This issue has been around for years but we are seeing it more frequently as Windows XP computers near the end of their working lives. Symptoms – Very soon after the computer is turned on you see one of the following error messages:
‘NTLDR is missing Press any key to restart’
‘NTLDR is missing Press Ctrl Alt Del to restart’
‘Boot: Couldn’t find NTLDR Please insert another disk’
They all mean the same thing – Windows was unable to start because it could not find the NTLDR file – a critical file that it needs to start up. Note: this article applies only to Windows XP! Vista and Windows 7 do not use a NTLDR file.
There are several causes but the most common (due to the age of old XP computers) is now:
1. Corruption/loss of the NTLDR file due to a failing hard drive. Fixing the NTLDR problem may help Windows start in the short term but, if the hard drive is failing, you may get more errors (or total failure) in the near future :-(
Other possible causes include:
2. Trying to boot (start) from a non-bootable source – typically a non-bootable CD, USB drive, memory card or even an old floppy disc.
3. Misconfigured boot.ini file.
4. Loose or faulty IDE hard drive ribbon data cable.
How To Fix It – Work through the potential fixes in this order – test after each one by restarting the computer to see if Windows now loads up successfully:
Starting from non-bootable source – Remove any CD/DVD disks and memory cards or floppy disks that are in the computer. Unplug any USB drives from the computer e.g. external hard drive, flash drive, digital camera, smartphone, printer (if it has an integrated card reader) etc – if you have a USB mouse and/or keyboard, leave them connected as they are needed to start up.
Corruption/Loss of the NTLDR file – Restore the NTLDR file and also the NTDETECT.COM file from an XP installation CD – ntdetect.com is another critical file that is needed to start Windows. If NTLDR needs replacing you should replace ntdetect.com too:
A. Insert the XP bootable installation CD into your computer (borrow the CD from a friend if you don’t have one)
B. Boot from this CD – if you don’t know how to boot (start) the computer from a CD, here is a simple guide on how to do it
C. As the computer starts, you are prompted to ‘Press any key to boot from CD’ – press any key on the keyboard now to start the Windows recovery process which may take a few minutes
D. When the Windows setup menu (‘Welcome to Setup’) appears, the second option is ‘To Repair a Windows Installation Using Recovery Console, Press R’ – press the ‘R’ key now to enter the recovery console
Warning: the first option is ‘To Set Up Windows XP now press Enter’ – you do not want this so do NOT press ENTER.
E. You are now asked to log into your Windows installation – this is usually number 1 (C:\Windows partition) – if so, press ‘1’ then ENTER
F. You are asked for the admin password – this is usually blank so just press ENTER to continue
G. You should now be in the C:\Windows directory. Copy the 2 files below from the Windows CD to replace the corrupt/missing files on your computer – we will assume that your CD drive is drive letter d but if yours is different, just replace the d with the actual letter of your CD drive. Type the following:
copy d:\i386\ntldr c:\ then press ENTER
copy d:\i386\ntdetect.com c:\ then press ENTER
After each copy step you should see a message that 1 file has been copied successfully.
H. Now remove the CD and restart your computer to see if that has fixed the problem.
Misconfigured Boot.ini file – Repeat the boot procedures from the ‘Corruption/Loss of the NTLDR file’ section above from Steps A to F so that you are again in the C:\Windows directory – now, instead of copying files, you must repair the boot.ini file (and we recommend fixing the Master Boot Record at the same time).
1. Type the following: fixboot then press ENTER
You are asked if you are sure you want to write a new bootsector to the partition C – type the letter y then press ENTER
2. Type the following: fixmbr then press ENTER
You are asked if you are sure you want to write a new MBR – type the letter y then press ENTER
3. Now remove the CD and restart your computer to see if that has fixed the problem.
Loose/faulty IDE cable – Check the hard drive IDE data (wide ribbon) cable is firmly connected – if in any doubt, disconnect then reconnect it. Preferably, try replacing it with a new/known good cable.
If None Of The Above Fixes Worked?
In our experience, if none of these fixes worked, the error is likely to be caused by a hardware issue i.e. seriously faulty hard drive, motherboard or IDE port/controller. See our guide how to check if a hard drive is failing for hard drive manufacturer’s diagnostic tools.
- If the hard drive does not pass the tests – there is little point trying to repair Windows so try to backup your files and replace the hard drive.
- If the hard drive passes the tests – try a repair installation of Windows but even this is not guaranteed, you may have to backup your files and reinstall Windows from scratch.