questions about an imac mac that won't boot into windows Mac NEWBIE

We have several Imacs. They were set up when we got them a couple / few years ago so they boot into windows vista.  

2 machine have problems now.

1 gets a white screen for about a minute, screen goes black, then an error about no boot drive found.
I read to press and hold option at boot time.  When I do that I get that same white screen and just a black cursor (I did that on an OK machine and see how you see a mac hard drive and windws hard drive.
I tried making a bootable linux usb drive but can't get it to boot off it.  Pressing option, even on the working machine, doesn't list the usb as a bootable option.  
I booted off a vista install CD to do a repair install.  It didn't find a windows install.

other machine, boots to white screen then we get a folder in the middle with a question mark.
same boot from windows cd doesn't have it find the hard drive / partition
boot from usb drive doesn't work.
Pressing option gets just the arrow, no hard drives.

2 different situations, but both have hardware failed drive?  I'd love to run a hardware hard drive test app.  Any sure fire way to make a usb bootable drive and what app would you use?

I used unetbootin to make the thumb drive
BeGentleWithMe-INeedHelpAsked:
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rindiCommented:
Open the i mac and check whether the disk is properly attached to the cables. You can also remove the disk and connect it internally to a PC, then test it with it's manufacturer's diagnostic on there. you'll find the utility on the UBCD:

http://ultimatebootcd.com

Also look for the i mac's OS X installation DVD and try booting it that way (holding the "C" key at boot-up should boot from the DVD). You could then use the disk utility to see if your HD is recognized and what partitions it has.
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BeGentleWithMe-INeedHelpAuthor Commented:
Trying not to open box myself. ; )

Can't find the install cd to do that.  Guess I'll make a bootable cd with drive test software?
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Eoin OSullivanConsultantCommented:
You don't mention what precise model of iMac you have but only the newest ones running last few versions of OSX have an emergency boot partition which can be used to restore or repair OS installations.  I'm guessing your iMacs don't qualify.

Do you know if the iMacs still have OSX installed?  Normally when iMacs have Windows installed a system called BootCamp is used whereby the HD is partitioned and OSX is on one part and Windows installed on the other.

If you cannot get into BootCamp on these 2 iMacs .. you'll have to do one of the following

1. Remove Hard Drives from iMacs and connect to other Mac to run Disk Utility
2. Create a bootable USB drive with OSX Disk Utility on

Option one is easier if you have a USB - SATA adapter kit and actually faster if you have other working macs

Option two  - you can use a program like Lion Disk Maker (http://liondiskmaker.com) if you've an iMac running OSX Lion or you can do it manually and you can find lots of tutorials if you simply google "how-to-create-a-bootable-usb-to-install-os-x"
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strungCommented:
If you have other iMacs that work, your best bet is to use Firewire Target Disk Mode. This allows you to connect a working Mac to a non-working Mac with a firewire cable and use ir to have the non-working Mac work as an external hard drive on the working Mac.

Here is how: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1661

Once you have the bad computer booted in target disk mode and connected to the good Mac, open Disk Utility ( /Applications/Disk Utility) on the good Mac and see if it recognized the drive on the bad Mac.

If it recognizes it, try running Repair Disk. That might fix the problem. If not, you may have to use Disk Utility to reformat the drive and re-install. You can clone the contents of the drive on the good Mac to the bad Mac using Carbon Copy Cloner ( http://www.bombich.com ).

If the drive is not recognized in Target Disk Mode, it is likely kaput and needs to be physically replaced. After replacing the drive, use Target Disk Mode to format the drive as Mac Extended Format (Journalled) and use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the good drive to the bad.

This is on the assumption the good and bad Macs are roughly the same vintage.
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marsiliesCommented:
You can run Disk Utility if you have the original install disc for OS X:
http://pondini.org/OSX/DU1.html

For more recent versions of OS X, you can download and use the OS X Recovery Disk Assistant:
http://support.apple.com/kb/DL1433
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