Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Performing a Windows Vista or Windows 7 “miracle” system restore on PC that still has the recovery partition intact

Here is an interesting case…. Over the weekend, a good friend came to me asking if I could help him with his Acer laptop. He was attempting to perform a system restore using the built in Acer support tools. The laptop re-installed Windows 7 and rebooted. But for some reason there was a problem; first time setup kept failing at the installing devices screen. An error appeared saying “Windows could not complete setup. Please restart and try again.” (or something like that). He would restart the computer but the error would come up again. Basically, the Windows install was toast. The error would never go away and there was nothing he could do. Windows refused to boot into safe mode as well because first time setup had not finished on the re-imaged laptop. Even worse was that my friend didn’t burn the DVD restore discs after he turned on the laptop for the first time when it actually was working. What was I to do to get this laptop working again?

I started looking around the hard disk using Explorer in my MS DaRT USB disk and found that the PQRECOVERY partition was still intact. The partition was around 10GB in size and was readable. Since the recovery partition was still there, I could copy the entire partition as-is to a bootable WinPE USB drive and perform a system restore! Here is how I did it…..

1) Create a bootable WinPE disk drive. ** The easiest way to do this is to follow the instructions to create a bootable Windows 7 installation USB drive. Instructions are located here or here. Pick your poison :)

2) Copy the entire recovery partition as-is to the bootable WinPE disk drive. ** This can be done several different ways. One way is to remove the hard drive from the computer and use a USB dongle to copy the data on another computer. Or, use some type of boot disc (such as a Linux LiveCD or MS DaRT tools CD) to be able to copy the data manually to the WinPE boot disc.

3) Boot the PC with your WinPE disc drive and perform the system restore.

Thats it! This worked just fine for me on an Acer laptop. I would expect to get the same results from a different vendor such as HP or Dell, but all vendors handle system recovery partitions in a different manner. As long as that recovery partition is some type of WinPE 3.0 environment, these instructions should work for you.