Sunday, April 08, 2007

My Vista horror story

Ever since the release of Vista in January, stories of failed or expensive upgrades have been floating around the 'net. Many of these stories, however, seem to be overly dramatized versions of ho-hum "why didn't you tell me I had to upgrade my 10-year old video card?" I can understand that you're frustrated, but implying that missing device drivers for INSERT DEVICE HERE is a sign of a broken OS is, in my opinion, severely misguided. For the most part it seemed to be a relatively easy thing to do for anyone with a little tech savvy. Personally, I'm an IT consultant that has maintained more than one corporate network and have been building my own PC's for years. I'm a shoe-in for this stuff, right? Almost.

The Plan

First off, experience with every upgrade since Windows 95 has told me that a clean install is the way to go. I also heard that driver support wasn't up to snuff just yet and even that some of my hardware (like my Creative WebCam NX Ultra) would just plain not work. That, along with some application compatibility problems, prompted me to pursue a dual-boot scenario. This would allow my existing XP installation to remain untouched while I get my Vista installation set up to my liking. That would allow me take baby steps towards this brave new world.

Setting up a system for dual boot is actually much easier than it sounds like. In fact, I had already done this once before, following my own advice from an earlier post. My previous attempt with Vista RC-1 had gone off without a hitch.

Getting Started

It didn't take long for the problems to start. The first order of business involved using Symantec's Partition Magic 8.0 to resize the boot partition so that I could create another partition on that drive for the Vista install. When you do this, Partition Magic needs to reboot your machine to make the necessary changes to the partition. Like I said before, I had already done this quite a few times before so I didn't think that I had anything to worry about.

I was wrong. During this process, Partition Magic halted with error #1552. At this point my system rebooted, and I was greeted with a blue screen of death. My stomach dropped.

"No problem," I tried to tell myself. "These things happen from time to time. Let's just reboot and hope that this is a one-off deal."

This, and all subsequent reboots halted with the same stop error 0x0000007b: INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE. Initially, I tried running a number of the tools on the Ultimate Boot CD (if you don't already have this, stop reading. Download it. Burn it. File it away for a rainy day. Go ahead, I'll wait). Sadly, none of the tools fit the bill. In fact, most of them wouldn't even recognize the volume. After doing some research, it appeared that simply running chkdsk would take care of it. Since I had no XP boot disk, I booted into the XP install disc and ran the Recovery Console. Unfortunately, chkdsk consistently failed, complaining that it couldn't read the volume.

Moving On

At this point, I'm ready to give up. I had backed up most of my data, but I still had some documents and photos that would be lost. With my dual-boot dreams dashed, I figured that it was time to move on. Having resigned losing them, I decided to install Vista over my damaged volume. Thankfully, my boot volume was in a RAID 1 configuration, so it was mirrored onto another drive. If there was any chance that I could save data on the drive, it was by breaking the mirror. I'd install Vista on one, then try to salvage the other later.

After breaking the mirror, I installed Vista. The install progressed quickly, and it went smoothly. On its final reboot Vista recognized the other half of my broken mirror and decided that it had a problem and ran chkdsk on it. After rebuilding a few indexes, my newly repaired disk appeared fully intact in Explorer!

Post Mortem

Why did this happen? Apparently, the problem resulted from the fact that the disk that I wanted to repartition was RAID 1. What I didn't know at the time was that Partition Magic 8.x doesn't support RAID 1. What I should have done was break the mirror, repartition, then set up the RAID once again. Had Partition Magic detected my RAID configuration and warned me of this, I would have been saved a lot of time.

The irony of this is that with all of the Vista horror stories floating around, my problems weren't caused by Vista itself. In fact, Vista ended up bringing my data back from the void. Thankfully, short of losing my shot at a dual-boot configuration (and a few years of my life...it was a long night), I'm not too much worse for wear. I've been happily running the latest version of Vista for the past couple of months with all of my data in tact.

Hopefully, when your time comes your Vista install will go to plan. If not, maybe you'll find something in my story that will help. Failing that, know that there are others out there that feel your pain. It probably won't give you much solace but...there you have it.

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