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Ouch! More savage computing lessons I never wanted to learn

I’m writing up a capsule review of a software product called Zinstall, which (among other things) can take the Windows.old files from a machine upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 and turn that information into a fully-functional Windows XP SP3 VM with all of the applications and appurtenances ready to run within the host Windows 7 runtime environment. To help prepare my Asus 1000HE netbook for that upgrade, I attempted to delete  one and expans another partition on its Seagate Momentus 5400 RPM drive, one of which was home to Windows XP as installed at the factory, the other to a now-expired beta version of Windows 7 Ultimate Edition (Build 7100).

Because I planned to upgrade the XP partition to Windows 7 anyway, and the beta Windows 7 partition wasn’t working any more, I decided to delete the Windows 7 partition I’d created , and merge it back into the original XP partition. I decided that a doubled-up Windows 7/XP runtime might appreciate having the whole drive to work with, so I popped that drive out of the Asus, plugged it into a SATA drive caddy I keep around just to work on drives for such purposes, and fired off Paragon Partition Manager on my primary production PC.

I went into the Advanced partition menu and instructed the software to delete what showed up as the O: partition (the now-defunct Windows 7 partition on the Asus drive), and gave the software permission to reboot the PC into its own runtime to do its thing. Alas, what resulted from this set of instructions was the deletion of the primary system partition for the host computer, rather than the target partition I was sure I’d selected on the 2.5″ notebook drive in my eSATA drive caddy. Dang!

That created the following problem for me: How to restore the image of the C: drive that I’d captured the preceding Friday (part of my normal backup routine). I used a Windows 7 install DVD I’d burned from and MSDN image download to try to run the image restore utility, but encountered a couple of interesting and time-consuming “ignorance problems” along the way. First, I discovered that the Windows 7 Repair Environment (aka WinRE) doesn’t recognize system image files stored on an eSATA drive. Alas, my drive K: (named ExtBackup) is where I keep those files, but I figured out when the Restore utility didn’t present that drive in its selection menu that it couldn’t see it, either. The solution was obvious: copy the image from the external eSATA K: drive to my internal plain SATA D: (Data) drive.

I could have taken my machine apart, pulled the D: drive and gone to another PC and handled the transfer from the K: to D: drive that way. Instead, I elected to install Windows 7 on the PC I was trying to repair, just so I could effect that transfer and perform the install. That’s when I hit my second knowledge gap: I couldn’t get Windows 7 to install on the now-wiped-clean original system drive. I popped it out and reformatted it, reset the partition to Active, and tried again: still no dice. A bit of Internet spelunking helped me understand that I had to re-set the hard drive priority order in the motherboard BIOS to select the target as first in the boot sequence. After that, Windows 7 happily let me target the drive for installation, and even set up a 100 MB repair partition in addition to  picking the rest of the drive as the system, boot, and paging file partition.

After that, I was indeed able to run the image restore utility from Windows 7 and put my primary desktop back into action. It still took another hour and a half or so to reapply the updates that I’d first applied last Patch Tuesday, and then to fix all of the security issues (patches to apply, or end of life software to replace) that Secunia PSI found in my application collection. Then, aside from losing a couple of software items I’d purchased and a week’s worth of email I was back to where I’d started. And it only took me 12 hours to get back to where I’d started. Yikes!

Sigh. Now if only I could figure out how in the heck the instructions to delete the old Windows 7 beta partition on my netbook drive in the drive caddy got turned into a command to delete the primary system partition on the host machine… One thing’s for sure: the next time Partition Manager tells me it needs to reboot and take exclusive possession of the C: drive, I’m going to refuse that permission unless I’m really and truly working on that partition and no other. If I have to, I’ll find a different utility that will let me work on other partitions with more of a sense of command and control. I *HATE* when my system gets trashed.

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