Hard drive cant be detected

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Hello,
Hey. I lost my operating system for my laptop which uses windows vista. So,I tried to install an operating system designed for windows xp but I get to a point where it says that the computer cannot detect a hard drive...then the computer turns on and off by itself. I also have an external hard drive but I dont know if it is possible to boot my computer from an external hard drive. Please someone help me...my laptop is Dell Inspiron 1525

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You have run into the Windows XP SATA hard disk problem.

The Dell PC has a hidden partition with a full copy of Vista. to Restore your system to factory settings:

You must press <F8> before the Windows logo appears on the screen. If you press <F8> after the Windows logo appears on the screen, the Advanced Boot Options menu will not appear on the screen. If you do not see the Advanced Boot Options menu, restart the computer, and then repeat this step until you see the menu on the screen.
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I tried the steps as you described them but my computer does not accept the F8 command. It only accepte F2 and F12 command. Before that problem happened I was able to use the F8 commando but not anymore.
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sounds like you erased the restore partition. Call Dell and order a restore DVD