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Help needed with Vista recovery MBR

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#1
comcc

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Hi All,
I hope someone here knows a way to help me with my problem. Let me start by saying that I DID NOT create the system restore DVDs when I got my PC (DOH!).
I have a Compaq desktop computer (SR5433) with Winodws Vista Home Premium that I was using to try out Ubuntu 8.04. I unintentionally overwrote the hard drive MBR with GRUB during the install of Ubuntu to a second hard drive I added. I made the mistake of thinking that my factory hard drive would be left alone and I would be able to boot to the OS of my choice by changing the boot order in the BIOS.
Anyway, after I removed the second hard drive I learned of my error as I was no longer able to boot Vista. I started trying to use EasyBCD to "fix" the mess I had made and following a number of posts recommending that I use the Vista Recovery Disc (not provided by Compaq with my PC) to run the "bootrec.exe /fixmbr command". Doing this allowed me to boot Vista normally. I was also able to access the factory recovery partition by setting it to Active and perform a "full" system restore.
I then made a backup of my boot sector using an Ubuntu Live CD to "sudo dd if=/dev/sda of=~/mbr.bin bs=512 count=63" (count=63 to be sure I got any other pieces that might still be there) then copied it to a network share. I then used a DOS floppy boot disk with Dan Goodell's MBRSAVER.exe to save the MBR and partition table. I also made a boot sector backup from another similar Compaq PC. I restored the backup from the other PC to my PC and then put my partition table back using MBRSAVER.
At this point, I can access the recovery partition from the Vista Boot Menu and press F8, but pressing F11 at bootup to access the recovery partition does not work. I am not able to create the factory system recovery disks either. When I try to run the Recovery Disc Creation software from Vista to create the recovery DVDs I get the error "The recovery partition could not be found. Exit PC Recovery Disc Creator and contact HP support". When I try to use Recovery Manager to restore to factory condition I get the error "The system does not have a recovery partition" and then prompts me to run the recovery from the recovery disk set.
The only option HP support offers is to get the recovery discs from them. I am not quite ready to go that route, and I am hoping someone here knows a way to repair the boot sector/MBR to allow the factory recovery options to work properly again. I looked at the first 63 sectors from both of the backups that I have and it looks like there may be DMI information stored there including the hard drive model and serial number. There is an SMINST directory on my hard drive that has most of the recovery programs including a file named boot.img that looks like it might be part of a boot CD image that the factory uses to set up the hard drive, but I have no idea how to use it to repair my PC. I am unable to think of what else I can do at this point, other than order the Compaq recovery disks and pray that they will repair the damage I did.

Here is a sample from the boot.img file:
 
Manufacturer Menu:
<1> clear the partition table of drive 1
<2> erase the Master Boot Record of drive 1
<3> wipe all sectors of drive 1
<4> Install ST Master Boot Record
<A> Install Standard Master Boot Record
<S> Save DMI Sysinfo to drive 1
<T> Test the system RAM for defects
<ESC> restart this CDROM

Erasing hard drive. Press <ESC> to cancel
MB done; MB left
Please enter the size in MB for the SmartImage partition

Create a SmartImage partition:
<1> at the BEGINNING of the drive
<2> at the END of the drive
-RECOVERYSMIMG U0T
ROM fake 1.0 by XSS, ©2002 SoftThinks
Ȏ؎  ˻ 
t[CDBootLoader]
DeleteAllPartitions=1
ROM Fake installed at segment ROM Fake code size in Bytes is ROM Fake total size in Bytes is .
Tried to find: in:
Tried to find one of:
...in:
Storing DMI Sysinfo to the hard drive
Press a key to reboot.



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#2
Tripredacus

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I have also encountered problems restoring SoftThinks MBR to allow the function key to properly boot into the WinRE, however since we/I am a customer of theirs, and knowing how they operate (via our intermediary) and also how making this option work involved reverse engineering their software (used to put the recovery partition on the drive originally/because they offer no custom support without large fees), I decided it was not worth the effort.

However, I do know that the recovery partition needs to be hidden, have no drive letter, and have an ID of 12. You CAN set this with diskpart. The main issue is because SoftThinks' Vista recovery uses WinRE, it switches the drive types and priorities when that option is selected. Simply putting the key in (ie F11) and specifying it to boot off the WinRE partition is not enough, there is other BCD logic in there.

Perhaps reading up on WinRE will help you out.

I'd like to ad that is pretty silly SoftThinks Vista recovery solution is merely a customized/automated WinRE solution. :sneaky:

#3
comcc

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Thanks for the response. I actually read about some of your problems earlier this year regarding this issue while I was trying to find a solution to my problem. I will try the points you mention to see if that is what I need to fix this, but I am reasonably certain I will need to add at least some information back into the MBR in order for the factory recovery F11 key and the Recovery Disc Creator to work. I really don't mind that the F11 key does not work, if I could just make the recovery discs.

#4
comcc

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Well, I tried removing the drive letter assignment and using ptedit to set the partition type to 12. No change as far as the recovery processs and Disc Creator are concerned. I also checked on another Compaq machine that is almost the same. The partitions on that one are both type 07 and the recovery partition is assigned drive D: by Vista. The recovery process on that one still works properly. I am going to do more analysis of the MBR on that one and see if I can determine how the drive check logic actually determines whether or not the drive contains a valid recovery partition. Thanks again for your suggestions. BTW, I think the factory uses a file named xss.exe to collect/build the MBR DMI information, as there are several references to that .exe within the different files on the recovery partition.

#5
Tripredacus

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Well, I tried removing the drive letter assignment and using ptedit to set the partition type to 12. No change as far as the recovery processs and Disc Creator are concerned. I also checked on another Compaq machine that is almost the same. The partitions on that one are both type 07 and the recovery partition is assigned drive D: by Vista. The recovery process on that one still works properly. I am going to do more analysis of the MBR on that one and see if I can determine how the drive check logic actually determines whether or not the drive contains a valid recovery partition. Thanks again for your suggestions. BTW, I think the factory uses a file named xss.exe to collect/build the MBR DMI information, as there are several references to that .exe within the different files on the recovery partition.


Yes, the reason why my previous threads (here) on this subject seemed to have just stopped was because I took all further research into a private forum. I have also tried multiple programs (3 or 4 different) to capture the MBR and then reapply it, but the results never came out properly. For my case, the recovery partition used the old PE (1.5 for XP) and I was testing on whether we could apply our images with the recovery partition with Imagex instead of Ghost. So I've tried the ones that copy the MBR and ones that let you custom write it. My testing method was as follows:

1. Image a machine using Ghost, which contained the recovery partition.
2. Capture the MBR
3. Use Imagex to capture both the System (NTFS) and Recovery (FAT32) partition.
4. Create custom diskpart script to set the drives up as Ghost makes them.
5. Format the drive and redeploy images using Imagex, and using custom diskpart script.

Windows always booted afterwards. I could confirm that the recovery partition was intact, had all the correct files and the correct settings, but the key to enter it never worked. If I manually set the key (using one of the MBR programs) I would get the recovery message "Protected by x" or "Press key to start recovery" but when it tried to boot to that partition, it gave either OS not found type message or a stop error.

The program you are referring to, relating to XSS.exe is actually NOT the name of that program. XSS is the company name, the real name of the program is MBRINST.EXE. It is possible to get ahold of this program, but it is largely undocumented. You can find it on HP's site, it is included in a fix for Vista's ability to boot to the internet, HotStart I think but not sure. You're going to have to find this program yourself, I won't help you besides that.

Proper use of the program requires switches via the cmdline. It is actually a GUI based app but there are things that are needed to be done via a switch that is not in the GUI. Now, SoftThinks does not actually have this program in the either the CD that creates the partition, or on the partition itself. This program is loaded via memory, either its functions are built into its software, or it builds the app in memory when it needs to write to the MBR. In fact, at the time of the creation of the recovery partition, their software creates a dump file that sits in the recovery partition. I can't remember the name of it exactly, but I think it has 'mbr' in the name. This is the file that the software uses to write to the MBR. So, using the app or libraries built in, the cmdline needs to be something like this:

mbrinst /mbr [filename.ext] /UnknownSwitch

The reason for this is because MBRINST would return the following:

MBRInst. Programmed for SoftThinks (c)2001-2005
Hard drive #0 is "\\.\Physicaldrive0"
using "\\.\Physicaldrive0" for MBRInst
>installing new master boot record (MBR1STD (one sector, standard MBR, bo ***
Master boot record installed successfully.
>Updating recovery partition boot record
! WARNING: Recovery partition could not be located

*** = it had more text here but its not applicable to this post.

So as a conclusion, in order to run this program properly, there must be an INI (there is an INI also called mbrinst.ini) that is created in memory that specifies the recovery partition location OR a cmdline switch is used to point to the correct partition. I stopped at this point because I did not want to rebuild their Creator CD using debugging tools (like ProcMon for example) because even if I were able to get it to work, it would not be legal for us to use it that way.

#6
jaclaz

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AFAIK the MBR used in those machines has "special" code that allows the use of F11.

From the menu you posted it seems to me like this "special" MBR is option "4", while the "normal" one is option "A".

Since you already have a backup of first 63 sectors (partially working) and the means to restore them, you could try using option "4".

@Tripredacus
Actually you "vanished" from the original thread:
http://www.msfn.org/...-....html&st=26

leaving an open question.

Did you try using the SELM parameter? :unsure:

And how?

jaclaz

#7
comcc

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@Tripredacus
I think it is likely that there is a checksum of some type performed on the MBR code to verify that the drive is indeed the correct one. I found several spots in BOTH of the MBRs that I have access to that look like that may be the case. Your assertion that the MBRInst.exe program is now built in RAM seems reasonable, as I have not been able to find anything that looks like it in the digging that I have done. I will look for the HP update you are referring to in the hopes that it may shed some light on how this process works.

@jaclaz
I agree with your statement about the menus, but that menu is from a file that I have no way to use beyond reading it (so far). I am not able to execute that menu in any way that I am yet aware of. I tried burning it to a CD as a bootable CD image and when I tried to boot from it nothing happened. I will try renaming it to an .exe and see what that does. I am also going to try making a bootable floppy using that file as the bootsector.

I will post my findings here.

#8
comcc

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BTW, if you are interested, here is a copy of the working MBR.
There is some unusual stuff around offset 0x6B00, 0x7A00, and 0x7C00 that I know is, among other things, the installed hard drive model on the working MBR.

Attached Files



#9
comcc

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No luck with making the boot.img into an .exe file. Same story with trying to use it as a floppy boot disc (not a FAT12 image). I was able to find the MBRInst.exe and MBR.ini. I have seen some of the same info in the files on my recovery partition, so if I can piece together the sequence, I think I have a decent chance of getting this worked out. I will keep you posted.

#10
TheReasonIFail

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comcc,

Seeing as the app tells you to contact HP support, have you attempted to contact HP support? They may have an app that can recreate the recovery partition.

Has anyone ever attempted to pick apart the recovery discs? I have a full IBM recovery disc that recreates the hidden partition and re-enables the F11 function. I may have to dig around there this weekend and see what I can come up with!

#11
jaclaz

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Sorry I had taken for given that you actually mounted the boot.img, instead you "peered" in it with a hex editor or a plain edirtor? :unsure:

.img is a conventional extension given to disk images (typically .ima is for floppy disks and .img for hard disk images - but it's not "compulsory")

How big is the "boot.img"? (in Bytes)

Have you tried accessing it with Winimage or mounting it with VDK?

Winimage:
http://www.winimage.com/

VDK:
http://chitchat.at.i...vmware/vdk.html

Pseudo-GUI for VDK:
http://home.graffiti...ts/VDM/vdm.html

jaclaz

#12
Tripredacus

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Actually you "vanished" from the original thread


This was because I started getting into confidential business information the further along I went. It would not have been legal for me to
continue posting about it here the more I learned.

As far as my requirement, there was two options. There was the message that appeared on the screen, a protection notice. When this notice
was on the screen for five seconds, you could press F10 to boot to the recovery partition. There was also a stealth option, where pressing
the 'R' key would ALSO boot into the recovery partition.

Your assertion that the MBRInst.exe program is now built in RAM seems reasonable, as I have not been able to find anything that looks
like it in the digging that I have done.


I guessed this because I found function calls to MBRInst in the INIs and code in the recovery builder. The recovery builder is also inside the recovery partition. It has the capability of either running a recovery OR creating/updating the partition. THe second option is triggered IF a License UFD is connected to the system AND the partition has been activated. If the partition is not activated, it would give you a message saying you are not authorized to use the software. Anyways, I wasn't too concerned with spoofing the licenses because we have access to them, and blowing up licenses and partitions is perfectly fine for me!

Got off track there. The builder set (the thing I have that you don't) shows me the following process. The software determines what information is to go into the MBR. This is based on the options that you select during the partition creation. It then writes an INI file into the recovery partition. Then it calls MBRINST.EXE to use the INI file to write to the MBR. The file remains on the partition in the event that an update or recreate is performed. I've searched the CDs, the partitions (I have 2 different for testing) using string searches, Ghost Explorer, mounting via imagex and can find no actual application called MBRINST.EXE nor any provided by XSS. When I got to the point where my next step was to create a new recovery creator, but inserting debugging tools, I had stopped. I brought it up in a meeting about where I was at, and since any further work would be reverse-engineering, it was determined that it would violate our agreement with SoftThinks. It is my theory that the MBRInst is either created in memory OR that its functions (the DLL does exist) are built into the software.

Has anyone ever attempted to pick apart the recovery discs? I have a full IBM recovery disc that recreates the hidden partition and re-enables the F11 function. I may have to dig around there this weekend and see what I can come up with!


I've tried to do this. The funny thing is that SoftThinks uses the Windows OPK to create the recovery discs. Concerning the ones I have (XP Pro) they use the WinPE 1.5. The CD boot process is different than the WinPE 2.0, as such I haven't figured it out. Basically these CDs are the same as the Unattend CDs we have for XP, but they do not use the startnet.cmd, the winbom.ini or any other standard unattend files as the XP install does, so I haven't been able to trace the actual process. For example, I can see that when the partition loads, it runs startnet.cmd, but its only command is winpe -factory. I would need to determine what that cmd actually loads. I know that winpe -factory isn't their software, but their software is the first thing that loads up.

#13
comcc

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@TheReasonIFail
I tried contacting HP (Compaq) support. Thier response was: "You can order the Recovery CDs if you would like." Not really much help. I don't mind doing that, and I probably will have to if I am not able to fix this myself, but I really would like to know *HOW* this works as well as being unable to guarantee that the recovery discs from HP will indeed work. If you search the web you will find dozens, if not hundreds, of reports that the recovery discs directly from HP often do not work, only work partially, leave some software uninstalled, or even refuse to work at all claiming the machine in question is not the correct one, sometimes leaving the owner in worse shape than before they tried to restore the PC.

As for trying to "pick apart" the recovery discs, that is more or less what I am trying to do with the factory recovery partition, just without the discs.


@jaclaz
I have tried using both hex editors and plain text editors to look at the boot.img file (as well as many others on the PC, both on the recovery partition and on the user partition). I have tried numerous different programs (WinImage, IsoBuster, PowerIso, ImgBurn, anything else that I had that came to mind) to try to mount the image or access it in a normal fashion, but so far nothing I have tried recognizes/understands the boot.img file format. All the programs report that the image is unreadable, corrupt, unknown, or something similar. I will attach the file for you if you would care to have a look. It is only 94KB.

@Tripredacus
Thanks for the additional info and insight. I have the Winodws XP OPK, so if you think I might be able to use that or something from it to rebuild the MBR on my PC, please feel free to let me know what you have in mind.

Attached Files



#14
comcc

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I spent the last several hours trying different changes to the MBR without making any real progress. Unless there is some sort of key or checksum written to the MBR, I am running out of things to try in the MBR. I had not thought of this before, but now I am thinking that there may be something embedded in the boot sector of the recovery partition logical drive. I am going to look at that next, but I need to get some sleep tonight.

#15
jaclaz

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From the boot image file you posted, it seems to me:
1) it's a boot CD image of some kind (the text CDBOOT is present a number of times)
2) the size is a multiple of 2048 (size of the CD sector)

I would try to make a bootable .iso with it and test the result in Qemu (or other VM) - I would try several ones as they tend to be "picky" when it comes to .iso booting

I would use mkisofs.exe with something like:
mkisofs -v -iso-level 3 -l -D -d -J -joliet-long -R -sysid "Win32" -b boot.img -no-emul-boot -boot-load-seg 0x1000 -allow-multidot -hide boot.img -hide boot.catalog -o .mytest.iso SMINST
or
mkisofs -v -iso-level 3 -l -D -d -J -joliet-long -R -sysid "Win32" -b boot.img -no-emul-boot -boot-load-size 47 -boot-info-table -allow-multidot -hide boot.img -hide boot.catalog -o .mytest.iso SMINST

(just ideas, mind you ;))

jaclaz

#16
comcc

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Thanks for the ideas Jaclaz. I will give this a try and post my results.

EDIT:
I tried both of the examples you suggested and neither one was able to boot - just a blinking cursor and no response from the keyboard. Reading through the MAN pages for mkisofs I did not see anything that I thought might have a better chance of working than what you recommended so I went all the way and burned them to CD instead of installing Virtualization sotware. The .iso was created without any problems other than a warning about -rock being the same as another option on my platform, so I think that part was a success. I read several times that the SoftThinks software uses some type of hardware key so maybe I would need a dongle of some sort for this to work. I also looked into the MBRInst program (same as is used with HP QuickPlay partitions) but after scanning through the program with a hex editor I did not see anything that looked like it was able to support the F11 keypress (F10 was there) so I don't think that is going to be able to help me fix my problem.

I also spent some time looking at the Logical drive boot sectors on both the working and non-working drives to see if there was anything there that looked promising. So far I have not seen anything that I could tell had anything to do with this problem, but I am still not ready to admit defeat.

Edited by comcc, 21 November 2008 - 01:57 AM.


#17
jaclaz

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Another attempt:
in the file you posted, at offset 18944 Dec/0x04A00
there is a chunk of data that seems VERY like a "standard" MBR.

immediately before, at offset 18432 Dec/0x04800 Hex
there is another 512 bytes that could well be the "ST Master Boot Record" but there is a text reference to F10, not F11 :unsure:

and before yet, at offset 16384 Dec / 0x04000 Hex
there is a 2048 bytes that do look like a "no-emulation" CD boot sector (invoking BOO.MGR and BOOTFIX.BIN)

I would try (in a VM) to create a standard hard disk image, with a "simple" OS, like DOS, on a partition on it, then replace the MBR CODE with either of the TWO MBR codes found.

Then, if it works "normally" I would try replacing on the "real" hard disk the MBR code with code from the second one, keeping of course DATA and replicating Disk Signature.

Reference to Standard 2K/Xp/2003 MBR and Disk Signature:
http://mirror.href.c...br/Win2kmbr.htm

Another thing to try would be to test the found 2048 bytes as "no-emulation" bootsector on a .iso, given that somewhere you have a "BOO.MGR" file or that you can find something that could be it. :unsure:

jaclaz

Rule of the thumb to find bootsectors or MBR's embedded in files:
1) search for the "Magic Number" 55AA (more chances of it being an actual boot record signature if it's "aligned" to the right of the hex editor view)
2) check the 64 bytes immediately before:
- if they are 00's chances are that it is a MBR
- if there is some text "related" to booting, like "No OS", "invalid boot", "non system disk", or the like, chances are that it is a partition bootsector
- if there is the text "BOOT" search around 2000 bytes before, if there is the text "CDBOOT" chances are that it is a no-emulation CD boot sector

#18
comcc

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Thanks again jaclaz! I will be trying this tonight and tomorrow and will report back. I really appreciate you taking the time with this.

EDIT:
OK, I found the bootfix.bin and boo.mgr files, put them in a CD .iso image file with the 2048 byte MBR you refer to at offset 0x04000 (hex) and tried to boot Vitual PC with the image. No luck. I also tried using the other boot code you point out to boot the virtual HDD, trying to get the F11 function to work. That was also unsuccessful. I did find a .pdf file from HP that talks about how older versions of HP computers "tattoo" the DMI information on the PCs. In searching through the various logs, .ini files, and other files I have been able to access on both the user partition and the recovery partition, I have found that most of the data I should have in the MBR is still there and intact. At this point I just need a bit of luck (or help) finding the right combination of pieces needed to make this work properly.

Edited by comcc, 23 November 2008 - 10:22 PM.


#19
Tripredacus

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Yes, F10 is the default setting for SoftThinks.

Also, don't worry about whats in the DMI. That has nothing to do with the recovery partition. We use that same method of putting stuff in the DMI as well, but the recovery partition does not read from there, as evident that I can take an image to totally different hardware and run the recovery just fine.

If you are interested in the DMI stuff, check out the Intel Integrator Toolkit. As far as other manufacturers, we get custom BIOS versions to get stuff in the DMI.

#20
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Since you can access and use your Vista install, why not get the OEM key from the registry, save the xm-rms certificate file to another location, borrow a Vista DVD and add those back? It would allow you to install a clean and legal copy. You can then image that with imagex to get an activated DVD for your machine.

I know you want to recover the blown recovery partition, but maybe that's more troube than it's worth.

Just a thought.

#21
comcc

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@Tripredacus
Thanks for the info. I was not sure what specific conditions were tested when the F11 key is pressed at boot time to start the recovery, so I am grateful for the knowledge you have been kind enough to share. That is good news, as it means I have one less thing to consider.

@MrCobra
I understand what you are suggesting and I plan to take those steps as well, but I am one of those stubborn people that likes for things to work the way they were intended to. I also want to know "how" the recovery software works (to bad I never learned assembly language). I am also very annoyed that I am now unable to make the factory recovery disks. I can order them, but I don't believe that I should have to (after all, didn't HP LOOSE a legal case about just that). I am not in a position to take Compaq (HP) to court over this at this time, but it sure does make me angry that they don't feel they are at all responsible for providing their customers with a way to maintain their PCs. With all of the viruses, rootkits, and malware, etc. out there... And what if I decided to replace the hard drive?

#22
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Have you tried setting your recovery partition to active and rebooting? From some of the stuff I've been looking at concerning this (not quite like your situation), others seemed to have fixed the problem with F10/F11/F12 keys not working by doing this.

Another post suggests using MBRInst.exe /ini [path_to_ini]MBR.ini /r /q to fix this.

/r = force recovery boot on next system start
/q = do not display anything

Edited by MrCobra, 25 November 2008 - 11:26 AM.


#23
jaclaz

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I understand what you are suggesting and I plan to take those steps as well, but I am one of those stubborn people that likes for things to work the way they were intended to. I also want to know "how" the recovery software works (to bad I never learned assembly language).


RIGHT attitude! :thumbup

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#24
comcc

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Sorry I took so long getting back, but I was out of town for several days. Happy Thanksgiving to all, BTW!

@MrCobra
I did set the recovery partition to active and I was able to boot into it without problems. I ran a restore from there and all went well. Unfortunately, running the restore did not fix the F11 problem. I am considering clearing all of the MBR except the partition table and the standard Vista boot sector, make the recovery partition active and run a restore again to see if that will rewrite the needed data to the MBR. If that does no fix it I can still use the MBR backups I have to get back to where I am now.
The MBRInst.exe program that I have is an older one (for XP?) that has the F10 key ability but not the F11 key. As this is a Compaq, F10 takes me into the BIOS, so I need something else.

EDIT:
Clearing the MBR and restoring did not do it. It is starting to look like I will have to go to HP and get those disks from them.

@jaclaz
Thanks for the approval. It is rare these days to find someone who understands the desire to "get it right" instead of wanting to quit when things are "good enough".
I was able to get the boot.img (along with boo.mgr and bootfix.bin, although perhaps not the correct ones) burned to a CD in a format that was bootable by both Virtual PC and the PC. They both returned an error of 0xc000000f (see attachment for a screen shot.)

I found some HP tools to add the DMI information to the hard drive, but they are also for older systems and do not place the correct data in the correct location.

Attached Files


Edited by comcc, 28 November 2008 - 09:32 PM.





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