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  Troubleshooting Basics #11

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First, a personal note.  This column was written and published once before.  Due to some real bizarre quirks of fate, both volume #11 and #12 were deleted from our web site... and wouldn't you know it...  we did not have a backup anywhere.  So, if you have read #11 & #12 before and find these different, that is because I rewrote them from scratch.  Hopefully, we will do a better job with backups in the future.  *grin*

Okay, we have discussed the proper procedures to install an IDE/ATA hard drive, but now we should begin discussing solutions for the most common problems that will arise with IDE hard drives. 


  1. You have installed your hard drive and the CMOS does not recognize the drive?

  2. Hard Drives Recognized by the BIOS, but not by the Operating System


You have installed your hard drive and the CMOS does not recognize the drive? 

Most newer BIOS setup programs have a function to automatically detect any connected hard drives. If the hard drive detection fails, the BIOS will respond by:

  • setting the drive type to "None"
  • setting the drive type to "Not installed"
  • by indicating all zeros for the drive parameters

During POST process, the BIOS requests a response from each hard drive programmed into the CMOS setup. Lack of a "Drive Ready" response from any drive will produce an error message and/or modify the BIOS setup to eliminate the drive from the programming. Each BIOS produces a different error message or code as a result, but all basically indicate that an expected drive did not respond.

The lack of response from a hard drive can be symptomatic of many things. It is important to point out anything that interrupts communication between the hard drive and the BIOS is a potential cause, such as a faulty cable or no power to the drive.


Installation issues:

  1. Review Jumper configuration on all drives. Verify with the drive manufacturer for correct settings. If there are two drives on the IDE cable, the master drive must be configured as a MASTER (not as a Primary Single) DRIVE. The slave drive must be
    configured as a SLAVE. If there is only one drive on the IDE cable, it must be configured as a MASTER (single or primary) drive. A very few systems use Cable Select (CSEL) instead of Master/Slave. These systems require that the cable select jumper be used on both drives.   Replace the Master jumper with the Spare jumper to verify a good jumper connection.

  2. Check IDE data cable for proper function, connection and orientation.   Check cable connections. Unplug and reconnect cable at both ends.  Pin 1 on the IDE cable (as indicated by the red stripe or dots) must connect to pin 1 at the controller port and pin 1 on the drive. Most drives have pin 1 adjacent to the power supply connector on the drive.  Replace IDE cable with a known good cable.

  3. Ensure power supply cable is plugged in correctly on all drives.

  4. If a separate IDE controller is used, verify jumpers and other configuration options by consulting your user manual or the manufacturer's web site.

Compatibility Issues: Communication timing errors can prevent proper communication between two drives on the same cable.

  1. Verify functionality of each drive by itself on the cable. Modify jumpers as needed for use as a Primary Single drive. If each drive works alone then compatibility is likely a cause of failure.

  2. Reverse the device roles, (e.g., make the Master the Slave and the Slave the Master), on the cable or separate the devices on different interface cables and controller ports.

BIOS/CMOS Setup Issues: Various BIOS program functions may prevent proper hard drive communication.

  1. EIDE Features - Reduce any EIDE features to lowest values or disable the feature altogether. These features include Block Mode, Multi-Sector Transfer, PIO Mode, FAST-AT mode; 32 Bit Transfer.

  2. Boot Speed:

    • Increasing the amount of time a BIOS takes to reach the hard drive portion of POST.
    • Enable "Above 1 Meg Memory Test"
    • Enable "Floppy Drive Seek at Boot"
    • Increase "Initialization Time"
    • Increase "Hard Drive Boot Delay"
    • Set "Boot Speed" to its lowest value, usually "Low"
  3. Disable "Turbo" mode
  4. Auto-Detect and User Definable will sometimes provide different results.
  5. Set drive for User Definable with appropriate drive parameters, reboot and check for error messages.
  6. Set drive for User Definable, then select Auto-Detect Feature.
  7. Select Auto-Detect only, do not use User Definable.  
  8. Controller port must be properly configured.  Check BIOS configuration for enable/disable function for on-board controller. If the onboard controller is being used, ensure that it is enabled. If an external controller is being used, make sure any conflicting on-board controller is disabled. Verify jumper settings and other controller configuration requirements with controller manufacturer.
  9. Set AT Bus Clock to value between 8-10 MHz. This is normally set as a divide by number for the clock frequency.
    • 25MHz system = /3
    • 33MHz system = /4...  etc.
  10. Some BIOS will not support a hard drive on the secondary channel. Check motherboard manufacturer for capabilities.

Boot Sector Corruption: Incorrect or corrupted code in the drive boot sector can(rarely) interfere with the ability of the BIOS to Auto-Detect the drive.

  1. Delete any partitions on the drive.
  2. Low-Level Format the hard drive using a utlity provider by the hard drive manufacturer.

Hard Drives Recognized by the BIOS, but not by the Operating System

The hard drive seems to be installed properly, the CMOS acknowledges the drive and provides the proper parameters for the drive when auto-detected.  Now, you turn on the computer and following the POST process, the Operating System, (OS), will not recognize the drive.


Installation Issues: 

  1. Check the parameters in the BIOS to ensure that the drive parameters and translation mode are set correctly. Contact the system or motherboard manufacturer to verify potential BIOS capacity limitations. 
  2. Ensure that any newly installed EIDE interface /controller card(s) do not conflict with the existing System BIOS. 
  3. Reduce the BIOS Enhance features (e.g., Block Mode, Multi-Sector Transfer, 32 Bit Transfer, PIO mode, etc.) to their minimum values or disable altogether. 
  4. Check AT BUS Clock speed and set between 8-10 MHZ 
  5. Increase boot process time. 
  6. Enable "Floppy Seek At Boot"
  7. Enable "Above 1 Meg Memory Test"
  8. Set "Boot Sequence" to "A: to C:"
  9. Set "Boot Speed" to lowest value in BIOS setup, set "Boot Pre-delay" to highest value. 

Display partitions in FDISK. 

  1. If drive was not previously partitioned, use option 1 to create a Primary DOS partition on the drive. Use option 2 to set the partition active. Exit FDISK and
    reboot. Format the new partition and install the system files. 
  2. Make sure the first partition is "PRI DOS" and Status is "A". if drive is partitioned and partitions are displayed in FDISK. 
  3. Compare sum of all partition sizes to "Total Disk Space". Should be same +/- 1 MB. If different
    adjust BIOS drive parameters or translation mode to match or repartition. 
  4. If drive was previously partitioned, but no partitions are currently seen in FDISK, do not attempt to create new partitions if data on drive is to be saved. 
Code Corruption Or Errors 
  1. Clean boot the system to a boot disk and execute FDISK/MBR and SYS C:. Make
    sure DOS version on the floppy disk is the same version as on the hard drive before
    using SYS command. 
  2. Bypass CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT (F5 using DOS ver. 6.0 or later, rename both files to .BAK or similar for older versions of DOS). If this works, use the F8 key to walk through each step of these files until the problem is found, then edit both the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files and comment out (rem) the statement causing problem. 
  3. Check for drive compression 
  4. Delete partition using FDISK. Repartition and reformat. 
  5. Low-Level Format the hard drive using one of the following utilities:

Other issues to check:

  1. Check Master/Slave jumpers on all drives on primary controller 
  2. Check cable connections and try shorter replacement cable or connect drive to middle of cable. 
  3. Replace the controller card.
  4. Remove slave drive if present to determine if compatibility issue.


Tech Tip of the Week

Your hard drive has completely died, it will not spin up, nothing seems to work...  and you have data on the drive that absolutely must be recovered.  Now what?

There are companies that specialize in opening the drive, removing platters and if there exists any magnetically stored data, they can recover it.  They are expensive, but often replacing the data can cost far more.  Here is a list of a few of the better companies in the business:

CBL Data Recovery Technologies Inc.
Phone: 1-800-551-3917 or
Fax: 1-905-479-1515

Data Recovery Labs
Phone: 1-800-563-1167 or
Fax: 1-800-563-6979

Data Recovery Services, Inc.
Phone: 877-304-7189
FAX: 214-350-8951


Phone: 1-800-440-1904 or
Fax: 1-415-883-0780

Ontrack Data Recovery
Phone: 1-800-872-2599 or
Fax: 1-612-937-5815

Reynolds Data Recovery
Phone: 1-800-223-7483 or
Fax: 1-303-776-7277


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