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Community Newsletter: Q&A forum: 3/10/06 Primary drive not found!

by: Marc Bennett March 9, 2006 10:34 AM PST

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3/10/06 Primary drive not found!

by Marc Bennett ModeratorCNET staff - 3/9/06 10:34 AM


Every time I boot up my Dell Dimension desktop, I immediately get an error message that says "Primary drive not found." I then have the option of hitting F1 to continue, or F2 to go to a configuration utility. If I hit F1, my computer almost always starts up as usual. I've made sure all the drive cables are totally connected, I only have one hard drive (so it must be finding the "primary drive"), I've even reinstalled Windows XP, yet the issue remains. Otherwise, my computer runs great, but it's a pretty alarming error message that I would somehow like to fix.

Submitted by: Gretchen G. of San Francisco, CA

(WARNING: This weeks answer and some recommendations suggest that you edit settings in your BIOS. If you are at all uncomfortable or unfamiliar with this task, please let someone who is experienced perform it. You dont want to end up worse off than before! Thank you.)




While the error message sounds ominous, the solution to your problem might be quite simple. In fact, the most likely cause of the error message is that your computer's BIOS is set to boot off a hard drive that isn't there. Let me explain.

When you turn on a Dell Dimension (or any other computer, for that matter), a set of coded instructions known as Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) prepares the hardware so that your operating system and other programs can take over. One of the things that happens during this "booting" process is that your BIOS looks for the operating system, drivers, and start up programs in a predetermined location.

The default location is usually your hard drive, which should be listed as Primary Drive 0 in your Dimension's setup or configuration utility (more on this later). If your Primary Drive 0 field is set to something other than your hard drive, your computer will display the "Primary drive not found" error message. When you hit F1 to continue, the BIOS then looks for another bootable device. This is why you are able to eventually start Windows XP.

Your computer's BIOS is located on a Read-Only Memory chip so that you are able to boot from a different bootable drive or removable media if your primary hard drive fails. It is neither part of your hard drive, nor part of your operating system. This explains why the issue you described persists despite your reinstalling Windows XP. It also explains why your computer "runs great" after the short delay caused by the error message.

So what ultimately caused the problem? Without more information about your computer and the onset of the problem, it is difficult to identify the definitive culprit. It is possible that someone entered setup and accidentally changed some settings. Or, if your PC was recently serviced, some settings might have been modified at that time. This is especially true if a hard drive was replaced. A newer hard drive in a relatively old computer might necessitate a BIOS update.

Let's try these troubleshooting steps:

1. Start your computer. You will notice that shortly after the Dell logo screen appears, the upper right corner prompts you Press the F2 key to enter Startup, or the F12 key to enter the Boot Menu. Press and hold down the F2 key until the message changes from "F2 = Setup" to "Entering Setup." If your computer does not enter setup at this time, wait until the "Primary drive not found" message appears and press F2 then.
2. Using the arrow keys on your keyboard, scroll down to Primary Drive 0. The value for this field should be set to Hard Drive. My guess is yours is set to something else, or is off.
3. Press the SPACE bar to see what is listed as your primary drive, if anything. A hard drive should be listed by the name of its manufacturer (e.g., Western Digital, Dell, Seagate) and/or its serial number. If it isn't, or if the Primary Drive 0 field is set to OFF, change it to either AUTO or DETECT. (If you have any questions about any of the settings, press the F1 key for help.)
4. Press ESC to exit.
5. Scroll down to Primary Drive 1. If "Hard Drive" is listed here, use the SPACE bar once again to open the menu window and change the value to AUTO or DETECT. Press ESC to exit.
6. Press ESC once more.
7. Select Save changes and Exit, then press ENTER. Your computer will now reboot.
Your computer should start without any problems or error messages.

If the issue persists, the problem may be caused by your computer booting so fast that it tries to read your hard drive before the latter has a chance to spin. To correct this problem, enter the configuration utility once again by pressing F2. Check whether there is a setting listed as "Hard Drive Pre Boot Delay" or "Hard Drive Pre Delay." If your BIOS has this setting, increase the delay time by 5-10 seconds, exit the utility and restart your computer.

If the delay setting is unavailable, or increasing the time fails to solve the problem, I would suggest you visit Dell Support ( and use the Chat with Hardware Support link to discuss the issue with a representative. (I strongly discourage you from using phone support unless you are willing to explore the limits of both your patience and your sanity.)

If the onset of this issue coincided with a hard drive replacement, ask the rep whether there is a BIOS update available for your particular Dimension model. You could also use the Drivers & Downloads Tool (found under Popular Support Tools) to find out whether or not one is available.

Updating your computer BIOS is easy, but there is a significant risk: If you do it wrong, you will be unable to start your computer. If you need to update your BIOS, make sure you read Dell Knowledge Base Article FA1033387, titled How can I obtain the latest upgrade to my basic input/output system (BIOS) or system setup file?

(Your Dell Owner's Manual might also cover the subject.)

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Submitted by: Miguel K. of Columbus, OH

Note: I created the tiny url to fix some page rendering issues we had with the original link. The link goes to Dell customer support and is safe to click - Marc

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