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Speaking of upgrades… [UPDATED]

March 15, 2012 0 Comments

One of my three desktop systems — a slim Gateway tower (SX2802-01) I’ve had for about two years — notified me last week that the hard disk (a Seagate Barracuda 7200, 750 GB) was failing. I googled the Windows system message, and what I found indicated the hard drive was indeed on its way to failure. I then downloaded some hard drive test and analysis utilities, which told me the same thing. And then I noticed when I rebooted the system, I was getting an ACHI error message during the BIOS POST. Sigh. Yeah, I guess the hard drive really is failing.

Fortunately, it is the system I use the least; even though there were some 200+ GB of work-related files (4.5+ million files), those were mostly copies of files that existed on external media. Still, I noticed that the system was performing a lot slower than usual, which I assume was side effect of the disk problems. I couldn’t complete a Windows system backup onto an external drive — the process would end in failure after about 20 minutes — so I copied the work files onto an external drive. That took over 24 hours to complete, but it did complete.

Since I wouldn’t be able to restore from a Windows system backup, I began to wonder whether I had created the usual new-Windows-system recovery discs two years ago, and if so, if I could find them. Turns out the answer to both questions was ‘yes’. So I unplugged and popped open the system today and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to pull the old hard drive (750 GB). In doing so, I saw that there were two empty memory slots (out of 4 — with 2 GB SRDRAMs in each of the other two slots). So I drove to Micro Center today — oh, I wish Fry’s would open a store in Colorado — bought a 2 TB hard drive (WD Caviar Green) and two more 2 GB simms. This is great — after recovery, I’ll have twice the RAM and three times the disk storage.

However…when the restore process completed and Windows attempted to reboot, I got an “Install Windows” error box telling me, “Windows could not complete the installation. To install Windows on this computer, restart the installation.”


So I hit Google to look up possible solutions. The first one that seemed potentially applicable was here: it suggested I download a bootable version of MiniTool Partition Wizard, burn it to a CD, partition the hard drive into smaller chunks, and re-do the installation. I did so, but realized in the process that I didn’t know the exact partition size of the main partition of the original hard drive. So I estimated it, created a partition named ‘OS’ of that size, create two other partitions, went through the recovery process again. This time, on rebooting…nothing happened. Nothing booted. The screen stayed blank.

OK, so now I do what I should have done in the first place: I plug the original hard drive back into the tower, boot, and examine the partitions on it. Get the data, then create the same partitions, same sizes, same names, on the new hard drive. Start the recovery process.

That doesn’t work, either.

I use MRW to repair the master boot record, do a surface check, try several different partition configurations, even zero out much of the hard disk. Nope.

I talk with my son Wes, who heads up sys/network admin for a very large, multi-state company. He suggests buying an off-the-shelf, non-upgrade copy of Win7 and installing it. At this point, I’m wondering if it might have been cheaper just to buy a new desktop system, but I order Win7 anyway. It should get here tomorrow. Stay tuned.

UPDATED [3/20/2012]

Well, doing a clean OTS install of Win7 Pro worked. Let this be a warning for those of us who rely upon the ‘recovery disc’ sets that our new desktops and laptops urge us to burn when we first boot up the machine. Not that you shouldn’t do it, but you need to realize that they might not work should you ever have to use them.

Now, on to my next project: rebuilding my Windows Home Server box.

About the Author:

Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor for the BYU Computer Science Department. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at 303.502.4141 or at

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