Friday, November 23, 2007
How not to install a new hard drive
I put myself into Windows installation hell yesterday, by making a small but strategic mistake: I installed my new hard drive without unplugging the old one. Getting the new hard drive into the computer was easy, especially since the Alienware case has lots of space and sufficient power cable connections. So then I booted the computer with the Windows XP CD, with both hard drives in. At setup I chose to install Windows XP on the new drive. Long formatting, then installation of Windows XP including SP1. Then I still need to install service pack 2, and all the drivers for the motherboard, sound, graphics, network, monitor, etc., until everything is up and running. Then I notice something strange: My new hard drive has the letter F:, the old hard drive still has the letter C:.
So I go to the Disk Management Utility to switch the letters around, and find out I can't. While the Windows setup CD correctly installed my new hard drive as the system drive, it kept the old hard drive as the boot drive. I reboot the Windows setup CD with the Recovery Console and try to fix the problem with the fixboot and fixmbr commands, but the only thing I achieve is destroying the old drive's boot record. So now I have two hard drives, none of which is bootable. Another reboot with the CD to try the "repair XP installation" function, only to find it isn't on offer if there is no boot drive. The only thing I can do is what I should have done right from the start: Unplug the old drive, and install Windows XP again on the new drive. Of course I also have to reinstall service pack 2, all the drivers, and so on, and so on. Took me hours until everything was running.
Following Shalkis' advice I also download a S.M.A.R.T. monitoring utility that can read the hidden information about performance and troubles on a modern hard drive. Well, at least I wasn't imagining things: The new hard drive scores okay on all counts, the old hard drives is shown as "fail" because of nearly 3,000 reallocated sector counts. So I format the old drive to erase my personal information from it (yes, I know that with very expensive hardware somebody might still be able to recover it, but who would bother for the insignificant data on a private drive?), and remove it from the case. Now I just need to put it into a padded envelope, wait until the delivery guy comes with my replacement drive, slap the return label on the envelope and give it to him to be sent back.
I also did something extravagant: I ordered another OEM copy of Windows XP Pro including SP2c, just for safety and convenience. I'm running out of activations on my existing Windows XP, and while there is probably some way to persuade Microsoft to give you more activations, I'd rather have the latest version, which will be faster to install as all the service packs are already included. By buying a hard drive I had the right to buy a cheap OEM version. Curiously if you want to buy an OEM version of Vista, you need to buy at least 3 pieces of hardware, or a new computer. I rather took my last chance to still get Windows XP before Microsoft decides to force everyone to use Vista.
What I don't know is whether it is possible to actually have two drives with a working boot sector in one computer. Because if that was possible, I would reinstall Windows again on the replacement drive. The hard drive I bought yesterday is only SATA-I, the replacement drive will be SATA-II and twice as fast. The shop didn't have any SATA-II drives, and I had to take what was available, a Seagate 320 MB SATA-I drive for less than 100 Euro. That would be good enough for a second hard drive for data storage, and I'd love to leave the Windows XP installation including boot sector on it in case of future problems. But I don't know if by unplugging this drive and turning the replacement SATA-II drive into a bootable Windows XP drive, and setting it first in the boot order in the BIOS, I can then plug the SATA-I drive back in and have two bootable hard drives in the computer.