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Need help diagnosing a problem (Freeze on bootup)

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I'm trying to fix my moms computer and I think it's the hard drive but i don't know how to find out for sure. My own computer is older so the parts aren't compatible to swap out to test.

Basically the computer started to freeze on the Intel splash screen. I removed all the components except for the PS and powered up the MB. I got a series of beeps (i'm told that is good). Then i added in the ram and monitor and the computer booted up until it said "no bootable device" or something like that. Then when I add in the HDD it freezes again. The odd thing is, if I change the HDD from the SATA0 to SATA 2 plug it gets further along in the bootup process - it gets to the screen where it asks if you want to boot up in safe mode or start windows normally etc. Unfortunately if I choose one of those options the computer just reboots over and over and doesn't get anywhere (keeps going back to that safe mode scrn.

Any thoughts on what might be going on?
How can I test the HDD and find out if thats the prob? I can't afford to go buy another drive if that's not the problem.

Thanks in advance.
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