Boot Device Not Found: How to Fix a No Boot Device Found Error

“Boot Device Not Found.”

Many of the most vexing errors you’ll encounter on your PC leave pretty cryptic messages behind for you to decipher… but thankfully, some of them are fairly simple, like a “boot device not found” error message on startup, followed by a command prompt.

Nevertheless, when you start up your PC and find yourself staring at an error message, no matter how cryptic, you’re bound to be frustrated… and more than a little afraid, too, especially if you aren’t sure what’s going on.

What does “boot device not found” mean?

Some startup errors will come with cryptic strings of letters and numbers that don’t appear to mean anything to anyone who isn’t in IT. Fortunately, a “boot device not found” error is pretty straightforward and literal.

Put simply, your computer needs a boot device to start up properly. There should be one. But your PC can’t detect it. Therefore, instead of loading Windows normally, you’re stuck looking at a command prompt your monitor as your motherboard’s BIOS spits out an error at you.

A boot device is a storage device connected to your PC, either through a USB connection, CD/DVD drive, or connected directly to the motherboard, that your computer can boot from. For example, your PC’s internal hard drive with Windows 10 (or whichever version of Windows you have), or a CD, DVD, or USB flash drive with operating system installation or repair software on it. Your computer can’t boot correctly from a storage device that doesn’t have the right data on it.

"Operating System Not Found" hard drive boot error

What causes no bootable devices found errors?

Put perfectly simply, a “no boot device found” error is caused when your PC can’t find a boot device.

That’s a little obvious, so let’s go into detail about what, exactly, it means for your PC to boot from a storage device. This is something that happens without issue every single time you start up your computer, except, obviously, when you encounter a startup error like this one.

A boot device is a storage device (a hard disk drive, a solid-state drive, etc.) or a partition on your storage device that clearly identifies itself to your computer’s BIOS (your motherboard’s firmware) as a bootable storage device. It identifies itself as a bootable device in two ways.

  1. The bootable storage device identifies itself to the BIOS. It says, “Hi, I’m a 250-gigabyte hard drive connected via SATA,” or, “Hi, I’m an eight-gigabyte flash drive plugged into the USB port,” and so on.
  2. Your motherboard keeps a prioritized list of all of the storage devices attached to your PC. The first device to tell BIOS that it’s a boot device (or, well, zeroth device, since machines tend to count from zero instead of one) is the one your PC will boot from. And which device is saying that is determined by certain bits of data in certain important places on the storage device’s boot sector or partition tables.

That’s how your PC chooses a boot device. Or, at least, tries to. If it can’t successfully boot from the first device on the list, you’ve got a good chance of ending up with a “no boot device found” error message staring you in the face.

So now we know the immediate cause of these errors. Now we can go into which circumstances cause your boot device to stop identifying as a boot device.

Top causes for “no bootable device found” errors:

  1. The BIOS got confused. Sometimes, configuration changes and other issues can cause the boot order of the storage devices attached to your computer to be rearranged. As a result, your PC might try to boot from a storage device or partition that doesn’t actually have the right configuration to be a proper boot device. For example, you can boot from your hard disk drive with Windows installed on it or a USB drive with Windows installation/recovery files on it, but not your USB external hard drive that has all your family photos on it.
  2. Your hard drive’s boot sector or partition table is corrupted. If this important metadata on your hard drive becomes severely corrupted, your hard drive, or at least the partition containing your OS, may appear to be blank. Usually, all of your data is still on the device, but the signposts that target it no longer exist. In this situation, it’s usually unlikely that you’ll be able to retrieve any important files you have on the device by reinstalling your OS.
  3. Your hard drive is broken. This is a common reason for a “no bootable device found” issue. Hard disk drives typically last about five to ten years before breaking down, although their lifespans depend on their workload and how much stress they’re put under. If you can hear your PC’s hard drive clicking, beeping, or making other strange noises, disconnect it from your computer immediately. You will need to replace it in order to fix the “no bootable devices found” problem.
  4. The SATA/IDE cable connecting your hard drive to the motherboard is loose or doesn’t work. This is one potential cause that just about every troubleshooting website on the Internet will bring up. In practice, it’s very rare for this to occur, though. You might as well check the SATA cables on the 0.1% chance that they are the root cause of your “boot device not found” issue because it’s easy to do and you might get lucky, but it’s far more likely to be one of the above three causes.
Boot Device Not Found error message on Windows -- "Please install an operating system on your hard disk."

What can you do about a “boot device not found” error message?

Check your BIOS settings and ensure the right device is first in the boot order

When you start up your computer, you can change the order of the devices connected to your PC in the BIOS menu.

To enter the BIOS menu, turn on your computer and watch the initial startup screen come up. This is the screen that has your PC manufacturer’s logo on it that appears before your operating system loads. On the startup screen, there will be a line of text telling you which key to press to enter the menu. The key varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, but it tends to be ESC, F1, F2, F8 or F10. You will only have a few seconds to press the button before your PC exits the startup screen.

The menu will vary between manufacturers, but by selecting the BIOS setup or device selection menu, you will be able to see which storage devices are connected to your computer. Make sure your computer’s internal hard disk drive is at the top of the list. If it already is and the “no bootable devices found” error persists, then something is wrong with your hard drive.

Reinstall Windows onto your PC’s hard drive

If you can’t fix the damage to your hard disk drive’s file system, but the drive seems physically healthy, consider reinstalling Windows and starting fresh.

Replace your hard drive and install a fresh version of your Windows operating system

If your hard disk drive is broken, you’ll need to buy a new one and install Windows onto it. None of your data will carry over from the old drive to the new one unless you have it backed up, and you’ll probably be spending the next few days tediously clearing out all the bloatware that comes with Windows and reinstalling all your favorite apps. But at least you’ll have a working PC again.

Check the cords to make sure your hard drive is securely connected

Again, this is a very rare and unlikely possibility, but it doesn’t hurt to check if this is causing a “no bootable devices found” error.

Wait! Before you grab a fresh copy of Windows 10 to start anew...

If you’re reinstalling Windows 10 to your PC’s hard drive, stop and think about all of the documents, photos, videos, emails, etc. you have on your computer. Have you backed them up anywhere? Consider double-checking before you do anything rash. Reinstalling Windows onto your hard drive can steamroll over all of your files.

Maybe you copied your files over to an external hard drive once and forgot about it. Maybe the last time you backed up your files was six months ago. Or maybe you’re not sure if everything that was important to you was synced to OneDrive or Google Drive. No matter what, you should always check. As long as your hard drive is physically healthy, you still have a good chance of retrieving the data from it.

If your PC’s hard disk drive is as dead as a doornail, you’re bound to be even more concerned about whether or not your data has recently been backed up. Fortunately, if your haven’t backed up your files our data recovery lab is on your side.

Troubleshooting a ``no boot device found`` error

  • Check your BIOS settings and make sure the right device is first in the boot order
  • Use a Windows recovery disk or USB to repair your corrupted hard drive
  • Replace your hard drive and install a fresh version of your Windows operating system
  • Check the cords to make sure your hard drive is securely connected

A “no boot device found” error can mean a lot of different things. If your boot order got rearranged or your hard disk’s file system needs to be repaired, it can be a minor inconvenience.
If your PC’s hard disk drive is dead and the last time you backed up your family photos was six months ago, it can feel more like a nightmare.
Keep a cool head, stay calm, and troubleshoot the problem, and most of the time, you’ll be able to get through it without any issue.
Will Ascenzo

Will is the lead blogger, copywriter, and copy editor for Gillware Data Recovery and Digital Forensics, and a staunch advocate against the abuse of innocent semicolons.

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