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Check the BIOS to see if the hard disk is detected, if not open the case and re-seat the data cable on the hard drive and also where it connects to the motherboard disk controller. If it still gives this error message and the BIOS does not detect this hard drive, then the hard drive is probably faulty.
To get the computer operating again, install a new hard drive in your computer and then install Windows on this hard drive plus the computer's device drivers and your programs.
Floydage, some ribbons are different in the orentation of pin#1. try a differnent cable...but you said that you tried that right.? have you tried to make sure you have the latist BIOS. It could be this paticuler drive have a different bios it self...and yes drive's do have chip's and software in them. If nothing ells just load the OS to that drive anyway and than change the drive letters in windows.
You say you see data on disks on your existing system, yet they appear blank when trying to install? Please try to dig a little deeper and find your setup file. Data wouldn't disappear unless your running NTFS now and the disks are FAT.
Usually when your BIO's doesn't detect the hard drives is usually a good indicator that the hard drive has failed. In rare instants it is the motherboard. In the boot sequence it will only show the hard drives it sees if it doesn't see any then none will be shown. I would start with a new hard drive.
No. Not if the partition table was re-written on the 160GB and any data was written to it. If there is info that MUST be retrieved, there are pay services that can bit-retrieve and reconstruct some files. There is no guarantee.
You need to set one of the drives to be 'master' and the other to be 'slave'. This is done by positioning jumpers on the back of the harddrives. Pretty sure that on the drives is explained somewhere how to position the jumper, for several options.