A disk read error occurred. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart Error

Symptom 1: A disk read error occurred” error screen on startup

The “A disk read error occurred error” appears on a black screen without an identifiable error code.

Pressing the CtrlAlt and Del keys will only restart the computer and boot into the same error screen:

A disk read error occurred - Screenshot

A disk read error occurred 
Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart

In most cases the error can appear for any of the following reasons:

  • Incorrect or invalid MBR configuration
  • Improperly configured partition table
  • Faulty hard drive
  • IDE cables failing
  • Bad RAM memory
  • Issues with your computer’s BIOS version

The most common cases of this error are attributable to an incorrectly-flashed MBR to the system startup disk or the absence of an active partition on the startup disk. In these situations, the recommendations below should resolve the problem readily. If the problem is with hardware, additional diagnosis and the possible replacement of system components may be needed.

Causes of this Error

This error has been known to occur as a result of one of the following causes:

Cause 1: Incorrect or invalid MBR configuration

The most common cause for this error is an incorrect MBR configuration. This is usually caused by disk write errors, virus attacks or power outages.

Cause 2: Misconfigured partition table

For the same reasons, the partition table may become misconfigured. If that’s the case, it is possible to rebuild the partition table from scratch to make sure system loads correctly.

Fixing “A disk read error occurred” on Windows

Windows Setup CD/DVD Required!
Some of the solutions below require the use of the Microsoft Windows setup CD or DVD. If your PC did not come with a Windows installation disc or if you no longer have your Windows setup media, you can use Easy Recovery Essentials for Windows instead. EasyRE will automatically find and fix many problems, and can also be used to solve this problem with the directions below.

Fix #1: Use Easy Recovery Essentials

Easy Recovery Essentials can fix many errors such as this automatically using its built-in Automated Repair option. EasyRE is currently available for Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 and can be downloaded and created on any PC.

  1. Download Easy Recovery Essentials. Make sure to note your Windows version (XP, Vista, 7 or 8) before you download EasyRE. This guide can help you identify what version of Windows you have installed.
  2. Burn the image. Follow these instructions on how to burn the bootable ISO image very carefully, as making a bootable CD can be tricky! Alternatively, these instructions explain how to create a bootable EasyRE recovery USB stick/drive.
  3. Boot up your PC from the Easy Recovery Essentials CD or USB you created.
  4. Once EasyRE is running, choose the “Automated Repair” option and click Continue.
    EasyRE Home

    Choose “Automated Repair” in Easy Recovery Essentials

  5. After EasyRE scans your computer’s drives, identify and select the drive letter for your Windows installation from the list, and then click on the Automated Repair button to begin.
    EasyRE displays a list of found Windows operating systems

    Choose the drive associated with the Windows installation you’re trying to repair.

  6. Easy Recovery Essentials will start analyzing the selected drive for problems. EasyRE will test for and attempt to automatically correct errors with the disk, partition, bootsector, filesystem, bootloader, and registry. No intervention is required, as EasyRE’s repair is fully automated:
    EasyRE: Automated Repair

    Easy Recovery Essentials searches for errors and makes corrections to the selected Windows installation.

  7. Once the process is complete, EasyRE will report its findings. Click on the Restart button to reboot your PC and test the changes.
  8. The “A disk read error occurred” error should now be fixed as your PC begins to load:
    EasyRE: Automated Repair

    Windows, booting up successfully.

You can download Easy Recovery Essentials from here.

Fix #2: Check RAM memory

If you recently added new RAM memory to your computer, you can try to:

  1. Remove the new RAM modules you’ve recently added
  2. Leave only 1 single RAM module
  3. Restart the computer

You can also try to move the single RAM module on a different slot to troubleshoot if any of your RAM slots are damaged. To do that, simply follow these steps:

  1. Leave 1 RAM module on Slot #1
  2. Restart the computer

If “A disk read error occurred” still appears, move the RAM module on Slot #2 and start the computer again.

Fix #3: Check Hard Disk Cables

If the error is caused by damaged hard disk cables, try any of the following tips to fix the error:

  • Try a different port for the SATA/IDE cables
  • If you have more than 1 HDD, leave only the HDD with Windows installed and test multiple SATA/IDE ports and cables

The “A disk read error occurred” error can appear if:

Fix #4: Reset or Upgrade BIOS

In some cases, “A disk read error occurred” can be fixed by either reverting your BIOS to its default settings or upgrading BIOS to the latest version available for your computer.

To revert your computer’s BIOS to its default settings or default configuration, follow these steps:

  1. Restart the computer
  2. Press the key to boot into BIOS. This is usually any of the following keys: F2F8F12Esc or Del. The key you need to press will be listed at the first screen when you boot your computer:Dell Boot POST Screen
  3. Once booted into BIOS, find a “Load Defaults” options. The option name to revert to default settings can be different, depending on your computer manufacturer and BIOS version:
    • Load Fail-Safe Defaults
    • Load BIOS Defaults
    • Load Default Settings
    • Load Setup Default
    • Get Default Values
  4. Select to revert the settings and hit Enter to select the option
  5. Exit BIOS by saving the changes

If reverting to BIOS defaults doesn’t make “A disk read error occurred” disappear, you can also try to update the BIOS version to the latest available.

Fix #5: Run chkdsk

The chkdsk utility checks for hard drives integrity and can attempt to fix various file system errors.

To run chkdsk on a Windows XP system, follow these steps:

  1. Insert the Windows XP CD and boot from it
  2. At the Windows Options screen, press R to open Recovery ConsoleWindows XP Recovery Console
  3. At Command Prompt, type the chkdsk command:
    chkdsk C: /r

    Make sure you replace C: with the drive where Windows XP is installed

  4. Press Enter
  5. Restart the computer

To run chkdsk on a Windows Vista or Windows 7 system, follow these steps:

  1. Insert the Windows Vista or Windows 7 DVD and boot from it
  2. At the Install Windows screen, select Repair your computer to access System Recovery OptionsInstall Now in Windows Vista DVD
  3. Once at System Recovery Options, select Command PromptWindows Vista System Options
  4. Type the same chkdsk command as that of Windows XP:
    chkdsk C: /r

    where C: is the letter of the drive where Windows Vista or Windows 7 is installed on

  5. Hit Enter

On Windows 8 or 8.1, chkdsk can accessed through the same steps:

  1. Insert the installation media (DVD or USB drive) and boot from it
  2. Select a language, keyboard method and time
  3. Click Next
  4. At the Install now screen, select Repair your computer or press RInstall Now Windows 8 Screen
  5. Navigate to Troubleshoot > Advanced Options
  6. Click Command Prompt
  7. Type the chsksk command and press Enter:
    chkdsk C: /f /x /r

    Replace C: with the drive where Windows 8 is installed

chkdsk utility results screen

Fix #6: Run bootrec

If chkdsk doesn’t fix the “A disk read error occurred” error, you can also try to run the bootrec utility in order to fix damaged or corrupt BCD files.

If you have a Windows XP system, run the bootcfg utility. Bootrec is only available for Windows Vista, 7, 8.

  1. Insert the Windows XP CD in the disc tray and boot from it
  2. Press R to access Recovery Console
  3. At Command Prompt, type the bootcfg command:
    bootcfg /rebuild
  4. Press Enter
  5. When bootcfg finishes the procedure, type exit and hit Enter to exit Command Prompt
  6. Restart the computer

If you have a Windows Vista or Windows 7 computer, run the bootrec command by following these steps:

  1. Insert the original install media and boot from it
  2. Click Repair your computer
  3. Once at System Recovery Options, select Command PromptWindows 7 System Recovery Options
  4. Type the bootrec commands and press Enter:
    bootrec /rebuildbcd
  5. Type:
    bootrec /fixmbr
  6. Press Enter
  7. Type:
    bootrec /fixboot
  8. Press Enter
  9. Restart the computer

If “A disk read error occurred” appears on a Windows 8, run the same bootrec utility:

  1. Boot from the installation media
  2. Click Repair your computer or press R
  3. Click Troubleshoot
  4. Click Advanced options
  5. Click Command Prompt
  6. Type the commands and press Enter after each:
    bootrec /rebuildbcd
    bootrec /fixmbr
    bootrec /fixboot
  7. Type exit and press Enter to quit Command Prompt
  8. Restart the computer
bootrec utility results screen

bootrec utility results screen

Applicable Systems

This Windows-related knowledgebase article applies to the following operating systems:

  • Windows XP (all editions)
  • Windows Vista (all editions)
  • Windows 7 (all editions)
  • Windows 8 (all editions)
  • Windows 8.1 (all editions)

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