The hard drive is likely fine, but the mainboard is faulty - at $400+ with labor to replace, it's probably time for a new notebook.
you think? would another Dell Inspiron mainboard work? my rommate might have one...how hard is it to put in?
I have been told it could be bad RAM....
You can try reseating the memory, but the usual diagnosis of the flashing underscore is a bad board. No, another board won't work - you need the exact same one you have now.
well, so what should my first move be to rule stuff out? I mean should I just try a fresh install? Should I get that enclousure to try to get the media off of it?
Well don't know if this is timely enough as I have just had a similar problem but here was my situation.
Specs: 5150, 2GB mem, 160GB HD, 3.2GHz P4 processor running XP professional sp3, BIOS version A38(IIRC).
I had my laptop running, closed the lid to move and when I opened it in the other room it froze. I forced shutdown and laptop would not boot. I went immediately to the blank screen w/ cursor. It would just stay at that screen and then to shut it off pressing the power button would cause it to shut off instantly. Took it to a local shop as my warranty was up. They said dc jack was loose and replaced it. Also the HD was damaged from whatever event took place so replaced that as well. Got it back and works fine. The kicker is though that the tech said he had to disable speedstep and HT in the bios, it was giving him problems. I wanted more performace when i got the comp back and enabled them- upon restart I got the same immediate blank cursor. :-/ I plug in the ac adapter to the laptop, it was not even plugged into an outlet, and wiggled it. The comp booted right away from the blank screen w/ cursor and i went back to bios and disabled both speedstep and HT and it works fine now. If you can get to bios try disabling both settings and see if it solves your problem. As for why my computer worked for 4+ years with speedstep and HT working fine and all of a sudden it is a culprit I have no idea, but I am trying to get to the bottom of it.
Hope this helps!