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3/10/06 Primary drive not found!

by Marc Bennett CNET staff/forum admin / March 9, 2006 2:34 AM PST

Every time I boot up my Dell Dimension desktop, I immediately get an error message that says "Primary drive not found." I then have the option of hitting F1 to continue, or F2 to go to a configuration utility. If I hit F1, my computer almost always starts up as usual. I've made sure all the drive cables are totally connected, I only have one hard drive (so it must be finding the "primary drive"), I've even reinstalled Windows XP, yet the issue remains. Otherwise, my computer runs great, but it's a pretty alarming error message that I would somehow like to fix.

Submitted by: Gretchen G. of San Francisco, CA

(WARNING: This week?s answer and some recommendations suggest that you edit settings in your BIOS. If you are at all uncomfortable or unfamiliar with this task, please let someone who is experienced perform it. You don?t want to end up worse off than before! Thank you.)




While the error message sounds ominous, the solution to your problem might be quite simple. In fact, the most likely cause of the error message is that your computer's BIOS is set to boot off a hard drive that isn't there. Let me explain.

When you turn on a Dell Dimension (or any other computer, for that matter), a set of coded instructions known as Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) prepares the hardware so that your operating system and other programs can take over. One of the things that happens during this "booting" process is that your BIOS looks for the operating system, drivers, and start up programs in a predetermined location.

The default location is usually your hard drive, which should be listed as Primary Drive 0 in your Dimension's setup or configuration utility (more on this later). If your Primary Drive 0 field is set to something other than your hard drive, your computer will display the "Primary drive not found" error message. When you hit F1 to continue, the BIOS then looks for another bootable device. This is why you are able to eventually start Windows XP.

Your computer's BIOS is located on a Read-Only Memory chip so that you are able to boot from a different bootable drive or removable media if your primary hard drive fails. It is neither part of your hard drive, nor part of your operating system. This explains why the issue you described persists despite your reinstalling Windows XP. It also explains why your computer "runs great" after the short delay caused by the error message.

So what ultimately caused the problem? Without more information about your computer and the onset of the problem, it is difficult to identify the definitive culprit. It is possible that someone entered setup and accidentally changed some settings. Or, if your PC was recently serviced, some settings might have been modified at that time. This is especially true if a hard drive was replaced. A newer hard drive in a relatively old computer might necessitate a BIOS update.

Let's try these troubleshooting steps:

1. Start your computer. You will notice that shortly after the Dell logo screen appears, the upper right corner prompts you Press the F2 key to enter Startup, or the F12 key to enter the Boot Menu. Press and hold down the F2 key until the message changes from "F2 = Setup" to "Entering Setup." If your computer does not enter setup at this time, wait until the "Primary drive not found" message appears and press F2 then.
2. Using the arrow keys on your keyboard, scroll down to Primary Drive 0. The value for this field should be set to Hard Drive. My guess is yours is set to something else, or is off.
3. Press the SPACE bar to see what is listed as your primary drive, if anything. A hard drive should be listed by the name of its manufacturer (e.g., Western Digital, Dell, Seagate) and/or its serial number. If it isn't, or if the Primary Drive 0 field is set to OFF, change it to either AUTO or DETECT. (If you have any questions about any of the settings, press the F1 key for help.)
4. Press ESC to exit.
5. Scroll down to Primary Drive 1. If "Hard Drive" is listed here, use the SPACE bar once again to open the menu window and change the value to AUTO or DETECT. Press ESC to exit.
6. Press ESC once more.
7. Select Save changes and Exit, then press ENTER. Your computer will now reboot.
Your computer should start without any problems or error messages.

If the issue persists, the problem may be caused by your computer booting so fast that it tries to read your hard drive before the latter has a chance to spin. To correct this problem, enter the configuration utility once again by pressing F2. Check whether there is a setting listed as "Hard Drive Pre Boot Delay" or "Hard Drive Pre Delay." If your BIOS has this setting, increase the delay time by 5-10 seconds, exit the utility and restart your computer.

If the delay setting is unavailable, or increasing the time fails to solve the problem, I would suggest you visit Dell Support ( and use the Chat with Hardware Support link to discuss the issue with a representative. (I strongly discourage you from using phone support unless you are willing to explore the limits of both your patience and your sanity.)

If the onset of this issue coincided with a hard drive replacement, ask the rep whether there is a BIOS update available for your particular Dimension model. You could also use the Drivers & Downloads Tool (found under Popular Support Tools) to find out whether or not one is available.

Updating your computer BIOS is easy, but there is a significant risk: If you do it wrong, you will be unable to start your computer. If you need to update your BIOS, make sure you read Dell Knowledge Base Article FA1033387, titled How can I obtain the latest upgrade to my basic input/output system (BIOS) or system setup file?

(Your Dell Owner's Manual might also cover the subject.)

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Submitted by: Miguel K. of Columbus, OH

Note: I created the tiny url to fix some page rendering issues we had with the original link. The link goes to Dell customer support and is safe to click - Marc
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by Marc Bennett CNET staff/forum admin / March 9, 2006 2:34 AM PST

So this solution should be fairly easy. Let me give you a little background on your system. Most Dell Dimension systems can support two hard drives directly connected to the system board. These are normally called Drive 0 and Drive 1. These hard drives are controlled by the Hard drive controller built into the system board, we will call it the onboard controller for this discussion. On occasion, it becomes necessary to enable or disable the onboard controller, especially if one wants to install a different type of hard drive controller, like SCSI or SATA.

Enabling or disabling of the onboard hard drive controller is done in the System Setup screen, also called the BIOS screen. The problem you are describing can be caused by changing the BIOS hard driver controller settings so that the system thinks there should be a second hard drive attached. When you boot the system, the BIOS looks for the second hard drive (primary drive 1), but if it isn?t physically there, the BIOS posts the message on the screen that says it was not found. You are then given the option to press F1 to continue and boot from the hard drive it did find, or press F2 to make changes in the BIOS to correct the problem.

On Dell systems, one can enter the BIOS screen by pressing F2 or the Delete key after a reboot or a few seconds after powering on the unit. In your case, you are receiving the message to press F2, so on your next chance, go ahead and press F2 when instructed to do so. Once you are in the setup screen and depending on the model of your system, you should see one of three possible screens, lets take these one at a time. The most likely screen you could see should list a Primary Drive 0 and Primary Drive 1. As you mentioned in your message, you only have one hard drive, so Primary Drive 0 should be set to one of a few options, depending on the BIOS type and version. Look for: Enabled, Auto, Detected, or perhaps even an entry that describes the size and model of the hard drive. For Primary Drive 1, this should be set to Off, Disabled or None. Be sure to not change any other settings in the BIOS unless you have read up on what the change will produce. No matter which BIOS screen you see, at the bottom of the screen is a small help menu that describes how to navigate and make changes to the BIOS fields/options. Don?t forget to exit and save your changes.

The second screen you may see when you press F2 when prompted to do so will have some ?tabs? across the top of the screen, called Main, Advanced, Security, Power, Boot and Exit. Again, follow the navigation instructions at bottom of the screen. In this case, use the right arrow to highlight the Advanced tab, then the down arrow to the ?IDE configuration? or the Hard Drive option, and press Enter. This should get you to the point where you can see what the hard drive settings are. You should see two hard drive controller options, both should be enabled, especially if you have a cd-rom drive in the system. Highlight the Primary IDE controller, and below you should see ?IDE Primary Master? and ?IDE Primary Slave?. The Primary Master should again be: Enabled, Auto, Detected, or perhaps even an entry that describes the size and model of the hard drive. The IDE Primary Slave should be set to Off, Disabled or None. Once again, exit and be sure to save the changes.

The third screen you may see when you press F2 when prompted to do so will show a ?Drive Configuration? option. Use the down arrow to highlight that option and press Enter. Make sure the Primary Master Drive is set to Auto, and the Primary Slave Drive is set to Off. Exit and save the settings. Following these steps depending on your system model and BIOS type should stop the error messages from being displayed at bootup. Good Luck!

Submitted by: Ray G.



Hi Gretchen,

I had this same exact problem a few months back after I installed a second hard drive, so I know exactly how you feel. As you said, it isn't in any way serious, but it does get annoying. Luckily for you, the problem is relatively easy to fix. As I don't know how familiar you are with computers my explanations may get slightly verbose and make for dull reading, but please bear with me.

The first step is to determine what the settings are on your computer. In order to do this, restart the computer. As the first screen with the Dell logo comes up, push F2 (in the upper left area of your keyboard). You should see the words "Entering Setup..." in the top right corner of the monitor. After the computer enters setup, scroll down to select the option labeled "Drive Configuration" and push enter. A window should appear that contains 6 options. The ones you are interested in are the middle four. They should be "Primary Master Drive," "Primary Slave Drive," "Secondary Master Drive," and "Secondary Slave Drive." From this point on, any time I refer to "all" or "any" of the options, I am referring to "all" or "any" of these middle four. Since you only have one hard drive the words directly across from "Primary Master Drive" should be the only ones that read "Hard Drive." All the other options should read either "Off," meaning there is nothing connected there, or "CD-ROM Device" or "DVD-ROM Device" if you have one. If your settings are different from those described above, this is most likely the source of your problem. Continue to the next paragraph for instructions on fixing this.

First, let's check your main hard drive configuration. If the words directly across from "Primary Master Drive" do NOT read "Hard Drive," continue with this paragraph; however, if they do, then skip ahead to the next paragraph. In order to fix a problem with the "Primary Master Drive" highlight "Primary Master Drive" and push enter. Then, highlight "Drive Type" and push the right arrow key until the words directly across from "Drive Type" read "Auto." After you've done this push Enter. After your next reboot the words across from "Primary Master Drive" should read "Hard Drive" (You must reboot for the computer to recognize the change, otherwise it will just say "Unknown Device"). After the reboot, reenter the "Drive Configuration" sub-menu of the Setup (see the second paragraph if you have forgotten how) & continue to the next paragraph.

After correcting the "Primary Master Drive" option (if necessary), look at the remaining three. If any of the remaining three have the words "Unknown Device" next to them, then that is your problem. Highlight the option that says "Unknown Device" and push enter. Select "Drive Type" and push the right arrow button until the words directly across from "Drive Type" read "Off." Now push enter once to return to the Drive Configuration menu & repeat the above steps as necessary for any other options that read "Unknown Device."

Now that you have made the appropriate corrections, the "Drive Configuration" menu should read as described in the second paragraph. That is, the "Primary Master Drive" should read "Hard Drive," and all of the other options should read either "Off" or some other device, like a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. Absolutely no option should read "Unknown Device." If it does, refer to the above paragraph for instructions. Once the settings are as described, push enter once to return to the main setup window. Now push escape ("Esc" in the upper left corner of your keyboard), select "Save Changes and Exit" and push enter.

Your computer should now reboot and load Windows without showing the error message. Good luck in the future.

P.S.- If your computer still shows the error message, go back to beginning and read carefully to make sure you didn't miss something. If you are sure that you have followed the instructions exactly and your computer still shows the error message when booting, then the problem is not the settings, but rather that the hard drive is connected to the wrong IDE cable inside of your computer. If this is the case, you should talk to a computer repairman or someone who is very knowledgeable about working inside computers & proper safety when handling electrical components, as working inside a computer can be extremely hazardous unless you know exactly what you are doing. I would not feel safe giving instructions on how to work inside a computer unless I was actually there supervising the work.

Submitted by: Andrew M. of Plano, TX




This sounds an awful lot like the hard drive not spinning up fast enough to run through it's usual self test and to report itself as being ready for the next step in the boot process - loading Windows.

When you press the power button on your computer, the motherboard and most peripherals go through what is known as a POST (Power On Self Test) sequence. In the good old days, you would have seen memory being counted up.

These days, you probably won't see much in the way of diagnostic information, usually a logo from the company that made the computer.

In your case, I suspect the drive may be a bit sluggish either from one of two possible causes. Either it's got worn out bearings and the extra friction is making it slow to get up to speed OR possibly the power supply isn't providing enough juice to get the motor revved up and moving fast enough.

If it's the first issue, it may be on it's last legs. Fortunately, most major drive makers have utilities that either come with the drive or can be downloaded from their web sites that can do a bit of diagnosing to see what, if anything's wrong with or can be done to fix the drive.

I'm going to assume the computer's warranty has expired and Dell's service is no longer available to help. I'm also going to assume that this phenomenon only recently started happening and wasn't happening when the computer was brand new.

You can find out the exact make/model of drive by right - clicking on the My Computer icon (on the desktop if you've got it there) or on the start menu and selecting Manage. Once the Computer Management window pops up, select the Device Manager on the left hand side. Next, select "Disk Drives" item on the list. Click the little Plus symbol to the left and you should see your primary hard drive listed. Depending on the maker, you may see Maxtor, WDC (Western Digital), Samsung, IBM/Hitachi, Fujitsu or any number of other brands.

From here, it's a question of finding the correct web site. The simplest way to find the right one is to search Google for the maker's home page. On the home page, you should be able to find links to their support area. From there, you'd need to find the model number of the drive you've got and from there, you should be able to find the maker's utility section that will have what you need to check the hard drive. Western Digital, for instance, has a utility called Data Lifeguard. These utilities, by the way, are generally free.

Download and install the utility and run it. Note: SOME utilities may want to install themselves on a floppy disk. In that case, you will need a blank, formatted floppy.

The diagnostic utility will then be able to evaluate the drive's condition and will make recommendations. If it recommends replacement, and you're beyond your drive's warranty period, it's time to buy a new hard drive. If the drive IS under warranty, you'll need to contact the drive's manufacturer, arrange for an RMA and have a new one shipped. Oh, and if this is the case, you'll definitely want to back up your data as they will be sending you a replacement drive. Unfortunately, you will have to reinstall Windows and other software again, but at least, the drive should be good for a couple of years more. Or until you're ready for whatever your next computer will be.

If it's no longer under warranty from the drive maker, you will need to buy yourself a new drive. At least at this point, you will have the original drive available - so you can plug both drives in and copy your data files ONLY from the old drive to the new one. You can't copy Windows and your programs without special software - such as a hard drive cloning or imaging utility such as Paragon Hard Disk Manager or Norton Ghost. If you do, the registry probably won't copy properly and you'll have a mess on your hands.

Now then, if the drive utility says the drive is working properly, the next thing to check would be the power supply. Unless you're well versed in electronics, you probably won't have the tools needed to check power supply.

You have two options in this case. Take the computer in for service at a REPUTABLE computer shop and have them test the power supply - specifically the power leads going to the hard drive OR, purchase another power supply and replace it yourself. While this may seem a daunting task, it's actually quite simple. The downside to this is that most power supplies aren't cheap.

If you were to buy one, be sure to make sure your new one meets or exceeds the rating of the old one. Do not buy one that doesn't at least match the one you're replacing. For instance, if your existing PSU is rated at 350 watts, and your new one is only rated at 250 watts, chances are very good that the entire computer won't boot as the PSU doesn't have the umph to power the entire system.

Replacing the power supply is simple enough - Unplug the system; make note of where the power supply plugs into the motherboard, drives, etc...; pull the connectors loose; unscrew the four screws in the back of the computer holding the PSU in and remove the unit. Installation is the reverse - place the PSU in the box; replace the screws; connect the various plugs to their original locations and plug it into the wall.

At this point, the computer should come back to life, everything should be working properly. If it still does that, you will probably want to take it in for service at a reputable computer shop.

Submitted by: Pete Z.



Have you replaced the CMOS backup battery? It's usually a flat disc that looks rather like a coin.

You may also need to "flush" your CMOS memory--the password reset jumper may not be enough. Remove the battery for a good couple of hours with the machine turned off. (A few seconds is usually all that is required--but err on the side of caution.) This will reset all your BIOS settings to factory default, and erase any oddities that may have arisen. It would also present an ideal time to take the old battery to the shops and buy a new one (about $2.00).

Your drive may be due to fail. One would guess that you currently have your BIOS drive setting as "AUTO". When supplying autodetect information, some drives use information burned into a chip, and if that has been corrupted, you will be pressing the "F1" key for the rest of the drive's life.

Other drives actually store that same information on one of the platters! This is a neat cheat used by manufacturers, where they can turn out a single drive (Say 200 GB) and then market them as 40, 80, 100 (etc.) Gig drives just by writing drive parameters to the proprietary sector. If this information has been damaged, then you may be able to find someone who can rewrite that information to the drive. If you're lucky, the technician may in fact discover that the drive's real capacity is much higher, and write that information instead. Voila! New bigger hard drive. Of course, you keep your data backed up, don't you?

Lastly, there is the possibility that the drive has "failed" and does not initialize fast enough to be found by the BIOS during boot, but has self-initialized by the time you press the "F1" key. This can be tested.

Power up from cold and you will predictably get the error message. Then go through the re-start procedure without interrupting the power. Do you still get the error message? If YES explore the data corruption options, if NO start looking for a new drive, or at least a "borrowed" drive to test this theory.

Submitted by: Treknology



I've had various problems before with my Dell Dimension 4500('02). There were numerous times where I had the affixation saying "Primary Drive not found." I do have good news though!

1) You must of already opened the case to make sure the wires are connected properly, next step, pull out your primary drive from the case. If you notice by the "IDE" and power cable there are 8 copper prongs with a white plastic piece inserted near the plug-ins.

2) This plastic piece can determine whether or not your hard drive is the master/primary drive, slave drive, and a couple other options. If you flip the drive on its shiny back you should notice a picture of how to configure your Hard Drive(HD). Make sure that white plastic piece is configured the way it should be by the picture. It should take a couple of minutes to figure out by trial and error. Be careful with it too! It has a small notch so you can use a tool with an edge to help remove.

3) Reboot the CPU, if the message still comes up, reboot the CPU and try going into your NetBIOS settings by F2 or Control-ALT-(DELETE or ESC), either way should work. These are master settings telling you how your entire hardware is configured.

4) I would recommend going into each menu option just so you can see how your CPU's hardware is configured so it gives you an idea of how your CPU lives. If your ever to scared to go into these menu options just follow the directions on how to escape out. These directions are located on the bottom of the screen. In NetBIOS you can only use your keyboard, you won't see a pointer to get your way around. When you get into the option to where you see your harddrive, check to see if it actually is called your "PRIMARY." You'll notice your harddrive has a name too. If it is not on "PRIMARY" then you CAN and should change the settings to primary, not secondary or anything else and save, then reboot.

5) No need to re-install Windows because Windows doesn't necessarily control NetBIOS. Windows mainly controls the software that is installed. There are Admin tools in Windows to configure your devices installed on the CPU, but remember it's all software that helps run the devices. NetBIOS is linked from the motherboard to the HD so you can access its information.

6) Another tip is by checking what version you have of NetBIOS while you are in it. When the CPU boots up go to to see if there are any updates for it. Also, your version of NetBIOS to see if it has faults that can't be fixed. If so you can retrieve a different NetBIOS version with no bugs. There are many NetBIOS versions on the net you can download, you just have to look in the right direction.

7) If you don't have a virus scanner I would recommend installing one including at least 2-3 top notch spyware scanners (Ad-aware, SpyBot, and WebRoot) to weed out the "ware" that could be potentially harmful to you and your computer. Some viruses are nasty, and you wouldn't notice that they are running in the background destroying files or your motherboard. I've seen viruses completely fry an entire system.

Hopefully these steps will help, if not, I would recommend going to a professional near you to assess your CPU. My dealings with Dell haven't been great, if you do call them, all they do is read off of a prompt. So you're not getting the maximum info you need to fix your problem. Good luck!

Submitted by: Thomas W. of Auburn, WA



There may be a couple of reasons for this to occur, one is that the drive is slowly deteriorating, and it may take more time to "initialize", so setting the drive initialization time (in BIOS, change to 3 or 6 seconds) longer may help get rid of the message, but this is just a temporary measure. Using a drive diagnostics program may help identify your problem, find out what the drive vendor is, and check their support for drive diagnostic programs, and run them to find out what happened.

Or, if your BIOS has changed, possibly due to an old backup battery, it may have changed some of the drive settings, go into the BIOS (hit delete or F1 on startup) and check to see how the drive settings are, set them to "AUTO" for the drive selection, and the drive initialization to 3 - 6 seconds, and set drive "SMART" mode on (this may slow down the drive slightly, but is another safeguard) and reboot, and see if it starts up normally.

Another possibility is minimal damage to the boot sector or FAT, the only way to check for this is to run a complete surface scan of the drive, and seeing if it comes up with any errors in the boot or FAT sectors.

Last, but most dangerous, is the possibility that the IDE bus is getting corrupt, I.E. Hardware failure on the motherboard, there is no solution to this but replacement of the motherboard. The only way to find this out is to take the hard drive out, and test it on another machine, and see if the failure (from startup or drive diagnostics) reoccurs.

Submitted by: Derick B. of St. Catharines, Ontario



Dear Gretchen G.,

I have a pretty good idea on how to fix your error message. However, to explain where it came from and what to do about it, I have to explain a bit on how the computer works.

Most PC's nowadays comes with two IDE channels. That means it has a primary and secondary port for IDE (a.k.a. ATA) drives. Each port can accept two drives, commonly called master and slave (don't ask me where that came from, please!) for a total of 4 drives. It is possible to add a tertiary and/or quaternary IDE ports to a PC, but those are not widely supported. Drives in this case would include both hard drives and optical drives (such as CD readers/burners and/or DVD readers/burners).

Just because your hard drive is the only HD connected does NOT necessarily mean it is connected to the primary IDE channel. It could be connected to the secondary IDE channel. Computers can be very... pedantic when it comes to terminology.

PC nowadays can often set the IDE ports to "AUTO", which means every time you boot the computer, the PC will check the IDE ports for the devices that are connected, and configure automatically. However, that takes a few seconds to complete. People who are in a hurry can opt to do a single detect, and save the settings into PC's CMOS memory, also known as "BIOS settings", so it doesn't need to spend time doing the detect each and every time.

Most likely cause for the error is... Your mainboard is getting senile. Let me explain. Your mainboard had saved the hard drive settings to its memory, but due to a weak battery, it no longer remembered the setting, and thus, what it remembered doesn't match what's connected to it, and you get an error! You didn't mention how old your Dimension desktop is, but that seems to be the most likely cause so far. The solution for this is simple: replace the "silver coin" batteries on the mainboard. However, you'll need to take one out to see the actual model you need, or consult the owner's manual for details (Dell's website may have it).

There are other causes, but those are rather unlikely compared to this simple fix.

Give it a twirl and let us know what happens.

Submitted by: Kasey C. of San Francisco, CA




Error messages relating to hard drives usually mean that the computer is having difficulty reading information from the drive, indicating that the data wasn't saved properly, has been corrupted, or is possibly even missing. From the error you describe, it sounds like the computer is sometimes having challenges finding the primary drive at all, although you seen to be able to eventually get it to boot properly. This could be an indication of a few different issues, so here are some suggestions on where to start:

1.) First and most importantly - back up your drive! Or at least copy critical data to another source while you can still access the drive. Anytime I see errors related to a hard drive, I assume the worst and immediately save important files in case the drive fails completely.

2.) Start with the simple things first: Have you noticed your computer clock losing time? If so, the battery on your motherboard that stores information like date/time, boot settings, etc. may be wearing out and you should replace it.

3.) Run an error check on your hard drive. Sometimes important files can get damaged or corrupted, making it difficult for your computer to read from the drive. After your computer boots up, double click "My Computer", and then under the "Hard Disk Drives" section, right click on your primary drive - C: - and select "Properties". A new box will open showing details about your drive, including used and free space. Click on the second tab labeled "Tools" and then under the section "Error Checking" click on the "Check Now" box. A new box will pop up with 2 additional options - Automatically fix file system errors, Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors. I recommend running the utility once without checking the boxes, and if it comes back with no errors, I suggest clicking on both options and running the utility again. Windows XP will automatically run the full scan when you reboot again. This will find & fix minor issues created by damaged (corrupted) files, but if the drive is failing, the utility may indicate that it was unable to complete successfully.

4.) In line with starting simple, I have a neighbor who called a dishwasher repair man, paid the high fee for the initial assessment, and found out that his appliance worked fine. It was simply connected to an off/on wall switch which had been accidentally flipped to the off position. In your case, the power and computer are on, so that's not the issue. However, you indicated the drive cables are connected - but are they in good shape? Is the cable attached securely to the motherboard as well as to the drive? Is the power connector securely plugged in to the drive? To be safe, you may want to replace the drive cable anyway. They don't cost much and it's an easy way to eliminate one potential cause of the error. Also, if you have additional power plugs available, trying attaching a different one to the drive to eliminate that as a possible cause of the error.

5.) Analyze the hard drive. Most manufacturers have diagnostic utilities that will run tests to see if your hard drive is failing. Try checking the Web site of the company that made your drive and see if they have one, or if your computer is still under warranty, check with Dell. (Maxtor's utility is called "PowerMax" and can be found at by searching for "Powermax" using their search tool in the upper right corner of the Web page.) I recently noticed some performance issues with my secondary hard drive and after running Maxtor's PowerMax, learned that my drive was indeed failing. Conveniently, Maxtor uses this same tool to generate a diagnostic code that can be submitted via their Web site to request a replacement drive if the drive is still under warranty.

6.) If none of the points above correct the problem, it may indicate sporadic failure of the primary drive, in which case I would first recommend replacing it and seeing if that clears up the error. Of course this will require re-loading Windows XP on the new drive, as well as any data you were able to save from the old drive.

7.) Another indication is that there may be a problem with your motherboard or the drive interface, but that happens a lot less often than drive failure. Depending on the age of the system and the speed of the processor, you may want to consider replacing the machine altogether if that's the case.

Having experienced the same error you describe on a few occasions with various computers, in my opinion, it's probably a bad cable/connection. Possibly the drive is failing, but this error is happening early in the boot process and "Primary drive not found" means that the computer can't see it, which means that there's no data at all flowing between the drive and the motherboard. A faulty drive will usually at least transfer some data and may generate a "Primary drive failure" error rather than the one you describe. If it were me, I would replace the cable first since they're pretty inexpensive and see if that resolved the problem.

Hope this helps.

Submitted by: R. B.



Hi Gretchen,

This sounds like an installation or BIOS problem to me and doesn't have anything to do with the operating system (Windows XP). If the HD is an ATA100 or 133 that connects to the motherboard with an 80 wire ribbon cable, check the jumper setting (small plastic and metal rectangle on pins usually between power connector and data connector). Many new drives are set at CS (cable select).

The data (ribbon) cable usually has 3 connectors, one on either end and one about 1/3 of the way from one end. If the mid way connector is plugged into the HD, the BIOS detects it as a secondary drive especially if you have a bootable drive on the end connector such as a CD-ROM or DVD. Also make sure the cable is plugged into the primary port on the MB (see manual). Solve error message by connecting HD to end plug or changing the jumper setting on HD to Master (see diagram on top of HD for instructions) if cable isn't long enough to connect 2 drives in this configuration. If the HD is a SATA or SATA II drive it connects to the MB with a round cable. Make sure its plugged into the primary port on the MB.You may also need to check the BIOS settings by hitting F2 at the error message. Refer to your Motherboard manual for help in interpreting the settings.

It opens on the Main screen in American Megatrends BIOS. This will tell you if ATA HD is detected as Primary IDE Master. If not, suspect a cabling error. When changing cable connections always shut down the computer and unplug or switch off the power supply (depending on power supply you may have a rocker switch near power supply electrical outlet).

Submitted by: James C.



This problem is primarily caused by the boot sequence that is set in the BIOS utility. When you restart your computer next time, hit the applicable key on your keyboard to access the BIOS program. If you aren't familiar with the BIOS, it stands for Basic Input/Output System. It is where you can tweak your motherboard settings. Among other things, these settings include Boot Sequence.

Your computer generally has up to 4 devices it can boot from. The first 3 are usually the most common. They are (1) Floppy Device, (2) CD-ROM, and (3) HDD-0. There is more than one "HDD" choice to allow people with more than one hard drive to pick which of their multiple hard drives contains the operating system they wish to use. HDD-0 represents the primary hard drive; HDD-1 represents the secondary hard drive. You can set these in any order you want. There are advantages and disadvantages to setting them in any possible order.

If you tell the BIOS program you wand to boot to floppy and CD-ROM before the hard drive, it means your computer will first check the floppy drive (if one exists) for the presence of an operating system (or operating system command files). If one is found, it stops there and executes those files. If it doesn't find an operating system there, it proceeds to the CD-ROM drive, where it performs the same search. The same rules apply here. If an operating system is found, it executes that OS. If one isn't found, it moves on to the next device specified in the Boot Sequence. When it gets to the HDD, you should be in business.

As mentioned earlier, you can put those 3 devices in any order you like. And as stated earlier, there are pros and cons to each possible order. If you boot to HDD first, this should speed up the boot process. This can especially be the case if you frequently leave CD's or DVD's in your CD/DVD drive(s), since booting to CD-ROM first will cause the computer to search the CD or DVD for the presence of OS files. As you might guess, this can slow down the boot process.

However, the problem with booting to HDD first is that you'll lose floppy and/or CD-ROM-based OS support. If you've ever reformatted a hard drive, you'll know that most OS's are installed from a CD-ROM. If you've reformatted already (wiped out all files on the drive), then the computer will find that nothing is on the HDD and then move on to the floppy and CD-ROM drives in search of an OS. From the CD, you can install your OS on a fresh drive. But what happens if your OS still exists on the HDD and you're having problems with it? In that case - if the computer boots to HDD first, it will not be able to find the "good" OS located on the CD-ROM drive. You can use the "good" OS to re-install your OS or possibly also to diagnose problems with the OS on the hard drive. But if you tell the BIOS you want to boot to Floppy and/or CD-ROM first, it can look for an OS on CD-ROM and execute it if found. This can be very helpful if something is wrong with the OS on your hard drive.

Now comes your particular problem (or what I am 99% sure is the cause of it). Remember when I said there is a list of 4 devices the BIOS will search? I've only talked already about 3 of them. The 4th one generally is set to "LAN". This is useless to most home users. The only time it would work is if the computer in question is connected to a LAN and the LAN is providing some type of OS support. But again, the great majority of home-use users will not likely ever make use of this feature.

Where does that leave us? It leaves us with the extremely high likelihood that your BIOS is setup to boot to LAN before it boots to HDD. If you try to boot to LAN and no OS is found, the BIOS stops what it is doing and gives you the "No operating system found" error.
Since your BIOS probably doesn't have it last in the list, it means there are other devices that it is giving you the option of checking - but it won't do it automatically like it will with floppy, CD-ROM, and HDD. When you hit the F1 key, you're basically telling the BIOS to continue to the next device, where it eventually finds the OS and you're back to "business as usual". Even if you have no LAN support, it's a good idea to include "LAN" in the boot sequence (always make it the last choice though). Like this, I like to think of it as a built-in "hard drive dead" detector. With nothing in the floppy or CD-ROM drives and the HDD having what you believe to be a good, working OS...if the BIOS fails to detect an OS on the hard drive, it will attempt lastly to boot to LAN, where if none is found, it creates a "stop and don't continue" kind of message that it couldn't find an OS. This doesn't necessarily mean your hard drive is now worthless. But it DOES mean the hard drive is bad if you've eliminated all other possible causes (failed attempt to re-install or repair the OS, no problems with the HDD's actual connection to the motherboard, for example).

But the fact that your computer successfully boots up to your OS every single time you hit F1, it is very obvious to me your problem is simply a result of the boot sequence you have set. You can put your HDD before or after the floppy and CD-ROM drives - but just make sure that LAN setting is "dead" last (pun intended).

Submitted by: Scott Z. of San Jacinto, CA, USA



Your CMOS battery has died, CMOS is a chip in your computer that stores the machine configuration, the date, the time & boots the machine, most computers use a CR2032 clock or watch style button battery, you must read the computer manual to see how to change it, but a brief description is here: it must be done with your computer turned off & disconnected from the energy wall outlet, open the case & search for the battery, search for the type & model of the battery (stamped at the upside face of the battery), buy it & change it, be aware of connecting it the same way it was, check not to install it reversed, close the case, connect your machine to the energy wall outlet, before booting again you must read how to enter the Bios (CMOS) configuration routine, on most computers it's done by pressing the "DEL" or "DELETE" key but most brand machines differ from this, that's why you must read your machine's manual, boot your computer, press the bios configuration routine entering key or combination of keys, search in the menu for Basic configuration, disk detection or something similar, let the machine detect your disk , check that date & time are correct, save your configuration before getting out and let your machine boot again now letting it continue till windows boots again.

Just some more notes:

If you change something you don't understand, just get out without saving & start all over again.

Next time it happens again, don't reinstall Windows, Windows has nothing to do with the Bios configuration, when you enter to the Bios configuration you are talking with the hardware not software.

Hope this helps you.

Submitted by: Jose I.




With the error problem of primary hard drive not found.

First, open the cover of your PC and check that all IDE (wide 40 pin) cable or SATA (small red cable with black flat end) is connected correctly to the hard drive and the IDE or SATA connector on the motherboard. If your PC came with the manual, there may be info on the board in it.

If you?re not sure where the connector is on the board, find the model and number of the board. Its usually wrote somewhere on the board in white writing or if you can not still get the board, Download Belarc Advisor from and run this program. It will then list all the software and hardware on your PC. Usually on first page, it will list the manufacturer of your motherboard and model no. Type this into Google and search for a motherboard manual. When you get manual, check the image of the board where everything is pointed to and lists what each component is. Then check your board for your IDE connector and IDE connector.

Secondly, Make sure the Jumper is set right on the Hard drive. If there is only one hard drive in your PC, make sure the jumper is on Cable Select (CS) or Master (MA). Slave (SL) is only used if there is more than one HDD.

Thirdly, Start your PC up. At the very start you should get an option to go to Setup or Bios by pressing F2, Del or some other key depending on board. Once in there, check that the bios is detecting your Hard drive and make sure it is on the Boot Sequence. For Boot Sequence, it's preferred to have 1st Boot Device set as CD-ROM or DVD- Rom, then 2nd IDE, HD, Sata.

What this means is that it will detect if there is a CD to boot from on startup, if there isnt, it will boot from Hard drive. It will only boot from Hard drive if there is an OS installed on it.

If all this fails, take your hard drive out and connect it to another PC and set to slave and check in Administrative Tools > Computer Management > Disk Management to see if it detects hard drive.

If all this does not work, it maybe that your Hard drive is dead. To check this, download a Hard Drive diagnostic tool and burn it on to cd and test your Hard drive. Just go to hdd manufacturers website, find the model of your HDD and go to support and download the diagnostic.

Hope this helps.

Submitted by: Niall M.




When you turn on your computer, the memory is completely empty. But a computer can only execute electronic instructions stored in memory, so this presents a problem, which is solved by a process called 'bootstrapping' (or 'booting'). This process consists of automatically loading into memory something called a 'Basic Input-Output System', or BIOS, which is stored in a special memory chip in your computer, and then using the BIOS instructions to load your Operating System into memory. The BIOS chip has its own battery power so that the contents are not lost when you turn off the power.

The BIOS contains the instructions that make it possible for your computer to read disks, accept keyboard input, display information on your monitor, etc. One special piece of information in the BIOS tells the computer where to find the Operating System to load into memory so that your computer is useable. Most BIOS's today allow you to specify several possible locations for the OS (hard drive, floppy disk, network, CD drive, etc), and also allow you to list more than one location, to be searched in order until a loadable OS is found.

Apparently your computer is configured so that your C: drive is the second location listed in your BIOS, and some other location is listed first. When your computer checks the first location it finds that this location is not available, so the computer reports 'Primary drive not available' and then checks the second location, where it finds Windows and completes the bootup operation.

Next time you encounter this message, instead of pressing F1 to continue, press F2 to enter the BIOS configuration utility. Then look for a 'boot options' section and see what bootup locations are listed and in what order. If necessary, change the order so that your C: drive is listed as the first option and make sure that the other locations listed are correct for your computer.

While this will eliminate the error message on startup, there just may come a day when you WANT to bootup from another location than your C: drive. However, if your BIOS says to check the C: drive first, you will never be able to boot from another location. (Ok, you could open your computer and disconnect the C: drive, but we don't even want to go there!) Consequently, be sure to look in the BIOS utility and in your computer documentation for the key to press to start the BIOS utility even when you don't get any error message on startup. There is always a key which can be pressed during the boot process to start the BIOS utility so that you can change the order of your boot devices, just in case you ever need to do this.

And that, Gretchen, is the rest of the story...

Submitted by: Phil R.



The problem is very likely caused by a miscommunication by your hard drive's physical jumper/cable configuration and the motherboard's BIOS (the system that keeps all the basic functions of your PC coordinated correctly). In your configuration utility, you will find an option that shows you what your drive is configured as (Primary Master, Primary Slave, Secondary Master, Secondary Slave). Since you have only one Hard Disk Drive, only one of these will have information in it. If your HDD appears in a position other than one of the PRIMARY options, you will have to physically change how your hard drive is configured. This is as simple as changing which slot the HDD ribbon cable is connected to on the motherboard (this changes Primary vs. Secondary, if there is more than one slot) and re-checking the information in the BIOS configuration. If the drive is Primary Slave (assuming changing the cable was not necessary), then you will need to change the position of the tiny jumper next to the cable on the HDD. Most drives will have these positions referenced on the drive, so make sure the jumper is in the Master position. That should fix things right up.

Submitted by: Eric T. of Anchorage, AK
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error message on starting Dell
by muktown8944 / March 9, 2006 7:29 PM PST
In reply to: Honorable mentions

I have seen this message to many times to count.

Long story short: your hard drive is about to go dead. Dell ships all of its desktop pcs with Western Digital hard drives, which - contrary to popular belief - are NOT the best drives out there. So, get an external drive or a friend's external DVD writer and back up your data ASAP!

Also, if your pc has just a single CD Rom alone (that is, no CD RW or DVD RW) then it is possible that the CD Rom itself may be the faulty drive, and the primary drive is working properly. (The two drives are usually connected on one cable in the machine itself).

Yeah, editing the BIOS may be the answer (for rather detailed and idiot-proof instructions, read any of the posts before mine - yeah, they are good), but according the age of your pc, brace yourself for having to buy a new hard drive.

Hope I was of any help.

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RE: Dell Desktops
by keijikun / March 9, 2006 7:53 PM PST

Hmmm.....My Dell Desktop GX270 shipped with a Maxtor SATA drive.

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key word is "Optiplex" --- GX is business computer
by Cadillac84 / March 9, 2006 11:06 PM PST
In reply to: RE: Dell Desktops

Her Dimension doesn't necessarily have what the Optiplex has. I almost never buy Dimension -- nothing really wrong with them, but I use for business and I prefer stability to cutting edge.

Your GX-270 probably looks a lot like the GX-280 I'm using to type this! Happy

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SO Wrong On SO Many Levels
by pmchefalo / March 9, 2006 9:39 PM PST

I work with many customer Dell machines and recommend Dell for their value. Dell does NOT use only Western Digital drives. They maybe more often use Maxtors; even the PowerEdge 830 server with a RAID 5 SATA array that I installed came with a Maxtor drive, that failed after three months.

I WISH that Dell would use Western Digital hard drives, because even if they aren't the best (I happen to think they are, based on my experiences) they certainly have the best consumer response policies when you have to return a drive in warranty (Note this is not an issue when you buy a Dell, then you aren't dealing with the OEM, but Dell instead.) We should support companies with responsive customer relations teams!

Consumers out there: please also understand that that Dell Dimension PCs and Inspiron laptops are the ones with off-shore support. If that bothers you, and you don't have the time and energy to deal with off-shore technicians, please buy the OptiPlex and Latitude lines. On an apples-to-apples basis (mostly determined by length of the warranty,) the price differential is little. Dimensions/Inspirons often have more whiz-bang technology, but they are also "blessed" with shovel-ware from third-party suppliers that has to be removed to make the PC responsive.

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by TriMagna / March 9, 2006 10:11 PM PST

I have several Dells. Which programs should be removed to make the system more responsive?

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not sure what he meant, but here is my list :-)
by Cadillac84 / March 9, 2006 11:31 PM PST
In reply to: Which SHOVELWARE ?

When I order a Dimension or an Inspiron, I select to receive 6 months of Earthlink (rather than AOL) and I select McAffee Security (rather than Symantec).

Then I remove both of them. I selected them as the lesser of evils because AOL is almost impossible to get off a computer and I have found Symantec to be almost as bad.

When I order Optiplex or Latitude, I have the option of no internet or security software and that is what I do. I install eTrust EZ Antivirus and who needs Earthlink or AOL to get to the Internet these days?

Simple matter to use the Wizard to say you already have what you need and go for it. If you have several Dells, you probably also have a router and a broadband connection, so you just hook it to the LAN and off you go.

I'm not sure what else he meant, but there is a plethora of software bundled with computers these days whose principal goal seems to be to interrupt every ten seconds to tell you that you have unused icons on your desktop -- (Microsoft! so what!!!) or something else.

I use and like WordPerfect. Lately, however, they are popping up all the damned time to tell me about their new version which I can get for just a hundred and a half or so. I wish they'd leave me alone, but I don't want to shut them out for fear I'll miss hearing about something I DO care about. Upgrade to the new version of WP? Why? What the heck will the new version do that I need? What can change about word processing?

It takes a bit of tuning, and I think Dell does less of that than most of the rest.

Anyway, my list of ''shovelware'' is short, but I'm damned serious about it! Happy

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I reinstall the OS
by Vicki B / March 13, 2006 9:59 AM PST

I've ordered several Dells for my office recently, and I've completely wiped the hard drive to reinstall the operating system (WinXP Professional). It's much easier starting from scratch than trying to remove all the bits & pieces.

I do have the advantage of having non-profit volume licenses for WindowsXP so I don't have to use the Dell reinstallation software - which is really a good thing because they didn't even provide it. All I got is a piece of cardboard in the shape of a CD saying I could get reinstallation files online, which might be rather useless if I only had one computer that wasn't working.

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probably too late, but
by Cadillac84 / March 23, 2006 10:40 PM PST
In reply to: I reinstall the OS

Whenever you order a Dell computer, do it from their website even if you complete the transaction with a sales rep by telephone! Look at each option and be sure you understand why it is set to yes or no before you pass it by. The option you want is going to look different depending on what ''store'' you are in. You will not be in the Small Business store (where I go), but it will be similar.

For Optiplex, the choice will look like this:

x Genuine Windows

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I don't fully agree with you, but . . .
by Cadillac84 / March 9, 2006 11:19 PM PST

But I do agree a lot. I also maintain a ''fleet'' of Dells -- almost all Optiplex with some PowerEdge thrown in. Also have a couple Omniplex 590-ME still kicking away with Linux (LOL).

It is true that Optiplex, PowerEdge, Latitude, Precision, etc. will get you a college student in Utah as your 24/7 TSR and I LOVE that!!

I have a bit of age on me and my ears aren't the best for understanding off-shore folks speaking English (probably better English than mine, but I can't understand -- that's silly, isn't it?).

Those of you with Dimension, Inspirons, etc. know this: ASK the person to speak more slowly! They are instructed to respond to this. They are mostly very nice people with good skills but they speak English with accents that we find difficult. Tell them to SLOW DOWN, and if that doesn't work, ask them to connect you with someone else. Be polite because the person is not trying to tick you off. If you say that you simply are not able to understand what he is saying and please let you try another person to see if that works better, they are trained and instructed to work with that request.

As to the Western-Digital, Maxtor, etc. I've had all of them fail and all of them last forever. In my network connected computers, I almost always go for the default (CHEAP) drive because everyone is SUPPOSED TO put critical stuff on the server. Of course it is always the BOSS (owner!) who has all of his critical stuff including over 25,000 emails in folders by category, etc. stored on his local machine which is not being backed up.

Sometimes I just HATE people! Grin

But, anyway, I've had very few HD failures of late and the most recent was a Maxtor in an Optiplex GX-270, so who knows!

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Primary Drive Not Found
by ceciltatum / March 12, 2006 11:37 PM PST
In reply to: Honorable mentions

You could also try the following:

1. After you get the message "Primary drive not found", does the comp. boot if you press the reset button?

2. Do you get the same error even if you restart the machine from windows?

If yes to (1) and no to (2) , then changing the harddrive predelay could help. However in all probability, it is an indication of a drive that is going to fail.

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Other suggestions from our members
by Marc Bennett CNET staff/forum admin / March 9, 2006 2:35 AM PST

I have had this happened to me before as well. The first time it happened I simply unplugged power from my DVD drive(s) and all secondary hard drive. When the hard drive failed after that I tried all the other power connectors into the hard drive. I noticed they all worked except for one. I then started re-plugged everything not using the one bad connector and everything worked for a month or so when it started again.

I then replaced all my IDE cables and reseated the power cables to the mother to insure they were properly connected. This worked for another month. Being as frustrated as I was I then replaced the power supply. I went from a 250 to a 480. This worked great, for about six months. After that I simply replaced the hard drive and no problems yet.

So in short if your power supply is going out it can affect your hard drive. So first check your watts on your power supply. If it is around 250 to 300 watts I would recommend upgrading it to a 480 or higher. If upgrading the power supply does not work then try a new hard drive.

You can always try another hard drive first, but you may ruin another drive if it is the power supply. I hope this helps

Submitted by: Glenn B.



The primary hard drive message you are receiving is not from Windows but it?s a system error. Depending upon how your computer is configured you can have 2 primary drives and 2 secondary drives. It sounds to me like your Primary CD-Rom is the drive that has failed. First open up My Computer and see if you have all of your drive letters for the CD Rom drives. More than likely you will be missing one in My Computer. Check both of your CD drives and see if they are reading disks like they should be. If you have a bad CD drive replacement is a simple thing to do. All you need is a Philips screwdriver and some Dell computers you do not even need that. I suggest you check your owners manual for CD drive removal, when you get the old one out check the jumper setting on the back side of the drive (it will probably be master or cable select) and make sure you set the new replacement drive the same.

Before you go out and purchase a new replacement drive, check to see if the jumper settings are correct. You have 3 possible settings, Master, Slave or Cable Select. Depending on the type of DATA cable you have (a very fine ribbed one is Cable Select type). If you have a Cable Select type of ribbon then both drives must be set to CS or Cable Select. Else, set the drives up this way; the primary drive is the one connected to the end of the DATA ribbon and the secondary is the one connected to the middle ribbon. The drive that is connected to the end must be set to MA or Master and the drive that is connected to the middle needs to be jumped as a Slave. Also make sure the ribbon is plugged in the correct way, the ?red stripe? on the ribbon should be on the side where the power plug is (both drives). Correct any jumper settings if necessary and it should resolve your problem. If it does not correct the problem then replace the failed drive but make sure it is jumped correctly.

Submitted by: Alan M.




I know this is pretty basic but make sure your power cable in completely removed. Then remove your hard drive. Flip the hard drive over. Check and see if the connection is a piece of tape or plastic hard cover. I have experienced this several times. The hard drive should have a plastic white hard cover on it.

Basically it is the connection from the power to the hard drive itself. If you keep having problems buy a new hard drive slave your old hard drive. Copy the data from the slaved hard drive and destroy slaved hard drive. Basically your hard drive is your problem.

Submitted by: Pat P.



I have dealt with several of these situations. You can (if you are comfortable opening up your PC) check that the connections to the hard drive are good by disconnecting then reconnecting the power cable and data cable. The data cable should be reseated at both ends. If this does not work try this:

1) go into the bios setup
2) turn on the num lock, caps lock, and scroll lock
3) then press Alt and F at the same time - wait for the beep
4) press Alt and E at the same time - wait for the beep
5) finally press Alt and B at the same time - the system will reboot and go through an automatic setup process

If these steps do not work or only work for awhile it indicates that your Hard Drive is going bad. Keep good backups of any important data and plan on replacing the drive soon.

Submitted by: Steven Y.



A large number Dell computers (among other brands) were manufactured with a substandard lot of capacitors on the 'processor 'point of load' power supply on the motherboard. These can cause a variety of unusual problems. Although this is not moe I have seen, it cannot be ruled out.

The easiest way to see if these capacitors are a problem is to physically look at the capacitors (a good idea, anyway). These are cylindrical, plastic covered (except for the top) components located near the microprocessor. Often, they are the tallest components on the motherboard. The metal tops of the capacitors should be flat, not domed out. In extreme cases, these may have even ruptured, although if this happens, it usually kills the motherboard.

Submitted by: Tim S. of Reno, NV



Gretchen, I've had that same problem with my Dell Dimension with Windows XP. I'll tell you what I did to fix it. On your hard drive there are many pins next to each other. There are also two jumpers. Your hard drive is probably set as a slave. If there is only one hard drive you have to set it to the master setting.

To change the setting you have to change the position of the jumpers. I found a website that says what each jumper setting is.

There is also usually a label on the hard drive saying where to put the pins.

Once you look at the website I listed be sure to compare it with the label on your hard drive because some hard drive are a little different.

I'd like to thank for the jumper setting information.

Submitted by: Kenny M.



First Check to see if the Motherboard battery is not dead if things were working before this problem. Also If you have done anything to the drives like replace it or moved it try this.

Dell systems work better on Cable select. Try setting it like that, with the master drive on the black connector, and the slave drive on the grey connector. It should work out like that. After you've done that, go into your BIOS, and light up the NumLock, CapsLock, and ScrollLock lights on your keyboard. Hold <Alt>+F, then hit <Alt>+E. After it stops beeping, hit <Alt>+B, and this will restart your system. That procedure sets your BIOS back to defaults, and it should force the system to redetect all of the IDE drives.

Submitted by: Alan F.



Dear Gretchen,

This error is not related to Windows XP but to one of the following:-

1. IDE (PATA) or SATA Cable position on your motherboard.
2. Jumper settings on your Hard Drive.
3. Location of the Hard Drive on your IDE/SATA cable.
4. BIOS.

I would advise checking for the errors in the order shown above as messing with your BIOS can cause problems.

From your question I would think that point 3 would be the most relevant but it's a good idea to check point 1 and 2 as well.

1. If your Hard Drive is your Primary Drive it should always be located at the very end of your cable.

2. I would suggest that your Hard Drives always use CS (Cable Select) as their Jumper settings (Jumper is the small white/blue/black plastic connector that creates a circuit between the two points) Using Cable Select means your Secondary Hard Drive should be connected to the Cable that is closest to the Motherboard and your Primary on the End connector, just as in point 1.

3. Check your motherboards manual, if you don't have one check the
manufacturers websites. IDE 1 is normally coloured Blue and your Hard Drives should always be connected to this to be "Primary". If not look closely at your motherboard for IDE1 next to the connections. For the SATA connections I would suggestion checking the Manual ? normally has SATA 0 next to the connector if that is not working try using SATA 1 or 2.

4. Before making any changes to the BIOS make sure your 100% sure on what your pressing! If you Press ESC when your PC is BOOTING this should allow you to the see the POST screen which is hidden in some cases.

If your happy about entering the BIOS then PRESS F2 when your PC starts and you'll get a nice BLUE Screen.

Something like:

Use your cursor keys to navigate and Press Enter to view the Standard Setup. If your hard drive is IDE or SATA you should now see your Primary Master Hard Drive which should be your Hard Drive that has your O/S installed on it. If not you know you've made a mistake with either 1,2 or 3.

Submitted by: Paul M.



I had a similar message from my Dell. The help desk was useless and could only suggest re-installing all the software , which was not too helpful because I didn't want it all and it also took so long to reconfigure and reload everything.

Dell also said that moving some of the icons on the desktop can result in error messages, so you can't even clear those up. The anti virus seemed to be the main killer app, with any alteration to it creating havoc. At one point, I got a blue screen every *alternate* time I turned my pc on.

Finally, I went the whole way and I have now uninstalled all the Dell software and the anti-virus software and installed stand alone versions of the one's I want to keep. Now my pc works fine, until I decide to reformat and I then have to delete all the Dell stuff again.

It seems that this new idea of having software written in to the hard dirsk instead of on separate disks is a bad idea, with errors either in coding or in the transfer of data to the hard drive.

Submitted by: Martin H.



There's a very good chance that the "Master Boot Record" or "MBR" is corrupt on her hard drive. If it is the MBR it can be repaired using the recovery console found on the Windows XP CD. She would have to boot to the CD, on a Dell she would do that by pressing F12 during the boot process, and wait for the recovery console option to come up in the XP setup.

The recovery console is a DOS or Command Line interface that allows the user to manipulate the hard drive and OS without actually loading anything. Once in the recovery console she would have to use the appropriate command found using the command 'help', no quotes, at the prompt.

WARNING: Repairing the MBR can cause data loss! It doesn't usually happen but it is definitely possible. PLEASE backup your data before attempting a repair.

There is another possibility on this problem. You may need a BIOS update. If you have your service tag you can go to and get the appropriate BIOS for your system. Dell makes BIOS updates very easy. I would try this method before doing an MBR repair.

Submitted by: Josh K.



Apparently this is not an uncommon problem among Dell computers. It's discussed in Dell's forum on hard drives. The messages there suggest that there may be hard drive failure developing and they recommend using Dell's IDE Drive diagnostics or hard disk diagnostics to check the hard drive. They also suggest first:

(1) "Hold down the ALT key and while holding it down, press the F key in the keyboard and then let go. You should do this the moment that you encounter the F1, F2 error message."

(2) "If the 1st solution will not work, go to the BIOS and make sure that the CAPS LOCK, NUM LOCK, SCROLL LOCK light in the keyboard is lit up and the do the ALT+E stroke and wait for the beep of the system and let go. it will clear the NVRAM of the system. After which, do ALT+F stroke and wait again for the beep before letting go. ALT+B to save changes in the BIOS and it will restart."

If neither of those work, they suggest that hard drive failure is possible.

I would also suggest that --with the computer off and unplugged -- you make sure that the cable to the hard drive is snuggly in place both at the hard drive and at the motherboard - and that the jumper(s), if any, are set correctly on the hard drive.

Submitted by: Daniel L.



Sounds to me like the problem that causes the Dell computer to display the message ?Primary Drive not Found, Press F1 to continue?, is that the data cable hooked on the existing drive is using the slave connector, not on the master connector. The disk drive data cable (a thin grey ribbon cable) has three identical connectors: one for the motherboard, one for the primary drive, and one for an optional secondary, or slave, drive. If the machine has only one drive, and the slave connector (instead of the master connector) is the one connected to the single existing drive, you will get this message.

Solution: carefully pull out the current data cable connector on the drive, and insert the connector currently not being used.

From the Dell support site:

?Note: Except for some specialized cables, most ribbon cables have three connectors. One of the ribbon cable connectors attaches to the main system board. If one of the ribbon cable connectors is blue, the blue connector must be connected to the main system board for proper operation of the attached hard drive.

The placement of drives on the ribbon cable is important.

The drive attached to the end of the ribbon cable is assumed by the computer to be Drive 0 (the Master drive) for the IDE channel.

The drive attached to the middle of the ribbon cable is assumed by the computer to be Drive 1 (the Slave drive) for the IDE channel.

Submitted by: Ed M. of the Florida Keys



I have been a computer tech since the early 70's and started with home computers in 1974. I have seen this same scenario many times over the years and I will give you the various reasons.

The motherboard has lost CMOS setup in one of several ways and when you power up the system, the CMOS automatically adjust to the default settings and will automatically recognize the hard drive and set the CMOS. When you power down the system, the CMOS discharges and the cycle starts all over again. Keep in mind that the BIOS initializes CMOS.

1. The CMOS battery (CR-2032) is low or dead.

2. The CMOS discharge jumper is in the discharge position.

3. There is a malfunction with the motherboard traces or manufacturing defect.

If the system is new or less than one year old, I would suspect a bad motherboard. If the system is older than one year or more, change the battery. Now, if you do not know how to make adjustments in the CMOS, DO NOT ATTEMPT. Get a technician to adjust the settings. If you know how to adjust the CMOS, press "del," "F1," or "F2" at power up to enter the CMOS system. Make your adjustments and reboot the system, wa - la system set.

Submitted by: Muttrose



I may be mistaken, but you have been hit by a virus.

I had the same thing happen after my daughter was playing on a peer to peer program. The virus she downloaded was on a file. Next thing you know "can't find the primary drive". The best solution for you to do is to format the drive completely down to factor level. In other words completely wipe off the drives data using a term called "low level formatting" Depending on your hard drives manufacturer, you should be able to download the formatting software from their website. Be cautious in making sure you have a bootable floppy disk and/or a bootable CD for your operating system. You will need this to make you system work properly.

The process is relatively easy, but it is the only way to determine whether or not your system has been hit by a nasty virus, or if the actual drive is faulty and cannot be repaired.

Best of luck.

Submitted by: Jim R.
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disregard all until you have replaced your battery
by dedorf / March 9, 2006 5:19 PM PST

In my limited experience the default bios is set correctly as evidenced by booting up on F1. Just replace battery and you should be ok. Try it first.

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Battery yep but forgot something
by krazyken44 / March 10, 2006 12:02 AM PST

True the battery can cause this problem. I've seen this problem with brand motherboards and PCs....but if you have a voltage meter it's an easy thing to test without even removing the battery.
You also need to mention that the battery is no good it goes ih the socket only one way; if installed the wrong way it can cause damage to the BIOS.
The person asking may not all that comfortable with the inside of a PC, so let some one who is do it.
Still I like to know how CNET picks these winning answers......The answer they picked is too much.

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Battery replacement
by SysGoddess / March 12, 2006 2:29 AM PST

I was wondering when one of these rocket scientists was going to realize that if the motherboard battery was dead having the user make dangerous changes to their BIOS was going to have little or no effect.

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Rocket Science!
by oasisifras / March 24, 2006 11:10 PM PST
In reply to: Battery replacement

"Wondering when these rocket scientist..."

That hit the nail on the nose! The CMOS battery is only good for approximately three or four years. Every time a system boots, the CMOS battery is being used only for start-up. When it goes south, the CMOS cuts up with error messages and a system doesn't recognise the 'Boot Strap Loader' (nothing pertaining to cables). Simply replace the battery and there's no need to tweek the BIOS unless of course, there's nothing better to do.

Sharon Solesbee, Internet Engineer

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the best thing to do
by rolakyng / March 9, 2006 10:11 PM PST

well the best thing i suggest u to do is to change the battery/cell watever u call it. n voila u'll be hassel-free

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Simple Solution
by KLPNYC / March 9, 2006 11:15 PM PST

I won't tell you what, but the initials start with Apple Macintosh.

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your mileage may vary
by Cadillac84 / March 9, 2006 11:33 PM PST
In reply to: Simple Solution

Apple, Schmapple

I'm glad you're happy. Grin

I don't have an apple -- and I'm happy about that! Grin

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People like this never go away,
by Alan.Shenefield / March 10, 2006 12:43 AM PST
In reply to: Simple Solution

Years ago, all computer problems thats people posted where told they should have bought a Gateway.
So these same people must have had children and now
their children have followed in their footsteps,
now by solving computer problems for people by telling them, you should have bought an Apple.

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A problem I experienced.
by gmazzei01 / March 9, 2006 6:02 PM PST

2. I reset the Basic Input Output System (BIOS) to factory settings by:-
a) Restart your computer.
b) At the first text on the screen, or when the Dell logo appears, press the <F2> key every three seconds until the message >Entering Setup appears.
c) When the System Setup screen appears, please on the Caps Lock, Numlock and Scroll Lock key. The three lit light on your keyboard will indicate the buttons have been turned on.
d) Press on <Alt> and <E> simultaneously.
e) Press on <Alt> and <F> simultaneously (you will hear a beep)
f) Press on <Alt> and <B> (Exit System Setup and Save Changes). If you unable to exit from BIOS press on the <Esc> key and choose Save Changes and Exit.

I no longer had the problem.

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That's interesting! Hmm-m.
by Cadillac84 / March 9, 2006 11:35 PM PST

I'll have to look at what that does. Thanks!

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by wawwiz / March 9, 2006 6:19 PM PST

Not sure why anyone hasn't told you this part, but so far I haven't seen this answer and it's actually the most common when you have to keep hitting f1,
there's a battery on the motherboard, looks like a large watch battery, it keeps power to the bios, if it's weak or dead your bios has to be reset (f1)most everytime you turn it on.
Hope this helps, by the way most grocery stores have this battery, nothing really special about it, just be sure you take your old one with ya.

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You take your old battery with you to the grocer, and.....
by Argie-Salvador / March 9, 2006 7:43 PM PST
In reply to: Battery

***** happens! Configuration of your machine in the first place...better ask someone before taking the fleeting battery if you cannot deal with it Happy

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Don't do this, for heaven's sake!!!
by Cadillac84 / March 9, 2006 11:58 PM PST


Until you have the replacement. You can examine the battery to see what its number is -- CRxxxx most often where xxxx is a four-digit number. For example, a Dell Dimension 9100 which I maintain (under warranty, of course) uses the battery

3-V CR2032 lithium coin cell

which information I obtained by visiting

entering the SvcTag number and selecting Documentation and then HTML Service Manual and then clicking Specifications.

The reason you don't want to remove the battery until you have a replacement in hand is the CMOS will maintain your system settings for a short time without the battery. If you remove it and go to the store, you may have to start from scratch when you get back.

Gretchen is able to touch F1 and boot normally most of the time, so even if the battery is the problem (which I doubt), it isn't totally dead.

She didn't say what Dimension model it is so we don't know if it is something old like a XPS D300 or something new like the 9100. I have two XPS D300 computers whose batteries have never been changed and that's a few years. (December 1997!)

So, I wouldn't be too quick to jump on the battery.

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Battery ...Naw it couldn't be...
by jcherish / March 12, 2006 12:05 PM PST

Have had Brand New motherboards with dead c-mos batteries...depends how old the battery was when purchased by the manufacturer ...and if they didn't get lost in the manufacture, pushed way back on the shelf for a few years and finally got used..Battery is the first thing i would check. And is the least expensive...before you go out and buy a new hard drive. And If Your not sure how to install one (cmos battery) have someone qulified do it.

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didn't mean it couldn't be battery
by Cadillac84 / March 14, 2006 9:47 AM PST

It could be -- though I doubt it.

What I was saying "for heaven's sake don't do" was to take the battery out and go to the grocery store.

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yes your right
by jcherish / March 14, 2006 11:00 AM PST

yes your right you dont want to take the battery out an go to the grocery store and be gone an hour then put it back in because you will have to reset all you bios settings..which may be a pain...having to reset all your operating info ...especially if you have it set to some optimal settings

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I warned against taking the cmos battery
by Argie-Salvador / March 16, 2006 1:57 AM PST
In reply to: yes your right

There was this message by WAWWIZ suggesting to take the battery to the grocer. I said that sh***t would happen. Never intended to mean that she takes it away, drop it in a handbag and remember to buy it one day...


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Absolutely replace battery if system has one
by Marv99 / March 12, 2006 10:11 PM PST
In reply to: Battery

First off I might mention I don't think some newer motherboards have batteries. Flash memory bios shouldn't need one.
That being said everytime I've seen this is was the cmos caused by low battery.
Typical things I hear.
"This only happens once a week"
I ask how often they have powered off and for how long. Sometimes if the system is only off a few hours the battery won't discharge enough to cause the failure. Especially if the battery level is right around the level where it doesn't keep the CMOS "happy" Typically this time will get shorter and shorter. Lithum batteries tend to go down much more slowly than the typical batteries we use in normal life.
I even had this on a system at work. Several very good EE types all told me to replace the hard drive it was failing. When this didn't help they said we'd replace the mother board. I'd seen the battery and rmembered when I had replaced mine years before. Suddenly no more loss of cmos data. No new mother board.

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