Booting a Windows7/Vista Recovery partition when Windows is broken

Apr 22 2014 Published by under howto, windows

Even though I am “pretty much” an open source advocate, I still have to use Windows professionally when required, and of course am the IT support for extended family :-) In this case, I needed to rebuild a laptop for my mum from scratch.

The laptop in question, a Benq Joybook A52 had previously been my dads, and been through incarnations of Windows Vista, downgraded to XP then back up to Vista, and I decided it would be safer to start with a clean slate and perform a factory restore, apply the service packs and all the recent security updates anew.

This laptop had been previously been cleansed of the usual ‘crapware’ and other default programs, including the factory recovery icon. I had early on installed the very useful tool EasyBCD from to dual boot Vista and XP. (Aside: EasyBCD used to be free, it seems you can still get it free for Non-Commercial use but you have to dig a bit.) Using a Linux bootable USB I was able to detect that the recovery partition, a FAT32 primary partition labelled ‘PQSERVICE’ but set to type 0xde (Dell Utility) was still present (luckily). However regardless of which settings I tried I was unable to immediately get the factory recovery partition to start, either from the rescue USB or via EasyBCD. Being an mum & dads for dinner I didn’t have a lot of time to get into nuts and bolts.

Surprisingly, a quick search for PQSERVICE, booting benq recovery partition or various other combinations didn’t really bring up anything that useful. So for the moment /dev/sda4 remained stubbornly inaccessible to the Windows boot machinery.

A couple of weeks later, now having the laptop in my possession to deal with this, I took an image so that I could experiment. Luckily the drive was only 80GB, such an expansive size from circa 2006!

First thing I did was create an image to play with in qemu. Figuring that the important parts were simply the recovery partition and the boot sector, I managed this as follows:

(Aside – these instructions may or may not also work on other flavours of laptop of this vintage!)

Firstly, upon mounting the recovery partition, you can see what appears to be a bog standard cut down Windows filesystem:

Examine the partition layout:


The recovery partition is #4. Note that ‘diag’ is actually type 0xde when checked using fdisk.

Second, assemble a fresh experimental disk:

As a check the size of test.bin and laptop.img should be identical.

Now, attempt to boot the image in QEMU.

This is achievable using Grub2, and in this case I chose SuperGub2Disk,

After the boot screen starts, choose ‘c’ for a command line, and use the following:

For once, this worked first time, starting the Powerquest recovery software.

So now I simply had to repeat this process, using a USB key with Grub2 on the laptop itself.


For some reason the BIOS in this laptop did not understand my favourite bootable USB with Grub2 so I ended up burning a CDR for the first time in a little while.

I also had to wipe the other partitions out of the partition table; it seems the recovery program just unpacks a partition to C: rather than rebuilding the partition table! Things to note include, remember to set the partition type of what will become C: (/dev/sda1) as bootable and NTFS; and for good measure zero the first sectors of that partition.

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Windows shenanigans – with a little help from our (Linux) friends – part 1

Nov 11 2012 Published by under realworld, tech, windows

Although I use Linux as my primary O/S, I am required to also use Windows at work and most family / friends / neighbours etc. use it. So I need to stay up to date with the Microsoft world to retain my computer geek “cred”, as I am often called upon to fix problems or provide tuition…

Quick tip if you have to use a Microsoft O/S – you may be able to resolve Windows Vista / Windows 7 boot problems using EasyBCD, it is free for non-commercial use. Similar can be accomplished using Grub2 and GPartEd; however EasyBCD can manipulate the native Windows boot manager, and I need to experiment further with my wifes Win7 laptop when she is not around ;-)

A while ago a close relative had a run of bad luck with his system. Amongst other things this involved migrating from an old “slow” Vista Premium to a fresh install, on a clean hard drive. The fresh install ran much faster without the years of crud build up and recent drivers, etc. but he was unable to make it work without the original “slow Vista” hard disk in the machine, which was the system (BIOS) boot disk. The computer involved had several internal SATA and external drives, a situation which had previously eventually lead to disaster as my relative attempted to sort it all out, but more on that another time!

The problem was the “new” Vista was added to the Windows boot menu but with the “old” drive removed, the system was rendered unbootable; i.e. the clean drive had no boot manager installed.

The solution I employed was to use a tool called EasyBCD. The procedure essentially involved first installing EasyBCD onto the old Vista, and using it to make the new drive the default, at which point we went out to lunch at least making his system slightly more usable.
Having confirmed the new Vista was automatically entered on reboot, EasyBCD was installed into the “new” Vista, and used to install the boot manager onto the new drive, and finally removing the old drive. One key step involved using the “Select BCD store” to edit the menu on the alternative disk.
In all cases, it is prudent to take a BCD backup! (And of course backup anything else important.)

This was not completed without some recourse to Linux; at the start of proceedings, in spite of a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of drives and cables, neither Vista system would recognise a new 2TB drive he wished to use for data. I was able to boot using Xubuntu 12.04 and this could not properly see the drive either! As a last resort we swapped it to a USB a caddy and using my Acer Aspire One running Squeeze with a 3.2.9 kernel confirmed the drive was OK. Then running a manual Windows update on Vista actually allowed the system to recognise the drive. Perhaps I should have done this first, but I think it can be useful to experiment a bit longer and it was more comfortable inside on this day anyway… S

It seems therefore that both older unpatched Microsoft systems and older Linux kernels cant see some larger hard disks.

This all happened a little while ago so I don’t have exact model numbers or software versions.

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