MediaSmart Server Comes Through in the Clutch!

I’ve been working off and on for the past 10 days on an MSI PR200 notebook PC for my son to use. It’s now got 4 GB of RAM and a 160 GB 7,200 RPM hard disk, instead of the 2 GB of RAM and 160 GB 5,400 RPM drive it started out with. It’s also noticeably more stable now and I think I’ll turn it over to him this weekend. But in the past couple of days, the machine got increasingly flaky with every symptom you could want to indicate something going seriously awry with the hard disk: occasional freezes in Vista, regular chkdsk runs upon reboot, with equally regular recovery and announcement of orphaned file fragments upon restart (after some inspection, these revealed in increasing number of OS and application files going bye-bye).

OK, so I had to replace this drive and fast. But the real question was: how to do it most quickly and easily. I operate an HP MediaSmart Server on my network, and back up all my PCs to it every night—including this one—but I wasn’t sure if the PC Restore capability included bare-metal capability (that is, restoring a backup to a formatted, empty drive with no OS available on the target system). A quick visit to Alex Kuretz’ wonderful www.mediasmartserver.net site, and an equally quick jump into the Troubleshooting and Support forum to search on “PC Restore Disk,” informed me that if I used the device drivers that HP collects as part of every backup and copied them from the backup to a USB key everything would be OK. They’re stored in a folder named Windows Home Server Drivers for Restore, and they represent all the essential drivers that the WinPE 2.0 environment needs to create a working network link between the PC to be restored and the MediaSmart Server. Armed with those drivers, I could then use the PC Restore Disc that HP includes with the MediaSmart server to perform a bare-metal restore on this problematic notebook (or any other) PC.

So that’s what I did, and here’s how:

  1. Took the new drive and plopped it into my ThermalTake BlackX SATA drive caddy, and used USB to hook it up to my production desktop. I was able to go into Disk Management, create a new partition, and format the drive for NTFS.
  2. Took the old drive out of the MSI notebook, and dropped the freshly formatted replacement drive in its place.
  3. Rebooted the system, and tweaked the boot devices so it would boot from the PC Restore Disc in the CD/DVD drive (I did take the precaution of finding and downloading the latest WHS PC Restore Disc from the MS Web site, however, and burned a fresh CD with that .iso image onboard. Not surprisingly it’s built atop WinPE 2.0, the same foundation upon which VistaPE and the built-in Recovery Console found on Vista install media rest.)
  4. Plugged the UFD with the drivers on it into a USB slot, and when the PC Restore Disc started up, asked it to scan that UFD to find device drivers for the PC to be restored. This turned up all the drivers the MSI needed, and proceeded to launch the restore console. I instructed it to restore the C: drive and it did so to the brand-new replacement drive without a single hitch.

About 15 minutes later, the restore completed and the utility asked me to reboot my system. I did so, and it ran like a top (and has been ever since). I love it when technology works like it’s supposed to! Upon recomputing my Windows Experience values, the drive rating went up from 4.8 (for the old, failing 5,400 RPM drive) to 5.2 (for the new, presumably working 7,200 RPM replacement drive).

Originally, I had thought I would install Acronis TrueImage on the MSI, then use that to image the C: drive to the replacement in the caddy plugged into a USB port on that notebook. This was a heck of a lot faster and more convenient, because I was able to run the Quick Format on the new drive in about three minutes from a known, good working Windows PC, and then simply restore the backup directly to that drive. This let me use tools and software already at my disposal, and saved the time necessary to install Acronis and perform another backup of a drive I already backed up yesterday. And with the drive getting increasingly flaky, I figured this was a better way to stay out of possible trouble. In fact, I felt that using yesterday’s backup was actually advantageous because the old drive didn’t start losing or corrupting files until today, and I was able to go back to a snapshot from a point in time before those problems became noticeable.

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