Dell PowerEdge 830 boot problem - how to troubleshoot

Posted on 2009-04-21
Last Modified: 2012-05-06
My wife's small business has a Dell PowerEdge 830 which has stopped booting normally and is now way out of warranty with DELL and needs troubleshooting quickly and inexpensively!

The two attached screenshots were taken using snapshots from the BIOS as the server was accessed using it's remote access card (DRAC).

The BIOS procedes to the point of offering the options "Strike the F1 key to continue, F2 to run the setup utility".  (Pressing F1 just changes the message to "Strike the F1 key to retry...")

The server has 3 SATA drives and at this stage, I do not believe there is a RAID controller in effect.  The server was running Windows 2003 Server

The setup utility (F2) shows nothing obviously wrong.  The 3 SATA drives are shown (see screenshot 3 and the boot order starts with "drive C"

I am contemplating borrowing a PC with a SATA controller and swapping the server drives to it as a short term fix but am not wholly confident this will work.

What steps can I take to identify what the problem is (or how can I safely get a short term fix without risk of losing data)?
Question by:Beamson
    LVL 23

    Accepted Solution

    Try Changing the IDE cables then the CDROM Drive.
    Next what is connected to the slave port on the Primary IDE Cable.
    Try disconnecting it and see if the system will boot.
    LVL 6

    Assisted Solution

    This is almost certainly a problem with the data or bios settings rather than the hardware. This is reaching the end of post if it will let you enter the bios and give you the F1 prompt. That means that there is a problem with the OS hand-off.  This could be because the bios is looking in invalid places or because the valid place it is looking is corrupted.

    My first recommendation is to disable EVERYTHING you can in the bios. At that point, you should be receiving a No Boot Device Found message. Once you reach that known level, then you can start enabling only what you need. If you don't need PXE, don't enable it, etc. If this continues to give you the F1/F2 prompt at that point, I would boot to last known good. If that doesn't work, boot to safe mode. If that doesn't work, boot to the recovery console. From the recovery console, run fixmbr. Reboot. Then run fixboot. Reboot and let the system attempt to boot.

    All of this is disaster recovery and as such, has a minimal success rate. It is still worth the effort, obviously, but I would be preparing for the possibility of data loss. There are additional steps that can be taken at that point but they are fairly advanced. If the data is important enough, consider a data recovery service like OnTrack or Drive Savers before beginning this process. Even just these steps can affect their ability to recover data.

    I feel that the bios settings/data are the most likely root causes, but if you don't have confidence in the hardware, you can obtain the diagnostics from the Dell drivers and downloads page for this system. That can be found at Also, Dell will assist you with this up to the point that the problem is identified. If it is hardware, they should be able to provide you options for how to obtain the necessary components.
    LVL 6

    Expert Comment

    Sorry for my misunderstanding earlier, I was operating off of the description and not the images. Obviously, last known good and safe mode are not an option, but the recovery console is. If the recovery console does not come up, then look at whether or not you get the C: prompt. If not, then the system cannot find the partition. That can be due to communication failure with the drive, such as a cable issue mentioned by ComputerTechie or it could be a corrupted or failed hard drive.
    LVL 1

    Author Comment

    A few extra findings since my first post

    I've removed drive 0 and put it into another PC running windows XP.
    (Noted the server was very full of dust and about 4 years of fluff)
    On boot, it sees the new drive and says the volume is dirty and starts fixing file ids.

    Once into the operating system, I can view the contents of the drive (it contains the windows system files (drives C and D on the server).  However, returning the drive to the server, the problem remains.

    On the server BIOS, the drive order is SATA1, SATA0, SATA2.
    Does this mean that the boot records will be on SATA1?
    If so, is there any value in me trying to piggyback SATA1 onto my PC and see if it is readable?
    I don't know a great deal about boot records and whether I'd be risking/gaining anything by doing this.
    LVL 23

    Expert Comment

    If you do get recovery console to load i would run the command fixboot.
    LVL 6

    Expert Comment

    The boot order in the bios is how the boot hand-off is going to load. The bios will direct the boot loader to sata1 first, then sata0, then sata2. Therefore, if there is a boot.ini on each of them, the one on sata1 is the one that will boot unless you specify the boot device with F12.

    The other side of this coin is the boot.ini itself. It will have a record that points to which drive has the OS boot files. If you can boot to sata0 on a different PC, then sata0 probably has the boot files and the boot.ini should be pointing there. You can actually view that information in the boot.ini if you can browse the disk.

    If the boot.ini and boot files are on sata0, I would recommend having that first in the boot order in the system bios. Also, fixmbr that I mentioned earlier is less likely to be the resolution. The fixboot that I mentioned and ComputerTechie seconded is the more likely utility to help.
    LVL 1

    Author Comment

    More info:

    Perhaps I wasn't being observant earlier but I've just noticed warning LEDs on the front of the server.
    Whilst on mains power but not turned on the main fascia LEDs alternate green and amber (which the DELL user manual says is that the system has detected an error.

    After letting the BIOS run through to the sticking point, the set of four ABCD LEDs read green, green, green. amber

    I've detached the CD-ROM IDE cable and power cable
    I've removed an unused SCSI card
    I've removed the DRAC remote management card (damaging the plastic cable connector slightly in doing so)
    I've swapped all SATA cables.

    After an attempted boot, the only difference now is that the four ABCD LEDs are now all green.
    The main amber LED is still flashing.
    LVL 1

    Author Comment

    I think I have somehow fixed it.

    Having removed DRAC card, SCSI card, CD-ROm drive, I still get error message as previously described but the orange LED on the right of the ABCD warning LEDs is now green (though the main amber light is still flashing on and off.

    By chance, I pressed the escape key at this point and the system went straight into Windows 2003 server.  Once booted I found I had virtually no space on drive C (I'm investigating this now).

    So, I'll return to this post tomorrow and make sure I award points fairly but for now, I think I'm on top of it.
    LVL 1

    Author Closing Comment

    In the end, the simple solution was "unplug everything unneccessary" and ComputerTechie's first comments were nearest the mark.

    Thank you both for your help!

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