Tag Archives: windows 7

Restoring a system image backup on Windows 7 when system recovery fails

I was asked to look at a laptop over the weekend. It was an HP running Windows 7 Home Premium, and the user was having problems installing applications. I noticed several things about it:

  • Lots of utilities like registry cleaners, system care, driver accelerator and more were installed
  • When I tried to remove the third-party firewall and use the Windows firewall instead, the Windows firewall could not be fully enabled
  • Most applications could not be removed using Control Panel – Programs and Features
  • Right-clicking a network connection and choosing Properties gave an error

When Windows is in this kind of state it makes sense to reinstall from scratch. There was an intact recovery partition, so I backed up the data and ran system recovery. This seemed to go fine until right at the end, when it gave an error and invited me to contact HP support. Oddly, if I chose HP’s “Minimized Image Recovery” I still got an error, but it got me a working “Windows Basic” installation, but Windows Basic is not much use because of some arbitrary limitations Microsoft imposed.

Now I had a problem, in that the system recovery had successfully removed the old Windows install, but had failed to install a new one.

One solution would be to re-purchase Windows or try to get recovery media from HP, but before going down that route, I decided to use a system image backup that had been made earlier. There was a backup from a year or so ago on a USB hard drive. I booted using a Windows 7 DVD, chose Repair your computer, then System Image Recovery.

Unfortunately Windows refused to list the backed up system image, even though it was in the standard location under WindowsImageBackup. Since the backup was not listed, it could not be restored.

Fortunately there is another approach that works. A system image backup actually created a virtual hard drive (.vhd) for each of the drives you select. You can zap the contents back onto the real hard drive to restore it.

This HP has three partitions. One is a small system partition used for booting, one is the main partition (C drive) and one is the recovery partition. The main partition is the one that matters. Here is what I did.

First, I installed Drive Snapshot, a utility I’ve found reliable for this kind of work.

Next, I plugged in the USB drive and found the .vhd file. These are located in WindowsImageBackup\[NAME OF PC] and have long names with letters and numbers (actually a GUID) followed by .vhd. The old C drive will be the largest file (there are usually at least two .vhd files, the smaller one being the system partition).

Step 3 is to mount the vhd so it looks like a real drive in Windows. You do of course need a working Windows PC for this; even Windows Basic will do, or you can use a spare PC. I opened a command prompt using Run as administrator and ran DISKPART. The commands are:

select vdisk file=”path\to\vhd\filename.vhd”

attach vdisk

I generally leave DISKPART open so you can detach the vdisk when you are done.

When you enter “attach vdisk” an additional drive will appear in Windows Explorer. This is your old drive. You can copy urgent documents or data from here if you like.

The goal though is to restore your PC. Run Drive Snapshot or an equivalent utility.

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Choose Backup Disk to File. Select your old drive and back it up to an external USB drive. I hesitate to mention it, but you also need to keep the drive with the .VHD on it attached for obvious reasons! You can back up to that same drive if there is room.

Once complete, go back to DISKPART and enter:

detach vdisk

Now you need to use Drive Snapshot to restore your old hard disk. I was lucky in this case; I could run the utility in Windows Basic on the laptop itself and restore it from there. Drive Snapshot is smart enough that you can even restore the drive where it is running, after a reboot. You could also use pretty much any old version of Windows, no need to activate it, just to run the utility.

After the restore I was able to boot Windows and all was well, apart from the hundreds of Windows Updates needed for an OS that was a year out of date. In some cases though you might need to go back into system recovery to repair the boot configuration; it usually does that pretty well.

Hassles with Intel RAID – Rapid Storage Technology

I have recently fitted a new Intel DH67CL motherboard and decided to use the on-board RAID controller to achieve resiliency against drive failure. I have four 1TB Sata drives, and chose to create two separate mirrors. This is not the most efficient form of RAID, but mirroring is the simplest and easiest for recovery, since if one drive fails you still have a complete copy ready to go on its mirror.

I thought this would be a smooth operation, especially since I have two pairs of identical drives. Everything was fine at first, but then I started to get system freezes. “Freeze” is not quite the right word; it was more an extreme slowdown. The mouse still moved but the Windows 7 64-bit GUI was unresponsive. I discovered that it was possible eventually to get a clean though time-consuming shutdown by summoning a command prompt and waiting patiently for it to appear, then typing shutdown /s. After reboot, everything was fine until next time, where next time was typically only a few hours.

I was suspicious of the RAM at first and removed 8GB of my 16GB. Then I discovered that others had reported problems with Intel RAID (also known as RST) when you have two separate arrays enabled. The symptoms sounded similar to mine:

When the second RAID array is enabled (tried both RAID1 and 0), Windows (Win 7 Ultimate 64bit) will freeze after 10+ minutes of use. This initially manifests itself as my internet “going out”. While I can open new tabs in the browser, I cannot connect. I can’t ping via CMD either. I can’t open Task Manager, but I can open Event Viewer (and nothing really is shown in there re: this). If I try to Log Off or Restart the PC via Start Menu, Windows hangs on the “Logging Off” or “Shutting Down” screen for at least 10 minutes, up to several hours (or indefinitely).

There is no solution given in the thread other than to remove one of the arrays.

The system is 100% stable when I remove the second RAID1.

says one user.

I broke both of the mirrors and used the system for a while; everything was fine. I found an updated driver on Intel’s site (version 10.8.0.1003, dated 17th October 2011) and decided to re-try the RAID. Now I had another problem though. Note that I was using the Windows management utility, not the embedded utility which you get to by pressing a special key during boot, since it is only with the Windows utility that you can preserve your data when creating a new array. My problem: I could not recreate the arrays.

Problem number one was that the drive on Sata port 0 disappeared when you tried to create an array. All four drives looked fine in the Status view:

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but when you went to create an array, only three drives appeared:

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Following a tip from the Intel community discussion board, I removed and reinstalled the RST utility, following which I also had to reinstate the updated driver. Now the drive reappeared, but I still could not recreate the arrays. I could start creating one, but got an “unknown error.” Looking in the event log, I could see errors reported by IAStorDataMgrSvc: FailedToClaimDisks and FailedVolumeSizeCheck. Curious, especially as I had used this very same utility to create the arrays before, with the same drives and without any issues.

Just as an experiment, I booted into Windows XP 64-bit, which I still have available using Windows multiboot. I installed the latest version of the Intel storage driver and utility, and tried to create a mirror. It worked instantly. I created the second mirror. That worked instantly too. Then I booted back into Windows 7 and checked out the RST utility. Everything looks fine.

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The further good news is that I have been running with this for a few days now, without any freezes.

Is it possible that the latest driver fixed a problem? There is no way of knowing, especially since Intel itself appears not to participate in these “community” discussions. I find that disappointing; community without vendor participation is never really satisfactory.

Postscript: Note that I am aware that Intel’s embedded RAID is not a true RAID controller; it is sometimes called “fakeraid” since the processing is done by the CPU. Using Intel RST is a convenience and cost-saving measure. An alternative is Windows RAID which works well in my experience, though there are two disadvantages:

1. Intel RAID performs slightly better in my tests.

2. Windows RAID requires converting your drives to Dynamic Disks. Not a big problem, but it is one more thing to overcome if you end up doing disaster recovery.

Fixing Age of Empires 2 graphics in Windows 7

Age of Empires 2 is one of my favourite games, especially multi-player. Age of Empires 3 was better in some ways, worse in others; somehow it is not as much fun. One of the problems with version three is that the scenarios are more constrained; and the introduction of home cities and colonies changes the game in a radical and not altogether welcome manner.

The good news is that Age of Empires 2, also known as Age of Kings or with the expansion pack Age of Conquerors, still runs on Windows 7 – impressive for a game that was released ten years ago. The bad news is that the graphics are messed up. Here is how it looks:

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It’s playable, but that purple-stained sea and mottled grass is just not how it should be.

Fortunately there is a fix, and you can get Age of Empires 2 looking like this instead:

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The fix? Terminate the Explorer process. Here’s what you do:

1. Run Age of Empires 2
2. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete and click Start Task Manager
3. Click the Processes tab, find explorer.exe, select and click End Process
4. Switch back to Age of Empires 2 with Alt-Tab

Presto! the graphics now work.

Once you are done playing, exit Age of Empires. If Task Manager is no longer running, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete to get it back. Then click Applications, New Task, and type Explorer in the dialog. Click OK and your taskbar and desktop will return.

The only remaining question: why does this work?

Note: kudos to TechSmith Snagit which was able to capture the screens successfully; the first two capture utilities I tried could not do so. I had to set DirectX as the input type and use a timed capture.