This is one of the most frustrating error messages you can ever deal with. Sometimes the fix is simple, sometimes it's a complete pain. Having recently dealt with this again, I thought I'd post my thoughts in the hopes that it helps someone else out there.
So you receive the dreaded "a disk read error occurred. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to restart". Multiple restarts result in the same error message.
If you put your drive into another computer, or connecting it as a slave on your own computer, it will typically work fine, and no data is missing.
Because this error is not usually associated with data loss, DO NOT RE-PARTITION THE DRIVE. Your data is likely safe and sound.
Here's how we'll recover your data. Try each step below, in order, and see if your drive becomes accessible after each step. In my experience, you won't start seeing results until step 5 or so.
1. Run CHKDSK /R /P from the recovery console (it will typically find no error)
2. run FIXBOOT from recovery console (typically has no result)
3. run FIXMBR from recovery console (typically has no result)
4. Run the manufacturer's diagnostic utility, downloaded from their website (it will typically find no error)
5. Changing the drives from cable select to Master/Slave may fix it.
6. Replacing the data cable may fix it, but usually not.
7. Setting the BIOS to use defaults may fix it, but usually not.
8. Changing the BIOS drive settings from auto to user-specified, ensuring that LBA is selected may fix it.
9. Pulling the CMOS battery to let the BIOS lose it settings may work.
At this point, you may be feeling some frustration. :-)
If all that fails, here's what will usually work:
Ghost your data to a new drive, and use the original one as a slave. It will work. And all of your data will still be accessible. Your computer should boot normally. If it doesn't, or it there are errors, run the Repair Installation option from your Windows boot CD.
But why does this happen? Nobody seems to know why. The problem typically evades all forms of detection.
Here's what I've learned: this error message likely has more to do with a hardware interaction between the drive and your system than any actual issues with the drive. To put it one way, your motherboard and drive are no longer on speaking terms.
I don't know why the original disk has no problems being a slave. Perhaps it got tired of running the show. Perhaps it's preparing for retirement.
I hope this helps!