Jan Leow's Press Blog

Dell PC System Restore

I think I really messed up my Windows Vista installation yet again. Without using Dell PC Restore, I found out to my dismay that some drivers were missing from a clean reinstall of Windows Vista and was not included with the CDs that came along with my Dell Inspiron 1501 package.

To kill a bird in the bush I had to ravage the whole forest so to speak. My McAfee VirusScan Plus was having a conflict with the pre-installed trial version of Norton anti-virus despite the fact that I uninstalled it before installing McAfee.

Now after making the mistake of clean install, I have missing drivers, a buggy WIFI connection, and my Dell PC Restore didn’t work anymore. Normally a F11 would have launched the PC System Restore process, but now it was broken. Wish I knew this before I did the clean install. Additionally if I repartition the hard drive the F11 Dell PC System Restore will also fail to work. Now that was too much! Because I also did a repartitioning too!

No choice now, but to scour the Dell Support web site for missing drivers. I could find back all the drivers, but their servers was just way too slow. Small files were downloaded without a hitch, but I had to make several attempts to retrieve the 22MB Dell Wireless 1390 minicard drivers. This took me several tries over a period of days with drop connection slow transfer rate just to get the drivers uploaded. As for the 100MB+ ATI Radeon Xpress 1150 drivers? Forget it! I went over to ATI.AMD to download it instead. Their servers were so much smoother and faster too. Just downloaded it within a few hours. Talks about poor after sales service from Dell! (sigh!)

Though now I have the completed drivers, a thought ran through me, and I decided a personal project to somehow revitalize the Dell PC System Restore partition. Rummaging through the internet I found much such information about Dell’s PC System Restore and how to fix it. One site that has good info was Goodells.net. This site has a software called dsrfix which can be used to fix the DSR (Dell System Restore) functionality but unfortunately does not work for Vista system because Vista Pre-installed in Dell’s system did not have a DSR partition. The DSR is using a FAT file system while mine was an NTFS recovery partition.

So I thought of enabling the restore by using some kind of DOS NTFS software to see if I could run the restore program. This brought another slew of researching from the internet, because PC nowadays did not have a floppy drive and so was my laptop. There was two ways to go about this, boot from CD or from USB. Making USB bootable flash drive was interesting and I tried to do that.

USB bootable flash drive

There were lots of instructions on how to make a USB bootable flash drive. The easiest would be to use the HP Drive Key Boot Utility. It worked fine on my non-HP USB flash drive. In fact I even tried it on my spare small capacity 16MB MMC/SD Card and they worked just as fine too!

Some caveats though for using the HP Drive Key Boot Utility, don’t install their Flash ROM feature which they recommend. That’s for updating their ProLiant Servers ROM-BIOS firmware. I almost updated my Dell’s Inspiron BIOS with it! Fortunately I pulled the plug before it could do any damage. Just remember to use your boot disk image only. Unfortunately the Boot Utility will make the USB drive the same size as the floppy, which means that after doing whatever you need from booting with your USB device, you will have to reformat back your USB flash drive to restore back to use its full capacity. There are other ways create a bootable USB flash drive. I will probably explore these other methods later.

To read the NTFS from DOS environment, you will need Avira’s NTFS4DOS personal edition. They have a free personal edition of NTFS4DOS for personal use which you can use to read/write to a NTFS partition from DOS. It could read the latest NTFS5 file system used by Vista too. Installing it into my bootable USB bootable flash drive I manage to find the restore files. But unfortunately again, it would not run because it needs to run in a window environment. I tried running it in Vista itself but I got error instead.

Windows PE

This got me thinking yet again. It needs to run in a window but not at its full capability. And I have come across something called Windows PE. At first, I though PE stood for Personal Edition, but turn out to mean Pre-installation Environment, which was not free. The only place to get a working PE without incurring high cost was to head on to Bart’s PE.

I managed to install the PE onto a bootable CD. Hopefully this will run the Dell’s system restore program. Worse come to worse if it doesn’t work is back to installing Windows Vista the good old way from scratch. After all, I have all the drivers in hand already for a proper reinstallation (and some good night’s sleep too!).

Finally reinstalled the normal slow tedious way

Finally, it all came to naught. All the research to try to activate the Dell PC Recovery has not been successful. So all I have in the recovery partition is a big 3GB file which is just sitting pretty and cannot be used for quick restore of my laptop. Best would be to just delete the file and save up the valuable space for other data on the contrary of what Dell advises on never to delete the recovery files!

Fortunately I have all the drivers in hand to do a proper clean reinstallation of my Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop. The installation went on smoothly with no blue screen of death though it took me a solid weekend to complete the installation that included all the necessary software to make the laptop useful.

The hardest part of the installation was tackling the Dell Minicard WIFI, which took me another day to figure out why it was not latching on to my home WIFI unit. I took out my old Netgear USB MA111 WIFI and it worked fine, but the Dell Minicard WIFI was really a stumbling block, not able to connect to the WIFI access point. The way Vista handles the Dell Minicard WIFI was different with the Netgear MA111. Finally found a solution by not using the DHCP and resorting to manually configuring the IP address was I able to connect to the internet.

I’m very sure that I set my access point to DHCP, but somehow the DHCP table was not registering the Dell Minicard. Strange that each hardware worked differently and some are easier to use than others.

I just hope that when I go to Starbucks or somewhere where WIFI service is provided, I would be able to connect wirelessly. Guess I will just have to bring along my Netgear MA111 adapter along just in case.

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