[nSLUG] Used laptop hard drive with no boot sector

Daniel Morrison draker at gmail.com
Tue Apr 23 22:32:49 ADT 2013

(Strangely I have not received Frank's original message.)

I think the focus on boot sectors, syslinux, etc. is misplaced. The boot
sector is like any other sector, apart from the fact it comes first on the
disk. Likely the disk has been wiped. "No boot sector" is a perfectly
normal message in this situation (or for a brand new disk). Any OS install
will restore the boot sector. You can use syslinux, lilo, grub, 'fdisk
/mbr' (in DOS) or even dd from another disk, etc. but normally there is no
need as the installation procedure will handle it all for you.

The oddity here is that you could not boot the Ubuntu Live CD.

Check that the CDROM device is detected by the BIOS, and double-check that
it is first in the boot order. Check the CDROM drive has power (on a
laptop, probably, or you would not have been able to open it). Look for a
hotkey specified on the POST screen to trigger a boot device menu, so that
you can explicitly request the CD.

Test the Ubuntu boot CD on a different computer. If it works, my top
suspicions are: 1) BIOS bug or user error causes the system not to really
try the CD, or 2) CDROM drive is broken (e.g. laser burnt out). It is
possible that this particular CD is not compatible with the laptop (CD/RW
can't be read in old CDROM drive? Using a DVD-R by mistake?)

Try an external CD/DVD drive. Or try to boot from other devices, such as
usb, network, floppy, etc. -- whatever the laptop supports, and you have at

Once you get Linux booted, you can fdisk and mount, etc. to see what is on
the disk. However smartctl (e.g. smartctl -a /dev/hda | less) is needed to
show you if the disk needs replacing or not. The Ubuntu Live and/or rescue
CDs are hopeless in this respect... no useful tools at all. SystemRescueCD
is good. Using smartctl is the only way to be sure a disk is OK (e.g. if it
otherwise looks good, '-t long' to schedule a sector surface scan, then '-l
selftest' to show the results -- some hours later -- is always a good idea
with used disks).

If you suspect the disk is supposed to have a (Microsoft) OS on it, then
it's a whole other ball game trying to recover it. If you intend to
reinstall a Microsoft OS on it, make sure you have the product key (on a
sticker on the machine). If not, use magicaljellybean.com to extract the
existing key before you delete the old OS. Otherwise you're screwed by

Good luck,


On 2013-04-23 20:47, Jack Warkentin wrote:
> Hi Frank
> The syslinux GNU/Linux package contains a collection of boot loaders.
> If you already have a running system it can be used to replace the
> Master Boot Record (MBR) and install a boot loader on a hard drive.
> In your case, I would suggest downloading the image for, and
> creating, a System Rescue CD. See
> http://www.sysresccd.org/SystemRescueCd_Homepage
> and booting this to repair the damage.
> If you can't get the rescue CD to boot, I would suggest removing the
> hard drive from that laptop and installing it on another computer,
> then use syslinux, or, examine the contents of the drive to see if
> there is any useful information on it first.
> Regards
> Jack
> Frank Geitzler wrote:
>> I was given a used Dell laptop with a 40GB hard drive.  Unfortunately,
>> when I powered it on, I received the message "No boot sector on hard
>> disk -No bootable devices -strike F1 to retry boot, F2 for setup
>> utility".  I attempted to boot the system with a Ubuntu Live CD, but
>> received the same result -even after changing the Setup to specify
>> booting first from the CD/ROM.  Does this mean that the hard drive must
>> be replaced, or is there a way to replace the boot sector?  If it can be
>> replaced, can anyone tell me how?
>> Thanks,
>> Frank Geitzler

What is not surrounded by uncertainty cannot be truth.
               -- Richard Feynman
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