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Ack! Emergency WinReBuild Goes Surprisingly Smoothly

I’m not sure exactly what happened to my son’s Dell XPS2720 All-in-One PC last week, but following the application of the Update Tuesday patches and fixes, the machine started flaking out big-time. The most obvious symptom was a set of recurring errors reporting a damaged or corrupt file named iertutil.dll, which apparently exerts a fairly profound impact on overall Windows 8 behaviors. Alas, I was unable to address the issue using the sfc /scannow command-line utility, nor did attempted registry repairs make things right, either. Even a “copy-over” of a known, good, working version of the offending dll into the WinSXS folders that underlay the C:\Windows\System32 (and other key) folders didn’t help.

Conditions quickly worsened, when the corruption problems made it impossible to revert to a pre-patch Restore Point, or indeed to even restore an image backup on the affected machine (the built-in, Control-Panel-based image backup/restore didn’t work, nor did RecImgManager). Reluctantly, I came to the conclusion that a clean reinstall was called for, and I dreaded the hours of drudgery that seemed inevitable in the wake of this decision.

I shouldn’t have worried. The rebuild process went much better than I had expected. I was able to reinstall Windows 8 in under 10 minutes, and I got the added benefit of switching from the RAID pairing of a small (32 GB) SSD and the built-in 2GB conventional HDD to booting from the larger (256 GB Samsung EVO 840) SSD I had since installed on that machine, with the HDD now serving only as extended storage for that system. Bootups and shutdowns sped up enormously, and the overall operation of the system was much snappier, too.

After re-installing Windows 8, I discovered only about 15 drivers out of date as reported by DriverAgent, over half of which were fixed by applying the proper Intel Chipset Utility to the machine. It took me less than 15 minutes to bring all drivers completely up to date, much to my surprise and delight.

I did have to apply around 90 updates from Windows Update to bring the system up to full Windows 8.1 Update 2 status, though, which took about two hours to complete, even with a fast Internet connection. I don’t know why, but downloading huge numbers of updates is slowed considerably by pauses in the download process every now and then that can stretch out for four or five minutes at a time (I had two big batches of updates to apply, each with over 40 items in the hopper, plus another dozen or so additional items here and there). I relied on my Network Meter desktop gadget and/or watching the NIC through Task Manager’s Performance tab to observe network activity while the update process was underway. I’m not sure if I fell victim to the old “watched pot never boils” phenomenon or not, but eventually, everything was up to date.

After that, I downloaded and applied my usual suite of applications. These days, that means WinDirStat, SIW Pro, FileZilla, CCleaner Slim, Start8, GadgetPack8, and a few other odds and ends. All told, this took another 40 minutes or so.

The final situation was that I took the XPS2720 from bare metal to a finished, ready-to-use system in under 5 hours. This is something of a personal record, and reflects how much simpler and easier rebuilding a Windows system has become over the years. I can remember when dealing with media (floppies or CDs/DVDs) consumed a great deal of time all by itself, and when finding and grabbing drivers was another terrible time-sucker. It’s a shame I had to rebuild this system at all but as such experiences go, this one turned out to be a relative breeze. What a relief!

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