A No Fixed Disks error message sounds clear enough, but depending on when this error occurs, you could be looking at either a software or hardware problem or both. Recently, TechRepublic member egutierrez posted a question in our Technical Q&A about receiving such an error message when booting from a boot disk. Other TechRepublic members were quick to respond, suggesting that hard drive cables may be disconnected, the drive(s) may be physically damaged, or that the member in question might be using a SCSI drive or a RAID array rather than an IDE drive. While all of these responses are correct, I would like to elaborate on them and suggest some other possibilities.

Receiving the error from within FDISK
If you get a No Fixed Disk Present message when booting from floppy, first consider what operation was being performed when the error message appeared. There’s a big difference between receiving the error when running FDISK and receiving the error when issuing the C: command.

When FDISK reports that there was No Fixed Disk Present, the problem is often of a more physical nature. For example, a cable may be loose or disconnected from the hard drive. If the machine is several years old, there’s a chance that its BIOS may not support larger hard drive sizes, which could also cause this error message.

Receiving the error while issuing the C: command
If on the other hand, FDISK recognizes the drive, but you’re unable to access it through other commands, such as C:, the drive could be unformatted or using a file system that’s not supported by your boot disk. For example, if the hard disk is running the FAT32 file system, a boot disk that was made using Windows 95 (prior to OSR2) wouldn’t be able to access the drive.

Likewise, you wouldn’t be able to access an NTFS partition from a DOS style boot disk. So if the machine is bootable from the hard disk, I recommend checking to see which operating system and which file system is in use on the system, and then making sure that your boot disk is compatible.

Check for SCSI drives or disk array
One final possibility is that the system could be using a SCSI drive or a disk array. In either case, these types of drives aren’t usually accessible from outside of the operating system, because they require special drivers. To determine which type of drives you have, from within Windows 2000 or Windows XP, you can open the System applet from the Control Panel. Select the Hardware tab from the Now Open System Properties window and click the Device Manager button. The Device Manager contains a list of all of the hardware in the system. By going through this list, shown in Figure A, you can determine exactly what type of hard drive(s) that the system has.

Figure A
This computer has one IDE hard drive and contains no SCSI devices.

If you determine that your system is using an NTFS partition, SCSI drive(s), or a disk array, and you really need to get access to the drive from outside of the operating system, I recommend ERD Commander 2002 from Winternals Software. This application will allow you to access just about any Windows partition from a command prompt.

How do you handle hard disk problems?

What do you check first when it comes to hard drive problems? Post a comment to this discussion. Do you have a particularly puzzling technical question? Visit our Technical Q&A and post your problem.