Why is my HDD not booting?

Quick Answers

There are a few common reasons why a hard disk drive (HDD) might fail to boot properly:

  • Corrupted system files – Critical boot files like the Master Boot Record or bootloader may have become corrupted, preventing the operating system from loading.
  • Failed hard drive – The HDD itself could be mechanically failed or damaged, preventing it from spinning up.
  • Incorrect BIOS settings – The BIOS boot order may not have the HDD set as the first boot device.
  • Loose cable connections – If power or data cables are loose, the HDD will not get the electricity and communication it needs.

If an HDD is not booting, first check that the drive is being detected in the BIOS at all. If it is detected, try changing the boot order to place it first. If it still won’t boot, the drive itself or the data on it is likely corrupt and requires repair or recovery tools.

What Does “Not Booting” Mean?

When we say a hard drive is “not booting,” it generally means that when you turn on your computer, instead of loading the operating system as normal, one of the following happens:

  • A blank or black screen displays, with no activity.
  • An error message like “No bootable device found” appears.
  • The BIOS POST process stalls on the HDD initialization.
  • The operating system begins to load but crashes back to the BIOS.

Essentially, the boot process is being halted or disrupted before the operating system can fully load. This indicates there is some kind of problem preventing the HDD from doing its boot-up duties.

Some key points about drives not booting:

  • It usually means the HDD is still spinning and has power, but cannot access the data on the platters.
  • It does not necessarily mean the data is corrupted or the drive is dead – it could be a fixable software issue.
  • The HDD will often still show up in the BIOS, indicating the disk controller and electronics are still functioning.
  • If the drive does not show up at all in the BIOS, it likely has a physical mechanical failure or complete electronic failure.

So in summary, “not booting” means the HDD is failing at its core job during the boot process – accessing the boot files and starting the operating system load.

Why Does a HDD Fail to Boot?

There are four broad categories of common causes for a HDD boot failure:

1. Corrupted Boot Files or File System

For a HDD to boot, critical system files like the Master Boot Record, partition table, and bootloader (e.g. NTLDR in Windows XP) must be intact and readable. If these get corrupted or damaged, the boot process ends abruptly.

Common causes of file corruption:

  • Accidental deletion or overwriting of boot files
  • Malware, ransomware, or virus infection
  • Unexpected system shutdown during OS updates
  • Power outages or spikes during disk writes
  • Driver conflicts, bugs, or incompatibility issues

File system errors can also prevent booting, such as:

  • File system marked “dirty” and requiring chkdsk repair
  • Critical file system structures like the MFT in NTFS are damaged
  • Catalog files that map file locations are deleted or corrupt

If the boot issue is due to file damage, boot recovery software or OS reinstallation should resolve it.

2. Drive Hardware Malfunction

Like any electromechanical device, HDDs have components that can fail or malfunction:

  • Failed read/write heads – Cannot read data from platter surface.
  • Stuck or seized spindle motor – Platter fails to spin up to required RPM.
  • Damaged or melted actuator arm – Heads cannot move across platters.
  • Failed drive electronics – Components like the controller or interface circuits fail.

A drive with mechanical damage will typically either outright fail to spin up, or it will spin up but make repetitive clicking/chattering noises as it tries to access damaged areas.

If the issue is with the internal hardware, the HDD will need professional data recovery to attempt extracting the data before replacing the drive.

3. Loose or Disconnected Cable(s)

For the HDD to operate, it needs:

  • Power from the SATA or Molex power connector
  • A connection via the SATA or IDE data cable

If either of these become loose or disconnected, the drive will not function.

On desktop PCs, cables can become loose due to:

  • Improperly connected cables worked free over time.
  • Cables damaged and connections broken.
  • drive bay vibrations worked connectors loose.
  • Accidentally knocked loose cables when working inside the case.

Check that HDD cables are securely seated at both ends – drive and motherboard. Also inspect cables for any damage.

4. Failed or Incorrect BIOS Settings

The system BIOS or UEFI firmware controls the boot order – the sequence of devices that the motherboard checks when booting.

If the HDD is not set as the first/primary boot device in the boot order, the system may attempt booting from another device like the CD/DVD drive first instead.

Boot issues can also occur if:

  • The BIOS is not detecting the HDD at all.
  • The SATA mode (IDE/AHCI/RAID) is incorrect or incompatible with the OS.
  • The drive is set to the wrong type e.g. IDE instead of SATA.

Access the BIOS settings and check the SATA and boot configuration options are correct for the HDD setup.

Troubleshooting HDD Boot Failure

Follow these steps to start diagnosing and troubleshooting a HDD failing to boot:

  1. Run POST error checks – Turn on the PC and note any audible beeps or error messages indicating HDD failure.
  2. Check HDD in BIOS – Boot into BIOS setup and verify HDD is listed on boot page.
  3. Inspect cables and connections – Reseat SATA/power cables at both ends and inspect for damage.
  4. Check boot order – Ensure HDD is first boot device in Boot Order or Priority.
  5. Examine HDD lights/sounds – Listen for repetitive clicking or other abnormal noises.
  6. Try removing HDD and booting – If PC boots without HDD, focus is isolated to drive failure.
  7. Try booting from USB or DVD – If OS loads from external media, indicate HDD issue rather than system problem.
  8. Boot HDD in another PC – Try HDD in different PC to check for system compatibility issues.

These basic steps should provide some indication if the problem is the drive itself, connection issues, boot sequence errors, or configuration problems impeding normal boot.

How to Fix a HDD That Won’t Boot

The specific method to get a “no boot” HDD working again depends on the diagnosed cause. Try these solutions based on troubleshooting:

For Corrupted Boot Files:

  • Use System File Repair tools like chkdsk in Windows or fsck for Linux to check and repair corrupt file system errors.
  • If critical boot files are missing or corrupt, reinstall or repair the OS bootloader and partitions.
  • Use recovery software to rebuild the Master Boot Record (MBR) or repair the boot sectors.
  • Back up data and perform a clean OS reinstallation if all else fails.

For a Damaged HDD:

  • Attempt data recovery through professional HDD repair services.
  • Once data is extracted, replace the failed HDD with a new drive.
  • Reinstall OS to the new drive and restore backups.

For Cable Connection Issues:

  • Reconnect SATA and power cables at both the HDD and motherboard ends.
  • Replace damaged cables if connections are broken or corroded.
  • Try a different SATA port and cable if issue persists.

For BIOS Boot Errors:

  • Access BIOS settings and ensure HDD is listed on boot page.
  • Set HDD as primary boot device in Boot Order or Priority.
  • Confirm SATA mode matches OS (IDE, AHCI, RAID).
  • Change any settings forcing incorrect HDD type (IDE vs. SATA).

Fixing the underlying cause will get the HDD booting again in most instances. If the HDD is still not booting after repairs, there may be complications or irreparable damage requiring drive replacement.

Best Practices to Prevent Boot Issues

While HDDs are fairly reliable, problems sending them into a “no boot” state can arise. Follow these tips to help avoid boot failures:

  • Use quality surge protectors and UPS battery backups to guard against power issues.
  • Disconnect drives before moving computers to prevent physical damage.
  • Secure cables properly when working inside computer case.
  • Don’t force remove drives while active – use safe removal procedure.
  • Keep backup images of critical system files needed for booting.
  • Backup important data regularly incase HDD fails and needs replacement.

Practicing drive care, system maintenance, and backup diligence will minimize odds of your HDD suddenly not booting one day. But if you do encounter the problem, this guide should help get to the source and remedy it.


A HDD failing to boot is a disruptive problem, but the causes generally boil down to either corrupted system files, mechanical failure, cable issues, or boot sequence errors. By methodically troubleshooting the boot process, inspecting drive hardware, and fixing any underlying problems with repairs or OS reinstallation, you can typically get a “no boot” hard disk humming along once again. Implementing backups and other preventative measures can help avoid boot failures down the line. So don’t panic if your HDD won’t boot one day – with the right approach, you have a good chance of resolving the failure and getting back to normal operation.

Cause Fixes
Corrupted boot files System file repair, bootloader reinstall, OS reinstall
Hardware failure Data recovery, HDD replacement
Loose cables Reseat connections, replace cables
BIOS issues Check boot order, ensure proper HDD settings