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[ The PC Guide | Troubleshooting and Repair Guide | The Troubleshooting Expert | Troubleshooting Specific Components | Troubleshooting Hard Disk Drives | Booting or Operation Problems ]

The hard disk won't autodetect in the BIOS setup program

Explanation: The hard disk drive cannot be detected using the autodetect utility within the BIOS setup program. Usually, the BIOS will pause for a long time while it searches for the drive, and then will return saying that the drive was not found.

Diagnosis: There are many, many different reasons why a hard disk may not be visible to the BIOS setup program. They usually fall into two major categories: problems with configuration (how the drives are set up) and problems with the drive itself. There are occasionally problems with the hard disk controller, but these are less common.


  • If this is a new hard disk, or a hard disk moved into a new system, or the system was just built or upgraded, I'd recommend reading this section that discusses common problems when setting up or working on new systems.
  • If you have another system that you can try the drive in, it is a good idea to connect it to the other PC and see if it will be detected there. Bear in mind that moving the disk to a new PC can introduce other variables that might confuse the issue, but I have seen this be a very effective way to isolate the trouble to either the hard disk or the PC. Similarly, if you try another identical (or even just similar) disk in place of the one not working, that can tell you if the problem is the drive or the hard disk controller (of course, the drive could just be jumpered incorrectly; see below for more). If the hard disk controller is implicated, troubleshoot it here.
  • You should determine if the hard disk has power and is spinning up. The only reliable way to do this is to take the cover off the PC and listen as you turn the power on. You should be able to hear the hard disk spin up. If it spins up and then spins back down again immediately, this is a sign of a problem with the disk itself. If it doesn't spin up at all, then either the drive is dead, or there is a problem with the power connection to the drive. Make sure the power input connection to the disk is tight. Try swapping it with a different power connector and see if the drive comes up. If other peripherals don't have power either this could be a power supply problem. Sometimes hard disks will not spin up if there isn't sufficient power at startup. This can happen especially with older power supplies.
  • If the disk is SCSI, you need to check all of the various parts of the SCSI chain. The SCSI host adapter (controller) must be checked to ensure that it is working properly. The hard disk and all other devices on the SCSI chain must have a different device ID. The termination must be set up correctly. See here for more details on SCSI configuration.
  • If the disk is on an IDE channel with another drive (hard disk or CD-ROM), then you should try the disk by itself on the channel. You may need to change the jumpers on the drive to do this, but you definitely need to try the drive without the complicating factor of another device on the channel. If the disk works by itself but not when set up with another drive, you may have a master/slave conflict. (Note that sometimes there actually is no conflict; the drive may not have been jumpered correctly, and you may have inadvertently fixed this when the configuration was changed).
  • Make sure that the hard disk is configured properly. The jumpers should be set correctly. The ribbon cable should be inserted properly and pin 1 on the drive should be matched up with pin 1 on the hard disk controller or motherboard.
  • If you had a master and a slave drive on the IDE channel and removed one of the two drives, the one that remains may need to be rejumpered. Some hard disks--for example those manufactured by Western Digital--use different jumpers for when they are a master with a slave drive present vs. when they are alone on a channel. If you leave a WD drive jumpered as master when it is alone on the channel, it may not boot, or may boot only after a long delay. Other manufacturers' drives may work just fine this way, however.
  • Make sure that if you are using only one controller, that the ribbon cable for the drive is connected to the correct IDE port on the motherboard or controller. If you connect it to the secondary channel's port instead of the primary channel's, then the disk may not be detected.
  • Make sure that the IDE controller is enabled; on modern systems the IDE controllers are enabled or disabled using BIOS settings. It is common for the secondary controller to be disabled; if you are adding a hard disk to the secondary channel you will need to enable the channel. The primary IDE channel should of course also be enabled if the primary channel is being used.
  • Watch out for conflicts between built-in IDE controllers and add-in controllers. If you are using an add-in controller, for example for enhanced BIOS translation support, then you need to make sure you disable the built-in controller so that there is no conflict. Watch out for sound cards that have IDE controllers built in to them--this is quite common. Make sure the controller is not enabled unless you are using it.
  • There could be a problem related to the IDE cable. If you have another IDE cable, try replacing the existing one and seeing if this solves the problem. Try a shorter cable if possible; long cables sometimes cause problems. Make sure that the IDE cable is not being stretched or crimped.
  • Some BIOSes fail very ungracefully when they are presented with a disk that has a geometry including over 4,096 cylinders (over 2.1 GB). In some cases they will fail to detect the drive at all (others may have a problem with these larger disks but they will at least notice that the disk is there). Some BIOSes apparently handle 2 GB disks OK but choke on hard disks over 4 GB. You should investigate your motherboard's characteristics to find out if there are any known limitations.
  • Some very old hard disks may not autodetect at all; they may just not work on your system. This is quite unusual and not encountered often with modern hardware.
  • I have seen a hard disk lock up and not be able to be recognized by the system in some circumstances when paired with a CD-ROM drive on an IDE channel.
  • Believe it or not, some older Compaq PCs used proprietary hard disks. You could not just plug in any old IDE hard disk and expect it to work. If you have an older Compaq (386 class) then you may want to contact their technical support about a hard disk for it.
  • If after trying all of the above the hard disk still appears to be dead, you should contact the technical support department of the drive's manufacturer for more assistance. Sometimes there are special situations that arise that the technical support people may be able to help you with--for example, a drive may have a known problem for which there is a workaround. You may also want to inquire about the possibility of a replacement drive if it is still under warranty.
  • If the hard disk is dead and you have a concern about data on it, look here.

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