Computer won't accept new drive

My boss bought a pair of Dell Optiplexes on eBay.  Both were billed as having no OS, but came with a fully loaded drive.  They were once on a University network, and without their admin password, we could not change their IP addresses to match our network.  I  put a larger drive into one machine, reformatted it and tried to load a new OS.  The installation program could not read the boot partition and the install failed.  I tried a different drive with the same result.  I tried both drives in the second machine with the same result.  I then tried to load the new OS on the original drives (both machines) and was told that the drives were either unformatted or damaged. (both work fine).  I noticed that there was a single partition mentioned in the OS install, but two when you look in my computer.  I fugured that a non microsoft partitioning program was used and that that is why I got the damaged or non-format warning, but why won't the computers accept a new clean drive?  Could the BIOS be corrupt (on both machines).  I am afraid to wipe the existing drives for fear of losing the boot partiton as with the fresh drives.  Any ideas?
Theses are Dell Optiplex GX240, P4 1.8GHz, 512MB RAM, 20GB drive Windows XP Pro  Bio A-05
dvalleyAsked:
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ridCommented:
That's really weird... Perhaps you should really try to wipe all partition info and then see if the install proceeds more according to plan (cretate new partition(s), format etc). I think I'd try to install something like a one-CD Linux, just to see if there's a hard drive problem...

Use good old fdisk from a floppy to inspect the partition setup. Make sure the primary partition is set to active, but, as suggested, remove and recreate the partition(s) may be a better idea.

Also, check your hook-up of the drive. Is the drive set to master? If it is single on the cable, have it connected to the end connector. If you're using cable select, make sure the boot drive is on the end connector as well (the master position).
/RID
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CallandorCommented:
Try resetting the BIOS and then autodetect the drive again.  If the new drives are too large, the BIOS may need updating.
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dvalleyAuthor Commented:
One of the machines had a BIOS password which I disables by pulling the battery out.  This reset the clock and other BIOS settings, but it did not help the issue.  The BIOS detects the drive (30-40GB drives), but Windows does not.
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ridCommented:
Sounds like you don't use the built-in tools of windows.... You could try using a "zap" utility or a zero-fill (usually something you can find on the HD makers website) and then use the install CD to do all drive preparation.

I mean, if you say you reformat and the install program then can't find the drive, how did you format it in the first place?
/RID
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dvalleyAuthor Commented:
That is the strange part.  Once, the setup disk saw the drive and loaded the OS.  When it rebooted, it said that the boot partition could not be found.  Most of the time, it does not get as far as formatting.  It says that it could not find the drive.  The drive is present at the BIOS level, but nothing else sees it.
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dvalleyAuthor Commented:
I know that the drives are OK as I can read them on a USB external hookup.  As far as master/CS issues, I have tried both (cable has only one drive capacity).  I will try FDISK.  Maybe it will help.
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CallandorCommented:
You may have a strange partition table that prevents Windows from recognizing it.  You can try repairing it with a tool like Partition Magic or Ranish Partition Manager, but sometimes the only thing to do is to wipe the disk and start over.
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dvalleyAuthor Commented:
While that may be true for the original drive, what about the two I attempted to replace it with?
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ridCommented:
Partitioning etc. is best done with the generic O/S tools and with the drive in the computer it will be used in. It CAN be an issue with BIOS view of the drive differing from whatever drive/enclosure it was prepared inside.
/RID
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CallandorCommented:
If it isn't reading your new drives cleanly, replace the ribbon cable, check the jumpers and explicitly set master and slave, and check if the BIOS has a hard drive boot priority set.  If none of these help, then I suspect the IDE controller is flaky and is the reason they were sold on eBay.
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dvalleyAuthor Commented:
FDISK seemed to do the trick.  Thanks.
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