Intel RST, parition table recovery and GPT support in Windows

Recently Windows 7 on my laptop suddenly refused to recognise some USB devices. Mice nano-transcievers, to be more precise. Funny thing is, I have used one of them before with the same Windows instance. It was a mouse made by Bloody, which is a brand of A4Tech, I think. Then, I tried another one made by Logitech and it wasn’t working too. To make it even more enigmatic, my wife’s mouse worked just fine (Modecom). Please note that all three of them use nano-transcievers.

When I discovered that Linux on the same machine doesn’t have any problem with Bloody (nice wordplay for British :)) mouse and it also works fine with my wife’s laptop and my proffessional Macbook, I’ve concluded that something has seriously gone wrong with driver database and it’s time at least try to repair the installation, or even reinstall Windows completely. Hey, it has survived about 2 years without reinstall, that’s something!

With no DVD with Windows (I’m currently in Paris) nearby, I chose to download ISO and “burn” it to USB stick. The operation went fine and I have restarted the laptop with bootable USB plugged in. First surprise was “lack of drivers”. What the hell? Since it is not the main point of this post, I’ll jumpt to conclusion: I’ve plugged the USB stick into USB 3.0 port and Windows installer had problem with this, even though it managed to boot from it just fine. πŸ™‚ And when I moved it to USB 2.0 port…

What? Missing driver for storage devices? After quick thinking it was obvious that enabled Intel Smart Response Technology is seen as RAID and indeed Windows might not have proper drivers for this. OK, let’s try disable it or something… After playing a while with RST ROM options I ended up with… clean HDD (900GB of data)! I have no idea why disabling and re-enabling RAID would clean first sectors of HDD…

I was absolutely terrified because I even though I’ve done data recovery in the past, it was always a painful process and I just couldn’t lose movies with my daughter that were queued for backuping (ironic, isn’t it?). After one glass of whisky and cola and my wife encouraging me to investigate matters more deeply, I thought to myself: OK, when I lost data for the first time in my life by breaking MBR, it was impossible to repair. Maybe tools for recovery made significant progress since then. And I’ve googled for “partition table recovery” and a wonderful tool appeared: TestDisk. I’ve downloaded it on Linux bootable stick and I just followed instructions in the application. It magically restored partition table by finding the starting sectors of each partiion and guess what? I could access all my data once again! Of course Windows got broken and it didn’t boot but I didn’t care. It was just one more reason to do full reinstall. πŸ™‚

I have turned off RST completely (I was too angry at it) and switched HDD mode to AHCI in Setup. And here comes another surprise: Windows setup claimed that it cannot install the OS on HDD with GPT! What? But it was installed on this HDD and worked just fine! After some investigation it turned out that while good OS doesn’t tie boot mode (BIOS/UEFI) with partition table used (MBR/GPT), Windows does. And ordinary USB stick will boot only in BIOS mode, so Windows setup expected HDD to have MBR, not GPT. After even more investigation, I have finally found a good instructions how to make UEFI-bootable USB stick (most instructions found online are crap): a blog post. In case it disappears at some point, I’m replicating the instructions here:

  1. Install any virtual drive software (I use Daemon Tools Lite) and 7zip (maybe other archiving app will work too but this one works for sure).
  2. Copy the contents of Windows installation ISO to separate directory on your HDD (or SSD :)).
  3. Go to the directory where the flat copy of ISO is and do the following (all paths are relative to directory root):
    1. Create EFI/boot folder.
    2. Copy EFI/Microsoft/boot/* to EFI/boot/.
    3. Open Sources/boot.wim with 7zip.
    4. Extract 1/Windows/boot/EFI/bootmgfw.efi somewhere.
    5. Move it to EFI/boot/ and rename it to bootx64.efi
  4. Open command prompt with administrator rights and start diskpart
    1. list disk – remember the number of your USB stick (let’s call it X)
    2. select disk X
    3. clean
    4. convert gpt
    5. create partition primary
    6. format fs=fat32 quick
    7. assign
    8. list volume – for confirmation
  5. Now copy the modified Windows setup files to USB stick. Done!

Now I could boot Windows setup from USB stick in UEFI mode and successfuly installed the clean OS. πŸ™‚ Oh Microsoft, why have you made it so difficult? 😦

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