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Dell 390 Workstation fails to boot beyond bios stage

Posted on 2010-08-17
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Last Modified: 2012-05-10
This is a well maintained and configured machine, working perfectly with no hint of any problem.
Machine was shut down properly at 7.00pm, at 10.00pm it was switched on again and failed to boot.
Failure sequence runs like this... machine is switched on, bios starts up and displays the normal progress bar, which travels across its width to within a centimetre of completion and then sticks. There are then two bios beeps, and the BIOS screen then displays one of two messages: either "Drive 0 not found" and "Drive 1 not found", or "Floppy Disk seek failure", sometimes both. On occasions the machine has actually booted into the OS (Win7 Ult), but the last time it did boot it produced a GPF too quickly to read and rebooted. The boot SATA drive is loaded into a HDD carrier, so that the machine can be quickly recovered if there should be a HDD issue. HA!! not much good if the damn thing won't boot! When the first HDD was replaced by the standby or second HDD the same sequence of faults presented themselves. Both HDD's are relatively new, and well maintained, and have displayed no signs of incipient failure. This is a real bummer as the machine is vital to our business, viz all the fall back options, and to have it fail at a point at which we can do nothing is very frustrating.  Any guidance would be useful, many thanks in advance. Hippus
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Question by:hippus
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by:dlethe
dlethe earned 100 total points
ID: 33460217
Disk controller most likely failed.   Luckily a replacement SATA controller is in the $20.00 neighborhood, so you don't need to replace the motherboard.  To confirm, get either a replacement controller, or a USB-attached HD enclosure, and put your disk inside of it.  Make sure another PC can see your disk this way.  If it can, you have the answer.
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by:dsorak
ID: 33460228
The BIOS beep codes are here: http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/WS390/en/ug_en/HTML/tools.htm

Since the drive is in a carrier, I would check that the connectors have not been damaged on both the removable carrier and the backplane that the carrier plugs into.  Also check the connectors from the backplane to the motherboard (unplug, check the pins, & re-seat carefully).

Also, have you added any additional peripherals to this machine recently (e.g a flash card reader)?  If you have, try removing them temporarily.
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33460350
Thank you both for coming back.
Both HDD'S  are exhibiting the same symptoms when inserted into the machine. The machine boots to the startup screen (the green prgression bar in Vista, and the four windows graphics in Win 7) then briefly freezes, quickly GPF's and recycles through its boot sequence returning to the Error recovery screen. Both HDD's exhibit the same sequence. The HDD carriers are fine, this is my machine, nobody ever uses or abuses it, it has been well looked after; and it does this to me at 10.30m at night.
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by:hippus
ID: 33460378
I have just noticed that the heading of this question is technically incorrect. The machine is booting beyond the bios stage, at least it is now; but falling over immediately after transferring from the Bios.
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by:dlethe
ID: 33460614
Read dsorak's beep code link, 2 beeps doesn't fit in the table, so you need to look & listen carefully.  That WILL tell you the nature of the problem.   Putting the HD attached to USB port is a way to get around potential controller failure, but beep codes will prevent a lot of wasted time.

If you can't just make sense of the codes, try downloading and booting an Ubuntu LiveCD, or just boot an installation CD and see if it croaks.   It could be bad ram stick.  But go to beep codes.  I have no doubt that Dell has spent millions of dollars over the years to have hardware/firmware architects device them and add additional circuitry on motherboards to insure they give good info on bad hardware.   Heed their advice :)
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33461743
Right gentlemen thank you for your responses so far, let's recap.
At 7.00pm yesterday evening the machine was perfect.
At 10.00pm I switched it on and received the "Disks Not Found", and "Floppy Seek" message, almost as if the Bios had failed and forgotten its settings.
Both HDD's are relatively new and mounted in physically perfect HDD carriers so they can be swapped at will.
Machine did still boot properly into the OS once or twice at this stage.
Then ceased to boot properly at all. Accompanied by a double beep.
Went into Bios and reset to default in attempt to effect a start up.
No beep codes any more.
Machine NOW recycles endlessly to intial startup and falling over almost instantly via a rapid GPF failure after transferring from the bios.
Both carrier mounted HDD's produce exactly the same 'cycling' fault routine when inserted into the machine.
I really think that this is a motherboard failure of some kind.
Does anyone have a better suggestion?
I have sourced a Mobo, and despite the fact that replacing the system board on a machine like this is an  absolute pain... would rather do this if general opinion concurs, than geek about interminably to end up with the same result anyway.
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by:nobus
ID: 33461916
2 beeps indicate ram problems :  http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/dim4200/codes.htm
do you have any of the diagnostic leds lit ?
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by:hippus
ID: 33461968
Thanks Nobus... 4 x 2 GB strips removed and sequentially replaced to identify problems all seem to be functioning as they should.
I did say that the 'bios beep' had ceased.
Many thanks for your suggestion.
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by:nobus
ID: 33463258
ah good to hear; but wait a day or so before closing this thread, and assigning points..
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33463839
No ... Nobus... the problem as outline above is still there... it's just that is isn't a RAM problem.
I can't be bothered to geek about with it any more I have ordered a new motherboard.
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33463851
As the machine cycles boots through the bios to fall over a few seconds after attempting to load the OS as desribed above, the LED's show that evrything is fine.
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by:nobus
ID: 33465630
ok. psit results; or do you wan t to try more?
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by:hippus
ID: 33466922
Yes.. all diagnostic work is good experience.. the new mobo will arrive tomorrow... but I would be happy to go the extra mile
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by:nobus
nobus earned 400 total points
ID: 33467027
ok -
-check if the disks are seen in the bios.
-if they are seen - run Dells diag on it - and post results
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33470192
Disk 0 Pass
Disk 1 Pass

Running Utilities tests
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by:dreamcomputer2000
ID: 33471226
I know you went into bios to reset, did you try removing the battery?
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by:nobus
nobus earned 400 total points
ID: 33472257
may i ask how long it took to test a disk? should be at least 30 mins, otherwise, you should run the long disk diag from the manufacturer
i would also run ram test - all can be found on ubcd : http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/      
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by:hippus
ID: 33472466
The disk integrity checks took about 7 minutes each.
I then ran two of the Dell system diagnostic tests..
1. Quick test (took about twenty minutes) everything checked out ok.
2. I then ran the "Cannot boot the OS" test from the symptom tree.. that was started at at about 22.00 last night, and seems to be still running at 0800 the next mroning. There has been no change now for about ten minutes, but, it is running a test that it estimates will take 174 mins to finish....However all I have is a column of ticks in the left hand column with three grey circles instead of ticks, but no failures or errors....If by 12.00hrs this test has not moved on I will just cancel. The new mobo will be here this morning.... and I need to get some thermal paste from Maplins... I note from the EE biogs that you're quite a fountain of knowledge and experience nobus, and although I have replaced tens of motherboards in my career, I'm aint to proud to listen to the experience of others... apart from the usual static management etc etc.. do you have any tips and advice nobus? If I can I usually digitally photograph the existing installation before I dismantle it. Thank you for all you help so far.
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33472480
dreamcomputer2000.
Thank you for coming back with your suggestion yes I have tried, took battery out for twenty minutes. No change to original symptoms once eveything reset.
Thanks anyway
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33472529
nobus... have just noticed that the diagnostic test for Cannot Boot the OS IS still running... so we shall see. The big hassle at the moment is that I am trying to move house at the moment.. what a time for my principal machine to throw a wobbly especially when it represents my primary communications centre. When all this is over I'll conduct a post mortem to see how in future an event like this can be made more fault tolerant... but apart from clustering... I don't see much...

The failure to boot cycle is now the primary fault presentation, and is exactlty the same whether HDD A or HDD B is in the HDD slot. HDDA is a Win 7 Ultimate host capable of running Vista Ultimate or/and XP Pro SP3 in parallel virtual environments, HDDB is just a Basic Vista Ultimate installation.
Hippus
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by:nobus
nobus earned 400 total points
ID: 33473672
yes - but if i want you to test the disk, it is because it can be a controller problem; because of the " "Drive 0 not found" and "Drive 1 not found", or "Floppy Disk seek failure", "messages.
did you check all the bios settings?
but it can very well be  a bad mobo -  as you suspect..
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33474033
Thanks nobus.. well we'll soon find out anyway. Incidently the Dell "Test for Cannot Boot the OS" is still running by the way.. and, frustratingly, everything is checking out ok.

Hell! I just didn't need this, at this time.
Anyway, thanks for staying with this nobus, your additional guidance has been very much appreciated.

Hippus
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by:hippus
ID: 33474050
Ok.. new mobo is here.. I'll let you know how it goes nobus
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33474110
Ok the "Test for Cannot Boot OS" has terminated and everything checks out ok, no errors. However an attempt to boot the machine in either safe or normal mode results in an almost instantaneous GPF and consequent restart...
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by:dlethe
ID: 33474148
So you have (had) 2 problems .... data/ file system corruption is the 2nd one.  To confirm mobo is ok, boot an Ubuntu LINUX live CD and play a game or something on it. This will beat up everything except for your disk drives (boot, don't INSTALL linux).
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by:hippus
ID: 33474474
Thanks diethe... hey as you can see from the above I'm pretty pressed for time at the moment... it's a cracking idea you have, but I just don't have the time, and the new mobo is here anyway... but thank you for taking the time to contribute to the thread.

I'm tempted though... but as I'm moving house at the moment... I'm reall pushed for time

Hippus
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by:nobus
nobus earned 400 total points
ID: 33475773
what is a  GPF  ?
if you want - here a knoppix live cd : ftp://ftp.kernel.org/pub/dist/knoppix/KNOPPIX_V5.0.1CD-2006-06-01-EN.iso      
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by:nobus
ID: 33475790
do you mean a BSOD ?
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by:hippus
ID: 33475924
Yes
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by:nobus
ID: 33476006
can you post the bsod ? from windows\minidumps
if you can't boot - use the knoppix cd.
you can also set to not reboot on BSOD if you boot to safe mode...
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by:dreamcomputer2000
ID: 33476718
GPF---General Protection Fault
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by:nobus
ID: 33477116
i thought so, but was not sure what he meant..
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Accepted Solution

by:
hippus earned 0 total points
ID: 33496931
It WAS the motherboard.
Many thanks for all your suggestions.
As to the whys and wherefores, I know not and care less; the machine is up and running now, and doing the business.

Regards to you all.

Hippus
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by:nobus
ID: 33498519
if no more help is needed, then close this Q!
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by:hippus
ID: 33520404
Closed !
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by:dlethe
ID: 33520731
No, actually the author chose to replace the entire motherboard rather than buying a $20 replacement controller and using the same motherboard.  This isn't much difference then "my CDROM doesn't work" ... none of the experts were right ... it WAS the computer.  So I replaced it, and now the new CDROM works fine.  Thanks

In several posts, hippus, nobus, and I all discussed replacing the motherboard as well, and also discussed data corruption he was left with.  I suggest splitting points among experts who invested a great deal of time educating the author and assisting.  (Even though author did not simply just take advice and just buy a replacement disk controller for his existing motherboard)
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Author Comment

by:hippus
ID: 33599557
vee_mod thank you for your patience, I am now in a position to attend to this matter... please see my e-mail sent to your EE e-mail address.

Many thanks

Hippus
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