Nothing can be more frustrating or frightening than your computer suddenly not working because of a hard drive crash. But don’t panic yet. There are two major problems for a computer not to start due to a hard drive problem. The first is that the hard drive has truly failed and without a time consuming and expensive process, you have probably lost everything on it. That is what backups are for. The second and more common problem is a corrupt operating system, and for the purposes of this article, that means Windows. If this is the case, then you will almost certainly be able to recover your data, and most likely can repair the existing hard drive.
So the first problem is to determine what the problem is. Error messages can vary depending on hardware, operating system, version, etc. If the error gives you the impression that there is no hard drive or no hard drive found, then you are probably in trouble. However, if the error indicates that no operating system can be found, then most likely, the computer tried to start, looked at the hard drive for the operating system and did not find it. The key here is that it looked at the hard drive. Therefore one exists to look at.
The easiest way to make sure this is the case and the quickest route to recovery is to reinstall the operating system. Again, the exact procedure will vary depending on manufacturer, and you may need to consult their documentation or website. Most likely, you got a CD with the computer labeled something like recovery disk, emergency startup, or reinstallation CD. Put this in your CD drive and start the computer. At some point in the startup, you may have to hit a function key to access the startup menu to force it to look at the CD drive. Again, this varies by machine. This is usually F10 or F12, buy you may need to look at the documentation or experiment to find out.
Once you boot to the CD, there will be an option to repair or reinstall the operating system. Given a choice, try repair first. If you reinstall, it will replace all the Windows files, including those installed by other software companies, so you may have to reinstall all or most of your software. At any rate, it is now that you will find out where the problem is. The first thing the CD will do is check your system for the existing operating system. If your hard drive is unusable, it will return an error here and you are finished. If not, it will go ahead and try to repair it. If, after the repair, the system still doesn’t start correctly, you can try to reinstall. If it is an operating system error, this should solve the problem and allow you to recover from the error.