Windows XP "Disk Read Error Occurred" Problem, difficulty in resolving...

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Thread Starter
Jan 23, 2009
Greetings everyone.
Last Tuesday when I turned my computer on, I got the message “A disk read error occurred, press crtrl+alt+delete to restart”. Since then I have been searching online for a way to get my computer back up & running.
The specs of my computer:

Dell Inspiron 9100 Notebook
Windows XP Pro SP3
P4 @ 3.2 Ghz w/ Hyper Threading
1 gb Memory
160 gb Western Digital PATA/IDE HD
(Replaced original 80 gb HD in May 08 b/c too small)
Removable internal DVD/CD-RW drive (& a removable internal floppy disk)
Purchased in Oct. 04.

When I installed the new HD back in May, I used Apricorn EZ Gig II & the included HD enclosure to copy the contents of the old HD onto the new one.

I first ran the onboard Dell diagnostics; it did a full system scan (from the processor to the memory to the HD) it told me everything was fine.
I then ran the WD hard drive utility from a floppy disk. I ran both the quick & full tests and it told me there were no problems.

Since the HD seems to be alright, I’ve been wondering if something has corrupted the Master Boot Record. I do my best to keep my system in check; security-wise I run Norton 360 2.0 & Ad-Aware 2008 (there’s more I can do though, I know). I don’t think it could be malware, but who knows.

Anyways, I’ve tried booting from my Windows CD to get to the Recovery Console or do a repair installation, but things hit a snag. The drive spins up & I get a message telling me setup is preparing files, but then the screen goes black & nothing else happens, other what sounds like the optical drive spinning down. This happens regardless of whether I go into bios & change the boot order or if I press F12 to go to the one-time boot menu. I have also tried using a knoppix LiveCD (something I read about on several forum threads), but all I get is a message telling me there is not bootable media.

I tried using my external DVD Burner drive, but to no avail. It does not matter if I remove the internal optical drive & adjust bios (to both the CD drive & or USB), it won’t work. The drive spins up, but nothing happens.

I know the Windows CD works as I’ve tested it in another computer.

I then downloaded the XP floppy disk boot set & tried to get Windows set-up started with them. It works fine until I am asked to insert the 6th disk. Once I do that, I get the blue screen of death with the following error message:

“A problem has been detected and windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer. (etc etc.)
Technical Information:
***STOP: 0x000007B (0Xf7a524, 0xC0000034, 0x00000000, 0x00000000)”

At this point I’m out of ideas. I can’t figure out why the CD drive is acting as it is & why the BSOD is appearing with the floppy disks. It may be due to search fatigue, but in all the forums I’ve read I have yet to find out an explanation for my drive issues or solution to getting Windows running.

The vast majority of my data is backed up on a second work/personal notebook; however there is some information that I did not have recently backed up O(I know, stupidity & a bit of procrastination to blame). Among this is the information for my personal finances program (last backup was as of Dec 28th) & as I play The Sims 2 in my spare time, some houses/projects I was working on.
If would prefer to get Windows working properly again, but at this point if I could get it running stably long enough so I could get into the programs/files I need to back up I would accept that.

I’d rather not have to write zeroes to the drive & reinstall Windows (although I have occasionally thought about it just to get rid of all the accumulated system detrus that gums up the os overtime). I have some programs that I no longer have the disks for & again I would rather not lose the information I don’t have backed up. My other concern is if I do that, my internal optical drive may continue to act as it is now & I would be unable to do anything installation wise.

I’ve been resistant to taking it into a computer shop as I’m incredibly cheap, but also because I want to learn how to deal with this. I’m the “tech guy” for my father’s business & for many of my friends & some of my extended family. I want to know how to handle future issues like that may crop up. I’ve always admitted that I am still learning & that there is a lot I don’t know yet.

I’ve thought about reinstalling the old HD to at least get my computer working, but I’m not sure if the old drive will work. It’s been sitting in my safe & I’m not sure how the vibrations from closing the top safe door have affected it.

Does anyone have any ideas on how I can get this situation dealt with, or am I (for lack of a better phrasing) essentially screwed?
Aug 1, 2003
It is never necesaary nor a good idea to "write zeros to the drive" unless you are throwing or giving it away.

As far as Knoppix goes, I suspect that you burned it incorrectly.

How To Write ISO Files To CD

Free ISO burning apps:

Standalone ISO Burner (Be sure to check the "Finalize" box.)
[email protected] ISO Burner
ISO Recorder for XP (Uses XP's burner and adds context menu - Vista version also available.)

If you are ambitious, you could also take a look at the drive with a bootable partitioning tool. Paragon has a surface test built in.

Paragon Partition Manager 8.5-- PPM Special Edition serial and free registration
CloneZilla GParted LiveCD (Complete partitioning and drive imaging/restoration tools)
Gparted LiveCD
Parted Magic

And I would run another memory test, possibly letting it run at least a couple hours.

MemScope (Floppy and CD images.)
Microsoft Memory Test (floppy or CD ISO image)

If you have enough memory sticks, you can test them by removing one at a time and see if the problem disappears.
Jul 14, 2006
I suspect a bad/dirty connection with your graphics card. If you bought the Inspiron in '04 it's had plenty of time (and handling) for thermal dynamics to work their dirty little tricks.

If you're comfortable with opening up your laptop, I would suggest that you download your service manual from the Dell site. Follow all the precautions about static electric discharge. Open up the laptop (remove the keyboard, etc.) to where you can remove and then reinstall the graphics card. You'll have to unplug the cable from the display, then remove several screws to get the card out.

Make sure the connectors are clean, then reinstall the graphics card, being careful of the alignment---don't want to bend anything. The same precaution applies to the display cable connectors.

While you're inside, check all your vents/fans for accumulated dust bunnies.


Thread Starter
Jan 23, 2009
Alright, finally getting to updating on the issue; work & other commitments have kept me from doing much (online anyways) the last several weeks. Here is my progress so far.
I don't think that there is anything going on with the graphic card's connections as I removed the new/current HD & reinstalled the old one & it booted right up. (dust-wise I'm pretty neurotic about keeping the system clean, I remove the fans & clean everything out several times a year). I've connected the new drive (in my enclosure) to my second notebook & ran chkdsk which finished with no errors detected. I gave it a second go with my main computer now using the old HD; same results. I've also run a couple of virus scans on the current drive too (nothing detected).
To take a stab in the dark, I restarted the computer and tried booting off the Windows CD; this time it took off & entered the Windows install screen. This makes me question my problems trying to do a CD boot with the current HD (more on this later).
I've updated Windows & the security programs on the old HD to bring it current & allow me to still use the computer. Since I've had the current HD in the enclosure I've spent some time going through my files on it. I've been able to access the files for my financial program (I now have it up, running & current on the old HD) & copied some of the important files on The Sims 2 (my neifghtborhoods & houses; whether I'll be able to do anything with them is another question).
Once I had everything in order (sort of) on the old HD, I swapped the current HD back into the computer & gave it a go. Unfortunately my results weren't promising.
I first tried booting off of the Windows CD, but all I got was the same as earlier (The drive will spin up & it'll start to load files, then the screen will go black & the optical drive will spin down). Trying to boot off the HD still brings up the disk read error message.
At this point I've run out of ideas. I still can't figure out why the optical drive is behaving like this, not running with the current drive while working fine with the old one. I just don't think it's an issue with the drive itself because I've been able to use the enclosure and read the information on it w/o any problems.
As I continue to peck at it, I'll update. In the meantime, anyone have any other thoughts?
Jul 14, 2006
I don't think that there is anything going on with the graphic card's connections
is not the same as "I removed the graphics card, cleaned the connections, and reinstalled the card.

You haven't eliminated the graphics card as an issue, you've only dismissed it. Bad connections (PCI, IDE, AGP, PCI-e, memory) can produce unpredictable and seemingly unrelated error messages with any and all other hardware. An erroneous memory call resulting from a bad connection can appear to the memory bus as if it's coming from anywhere in the configuration, and can generate error messages from the "presumed" hardware, or produce erratic behavior at other system levels.

The first step when troubleshooting strange behavior is "Is it plugged in?" Since there are a number of items plugged in (or not quite) at a number of places, they should ALL be checked.

Once you're absolutely certain everything is properly plugged in, you can proceed to the next step

I had a weeks-long incident long ago with an electrical engineer who was absolutely certain that erratic behavior from a trend recorder was operator.error because he had dismissed (but not necessarily checked) all other possibilities. Turned out to be a 16-conductor ribbon cable with a cracked lead in a preformed pleat. The engineer had to be forced by his supervisor to change the cable. Subsequent testing of the cable revealed the bad connection (the cracked lead).
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