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Help! During my PC boot up, it displays 'Please insert disk'

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / August 2, 2013 10:45 AM PDT

Help! During my PC boot up, it displays 'Please insert disk'!

Can you please help me? I have a Windows XP desktop and it will
not boot up to Windows. It goes through all of the procedures and
motions, then it displays a message to insert system disk! How
serious is this problem? I don't want to format the hard drive as
I don't want to lose my data. Where do I go from here? What are my
options, besides trying a fresh install? Thank you for any help.

--Submitted by: Gwen F.
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by williedmd / August 2, 2013 1:23 PM PDT

Through my experience it could be simply your bios does not have your harddrive as your primary boot disk. Or it could be a loose cable going to the hard drive. Or even a bad drive we all have had those.but just check your bios and see if it recognizing your harddrive and is it your primary bootable device. If not check your cables the worst thing is having to replace and format a new drive. Hope this helps

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Hard drive problem
by bigjohnl / August 2, 2013 1:33 PM PDT
In reply to: Answer

You won't lose your data if you have it all on a backup. You do have a backup, don't you?

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Obviously not
by GERRY RAINS / August 2, 2013 3:43 PM PDT
In reply to: Hard drive problem

If she did she wouldn't be worried about losing her data.

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great answer
by wolf-01 / January 25, 2016 2:51 PM PST
In reply to: Obviously not

great answer, cannot stop laughing,

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Corrupted boot sector
by capoderra / August 2, 2013 2:24 PM PDT

Your boot sector probably got corrupted and its asking you to insert the install disk in order for it to repair itself. This shouldn't result in data loss BUT you should always back up just in case. If you haven't backed up or hadn't done a recent enough one, then on a friend's computer who has a CD burner, read up on how to download a copy of a Linux distribution like Xubuntu. I recommend burning the ISO file as an image onto a cd and then boot from the CD drive. You'll load an operating system similar to windows XP. Connect a USB Drive and backup your data. Then you can shutdown Xubuntu and insert your install disk for XP and attempt to repair it. If you don't have an install disk, download one from a torrent site. You already paid for a license for XP and your only using it to repair your boot sector so there's nothing wrong with that. If your attempt to repair fails, just boot from the Xubuntu disk again and check to see if everything works like your Internet card and your sound card. Install Xubuntu if it works. It will be supported beyond 2014 unlike windows XP. If your computer came with XP then it's most likely going to have hardware that's good enough to run something lightweight like Xubuntu or Lubuntu. Good luck.

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Gentoo for a total harddrive image
by ClissaT / August 9, 2013 11:42 AM PDT
In reply to: Corrupted boot sector

I use Gentoo programed on a bootable disc to do a total image but that's more in the technical realm.

I found Seagate backups to not be so good & not include many of my installed softwares.

The thing I wanted to say about doing back ups etc is that they don't save your installed software that you downloaded from the internet for example.

I discovered this the hard way when I had a small problem with my old XP. I had aprox 70 extra softwares that I needed to get all the details for before I could do a back up or image. Details such as licence number, date of original installation, company I purchased from, etc. It was a nightmare.

I have also solved 'system disc' issues by checking all cables inside the machine, clearing out the fluff & dust then checking cables again, checking the bios boot sequence because there was a major update (which of course won't happen anymore).

I know this bit isn't system related but worth mentioning here. As XP ages & softwares you have reliant on it require updates, they may begin to show signs of unusual activity & try to fix themselves too by asking for their disc to be installed. I know this for sure because I have both old & new laptops sitting side by side & certain softwares work fine on the old XP but need the disc to work on the Win7 laptop. If I have been using those softwares on the Win7 machine it remembers that I was using that software at the next boot & asks for the disc. I have to ignore that message until boot up is complete then it goes away.

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Kinna surprised
by itsdigger / August 9, 2013 12:07 PM PDT

that you would supply Gentoo as a rescue as most of us that use Linux aren't able to use such a complex os as we have to build it ourselves. I do use Slacko Puppy which can be pretty intimidating also . Most send folks to Umbuntu or the K version. Just an observation....Digger

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I wonder how many here have used Gentoo?
by itsdigger / August 11, 2013 2:00 PM PDT

to give such a bad reaction to my reply. The average person can't even think about using Gentoo as he/she has to build the os. I stand behind my reply! Thanks for reading this and welcome any replies from any seasoned Gentoo user....Digger

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Disk Boot Failure - Insert System Disk Troubleshooting

Hi Gwen,

It makes me queasy just responding to your issue because there are so, so many possible problems that could cause the issue you're describing. My first and foremost advice is to take your computer to a qualified tech who is familiar with these kind of problems. I can think of at least 10 possible malfunctions that could be going on that could cause this.

As mentioned earlier, it sounds like your computer is looking in the wrong place for the hard drive with Windows XP installed on it. First of all, make sure you have only one hard drive installed in the computer. This must be the hard drive with Windows XP installed on it. Also, make sure that you don't have any CDs or DVDs in the drive bays.

Next, get into your setup screen following the instructions on your start-up screen (pressing Esc, F1, F2, F10 while you see the initial start-up screen but before you see the Windows Logo). Once you're in setup you can see if the computer is recognizing your hard drive. Just look down the list of devices on the main page and you should see your hard drive listed. If not, navigate to the boot-menu screen. In the boot menu screen set up the sequence to boot from your hard drive first. If the computer isn't recognizing your hard drive, it won't show up. If this is the case, you need to check all of the connections to your hard drive and make sure they're solid and try again.

If your hard drive isn't booting, you'll need some help. Let me just say at this point that your data on the hard drive may be in jeopardy. You might be best served by getting a new hard drive and reloading Windows XP on the new drive. Once you've accomplished that, it will be easier to retrieve data from the old one. There are a lot of reasons why a hard drive may not boot correctly and still be functional. But at this point, you don't want to risk losing your data (which you stated as a priority), and anything you do with that drive beyond this point presents the potential of losing that data!!!

Inserting the System Disk will not automatically format your hard drive. Windows XPs installation program will clearly tell you when you are about to erase your data. If you're willing to risk it, you may try what's called a Repair Installation which is intended to restore your operating system without effecting your data. This can be accomplished from a Windows XP System Disk.


Doing a Repair Installation could fail and result in the loss of all data on the Hard Drive!!!!!<div>
I've been doing this for a long time Gwen. I strongly advise you to take your hard drive to a reputable computer technician and ask them to back up your data for you. Most shops will do this for you for a very reasonable price. If you bring in a flash drive to save the data to, the price may be even less. Please don't risk losing all of your data.

If you insist on continuing - here's a link that walks you through a Repair Installation:

By the way, if you're doing the Repair Installation, you'll have to go back into your BIOS setup and make the CD/DVD the first boot device in the sequence.
Please let us know how things turn out.

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Don't do thumbs up/down
by netsiu / August 5, 2013 1:00 AM PDT

I give Highdeertcharlie a double thumbs up.

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Good Advice From High Desert Charlie
by Jeskickit / August 9, 2013 12:15 PM PDT

Hi Gwen, Charlie offers some sound advice, and depending on your skill level, you may want to have a PRO check it out for you. That said, this error message is typically a HDD cable or HDD itself. The cable is easy, just crack the case, and replace it with an EXACT duplicate. IDE ribbon cables were notorious for going bad, because they used many, many small filament wiring in a flexible cable, and they get weak, and break very easily. If you have a SATA cable, they are much more robust, and would think that your HDD is more incline to be the problem child at this point.

I won't offer anymore, because you have some good info above. Also, above all else, if you ever feel confused, or fearful, seek a geeky friend, or take it to a PC shop.

Good Luck!

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Windows XP forum: Help! During my PC boot up, it displays 'P
by osama khater / August 9, 2013 5:16 PM PDT


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Probably not a boot issue
by dsttexas / August 9, 2013 10:43 PM PDT

High Desert Charlie - her comment "it goes through all the procedures and motions, and then" suggests that it is booting from the hard drive. If it was a boot issue, a message would pop up right away before any other activity.

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Could Very Well Be
by Jeskickit / August 10, 2013 12:18 AM PDT

To elaborate more on my prior post, which I stated the cable, or HDD as most probable. It could also be the boot sequence in BIOS not looking at the correct drive, it could be corrupt files on the HDD itself as well. lastly, it could even be a non-system disk in the cd/dvd drive, with that drive being the 1st boot drive.

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First things first
by GERRY RAINS / August 2, 2013 4:21 PM PDT

Forget about flash drives, you probably have too much data for them. Of course the simple fact of the matter is that you should have been backing up to an external hard drive on a very regular basis, but that's water over the dam. I recommend that you get a Western Digital My Passport portable external hard drive. This assumes that you have access to another computer. Go to Newegg, not because they're magic but because they sell more equipment than any other online company. Work your way over to "External Hard Drives". Estimate the amount of data that you have and buy an external hard drive, preferably one that is portable, that can hold at least ten times as much as your data. If you end up going to a pro have him put your data on that external hard drive. Now this is crucial and it's why I chose Newegg. Order by best rating and don't even think about a drive with fewer than 50 customer ratings. The reasons that I mentioned Western Digital are (1) since they top everybody else in sales you're likely to find a lot of ratings and read a lot of them - don't just look at the star rating and (2) I have never had a WD anything go bad on me. The "My Passport" series are small and portable but can hold a lot of data. Once this crisis is over buy a reputable backup program - I like Acronis best and back up frequently. Uncheck the box that says write new backups over old. You want a lot of backups - within reason. Now the problem that you have could be in the BIOS (Basic Input Output System) and it could be software, firmware, or hardware, and the problem could be somewhere else.

If you know how to boot up in safe mode you might try doing that and see if you get lucky. Turn the computer off and then back on and when it starts up start tapping the F12 key. You're not going to in Windows so you will navigate with the four arrow keys and <enter>. You may get lucky and you may not. Since you probably won't, I'm assuming that this is an old computer if you're running XP Pro it may not even be worth repairing if it's going to cost too much. The problem now is that you missed the Windows 7 boat and Windows 8 and 8.1 are abominations. Buying a new computer with Windows 7 is going to be difficult until the manufacturers essentially tell Microsoft, "We can't sell computer with Windows 8 (very much like Vista) and we're going back to Windows 7." That time is going to come sooner than Microsoft wants it to and they'll hold out for awhile, but if Samsung, etc. are losing sales they'll go back to Windows 7.

So you're going to (1) have to get an external hard drive and (2) unless a friend can help you, go to a pro and see what he has to say. Then it's up to you to make a decision - you haven't given us much to go by. Look at what's in red at the bottom of this page.

Good luck.

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by RobinTursso / August 2, 2013 11:21 PM PDT
In reply to: First things first

I agree with everything this person said. Always back up and the passport is my favorite. Seagate does too many weird clone backups. And just buy a new puter. I suggest the Samsung i7. Totally work the money.
On another note. Make sure you have good internet or downgrade and don't get an i7, waste of money unless your internet is fast.
You can still access stuff fast but if the internet is slow it doesn't do any good.

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Entering System Setup or Safe Mode
by gtmark11 / August 9, 2013 2:16 PM PDT
In reply to: First things first

Gwen- Not all computers use the same keys to enter the System Setup or Safe Mode, so if using the F12 key as mentioned above does not work, don't give up immediately. All three of my (old) Computers use the F8 key for accessing Safe Mode. Two of them use the F1 key to enter the System Setup with the third using the Delete key to achieve the same action (I am running XP Pro). You can generally find this information on the pages you see when the computer is booting up (before the login page is supposed to appear). The key to enter Setup should be listed on the very first page (my listing is at the bottom) and this is also when you want to click on it. The key to use for enterring Safe Mode is usually listed on the second or third page. These pages usually scroll by rather quickly, so you may have to keep rebooting until you see the Safe Mode key listed. This fast scrolling is also why, when attempting to enter Safe Mode, you should start continuously tapping that key when you are on the first page. If you have a progress bar on the first page you can wait until it is almost full before you start tapping.

The above will get you to where you want to be to follow some of the steps mentioned above by some of the others.

This may be info you already know but you did not indicate whether or not you had attempted these steps. My apologies if I "dumbed" this down too much.

Also, I do like the idea of next creating a bootable cd or flashdrive using one of the Ubuntu derivatives mentioned above if accessing the System Settings and Safe Mode does not provide a solution for you. You can use the librairie's computer if a friends computer is not available. I say "next" as this is a cheaper alternative to taking your computer to a shop.

Another thought- you could also pull your hard drive and install it in another computer as a secondary drive and see if you can access and copy your data. This way you will also know if the drive works.

Good Luck Happy

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PC boot up
by Cokimnster / August 2, 2013 6:13 PM PDT

If you have the xp disk then you can insert it and try the repair part when the xp starts, then you won`t lose any of your data. When you do it this way all you are doing is a repair and not a fresh install. If on the other hand, you can back up your data to a flash drive so you won`t lose it. These are the only ways that I know.

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Bad advice.
by porthome / August 10, 2013 1:39 AM PDT
In reply to: PC boot up

A novice trying to do a system repair is a high risk of losing data.

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A few things can cause this....
by bigbear1950 / August 2, 2013 8:05 PM PDT

1. Do you have a cd inserted in your tray, open the tray and remove it if there is one.
2. While booting your system, press the delete key several times, this will take you to the BIOS. Check to see if your system is finding a hard drive.
3. If your system is finding a hard drive, your problem is your boot record, you will need your Windows XP CD
a. insert the xp cd
b. boot your computer
c. takes a moment to get to the setup screen, press R for repair
d. select windows, a prompt for Admin Password appears, put in your password
e. at the prompt enter the command fixmbr
f. let it do its thing, when done remove the windows CD and boot your system
4. If your system is NOT finding a hard drive, your problem is a hard drive failure. This means that your will need to replace your hard drive and install a fresh copy of windows. Once this is done you can put your old hard drive back in as a slave drive and see if you can read anything..... Good Luck

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I suspect a hard drive failure....
by bigbear1950 / August 2, 2013 8:13 PM PDT

I do suspect your have a hard drive or motherboard failure. The reason I suspect one of these two is because your system is 6 to 8 years old and hardware does fail overtime. May be time for an upgrade.

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Please Insert Disk Message
by waytron / August 2, 2013 9:46 PM PDT

I am sorry to say that the "Please Insert Disk" Message can be caused by a large number of issues ranging from something as simple as a CMOS setting or a loose cable to a hard drive that has completely failed. The very first thing to do is:

1. Check for and remove any CD's or DVD's from the computer

2. Shut down your computer

3. Unplug all USB devices (especially Flash, USB drives and printers) leaving only your Mouse and Keyboard plugged in.

4. Restart your computer

If you still get this error and there is data on this computer that is important to you and you do not have it backed up, then STOP where you are and take your computer to someone qualified to work on it.

Sorry, but you really want someone to try and recover your data before you make things worse. It may already be too late?

Wayland Computer

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by JCitizen / August 9, 2013 5:08 PM PDT

Other wise if you have a back up, then experimentation is in order - for lacking of instruction for folks here! Cool

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listen to waytron
by taylor1277 / August 10, 2013 10:56 PM PDT

I just had this problem the other day.trying to fix my girlfriends computer and i found a cd in the cd drive,we had a phone charger plugged in,and also a mp3 player plugged into a usb also.took out the cd,unplugged the phone jack and mp3 player from the usb port,rebooted and well that took care of the problem.

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Check Your BIOS Config
by Flatworm / August 3, 2013 12:26 AM PDT

This usually means that your ROM BIOS is set to boot off a CD device.

You can usually access your ROM BIOS settings by rebooting and, during the boot, repeatedly hitting the F2 key until a blue screen with the BIOS settings appears. Different BIOSes have their instructions arranged differently, but using the arrow keys move through and find Boot Devices and Boot Order. Make sure that your machine INCLUDES your hard drive in the boot devices and usually you will order it to come second after the primary CD drive (so that you can boot from a bootable CD/DVD without having to change the boot order -- it will normally just bypass entries where bootable media is absent).

If this is already properly set, which is a possibility, the problem could be a bad hard drive. You can set the BIOS to make the hard drive your only or primary boot device (normally it is the secondary boot device), and if, once you do that, it still will not boot, your problem is the hard drive. I HATE it when this happens, but all is not necessarily lost.

If you can boot to another O/S like Linux from a CD, or remove your hard drive and connect it to another computer (the proper adapter devices are available at any computer shop at minimal cost, as low as under $10.00, and most will allow you to plug the otherwise bare drive into a USB port), it will allow you to see if your hard drive is able to read data. If it is, your O/S may be reparable, but before attempting repair you should try to copy all your data elsewhere, like to an external USB-connected drive. You will have to reset your BIOS to boot from the CD/ROM drive as primary and the HDD as secondary (which is the default setting in any event) before booting from CD If all you have is your manufacturer's distribution disks, you may (depending on the brand) be able to effect a repair after booting to that disk. Otherwise you may need to do a non-destructive reinstall.

Please note that, if the hard drive is bad, you may have lost your data, but it, or at least some of it, may be recoverable if you have great wads of cash to give to companies that specialize in data recovery.

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I might just be the battery.
by graeberh / August 3, 2013 12:40 AM PDT

In my experience with many PCs, this could mean the motherboard battery (a watch type battery) has gone bad, and your BIOS is reset to factory settings.
Replace the battery on the motherboard.
Get someone who knows how, to reset your BIOS.

I have found this to be the case 9 time out of 10.

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Boot trouble
by blaineclrk / August 3, 2013 1:36 AM PDT

Since you're asking the question here, I'll assume that you are willing to roll up your own sleeves before going to a computer shop.
Boot order in the BIOS wouldn't cause this. The BIOS will go through each boot device that's enabled in the order they are set. If the BIOS doesn't find any boot media at all, it should post that as the error; 'No boot media found'. In this case, it sounds like the hard drive option has been completely removed from the BIOS boot list or isn't being recognized as boot media, meaning the boot sector is compromised.
From here on out, my post would exactly echo High Desert Charlie's post except for these options.
If your other computer hardware is still functioning fine, it may or may not be adequate to run a newer version of Microsoft. There's no harm in trying to upgrade on a new, added-on hard drive and attempting to recover your data. You can pick up an extra hard drive at a shop or off ebay for just over pocket change. If your hardware is too old and slow for a newer Microsoft, consider using a build of Linux such as Ubuntu or Mint. It's free, just as easy to use as Microsoft and gives you the same functionality. The programs just have different names and slightly different appearances, but no more than going from an XP system to a Win-8 system. They will run just fine on older hardware limitations. Linux will access the Microsoft file system just fine and allow you to copy/move files to the new hard drive or a peripheral drive. This could be a good option for the old computer even if you end up buying a new one. Linux is great to experiment with, and you may even prefer it to Microsoft as I do.
Another option would be to buy a new computer and an adapter hookup for your old hard drive. Remove the old hard drive and hook it up to the adapter and see if you can access the data. WARNING! If you go this route or use a new hdd in your old computer with a new OS, make sure you very thoroughly scan the old hdd for any and all viruses, even root-kits before you access any files. You don't want to compromise your new hdd!
Of course, the final option, take it to a good shop.

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Re:During my PC boot up, it displays 'Please insert dis
by Mark_Hendry / August 5, 2013 12:08 PM PDT

Don't worry I also faced same situation. When i tried to connect my external drive to computer. It was asking me to format my external hard drive. Then I found one utility named as "Remo recover tool" to get back my entire external hard drive data.

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Help! During my PC boot up, it displays 'Please insert disk'
by Owl / August 5, 2013 4:21 PM PDT

Not good.
If you're lucky just unplugging and replugging the data (both ends) and power cables well get you going. Hopefully you only have a corrupted windows file or directory, while not good means you probably can save your data by hooking the drive to another computer and copying it. If the bios no longer recognizes the hard drive then it is toast. But if you want to spend the money it probably can be recovered.

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insert disk
by walldoo99 / August 5, 2013 10:10 PM PDT

I ran in to this one time and it turned out to be a bad dvd drive. I was going to do a fresh install but when I put the disk in the drive didn't find it. Replaced the drive and it booted normal again.

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