Monday, July 03, 2006

Secret Dell hard drive diagnostics in the BIOS

My drive started to fail in my Dell PowerEdge 400SC, so Dell shipped me a new drive. I installed it and Dell Support told me to boot-up and repeatedly press Ctrl-Alt-D. Apparently this runs some sort of built-in BIOS hard drive diagnostics.

In my case, it happened to print out "Fail. Return Code: 4". The tech explained that this means "electrical failure".

I sent back the two bad drives, Dell shipped me a new one and it seems to be running fine. If this happens again on another Dell, I'll be sure to run Ctrl-Alt-D to start...

UPDATE: Looks like this is briefly documented here. I didn't find a list of return codes, but Return Code 7 seems to mean "bad tracks or sectors".


Robert House said...

I'd like to know what other information it may be able to give - possibly a list with meanings of error codes.

LowTek said...

I updated the post with a little bit more info above...

Anonymous said...

As an ex-dell HD Tech, I can only give limited information because it is proprietary.

Any kind of fault codes that come back from the "Harddrive Diagnostics" indicate a failing drive. Regardless of the code number, it is generally a FATAL error.

Error Code 7 means that the Drive itself, is suffering from what is called ECC Fault. This is where the drive's DSP Controller chip or the Cache on the drive is starting/or has failed. Eventually an error code 7 will lead to a totally non-functional drive, errors while accessing files, registry corruption, and eventually complete loss of data.

I ran into code 7's a lot while working in the software department when customers had virus-like symptoms after 5-7 months of use. Generally the hardware department ignored the fact that the drive was faulty and sent the customer back over to software for a drive wipe and os reinstall.

Code 4 is something I rarely ran across. Since SMART Diagnostics are now hidden from applications like SpinRite 5/6, it makes it damn near difficult to find out what it ment.