Strange Booting Problem - Windows 7 Home Premium on Acer Laptop

#1
I'm about at my wits end, having spent days reading 'how to' posts, downloading repair disks, using Windows Startup Repair, etc. I've tried every repair option using EasyBCD (v. 2.2.0.172), without success. I've even tried all the options up to and including the "Nuclear Holocaust" option given at https://neosmart.net/wiki/recovering-windows-bootloader/, also without success. My laptop won't boot, except with the aid of Hirens Boot CD (v. 15.2), first option, 'Boot Windows...from Hard Drive' (wording might differ). Hirens boots to the Windows boot selection menu I've set up with EasyBCD, and it works every time. (Currently, I only have two entries, "Windows 7 Home Premium" and "Windows 7 Safe Mode".) I hope someone can give me a hand with my problem, I would greatly appreciate it! A detailed description follows:

I have an Acer Extensa laptop model 5420-5687, which is several years old. If I recall correctly, I purchased the laptop with Windows Vista Home Premium on it, just prior to the public release of Vista Service Pack 1. (I lost a week of my life installing SP1, despite Microsoft's best efforts to help me [they provided excellent free phone support at that time specifically to help with problems installing SP1].) Despite their help, I had to resort to wiping out my install by using the Acer Recovery Partition, download and install SP1 again, and reinstall all my applications a second time; that worked, though it was the scenario I was trying to avoid!) My point in relaying the previous information is that the recovery partition contained an ancient version of Vista, and having purchased and installed an upgrade package to move to Windows 7 Home Premium, I would never use that recovery partition again (even if someone paid me to do it!).

The laptop's 160 GB hard drive had been configured as follows:
First partition: 10 GB Acer Recovery Partition - hidden, primary
Second " " : 75 GB Drive C: - primary, system, boot, active
Third " " : 75 GB Drive D: - primary

I'd used this configuration successfully for years, though I realized that the Recovery Partition was basically lost space. What I didn't realize was that the Partition also contained the Windows Recovery Environment, which I rarely used (but when I did, I entered it through the F8 menu when booting, not using a recovery or other CD or DVD). It may also have contained some of the boot files, but I was unaware of that at the time, having had no boot problems.

At this point, I decided to use the space occupied by the Recovery Partition to install Robolinux, a Linux distribution I particularly like. So using the partition editor available during installation of Robolinux, I deleted the Acer Recovery Partition, and created 3 others in an Extended Partition in it's place: one for \ (Linux Root), one for \HOME (Linux Home), and one for Linux Swap. Bad decision. I elected to NOT install the Grub2 bootloader to the Master Boot Record (MBR), instead installing the Grub2 files to the boot sector of the \ (Root) Robolinux partition. I had used EasyBCD successfully on another computer, and I preferred to keep the Windows Bootloader in the MBR, rather than use Grub2. On the other computer, that setup works fine.

Low and behold, on the first boot, I was presented with the Grub2 boot selection menu. How could this have happened?! I didn't know, but resolved to fix it with EasyBCD. Unfortunately, the Grub2 boot menu for Windows did not work, sending me to a blank screen with a fat cursor blinking in the upper left corner. I was able to boot by booting to Hirens Boot CD and selecting 'Boot Windows...from Hard Drive', as mentioned above. I got into Windows, and setup a multi-boot menu with EasyBCD, one entry for Windows 7, and one entry for Robolinux. I corrected the MBR and rebuilt the BCD stores using EasyBCD, then rebooted, only to be greeted by the above mentioned blank screen with fat blinking cursor. Rebooting to Hirens Boot CD, I could access the menu I had created, and could successfully boot to either Windows 7 or to Robolinux. Hirens can figure out where the Windows boot partition and files are, but despite all my efforts to repair the boot sequence, and I've tried quite a few, Windows is unable to find the boot menu that Hirens finds so quickly.

I tried many things to correct this situation, so far, unsuccessfully. Booting from Hirens Boot CD works, booting from the hard drive does not. I even went so far as to reorganize my hard drive, so currently it is configured as follows:

First partition: 75 GB Drive C: - primary, system, boot, active
Second " " : 75 GB Drive D: - primary
Unallocated : 10 GB

I thought that perhaps Windows didn't like an Extended Partition as the first partition, and might work by making Drive C: the first partition, and repeating all the repair steps I had previously tried. I am stuck with the same result as just mentioned above: Booting from Hirens Boot CD works, booting from the hard drive does not.

If anyone has any words of wisdom or suggestions regarding my situation, I'm 'all ears'!! Thanks in advance!

aboutblank
June 24, 2016
 

Terry60

Knows where his towel is.
Staff member
#2
Can you upload a screenshot of Disk Management showing all the flags, and cut/paste the contents of EasyBCD "view settings"
 
#3
Can you upload a screenshot of Disk Management showing all the flags, and cut/paste the contents of EasyBCD "view settings"
Thanks, Terry. Here's the EasyBCD "view settings" info:

EasyBCD View Settings 06/26/2015:
There are a total of 2 entries listed in the bootloader.
Default: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
Timeout: 10 seconds
EasyBCD Boot Device: C:\

Entry #1
Name: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium
BCD ID: {current}
Drive: C:\
Bootloader Path: \Windows\system32\winload.exe

Entry #2
Name: Microsoft Windows 7 Safe Mode
BCD ID: {b74f3a15-1c16-11e5-8bad-001d721cab05}
Drive: C:\
Bootloader Path: \Windows\system32\winload.exe

Here's the screen shot of Disk Management:
Print_Screen_1.jpg

Thanks again!

aboutblank
June 26, 2015
 

Terry60

Knows where his towel is.
Staff member
#4
Everything visible appears to be exactly as it should.
The only thing I can think might cause the problem is a lack of a proper Windows Partition Boot Record.
Your OP says you repaired the MBR (which should have put a proper PBR in place).
Can you elaborate on what you did, as I can't think of any other reason for this problem.
 
#5
Everything visible appears to be exactly as it should.
The only thing I can think might cause the problem is a lack of a proper Windows Partition Boot Record.
Your OP says you repaired the MBR (which should have put a proper PBR in place).
Can you elaborate on what you did, as I can't think of any other reason for this problem.
Thanks, Terry60. An easier to answer question for me would have been "what haven't you done?" ! :smile:

I've tried many things, multiple times, including booting to Microsoft's install disk and also to the 32-bit recovery disk that I created, running both the automated repair, as well as the command line repairs. (I.e., bootrec /FixMbr, bootrec /FixBoot, bootrec /ScanOs, and bootrec /RebuildBcd, as well as bootsect /nt60 SYS /mbr.) (I sometimes ran one command and tested by rebooting, sometimes ran more than one before rebooting.) Of course, I've also tried EasyBCD's fixes, multiple times, sometimes running just one fix and rebooting, other times running them all: "Reset BCD configuration"; "Re-create/repair boot files"; "Install the Windows Vista/7 bootloader to the MBR"/"Write MBR". I've tried the Paragon Rescue Kit version v. 11 (c. 2012) boot repair utilities, as well their current version 14. I've used a Ubuntu based rescue disk that has some repair utilities for Windows intalls. I've used the Disk Test utility (?) from a PartEd Magic disk (I think it's on the Hirens Boot CD 15.2), and also GParted Rescue Disk's utilities and some other utilities I found on the Hirens Boot CD 15.2 that tried to fix mbr problems. I also tested for viruses using AVG's rescue disk as well as Comodo's rescue disk (both negative), just in case I had a strange boot sector virus. I tried the MbrFix utility ("Updated by Kore Smith, 5. august 2009") to no avail. I went to http://thestarman.narod.ru/asm/mbr/index.html#MBR and related pages, which have a wealth of information about MBR's and Partition records, and checked their code, byte-for-byte against my mbr (except for the partition table), and it was identical. I used the Active@ Disk Editor (Active Disk Editor-freeware-6.0.23_Windows.zip) (an amazing piece of software considering it's free), to examine my MBR and Partition records using their templates, and could find no anomalies. (I must admit that examining my partition table in the mbr, as well as the partition boot sector, was not conclusive, as I can't easily check the Cylinder-Head-Sector addresses found in the mbr against the hex address of my partition boot sector, and am not even sure as to exactly where the mbr is supposed to send the boot process: to byte 1 of the partition boot sector, or to some offset?!) I'm probably leaving out some stuff I've tried, and the above is an abbreviated description!

I've noted that in the Windows recovery environment, running "bootrec /scanos" produces the following:
Scanning all disks for Windows installations.
Please wait.....successfully scanned Windows installations.
Total Identified Windows installations: 0
The operation completed successfully.

The fact that "zero" installations were found, despite the fact that the two EasyBCD entries are displayed *immediately* upon entering the recovery menu, worried me. I ran the command line in the recovery environment, "bootrec /?", and noted the definition of the "/scanOs" parameter:
"Scans all disks for installations compatible with Windows 7, and displays the entries that are currently not in the boot configuration store." (Emphasis mine.)
So, now I'm not sure if I should worry, or not. Perhaps Windows "bootrec /scanOs" is telling me that everything it found is already in the boot configuration store (BCD file?!), and thus, there is 'no problem'?! (Not a particularly clear error message, in my opinion. On duckduckgo-ing "Total Identified Windows installations: 0", I found this link: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/...lt-total/5aaa65b0-48c6-41ee-9e3d-8ffb06a93383. The OP writes "does this mean my OS has GONE eeek????", and a Microsoft Answers Support Engineer writes, "I'm sorry to say that I think you are correct."! As I recall, that was not the case at all. At appears that 'ignorance abounds' on this question! :wink:)

Another odd message appeared after I ran Windows Recovery Environment's automated repair, in the 'log' that can be displayed at the end of the repair. Every error result in the log was "0x0", which to me means that there were "zero" errors found. However, this appeared near the beginning of the log:
....Session details
System Disk = \Device\Harddisk0
Windows directory = C:\Windows
AutoChk Run = 0
Number of root causes = 1

What the heck is "Number of root causes = 1" supposed to mean?! All the "errors" had a code of 0x0, so I assume there were no errors, and that the message is, at best, confusing. Regardless, when rebooting, the same result occurred as occurred after all the other repair attempts: booting from the hard disk produces a blank screen with a fat blinking cursor in the upper left corner, as if the hard disk were completely empty. Re-booting to Hirens Boot CD 15.2 and selecting the very first menu entry, immediately finds the entries I created with EasyBCD, and selecting 'Windows 7 Home Premium' immediately boots to Windows, without problem.

I'm beginning to think that there is no problem with any of the boot entries on my hard disk, neither the MBR, the partition boot sector code, nor the BCD entries in the \boot directory on drive C:. I'm beginning to think that Grub2 overwrote an entry in another location that Windows uses to verify that the installed OS is indeed a valid copy of Windows (which mine is), and that if Windows can't find that code, it refuses to go any further, acting as if the hard disk is completely empty. That's my suspicion, and if correct, would be an undocumented part of the boot process which perhaps only a handful of people in Redmond know about. I certainly hope that I'm wrong, and am curious to read what you think, Terry60.

One last item, you can check out this thread from another forum:
http://www.sevenforums.com/installa...sing-invalid-unable-boot-without-boot-cd.html
The problem described there sounds very very similar to my problem, and sadly, the OP "gave up" and reinstalled Windows to solve it. So after all the work he did, he still doesn't understand the nature of his original problem, and I haven't been able, to date, to find anyone else who does, either!

Thanks for your help with this, I may be asking for the impossible, but will be curious to hear from you, Terry60. Any ideas will be much appreciated...maybe I've been overlooking something basic?!!

aboutblank
June 27, 2015
 

mqudsi

Mostly Harmless
Staff member
#6
I don't see any mention of BIOS settings here? Cases like this are almost always caused by an odd primary boot device option in the BIOS - what do you have selected?
 
#7
I don't see any mention of BIOS settings here? Cases like this are almost always caused by an odd primary boot device option in the BIOS - what do you have selected?
I had noted that when I was researching the problem, and had checked my bios settings, but forgot to mention it. What I found when I checked my Phoenix bios was that I could change the order of the devices (Hard Drive, CD, USB, etc.), but could not select which physical hard disk to try to boot from. (I could do both on my desktop PC, but not on my laptop.) I didn't think much of it, as I only have one hard drive on my laptop, and was not sure if I could even connect a second hard drive.

A related thing I noted, however, was that the SD card I kept inserted for "ReadyBoost" was being identified as drive 0 in Windows' Disk Management, with the hard drive that I was trying to boot from being identified as drive 1. Thinking this might be the cause of my boot problem (though it had never caused a problem in the past), I removed the SD card and rebooted. The removal made no difference in the outcome, however, though once back in Windows, I noted that my hard drive was now identified as drive 0, instead of drive 1, the SD card having been removed.

So, I don't think the bios setting is a factor in this case.

aboutblank
July 2, 2015
 

Terry60

Knows where his towel is.
Staff member
#8
My first thought was "BIOS boot sequence" until I saw that you only had the one HDD, so ruled that out.
You appear to have exhausted all the possibilities that I might have suggested.
Reminds me of when my Vista OS "broke" when it wasn't in use (hadn't been booted for months), and I spent a couple of months (on and off) trying to fix it. (Didn't actually need it, it was just part of a quad-boot). I never did find why (or how) an OS can become unbootable when sitting idle on an unused HDD, and despite multiple repair tools and a succession of small victories, it never worked again until I gave in and reinstalled it. It's now sitting in a box in the garage along with XP on a spare PC, still unused, awaiting the building of my PC museum where it will join WME and W95 on the two previous PCs. (probably the only one that will ever get used will be the IBM Aptiva with 95, the only OS capable of running "Starship Titanic")
 
#9
My first thought was "BIOS boot sequence" until I saw that you only had the one HDD, so ruled that out.
You appear to have exhausted all the possibilities that I might have suggested.
Reminds me of when my Vista OS "broke" when it wasn't in use (hadn't been booted for months), and I spent a couple of months (on and off) trying to fix it. (Didn't actually need it, it was just part of a quad-boot). I never did find why (or how) an OS can become unbootable when sitting idle on an unused HDD, and despite multiple repair tools and a succession of small victories, it never worked again until I gave in and reinstalled it. It's now sitting in a box in the garage along with XP on a spare PC, still unused, awaiting the building of my PC museum where it will join WME and W95 on the two previous PCs. (probably the only one that will ever get used will be the IBM Aptiva with 95, the only OS capable of running "Starship Titanic")
Hi Terry! And thanks for the reply. I got a kick out of it! When you start that museum, keep me in mind, I might have a few contributions! :smile: (I actually still have an IBM System/36, their smallest 'pc' version, in my "office," and it worked when I last started it (probably a decade ago!).) :wink: Plus, assorted pc's and monitors, one running Windows 2000. However, I've left Vista behind, having upgraded 3 pc's/laptops from Vista to Windows 7, by virtue of purchasing a '3-pack' home upgrade, a couple of years ago. All 3 still going strong, with the exception of my laptop with this current problem.

I delayed answering your post, which I really appreciate, to try a couple more things. I downloaded a copy of the EasyRE from NeoSmart, and ran the automated recovery, but was unsuccessful in correcting my problem. I am still able to boot easily using Hirens Boot CD 15.2, which is able to find the Windows menu and boot files immediately, and boot successfully to Windows. If I try to boot from the hard drive, I get the black screen with fat blinking cursor, as before.

I'm not sure if you have experience with the EasyRE, but I'll try to describe what I noted, in hopes that something might click:

When I first started the Automated Recovery process, it searched the hard drive for Windows installations, and I noted an anomaly: It identified the Windows 7 32 bit Installation on Drive C: as 'boot', it detected my second 'data' partition (but did not show the drive letter, "D:"), but it also detected a 2 GB partition in the roughly 10 Gb of unallocated space at the end of the drive, also labeling it 'boot'. This seemed strange, as I had not created any partition of 2 GB size, though I had 3 linux partitions which I had deleted in that roughty 10 GB unallocated area. Perhaps it had detected old linux entries in the start of that unallocated space? I decided to proceed anyway, and the log entries displayed on the screen were as follows:

Testing memory. Please be patient... ... ...
Preparing to repair Windows partition on /dev/ada0s1
Volume identified as NTFS
Testing disk health...
Checking Windows filesystem on /dev/ada0s1 for errors and inconsistencies...
Integrity Checks complete.
Searching for boot related problems...
Rebuilding the bootsector on /dev/ada0s1
Failed to rewrite bootsector! Check logs for more details. (emphasis mine)
Determining the bootloader to be installed...
Starting installation of the BOOTMGR bootloader to /dev/ada0s1
New bootloader installation successful.
Successfully reinstalled and reconfigured boot related files
Checking the Registry for know issues...
Cleaning temporary directories...
Automated Repair Complete...eject CD and restart PC

Upon restart, the system would not start from the hard drive; it was necessary to use Hirens Boot CD 15.2, as previously described.

To be continued.....
 
Last edited:
#10
Continued from earlier post, above....

I decided to retry the entire process a second time, but this time, to search for the log file, mentioned in the error message. It turned out to be a long text file called triplehelix.log, and was in the /etc folder. There were several mentions of the Windows hibernation file, hiberfil.sys, as I recall, so I rebooted one last time to turn off hibernation, to see if that might make a difference; it didn't, but I've left hibernation off for now, just to eliminate the possibility.

(The second time, the scan of my hard drive only discovered C: and D:, not the spurious 2 GB 'boot' partition in the unallocated space; like the first time, though, it did not identify the second partition as "D:", not assigning it a drive letter, though I believe it correctly identified the drive's label.)

The log file was quite long, but I was able to find all the entries that appeared while I was running the Automated Repair, including the "Failed to rewrite bootsector! Check logs for more details" mentioned above. The relevant section of the log near that message was as follows:

Bootfile changed to bootmgr
Part Fs: 07 (NTFS)
Part Leng: 146057216
Start Sector: 0x800
Image Type: Other
grubinst: Unknown image type
INFO: Return Code 1

Since GParted was unable to read the contents of the NTFS partitions, lacking a required piece of software, I thought that perhaps the error "Unknown image type" might be a reflection of grubinst's inability to read the contents of the NTFS partition, and perhaps not of concern; but not being able to rewrite the bootsector sounds serious, I thought that should have been accomplished. I'll be curious to read what you think about that.

So, I'm still stumped, only able to boot to Windows 7 from the Hirens Boot CD 15.2, not from the hard drive. Why Hirens can find the right files so quickly, yet Windows can't, remains a mystery!

aboutblank
July 7, 2015
 
Last edited:

Terry60

Knows where his towel is.
Staff member
#11
Sorry, I have no experience of the EasyRE disc. I have retail DVDs for all of my OSs, so they contain their own recovery facilities.
Support for EasyRE is by email (mentioned somewhere when you download it no doubt) so they might be able to throw more light on that failure.
 

mqudsi

Mostly Harmless
Staff member
#13
AB, I sent you the complementary copy of EasyRE on a whim, but as I mentioned in my earlier comment, I honestly do not think it's a software issue and more of an issue with the boot priority. Maybe it's related to the UEFI/Legacy boot settings in the BIOS? The telling factor is that when you boot with the CD but allow the timeout to expire you wind up in Windows just fine - when the timeout expires what happens is that the code on the CD chainloads the MBR of the first hard disk and lets it run naturally from there - which is what your BIOS is supposed to do normally.
 
#14
Sorry, I have no experience of the EasyRE disc. I have retail DVDs for all of my OSs, so they contain their own recovery facilities.
Support for EasyRE is by email (mentioned somewhere when you download it no doubt) so they might be able to throw more light on that failure.
Thanks, Terry. I greatly appreciate your interest and input. I'm still pursuing a solution, and will post back here if I am able to find one, at that time

aboutblank
July 13, 2015
 
#15
AB, I sent you the complementary copy of EasyRE on a whim, but as I mentioned in my earlier comment, I honestly do not think it's a software issue and more of an issue with the boot priority. Maybe it's related to the UEFI/Legacy boot settings in the BIOS? The telling factor is that when you boot with the CD but allow the timeout to expire you wind up in Windows just fine - when the timeout expires what happens is that the code on the CD chainloads the MBR of the first hard disk and lets it run naturally from there - which is what your BIOS is supposed to do normally.
Thanks, Mahmoud.

When I boot from CD, I select (by hand) 'Boot from Vista/Windows 7' (if I remember the wording), and I immediately see the Windows 7 boot menu. I usually use the up-down arrows to stop the timer, and select 'Windows 7 Home Premium' (by hand; the alternative is 'Safe Mode'), and boot immediately to Windows 7. I will try letting the timers expire, just to see if that makes any difference, but my guess is that it is unlikely.

I noted above that I was concerned with the 'Failed to rewrite bootsector! Check logs for more details' message. But I'm guessing from your explanation that that message is a 'red herring', as if the bootsector were incorrect, presumably I would never get into Windows. I didn't realize that selecting 'Boot from Vista/Windows 7' choice on the Hirens Boot CD 15.2 was accessing the MBR code; I really was not certain how it was finding the Windows menu choices. But what you are saying makes perfect sense, and makes me wonder if I somehow managed to corrupt the BIOS in some fashion?! I will play around with that idea. My plan is to try to change the BIOS to its default settings, and see if that makes any difference. I can restore any changes 'by hand' if it does, and try it again. I will report back, in any event.

Thanks again!

aboutblank
July 13, 2015
 
#16
Thanks, Mahmoud.

When I boot from CD, I select (by hand) 'Boot from Vista/Windows 7' (if I remember the wording), and I immediately see the Windows 7 boot menu. I usually use the up-down arrows to stop the timer, and select 'Windows 7 Home Premium' (by hand; the alternative is 'Safe Mode'), and boot immediately to Windows 7. I will try letting the timers expire, just to see if that makes any difference, but my guess is that it is unlikely.
.....
aboutblank
July 13, 2015
Just an update, I still haven't finished with this problem, but have taken a break....Current status is that I have restored the PC as it was in April 2014, from a complete backup I made of each partition at that time: (From memory) those partitions are: a (roughly) 10 GB Acer PQSERVICE (FAT32) partition, a 70 GB Drive C: (Windows 7 and related directories) NTFS partition, and a 70 GB Drive D: (data files only) NTFS partition. The PQSERVICE partition contains the Windows recovery files as well as the original Vista install image. And LO AND BEHOLD, without any changes to my BIOS, the system again boots up normally!

My problem is not solved, however, as my next complete backup, c. June 2015, was made after I installed a Linux distribution into that 10 GB partition, which was the start of my booting problems. So if I leave the April 15 restore as is, I will be able to boot normally, but I lose over a year's worth of changes to drive C:. (Drive D:, which contains data files only, I should be able to restore from the June 2015 backup without affecting the boot sequence.) So, it's not a complete disaster, but I'd still like to restore Drive C: from June 2015 and fix the boot problem.

Complicating the story is the PQSERVICE partition. Shortly after I made the April 2014 backup, I did something to PQSERVICE, as I reasoned I would never need it to restore Vista, having a complete Windows 7 backup. So I either deleted and recreated it as an empty NTFS partition, or I went into it (maybe with a Linux live CD?) and deleted the files that were on it. I think I did the former, recreating it as an unused NTFS partition. The result: I still could boot to Windows 7, but I lost the 'Recovery Console' files and corresponding F8 Windows startup menu item that used to allow me to boot into it without a recovery CD. (That's not really a big deal, as I have not only the original Windows Vista to Windows 7 Upgrade DVD, but also, a recovery CD I made from within Windows 7.) I think it is significant that the boot problems did not occur until I installed Robolinux v. 7.5.6.

When I installed Robolinux, I chose to install it into 3 partitions: a Root, a Home, and a Swap partition, fashioned by changing the PQSERVICE 10 GB partition into an extended partition, and subdividing it into the 3 mentioned. I formatted the first two as ext3 if I recall, and the third, the Swap, was formatted however Linux decides to format it when it installs (I'm not sure of the exact format). I also chose to only install the Grub bootloader into the partition master record, NOT to the Master Boot Record (MBR). My plan was to boot using the Windows boot menu (formed with EasyBCD) and select either Windows 7 or Robolinux from that menu.

Surprise, surprise, when I booted, I saw, not the Windows boot menu, but the Grub boot menu, so I knew something was amiss at that point. That also was the start of my boot problems, requiring me to use Hirens Boot CD 15.2 to boot into Windows. After that, I tried completely removing Robolinux and deleted the 3 partitions, moving things around until I had only two primary partitions on the disk, C: and D:, with the 10 GB moved to the far end of the disk, as free space. I figured that would give me the best chance to repair the boot problem. But despite trying many repair solutions, I have still come up empty handed.

I have not yet given up, however, and intend to do more experimentation, in an attempt to restore the boot functionality after restoring my latest backup. I have to again decide what to do with my PQSERVICE partition. Now (after restoring my latest C: and D: drives [and recreating my boot problem]), when I try to boot using Hirens Boot CD 15.2 'Boot to Windows' function, instead of booting to Windows 7, it boots to the Vista recovery files on the PQSERVICE partition! This has complicated my efforts, as I must again decide what to do with PQSERVICE. (I have vowed never again to load Vista onto my laptop, so I don't need those files...I hope!)

Stay tuned for more.....

aboutblank
August 3, 2015
 
#17
Stay tuned for more.....
aboutblank
August 3, 2015
Good news! I finally SOLVED the problem, which I will explain below!! But first, I wish to report an anomaly I ran into using EasyBCD 2.3:

On the main menu, under "BCD Backup/Repair", under "BCD Management Options", there is a selection for "Change boot drive".

First, I noted that if you want to use a hidden drive, or one without a drive letter [same thing?!], you can't select that partition as the target when you click on "Perform Action". The drive must have a drive letter.

Second, I used the "Perform Action" button to copy the boot files from C: to a new partition that I had created, to which I had assigned the letter "P". After I performed that action, I checked "View Settings", and noted that the "EasyBCD Boot Device:" was now showing "P:\", which was expected. What was not expected was to reboot (from the hard drive) and again check the "View Settings" menu, only to see that the "EasyBCD Boot Device:" now showed "C:\". As this was worrisome, I checked Windows Disk Management (right-click Computer, click "Manage", and when the window opens, click "Storage" - "Disk Management"). The settings for P: and for C: were unchanged, that is, P: was the "System, Active, Primary Partition" and C: was the "Boot, Page File, Crash Dump, Primary Partition". To be sure, I rebooted again from the hard disk, successfully, and again checked Windows Disk Management and EasyBCD, and found no change from what I just described above. I can only surmise that as EasyBCD only copies the boot folder and bootmgr file (making appropriate changes to BCD in the boot folder, I guess), but does not delete the similarly named files that were on the source drive C:, it becomes confused when it starts up again, and thinks C: is the 'EasyBCD Boot Device', instead of P:! I don't think this is the desired behavior, as it is confusing, and hope that it can be modified somehow so that the "System" drive (containing the Boot files! - see more below) is identified correctly!

To be continued.....
aboutblank
September 15, 2015
 
#18
To be continued.....
Continued from above...
Now to the SOLUTION TO THE "STRANGE BOOTING PROBLEM" PROBLEM :

The key turned out to be the PQSERVICE Partition, which had no drive letter on the original Acer Laptop. "That PQSERVICE contains your recovery information - a recovery console, plus a full factory backup image of your hard drive as it was shipped from Acer." (A good description of its function, copied from PQSERVICE Partition... Do I need it anymore? | NotebookReview .) I had deleted that partition, believing that, as in a "normal" PC, booting from BIOS to the Master Boot Record (MBR) to the Partion Boot Sector (PBS) should be an easy matter to deal with (boy was I wrong). I tried many CD's and utilities, including Windows own System Repair Disk, all unsuccessfully. Though I can't prove it, the reason I believe the repair disks never worked is that Acer uses a non-standard BIOS, which I suspect does not "jump" to the MBR, but to the PQSERVICE partition first, checking certain information there, prior to jumping to the MBR. (This would explain why using Hirens BootCD 15.2 worked, as it presumably would jump directly to the MBR, not to PQSERVICE, and finding a pointer to the PBS, it would execute the correct boot sequence.) As I said, this is only my hunch, but I developed that hunch after doing a lot of reading, particularly of the following explanation which I quote from Acer Aspire Hidden Partition Restoration | Wilders Security Forums :

Re: ACER ASPIRE HIDDEN PARTION RESTORATION

Now I have a single partition (currently type 0B) which contains the PQS image. Using and [sic] MBR editor, I carefully replace my MBR with the Acer-specific one (copied from my factory HD). By carefully, I only replaced the code portion of the MBR, but I left the partition table unchanged. I also then changed the PQS partition to type 12.

Now I have (hopefully) a HD that contains the Acer-specific MBR code, a single PQS partition marked as type 12, and no other partitions.

I reboot, and press Alt-F10 to invoke the magic PQS partition. It boots and starts into the Acer recovery software. At the point it starts to run the Acer flavor of Ghost, ghost generates an error/warning that it can't find "the partition" and it wants to overwrite the PQS partition. Ah-ha! The Acer ghost is trying to restore to partition 2 and can't find it.

So, I reboot back to CD DOS, and now I create partition 2 - another primary FAT32 partition, about 16GB in size. Just for kicks, I made it Win98 DOS bootable (this way I can test the normal boot of the laptop). And sure enough, I reboot and it happily boots up my partition 2 "C:" drive to a Win98 command prompt. At this point, the PQS partition is still marked 12h (hidden) but also I noticed that the partition type for partition 3 is now 10h. This is left over from my first boot of the PQS partition which always tries to hide partition 3 (no matter what type it is) - it just seems to logically OR partition 3's type with 10h (so 00 OR 10 = 10). If I had the factory ACERDATA partition there, it would have ORd 10 with 0F to create a hidden 1F type.

Ok, reboot and Alt-F10 again. This time, we enter the Acer recovery software, and when ghost starts, no errors and it is "recovering" my factory WinXP to partition 2 just fine. When it completes the restore, it auto-reboots the laptop. At this point I didn't allow it to boot the HD - I forced a reboot to my DOS CD to see "what's going down" on the disk.

What I noticed is that the PQS partition is still there (type 12), I now have the Acer factory WinXP in partition 2, partition 3 is still type 10 (I'll ignore that for now), but more interestingly, is that there's a small change in the Acer MBR code. A value that was 33h is now 5Ah. Long story short: this value change is used as a flag by the MBR boot code to force another reboot to the PQS partition and NOT boot WinXP in partition 2. I noticed that the WinXP partition is not fully restored in that it is missing much of the Acer-specific bloatware.

Okies, I let the laptop boot normally. And yes, it reboots back to the PQS partition (even though partition 2 was marked bootable). I did not press Alt-F10 this time, so that 5Ah flag is forcing the MBR to boot the PQS partition again. This time, the PQS partition does a PHASE TWO operation and "copies files". It has detected that the WinXP partition was restored but is missing the Acer stuff. It effectively copies over the C:\ACERNB folder and makes a few tiny changes to some startup files.

Once this completes, another snoop reveals that the MBR is now back to the 33h value and that it looks like it's ready to boot "factory" style. So I let it boot up, and voila - I'm getting WinXP first-time user experience. Once WinXP gets to the desktop, all the Acer software (17 items) gets installed (this is what PHASE TWO of PQS did). Once the Acer software is fully installed, it deletes the secret ACERNB folder. I also noticed that partition 3 (which was type 10h) is now back to 00h (so that was also "fixed").

What I noticed this time (before I didn't copy over the Acer-specific MBR code) is that I now have eRecovery installed and running. When I did this before with the default MBR code, I guess the Acer install felt that I didn't have an PQS partition (because it looks at a signature in the MBR) so it didn't install eRecovery.

After all of this, I just imaged restored my HD back to what I had before.

So, what I have determined for the Travelmate 810x flavor of PQS (D2D) is:
- It won't work if the only partition is a PQS partition in partition 1
- It won't work unless partition 2 is a primary FAT32 partition
- It hides partition 3 by ORing the type with 10h, but doesn't seem to matter
- It seems that it absolutely doesn't matter what partition 3 is at all
- It works better if the MBR code is the Acer-specific code (Alt-F10 works)
- It fully restores eRecovery when the MBR code is the Acer code

So, I'd recommend that if anyone wants to "fully backup" their system so they can either fully restore it or fully restore it on another HD, they should do a complete image backup of the factory HD before messing with partitions and such. Also, it wouldn't hurt to make a manual backup of the Acer MBR code and perhaps the PQS partition too as a separate ghost partition image.


markymoo, Dec 22, 2008
After reading the above, which is for a different model of Acer than my laptop (which is an Acer Extensa 5420-5687), I began thinking, how could Acer check for specific bytes in an Acer-specific MBR, and modify those bytes, then reboot, unless the program controlling all that logic was loaded from somewhere else? It's unlikely they could have crammed all that logic into the BIOS code, it's probably loaded from somewhere in PQSERVICE, and then jumps from there to the MBR and executes the MBR code when it is satisfied that everything looks OK. As I said, it's not proof, but it's my best guess, that an Acer-specific BIOS is jumping to PQSERVICE, and not directly to the MBR as one would expect!

To be continued.....


aboutblank
September 15, 2015
 
#19
To be continued.....
Continued from above...
As to the solution
, here is what I did: I created a partition, the first one at the start of my hard drive, called PQSERVICE, and selected FAT32 (just to be on the safe side, as the original PQSERVICE was FAT32). I assigned it drive letter P: and did not try to hide it. I then booted using Hirens BootCD 15.2 into Windows 7, and used EasyBCD 2.3 to copy the boot files from C: to P: (PQSERVICE). I rebooted. It did not work. BUT, instead of the fat blinking cursor in the upper left corner of the screen, I actually had an error message: "BOOTMGR is missing. Press Alt-Ctrl-Del" . This was good news indeed!

I rebooted again using Hirens BootCD 15.2, and checked Windows Disk Management. For some reason, my data drive, Drive D:, had been marked ACTIVE! I'm not sure how that happened, perhaps when EasyBCD copied the files to P: ?! I know that C: was Active before, and I assumed P: should have been Active after the copy. So, I fired up MiniTool Partition Wizard 9.0 (though I could have just used Windows Disk Management) to make drive P: Active. In doing so, I ran into more "confusion": MiniTool uses it's own naming system for the partition flags! Here's a couple of links, and my explanation continues below them:

What are system partitions and boot partitions? - Windows Help
Set boot partition as Active partition.


The first link is Windows explanation of "System", "Boot", and "Active" partitions, the second one is MiniTool's explanation of the same. My understanding, from Microsoft's explanation, is that the definitions of "System" and "Boot" partitions are intuitively backwards! That is, the "Boot" partition contains the operating system files (i.e., the \Windows directory), and hence should have (in my opinion) been called the System partition; the "System" partition contains the boot files (i.e., the \Boot directory and the bootmgr file), and should have (in my opinion) been called the Boot partition. MiniTool labels the partitions opposite from Microsoft! This makes sense to them (and to me), but it's confusing enough without having two programs reversing these key label definitions!! (Of course, on many systems, there is only one partition, and Drive C:\ is System, Boot, and Active, but they don't have to be that way, as many other systems have a small System Reserved partition which functions similarly to PQSERVICE in the boot sequence.) There can be only one "Active" partition on any system, and my understanding is that it is the partition to which the MBR 'jumps' to find the PBS (Partition Boot Sector) which has the actual boot code that is finally executed; this could be a Grub boot loader on a Linux or multi-boot system, which would likely present a Grub boot menu to select the operating system to boot (it could, for instance, 'chainload' to Windows!); or it could be the Windows boot loader which could show a Windows boot menu (which is capable of performing the same or similar functions as a Grub boot menu).

After reviewing the definitions, I made one change using MiniTool Partition Wizard, marking P: as "Active". So (according to Windows Disk Management), P: was the "System, Active, Primary Partition" and C: was the "Boot, Page File, Crash Dump, Primary Partition". I rebooted again, and Voila! The Windows boot menu came up, and I was able to boot to Windows 7 from the hard disk!!

I then reduced the size of PQSERVICE from about 10 Gbytes to 100 Mbytes. When I checked Windows Disk Managment and MiniTool Partition Wizard 9 prior to rebooting, I noted that the "Active" designation was missing from each and every partition! As I recall, I rebooted again to test, successfully, and checked those two programs again, and P: was once again marked "Active". Another confusing anomaly!

At this point, I consider the PROBLEM SOLVED. I still have to move and resize the C: and D: partitions, reserving space at the end of the disk for some Linux partitions I plan to install. This time I'll do a complete backup prior to installing Linux - lesson learned!!

Hope this helps someone else who may have labored with the same or similar Acer related "Strange Booting Problem"!

aboutblank
September 15, 2015
 
Last edited:

Terry60

Knows where his towel is.
Staff member
#20
Disk Management flags have the following meanings

"boot" = "this is the system you're running"
"system" = "this is where I found the boot files for the currently running system"
"active" (on the first HDD in the BIOS boot sequence) = "this is where I started the search for the boot files"
"active" (on subsequent HDDs in the BIOS boot sequence) ="this is where I will look if I don't find something in the MBR on the first HDD"

When EasyBCD says "boot disk" it's referring to MS (Disk Management's) "system"
When EasyBCD says "EasyBCD boot disk", it's referring to the location of the Neosmart folder containing files that EasyBCD uses to locate non-MS files which it has created to enable booting of foreign OSs like Linux. Those latter files are nothing to do with MS, so unlike everything else do not have to be on the "active" "system" partition.

Bear in mind there is only one actual flag present on the disk.
That's Windows "active" which is a bit set in the MBR partition table denoting the partition in which the Initial Program Loader in the BIOS will find the PBR which continues the boot process. (that's the identical bit which Linux tools describe as "boot")
All the other "flags" are virtual. They're just Windows telling you what the results of the completed boot chain were.