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XP won't boot - blank screen with blinking cursor on top left cor

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Have read through the forums to see if anyone else had this exact same problem and haven't found it yet. My computer boots up, "flashes" the windows screen (for less than a second) and goes to a black screen with a flashing "_" cursor in the top left corner. It does not allow me to type or do anything. I've attempted to use the F2, F8 and F12 keys and they do absolutely nothing (have tried holding them down as well as repeated tapping). The hard drive light on the front of the computer lights briefly (for less than three seconds when I turn the computer on) but then goes out. Upon turning the computer on, I get a faint beep (one beep) and a short "whirring" sound (less than a second), but nothing further. I do not hear any activity coming from the hard drive. I've attempted to put the XP SP2 Reinstallation CD into both the DVD+RW and CD+RW drives but this has no effect. I run AV software on it and have had no issues in the last year. Admittedly, the computer is old, but would really like to at least get the info off the hard drive if I can. I do have an external HD available if that will help with my problem. Thanks for the help.

System specs from Dell are as follows:

Dell Dimension 4800 (about 5.5 years old)
Processor, 80547, Pentium 4 Prescott DT, 3.4GHZ, 1 MEGB 800FSB, SKT-T
2x Dual In-line Memory Module 512, 400M, 64X64, 8, 240, 1RX8
Hard Drive, 80GB, I, 8M, 7.2K Serial ATA, Maxtor-Calypso

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Can you access the BIOS?
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