Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Windows Recovery and System Transfer

I haven't installed clean Windows for long over a decade. Each time I built a new PC, I cloned the disk(s) and migrated all my system and data files.

In fact, my current main desktop system was upgraded from an originally clean installed Win98 system which was eventually upgraded to the original WinXP and then to SP1, SP2 and finally to SP3 one after one. During this time period, my PC hardware has been upgraded from an original Intel Pentium to a Pentium II, Pentium III, P4 and now a Core i5. In between, I have not upgraded my desktop and bought 3 notebook/netbooks. And yes, I am a die-hard Intel supporter! :-) Besides, I have had even more harddisk replacements, not mainly because of harddisk failure (which occurred only very occasionally), but mostly because of that the storage has been always not enough and the harddisks would be full sooner or later! :-o :-(

This time, something has changed, though. For the Window 7, it cannot be "directly" upgraded from the WinXP. The "upgrade" version of the Win7 is solely about the licensing and offer and there is no version of Win7 on Earth that you can upgrade your XP! Just download and view this "Window 7 Upgrade Matrix" at the Microsoft's official page. Even you do have the Windows Vista, there is another upgrade principle, i.e., tier to tier. That means that you cannot upgrade or downgrade your current Windows with a different class of product that is not matched! In such case, the Win7 Setup program will abort the upgrade.

During these years, my Windows did crash occasionally. In this article, I select to share some tips of mine for Windows system recovery and system transfer, from PC to PC:-

1. System Recovery by using System Restore when Windows is Not Bootable:-

Normally, when the Windows and OS runs healthily, as many of us already knew, we can run the "System Restore" utility program at any time at the "Run" command of the Windows. Just in case of Windows cannot boot into its GUI, then there is still the now well-known method of trying to boot into "Command-prompt Only" under the "Safe Mode" and then run the "rstrui.exe" (which just means the Restorer User Interface) via the command line. But how about if it just does not boot no matter what options you choose after you press the F8 during first booting, here is a useful tutorial for what you can do:-


However, the ERD tool, which Microsoft purchased the original software from a vendor called the "Winternals", is yet also not available at the MS download link as provided, as Microsoft had already abandoned the support of this utility. But don't worry, as an "Online Expert" (whom even worse than a "Measurbator" according to our holy Mr. Ken Rockwell!), I can dig out the downloadable links and files of course! ;-D Here they are! Do note about the current version of Windows you have currently:-

- Download "Winternals ERD Commander 2005" Here (for XP SP1 Only)

- Download Microsoft ERD (Emergency Repair Disk) Toolset Here (for XP SP2 and SP3)

You might ask me what to do if you have an original XP system that has not been patched for any Service Pack.. If so and also if your Windows has just crashed, my answer is: Sorry, I can't help! Just! :-o So, if you are still running an old original XP, patch it now!

I have tried both the above for my SP1 and SP2/3 harddisks and they do work fine. And yes, they passed my security checks for the safety of those files and programs, too. Of course, you might be able to find the "same" files at other http/ftp or even torrent download links. But they are not verified, at least not by me! As a software/network security "hacker" I once called myself (So, I am not a *real* hacker actually then! ;-)), I think they are just secure enough! (Disclaimer: There is no guarantee of any and I bear no responsibility of any, just in case if you still find *something*!! :-))

Besides, I have also found another system recovery article for the Windows 7, as my brand new Win 7 OEM just let my new Core i5 PC crashed for twice within a week for two brand new installs. So, I just gave up to try anyway, I rolled back to clone my old XP! :-( I may try later with another harddisk, though, when I have more time!

(N.B. Dead Link as at the time of publishing this article, the page may have been removed, or if with luck, it is just server down, coincidently but not possibly..)

2. FAT32 to NTFS Conversion - Procedures and Points to Note:-

For longer users of the MS Windows, we knew that Win 95/98 supports only FAT32..

But for most old users, when they upgraded their old Windows to XP, they did not reformat and change or just convert to NTFS.

One side note is when WinXP format a disk, it recommends NTFS whenever it exceeds 32G. But then it doesn't mean the XP does not support operating a FAT32 disk larger than that. Indeed, the upper limit is 384GB! (Although the efficiency would be low as the overhead is large - the large the size, the more it will be!)

Okay, Microsoft do have a small command line conversion utility for converting. But unfortunately, that utility does not align the size of clusters which NTFS desires, i.e., in 4k. To learn more, here is an excellent tutorial:-


Follow the above instructions, which are concise, exact and clear. I have been lucky enough for being able to complete the alignment process within one minute for my old 250GB system harddisk that I wanted to clone. There was no need for me to take a meal break nor wiated longer! Lucky me! :-) As for data disks, a reformating will do the job! Why copying? :-))

And yes, I did make a floppy bootdisk! Before that, I needed to dig out my ancient floppy disk drive! That "HD" (stood for High Density) 1.44MB FDD which was made by Sony costed $60 back to 1991, which was really expensive and was a piece of "high-tech" electronic gadget at its time! :-o But the pain didn't end there, after I found my FDD drive, I shortly discovered that I didn't have a blank floppy disk, I ended up for another half-an-hour to find one (yet luckily)!

3. System/OS Transfer and Play with the Partitions (Spittling/Joining/Resizing etc.):-

I recommend this software, the Partition Wizard by the MiniTool, which is user-friendly, and most importantly, with high successful rate! Of course, as for doing any system surgery and operation, did do a backup first before trying anything!

As for the "Partition Wizard", the Home Edition is a True Freeware without any real limitation for personal use, i.e., the "basic" functions should be more than adequate for most of the average home users. Btw, the most valuable thing is that MiniTool gives us even a more valuable option for the download of a bootable CD ISO image for their software which is to be burnt to a CD. In fact, it is always a good practice to boot separately when you are to clone disks, but not clone a system or disk that has been active and in which the system is currently booted from! (which just violates the basic rule and main principle for system cloning! Some utility programs do play with scripts in order to tackle the "issue", which is just a non-issue if another device is used to boot up! All in all, this is just non-sense IMHO. How difficult is to boot separately? The benefits are just so obvious!

Well, after you have made a bootable CD of the utility, use the "Disk(-to-disk) Copy" option if you want to boot with the cloned new disk without any problem - "Partition Copy" usually won't work! My recommendation is just don't waste the time to try. For complete system transfer, including the MBR (Master Boot Record) and tables/entries etc. of the old disk, use the "Disk Copy" command.

Another tip of mine is to place safe, you should do operation once per a time, e.g., first disk-to-disk with the same partition number and with the same sizes. If you want to resize/split/join or whatsoever, do them later one by one and see if irregularity would arise after each modification and step. Doing so will consume more time, but yet still a good practice for trouble-shooting IMO and you will know well which step of the system surgery has successed or failed. Do note that the Partition Wizard is able to queue all the commands the user issued and do them all in a batch, but which I do not recommend.

Do note also that the Partition Wizard do not have any intelligence to detect if your command is redundant. Just say for example if you change the partition sizes for times, it will only do it one by one but not only the last one. This will actually use up a lot of time. To ensure minimal time required, do issue the right command once only. If you've re-decided something, click the Undo button and delete the issued command(s) in queue before issuing a new one.

As a final reminder, do take extraordinary caution for each step you take and each command you issue. Don't mix up with source and destination disks, particularly and at least! :-o

As another remark, disk and Windows (XP) clones for FAT32 disks have a far more low successful rate than for disks that are with NTFS according to my practical experiences with this utility. So, before you do the cloning, I highly recommend that you should convert your file system to NTFS first, if not yet done so!

In the past, I used Norton Ghost to clone my disks when I moved the system and files to a new PC/hardware with a bootable floppy of it (for both Norton Ghost 7.0 and 7.5). Now, I've found that this new Partition Wizard Home Edition Freeware is just more powerful and reliable, that's really good and nice after all! Highly Recommended!

Read Also:-

My New PC (an Intel Core i5 Based System)

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