What would cause a system disk error when booting up a computer?

We have an old computer we decided to plug in and see if it works, and when it’s booting up, we get the black dos screen with the message “failed system disk or disk error”. What does this mean?

Answer #1

Hmm, not sure exactly what is causing that error, but I may have a solution.

Try restarting your computer. Then, immediately after the screen goes blank press the F8 key repeatedly until the “Windows Advanced Options” menu appears. Use the arrow keys and select “Last Known Good Configuration”, and then press enter.

Your computer should then restart, and it should be fixed. If not, sorry…but I don’t know what else to do.

Answer #2

We tried to go through the start up options, but it just gets stuck on that screen and you can’t do anything else but turn it off…I’m wondering if it’s an actual Windows disk issue - maybe it needs to be reformatted?

Answer #3

Hmm, I have no idea. I’m not that smart with computers. I thought I would offer something though, as it could have fixed it. :P Hopefully Matt, or Euan will be able to offer some help. They are pretty good with computers.

Answer #4

Yes, I’m kind of wishing one of those guys was online right now….lol

Answer #5

It means the BIOS (basic input output system) cannot locate a bootable operating system on the drive that is currently identified (to the BIOS) as the boot hard drive.

What happens if :

After you boot and get the “failed system disk or disk error” message,

you type


Also, do you know what operating system was installed when it was last running properly ?

– Best wishes - Majikthise.

Answer #6

It was Windows 98…as I said - an older computer :) Thanks!

Answer #7

FunAdvice deleted my notation for the return (enter) key …..

….. it should have said type

dir [return]

Answer #8

Did that fix it Colleen? :O

Answer #9

I haven’t tried it yet…I need to unhook this computer to hook up the old one, lol…I’ll write all this down and try it later :)

Answer #10

How important are the data files (as opposed to the application program files)…..

i.e. your word processor / spreadsheet / database files; pictures, music etc.?

Do you want / need to recover them (if possible) ?

Answer #11

No…it’s an old computer and there’s nothing important on it at all

Answer #12

OK Colleen,

If you are trying it later, the “… dir [return] …” bit will only show whether or not a “dos operating system” (as opposed to Windows 98 OS) is still active. If it is, it will cause a “directory listing” of files on the root directory of the boot drive to be displayed.

If such listing occurs, then you have a good chance of recovering the data from those (and other) files. If no such listing occurs there is less (but not zero) chance of recovering them.

If no “directory listing” occurs in response to the “ dir [return] “ command: reboot the computer while pressing the delete key - hopefully, that will get you into the BIOS which will give you a number of “Menu Options” - select the first option (typically something like “Standard CMOS Features”) when you press the enter key, it will list various bits of information. ….. ….. I would like to know what is listed for the various IDE drives (typical listing will be Primary Master; Primary Slave; Secondary Master; Secondary Slave). 2 or 3 are likely to say “None”, but I am hoping that at least the “Primary Master” specifies something other than “None” (i.e. some details of the boot drive.

Give us a bit of feedback on the above and we may be able to make some progress.

Answer #13

Good that makes things a bit easier. See my other answer.

Answer #14

lets face it, if i hadnt been turned on since 98 i would find it hard to get going lol

if you stick an operating system dvd/cd disk in and see if that finds the hdd then youll know if the hdd is busted..

or you can go into teh bios and check, hit delete or f2 as its booting and see if its there….

personaly i think it might have lost bios settings due to the battery dying, you could try changing the battery. its normally a cr2032 and very cheap and their the same thats used on cars to open, lock and set alarm.

once changed then try to boot again… if it hasnt been dropped of anything the battery would be the 1st thing i change cus their dead cheap.

oh the battery… if you open the case and look [normally at the bottom] at the motherboard youll see something round and silver around just over half inch in diamiter

Answer #15

Ok, I have a lot of options to try out…thanks to everyone :)

Answer #16

NB A computer old enough to use Win98 may not include BIOS driver to read a CD, and almost certainly will not be able to read a DVD without an installed operating system and DVD driver. In the late 90’s it was usual to have to install a CD driver from a floppy disk before being able to access an operating system from CD.

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