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HDDs damaged by unknown cause, PC now halts after detecting drive

Last response: in Storage
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December 30, 2012 10:53:26 PM

Hello folks, I'm new here, but I'm well versed with setting up and repairing computers, but recently I got a case that's really got me stumped, so I'm hoping the experts here can help me:

The Problem:
It's the second time in a row now that I managed to break a hdd by trying to put Windows 7 Ultimate on it. Both times the computer became unbootable somewhere during the process. Specifically booting halts right after recognizing the drives. It does recognizes the hdd properly but it just doesn't continue. You can even press F2 or F11 in that halted state and it will say it would enter Setup (BIOS) or Boot Menu respectively, but it never does.

Cross checking done: When I unplug the hdds in question the computer works fine. The hdds also won't work in other computers.

How it happened:
The first time it happened I checked partitioning with an Acronis Home 11 Boot CD, but didn't change anything. Then, I restarted and entered Win7 setup where I partitioned the drive. The installation process started, expanded the files onto the hdd and then the first regular reboot of the setup process happened. After that the computer didn't boot anymore.

So next day we let the hdd check by a computer service company which put it into another computer and declared it broken.
They installed another hdd and put Windows XP on it.

The second time (another day later) I just put my Win7 DVD in, reformatted the hard drives with the Win7 setup routine and it installed just fine. After successful installation I noticed I put Win7 on the wrong partition (*** me), so I had to do it all over again.
I booted with the Win7 DVD, started setup and this time, I changed partitioning because both previous partitions didn't have smooth numbers. (I like partition sizes of exactly 60GB etc. -- just a quirk of mine.) And it created an additional partition with 100 MB to store the boot manager on. Not happy with unnecessary partitions I deleted them and decided to do the partitioning with Acronis. I rebooted into Acronis and did so. After restarting the computer didn't boot anymore.

So I broke another hard drive, both times Acronis and partitioning via Win7 were involved, albeit the first time I didn't change things in Acronis.
Curiously the first time the problem occurred it happened during Win7 installation after a reboot, and the 2nd time it happened after partitioning with Acronis.

Further information:
Some oddity I noticed: When closing Acronis with the X button top right the screen goes black and I had to do a hard reset. CTRL + ALT + DEL didn't work anymore. I'd expect that the computer would restart automatically. (At least this is what the version at my workplace does.)

Both hdds are IDE. The first, some used 250GB drive and the second a refurbished 160GB Seagate Barracuda.
The computer itself is some Intel Core 2 E series @ 1.9 GHz with a BIOS (no UEFI)

What else do you need?

Questions:
1.) Is it possible there is a hard drive damaging virus on either of my boot media?

2.) Could this behavior at all be the result of a damaged firmware? (caused by malicious/faulty code)
If so, how would I go about re-flashing it since the computer won't even get to the point where it would check for boot media when the hdd is connected.

3.) Could it have something to do with the boot manager partition Windows 7 automatically created? (I guess not)

4.) Is there other methods of damaging hard drives? I've heard of viruses marking sectors as bad in normally inaccessible (system-something) regions of hdds (no idea how much credit there is to it).

What now?
I think I'll try to partition an old discarded hdd with my Acronis CD a few times and see what happens. Maybe that will shed some light. If nothing happens I'll try partitioning it with the Win7 setup a couple of times. Hopefully I can reproduce it that way and prevent the 3rd hdd from sharing the fate of their predecessors. :sarcastic: 

Anyone ever had or heard of a similar case, have an idea what could be causing it, or has any useful suggestions on how to proceed? Let's hear it!
January 1, 2013 8:39:43 PM

Alright, probably too much information. :/ 

So maybe someone can at least answer these questions?
1.) Is it possible there is a hard drive damaging virus on either of my boot media?
a) Is there even ways to damage hard drives through software?
b) If yes, is it possible to hook those into properly working images of boot media like Acronis CD or Windows 7 DVD?

2.) Could this behavior* at all be the result of a damaged firmware? (caused by malicious/faulty code)
If so, how would I go about re-flashing it since the computer won't even get to the point where it would check for boot media when the hdd is connected.

* Behavior: booting halts right after recognizing the drives. It does recognizes the hdd properly but it just doesn't continue. You can even press F2 or F11 in that halted state and it will say it would enter Setup (BIOS) or Boot Menu respectively, but it never does.
!