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Intel Wireless Driver Update Causes Win8.1 Repair Gyrations

After installing yesterday’s “Update Tuesday” security and functionality updates on my Fujitsu Q704, I ran the Intel Driver Update Utility on that machine to see what might be new on that front, and discovered a new driver for the N-7620 Dual Band Wireless interface on that machine. I promptly downloaded and installed same, only to have the machine crash during the install. Imagine my surprise when it wouldn’t start upon reboot, and my further dismay when ordinary repair operations (using the Recovery partition on the machines SSD) also failed. Couple in my outright disbelief when I couldn’t get the unit to recognize a Windows 8.1 ISO-based (and later, a Windows 8.1 Update 1 ISO-based) bootable USB Flash drive that I created (and re-created a couple of times) using Rufus 1.4.9, my hitherto infallible bootable UFD tool.

To my surprise and dismay, a bootable UFD built using Rufus went unrecognized on my Q704 (“Boot failed” error).

Even more interesting, my Rufus-generated bootable UFDs worked fine on my desktop test machine, so something was clearly wonky with the Q704 that made it unable to handle the install/repair images I was trying to get it to see. When I hooked up the external drive that I use to capture backups and system images for my laptops (it plays host to a capacious Toshiba 3TB hard disk, which gives it plenty of room for all three laptops currently in my stable), I noticed that it could see (and run) the Dell backup and repair/recovery tool that I purchased to support my Dell XPS12 convertible. But the Dell tool wouldn’t let me access the image for FujQ704, which is the machine name for the unit I was trying to recover, so I couldn’t boot from that drive, and also access the system image available there.

I was finally able to solve my problem by using the online installer that MS makes available to those wishing to upgrade Windows using a product key (see “Upgrade Windows with only a product key“), and choosing the Install Windows 8.1 button available there. This let me get the system booted, then elect the repair option in the second screen of the Windows 8.1 installer program. After that, I was able to target the most recent image backup for the Q704, and use that data to reformat and rebuild the primary drive. Next, I had to catch back up on the Windows updates I’d just installed yesterday, because my image pre-dated that installation. Guess what I’m doing now, having just restored and updated the system to where it’s supposed to be? I’m writing a new image backup of the updated system, so I won’t have to backtrack yet again, the next time this happens. Sigh.

While on this adventure, I did learn some interesting things:
1. As robust and reliable as Rufus seems to be, it apparently doesn’t work in all situations.
2. The Microsoft downloadable Win8.1 installer came through for me, even when Rufus failed.
3. I learned that MS offers a downloadable ISO file for Windows 8.1 Update 1, and used Rufus to turn it into a bootable UFD.

[Note added 4:10 PM CDT 8/13/2014:
I have now confirmed that the Intel Wireless driver file named Wireless_17.0.5_De164.exe is indeed responsible for the crash. I also switched to a different external backup drive, which fixed my earlier issues with access to a system image for restore purposes. Apparently, my trusty 5-year-old Antec USB/eSATA external file enclosure is failing, and occasionally presenting with “unknown device type” USB device errors. This complicated my first restore attempts, since that was the drive that held the most recent image but wasn’t readily talking to the WinRE image that stands behind the installer/repair utility. With a newer OS image on a new — and completely functional — Vantec file enclosure, I was able to restore that image straight from the on-disk repair/recovery image instead.]

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