This is a mysterious problem that seems to come out of no where. The best discussion I have found on it, for the general case is here. The solution presented here is for what I believe is a special case (still, it might provide some insight to the general case).
My customer wanted a computer repair on an old Dell Inspiron 6000 running Windows XP. The problem she complained of was that she could not boot the computer and that it only would display the error “A disk read error occurred, Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart”. All conventional diagnostics indicated that the hard drive was OK, the file system was OK, Windows was OK, the boot records were OK. Everything was OK. Yet still we got this error.
The hard drive in this machine was a Seagate 160GB PATA drive. As I recall, it had a single partition (suggesting maybe that Windows had been reinstalled on it at some point in the past, perhaps the whole hard drive had been replaced at that time). That single operating system partition was sized at 149GB. Here is where my special case lies. The Dell Inspiron 6000, an a few other Dells of that vintage, can only access partitions of 137GB and less. If you opened the BIOS screen on this machine, you would see that it was reporting the drive size as 137GB. Well, that dog don’t hunt.
I pulled the drive from the machine and resized the Windows partition to 80GB (I had an 80GB drive standing by in case I needed to change hardware). As soon as I re-installed the drive it booted to Windows perfectly, no problems.
Now, why did this ever work and why did it stop working? I don’t know. The Windows installation had some malware on it but nothing that looked vicious to me. Perhaps some malware tried to mess with the partition on the drive or the boot records to install a hidden boot partition and this upset some delicate balance the unit had maintained. This is not a very good guess but it’s the only one I have.
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