Restoring the Dell Recovery Partition on Windows 7

Normally on a Dell Inspiron that is only a few months old, you can expect to do a factory restore in case of a severe problem on the OS partition, as long as there is no hardware failure.  While things certainly can happen to any machine, it is unusual that you cannot properly access the recovery tools either on a laptop that is under one year old.

After running several diagnostics several ways, I could not find a hardware issue.  Yet, Windows 7 was not even able to go into the system recovery screen.  Booting off of an install DVD and trying to run SFC kept coming back with the message that the machine had to be rebooted (even if you’d just rebooted).  Obviously, this install was toast.

Booting up under Ubuntu, I checked out the disk SMART info, and it was fine as well.  I did notice an “AV8” folder, which tells me it had a rogue antivirus at some point.  The folder was about a month old and was empty.  Did McAfee try to clean it and take other things out as well?  It’s hard to say, and it would seem that between System Restore and SFC even that would be fixed.  I’m more of the mind that the blasted Windows Easy Transfer, as she mentioned using the Easy Transfer.  After using that once, I vowed to avoid trying that ever again.  Bottom line was that I may never know for sure how it got in such a bad shape so quickly.

Unfortunately, since the system recovery didn’t even work, the option to do a factory restore was also unavailable.  After digging around Google a while, nothing came up that seemed like a good solution.  So, I went ahead and installed over the bad operating system so I could at least poke around.

After installing everything, I had to map a drive letter to the recovery partition.  Then I could see that most folders were hidden.  Most of them had nothing of interest in them, including the one called “Recovery”.  Then, I noticed in the Tools folder that there was a program called PCRestore.exe.  After a few minutes of Googling, I discovered that this indeed is the program I needed to run!

Doing the Restore

Here is the procedure I used:

  1. Boot from a Windows 7 installation disk.  Since it is a 64 bit system, I used a 64 bit disk.
  2. Go to the System Recovery Options screen, then click on Command Prompt.
  3. Figure out which partition you need to be on.  I did the “dir” command to see which was the OS partition and which was the smaller Recovery partition.  The only folder that will show on the Recovery partition is the Recovery folder.
  4. On that partition, change to WindowsSystem32.  The restore procedure needs the oledlg.dll located there.
  5. Type “ToolsPCRestore” and press [Enter].
  6. Follow the prompts.

Making Recovery Discs

OK, that got it up and running, but then I couldn’t get the Dell DataSafe Local Backup to make recovery discs.  It updated itself, and that didn’t work.  I tried manually running DSUpdate.exe, and that didn’t work.  It kept complaining that it could not see the Recovery partition (the one I installed it from!).

I finally broke down and downloaded it from an apparently non-Dell site, since Dell in its infinite wisdom apparently doesn’t make it available anywhere in their downloads section.

The install ran and then complained a version was already installed.  So, I uninstalled and rebooted, and then the program installed.  I noticed it updated the recovery partition as well.  I suspect that it was looking for something that got eaten on that partition, and the install seemed to take care of it.

So, in theory everything should be working fine now.