make sure the brightness and contrast settings on your monitor haven't been turned all the way down.
4. Listen for clues. As your PC starts up, you should hear (and maybe feel) the power-supply fan rev up. You should also hear your hard disk spinning merrily. If all is quiet on the hardware front, you may have a bad power supply or a loose power connection. Open up your PC's case and make sure all the power-supply cables to your hard drive and motherboard are attached properly. (Remember: Always use an antistatic wrist strap or other antistatic protection before touching any of your PC's internal components.)
If you hear a series of beeps before your system locks up, note their number and whether the beeps are long or short. This audio error message from your system's BIOS provides information about a problem it has detected. Check with the manufacturer of your system to identify your particular error.
5. Look for clues. When your PC starts, it runs a Power-On Self Test that confirms the presence of such essential hardware components as memory chips, video cards, and hard drives. Watch for error messages as the results of each check appear on the monitor. (Pressing Pause will freeze the screen to prevent messages from disappearing too quickly.)
You may also see confirmation or error messages as your system initializes such higher-level devices as the CD-ROM drive. You don't always need an error message, however. If your system locks up while configuring such a peripheral, then chances are that's the culprit.
If your system launches Windows, your disk is at least partially functional. Windows 95 and 98 still use the DOS autoexec.bat and config.sys files to load drivers for some old hardware. If your PC locks up while loading these drivers, press F8 after you see "Starting Windows 9x". This allows you to run the files one line at a time to see what device is loading when trouble occurs.
If you get a "Boot disk failure" or "Operating system not found" error instead of a "Starting Windows 9x" message, your PC can't load Windows from the hard disk. This may indicate a badly damaged drive.
6. Boot from a floppy. This process bypasses the hard drive and confirms that your computer is otherwise healthy. Use the Windows start-up disk that came with your system. (If you don't have a start-up disk, it's a good idea to make one before you need it: Insert a blank floppy disk, click Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel, select the Startup Disk tab, and click Create Disk, as shown in here.)
Restart your system with the start-up disk in the floppy drive. If your system successfully boots and displays the A:\ prompt, your PC is working properly. Try accessing your hard disk by typing C: at the prompt and pressing Enter. If you get a C:\ prompt, change directories and try to copy a small file to the floppy.
If that works, then you're able to write to the disk, and your disk may still have some life in it (sometimes disks die a slow death). Take the opportunity to back up any important files you need to, and then run a hard-disk diagnostic utility such as ScanDisk, which is ready to run from the start-up disk, or Norton Disk Doctor.
7. Check your CMOS settings. If you get an error message saying "Drive C: not found" (or something similar), your PC may not recognize the hard disk because it lost all its CMOS settings, which happens when the CMOS battery starts to die. To fix this, enter the CMOS setup program: While your PC boots, press Delete, F1, F10, or whatever key your PC uses (check your documentation). If no hard disk is listed, you need to reenter the disk's settings. You can do this manually (the settings are usually found printed on the hard drive's case), but most PCs will reenter them for you by using the CMOS setup program's hard-drive autoconfigure utility.
If you've taken all these steps and your hard drive is still as useful as a trailer hitch on a Maserati, then it's time to consult the experts. DriveSavers and Ontrack Data Recovery are two data-recovery services that may be able to retrieve data on your dearly departed drive.
Norton Disk Doctor $US49, as part of Norton Utilities 2001 for Windows 2000/NT/Me/98/95