Before installing clear the entire HDD (zero write or remove master boot record). Then clean install. I have had this same issue several times in the past and 99% of the time this has worked for me be it laptops or desktops.
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If you installed Linux successfully on your hard disk then the hard disk is OK. If you are installing Windows Xp and it does not detect the hard disk but the BIOS detects the hard disk then - The problem is that XPinstallation CD does not have a SATA driver, unless you have a SATA drive on adisk etc. and can install the driver when XP asks for a hard drive driver then,XP cannot detect the hard disk and therefore won't install XP.The FIX.Go into the BIOS anddisable the SATA drive (enable IDE emulation), this will make XP think it is aIDE/PATA hard disk. Then you can install XP normally. When Windows hasbeen installed then install all the device drivers (including the SATA driver),then shut down and boot up and got into the BIOS and enable the SATA drive.
I'm not familiar with that specific model, but if you install from cd and get blue screens and the hard drive is not always detected, this means the hard drive is failing. You will have the same problem if you do manage to get the external cd/dvd drive to detect.
If the A40 is new enough to use a SATA hard drive (I do not think it is) then you need an XP cd with SP2 or 3 included or you will get bluescreens. But the fact that you can't get other OS to install make this an unlikely suspect.
The cd drive could be bad and not copying all the files correctly, but since you say the hard drive sometimes will not detect makes it almost certain that the hdd is the main issue.
The NC6000 sometimes has trouble booting to anything other than the primary hard drive once a valid OS has been installed. If you need to reinstall by booting it USB or to a CD/DVD; this works for me as a last resort. (Especially USB which it officially isn't supposed to be able to do.)
Insert the bootable media. Shut the laptop down. Remove the hard drive - but leave it disconnected in the bay. Start the machine, let it detect the bootable device, then hot-plug the hard drive. There is some timing involved, but it works.
I loaded several NC6000 machines running Windows 2000 to Linux and XP this way.
The only new hardware that you can install on that laptop is ram, and with a maximum of 80mb EDO you might be better off loading up a version of Linux that does not require a lot of memory. XP would be like molassas in January in Alaska. Vista would just not even get past the opening install screen.