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Should I use FixMBR?

Discussion in 'Computers' started by Seth Paxton, Feb 28, 2006.

  1. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Okay, so I was preparing to use CDEx on my XP machine, but I hadn't used it on this one yet. I get the ATAPI complaint that I previously solved with an ATAPI update/install utility I had downloaded.

    Problem might have been compatability with XP. Whatever the case, the utility runs and prompts for a reboot. That's fine.

    But on the way back up I have no more boot at all apparently. "Get out the CD and use the (R)ecovery option" (paraphrasing)

    So I do, and from the Rec. Con. I can see my USB devices including the external HD with a partial backup I had recently run (not quite full though, left off some files, and a few days old - ie, I would lose some .PST changes).


    But when I look at the boot drive there appears to be nothing, no files at all. I run FixBoot on it because I have more comfort with that for whatever reason. That changes it to "Can't find NTLDR" message.

    So I copy NTLDR and NTDETECT.com to the C: drive, reboot, still get "Can't find NTLDR".

    It's a big drive so I think I'll go for a WIN reinstall without format (not sure if that's possible in this case) but then I get a "not enough space" message.

    No way the C drive has been wiped out of course. But when I ran FixMBR I got a scary warning message about possible partition destruction and whatnot and got cold feet.

    I have no floppy in this system to put a boot floppy into.

    I'm a little nervous about trying to put XP onto my external since it has my only backups at this point.


    Obviously something about the boot record or something has been written to incorrectly, but the data remains I think. I just can't see any sign of it from the Rec. Cons.

    It could be a lurker virus, but I have no reason to believe that and every reason to believe it was the utility I just ran (which is non-virus and used many times in the past, possibly just not NT friendly). I mean, run software requiring reboot, system messed up, not too hard to piece together.


    Will FixMBR really F me up here, or is this the most logical step to take next? I could get another HD to install a boot too, but this is a new desktop and I hate to spend the money on that sort of fix (plus the trouble of it).
     
  2. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    I vaguely recall a "missing NTLDR" error that was a) not really caused by a bad or missing NTLDR file and b) relatively easy to fix. This came up about 18 months to 2 years ago at work. Let me check with some of the techs and the Help Ticket archive tomorrow and get back to you before you do anything drastic.

    Joe
     
  3. Mike Fassler

    Mike Fassler Supporting Actor

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    try using a program called disk commander if you have access to it.
     
  4. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    Hmmmm... Actually the most common cause of a missing NTLDR error on a machine running Windows NT 4.0 and up is -

    ... a non-bootable floppy or CD in the drive on a machine that boots to floppy and/or CD before going to the hard disc.

    I would assume that this is not the problem here. [​IMG]


    I'm not familiar with CDEx or the ATAPI complaint, and I've never used FixMBR, so I'm afraid I'm now officially of no help at all on this one. If sounds less like the MBR than the File Allocation Table that's trashed here, if you're not seeing files/directories that you should be seeing. There should be a back-up FAT on the drive that you can acces with the right utility. Is the drive formatted as FAT32 or NTFS?

    Regards,

    Joe
     
  5. Joseph DeMartino

    Joseph DeMartino Lead Actor

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    One thing about alternate boot discs being left in drives:

    Some of them alter that drive letter assignments, so you could think you're looking at your CD drive and really be looking at a blank drive of the CD/floppy that has the basic boot files. I think I would double check the removeable media drives, just to be on the safe side. [​IMG]

    Joe
     
  6. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    An update, no fix yet.

    I tried the free demo of Partition Recovery, made a boot CD (forget what OS they use, some free DOS variant), and it saw my C: drive (the only partition on this machine).

    It also "browsed" my folders and files. You can't move files in this mode, but it showed all the correct names and structures, at least as far as I searched. So I bought the full version that actually then writes this data back to the HD.

    But on boot it still doesn't come up. Non-bootable disk error.

    From the XP Recovery Consol it sees a C: drive but I get a "Directory Enumiation Error".


    I'm 80% certain that the ATAPI upgrade/installer has whacked the HD table just a bit. My guess is a false reading still sitting in the table.

    One thing is that I see a false 800G drive listed which Part-Rec can't access with a "4 partitions already exist" error coming from their software.

    It reeks of false drive spaces listed in the Part Table. It might be that I need to get in there and remove them. Not sure yet if Part-Rec will do this.


    One side problem - NO FLOPPY. So their software writes results, but obviously when I boot from CD and it "writes" back to it nothing happens. So I've been looking into making a USB jumpdrive bootable rather than pull the HD out of that machine and hook it up to my only machine with a floppy. $30-40 for a USB floppy drive!!! That's insane.

    Anyway, I'm now looking at this MKBT software that will copy bootsector images from a bootable floppy and can put them on a jumpdrive instead. Hopefully I can use it to make a jump version of the Part-Rec bootable floppy.


    Joe, one thing I did early on was to remove all other devices (USB Zip, USB HD, USB hub, CD from drive). It's definitely a problem with what the HD thinks is going on with itself.


    Thanks for the input guys. I rarely need this kind of help, and when I do its usually particularly nasty. [​IMG]
     
  7. Fredster

    Fredster Stunt Coordinator

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    I've seen this message when the "boot.ini" (a small file in root of boot partition) is pointing to a wrong or non-bootable partition. Check this file to make sure it is pointing to the partition you want.
     
  8. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    sorry about the delay in updates, due mostly to this very problem. [​IMG]

    I can't read any files on the HD, including the boot.ini file. The partition table is messed up.

    I finally got a floppy on this machine so Partition Recovery could write back data, ie make a copy of the partition table so I could let it re-search and save a new variation.

    When I did that it allowed FDisk to finally see the partition and Dell's recovery partition. But while PR still sees the 140 Gig, FDisk only saw it as 20G or so.

    And when I made the Dell parition active so it would boot instead, it sees that the partition table has been punched in the face and says "call Dell".

    In a way this is progress because I'm able to see the HD a little bit, but I still don't get the file structure at all and I can't search the C: drive from a boot floppy (other than FDisk, and perhaps similar utilities I haven't tried).

    I can't tell if its the Master Boot Record or the Partion Table in general that's the problem.

    What sucks is that I can't even use the Dell recovery option at this point to just put the HD back to original status, though I still am not ready to give up to that point yet anyway.
     
  9. Nathan_W

    Nathan_W Stunt Coordinator

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    Something similar happened to a friend of mine. He used something called TestDisk to fix his partition table. Then he used a WinXP install disc, the repair console thingy. I think because it wasn't bootable yet, after TestDisk.

    Good Luck.
     
  10. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Yeah, the main clue right now is that Partition Recovery sees the file structure and correct names, and as far as I can tell none are even missing.

    It appears to be able to rebuild the table from the primary or secondary based on results from scans. I skip the initial finds and when it gets to the end of the HD it "refinds" the same basic partition structure.

    At this point FDISK sees the Dell partition fine (I think) and I can do a "DIR" on it from the Win98 boot floppy, though it no longer boots into the "Call Dell" section, I just get a blank cursor.

    The main partition remains unreadable and still looks like a 20G space in FDISK.

    I might look into TestDisk. The one problem now is spending money upon money on software that doesn't deliver on its promises.
     
  11. Nathan_W

    Nathan_W Stunt Coordinator

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    Yeah, TestDisk was really helpful for my friend. It's also free.

    Hope you get things going again. [​IMG]
     
  12. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Good lead on TestDisk, but the problem is still ongoing.

    I chased down the Ultimate Boot CD

    http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/index.html

    which contains TestDisk. I made an image and it boots fine. Test Disk finds the 2 partitions, and here's the bonus, they EXPLICITLY have the special Dell Recovery Partition as an option, so I can set that partition as a Dell Rec.

    My sizes look fine. It calls the main partition an NTFS, and it appears to write this table back okay. It even checks the boot record and reports that it matches and is okay.


    HOWEVER, I have only been able to get to the point of seeing the Dell portion of the HD, the HD has a C: partition that is just the Dell section.

    If I go into the REC CON. and use FixMBR and/or FixBoot it doesn't help. At best I've gotten to "Missing NtLdr" and "Can't find the HAL (roughly)" but I'm not 100% sure this isn't the drive trying to boot from the Dell section.

    At this point in Rec Con I can go to the C: drive and read the Dell Partition just fine.

    Finally if I go into the ReInstall XP method it reports it as a FAT32 DRIVE!?! I'm wondering if somehow if this is the problem, that somehow the NTFS partition thinks its a FAT32 due to some byte being overwritten by my stupid ASAPI utility or something.


    ps - TestDisk browses my "broken" partition just fine, and extremely quickly. Much quicker than Part. Recovery did. The folder and file structure is clearly still all intact, I just haven't found a way to read it yet so that I can at least copy off my data.

    If I could do that then I could be a lot more carefree in my attempts to get the drive going again.
     
  13. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Something interesting I found regarding Dell and the Partition Table, primarily how the Restore Partition works with the MBR on boot up.

    http://www.goodells.net/dellrestore/dellmbr.htm

    Still not working, but I feel like I'm in the ballpark.
     
  14. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    Sorry to leave this hanging. I hate "fix" threads with no final solution because someone else might link in on a search looking for help later.

    So I bought Acronis True Image, mostly with the intent of using it as my future archive creation software, but I also was able to boot to it and use this boot CD version of it to archive my current partition to my USB backup HD.

    This let me pull all my files off the internal drive safely. Then I used a partition editor (freeware, PTEdit if I recall correctly as this was a few months ago) to create a first partition and I followed the instructions at that gooddells site for putting the Dell UTILITY software in the first partition. This made my main drive the 2nd partition and the still existing Dell RECOVERY partition my 3rd.

    The recovery partition has a self extracting GHOST image of the initial HD image on it and you can use the table editor to make this partition active. From there I booted from floppy, went to the HD with the ghost partition active and manually ran the Ghost recovery process. This of course overwrote my old 2nd (main) partition, but I had already pulled my data using Acronis True Image.

    It was important to get the first partition back on correctly because the ghost image would write to the 2nd partition explicitly and if I ran it with only 2 then it would have put the ghost image over top of itself (or tried I assume). Otherwise I probably wouldn't have worried about creating that UTILITY partition at the front of the drive.

    Anyway, the ghost process worked fine, HD booted up normally after that (though IIRC I had to use my table editor to set that 2nd partition back to active) and it was like it had just shown up from Dell. I pulled my old data from the USB HD Acronis archives, did plenty of reinstalls of course, but otherwise it has worked like a charm.

    I have yet to verify if the Utility partition software actually works and frankly at this point I just don't care.


    So the initial question - should I use FixMBR? NO NO NO, not with a Dell at least. FDISK and FixMBR didn't help at all. I was never able to properly recover my HD with any boot record/table repairs.

    IIRC I first tried to boot after just adding the Utility partition and I still came up with a "missing files" error, NT LDR or some other key file that couldn't be found (but was there). Since I had saved my data I hit the point of who gives a shit [​IMG] and just fired up the ghost process.


    Helpful
    Acronis True Image
    A USB HD on a motherboard that supported USB devices on boot
    Hooking up a floppy drive (my USB jumpdrive confused the boot record programs)
    Ultimate Boot Disk
    GoodDells.com
    A good partition table editor (I believe PTEdit which was either on Ultimate Boot Disk or I found with a search)

    Not Helpful
    Partition Magic
    FixMBR
    FDISK
    Dell online support (truly lost and way behind the point on the curve I was already at when I contacted them)
     

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