Sunday, July 08, 2007

The hardest thing I have ever had to type

Format C: /Q /FS:NTFS

That's it.

If you are Windows user, you might know what I am speaking about.

A Valiant Effort

Some time ago I had began having problems with my desktop system. (Recap: XP System Rescue).

I had got it going again and all seemed to be well except for a new issue that I didn't notice for a while; a poor system boot time.

This past week I realized that my XP Home system took over 3 minutes from power-on to get to the login screen. That was after all the defragging and optimizations I could muster.

Since the system had been running fine, otherwise, I would just tolerate it and hit the power button in the morning, go make my cup of tea, get the laundry started...etc. And then come back and log in. A tolerable routine.

Except it did bug me a bit. A three-minute plus boot time just seemed like something else was going on.

So last Thursday after work I decided to take a serious look at it.

Big Mistake

I knew that on the surface everything was fine but something was happening at the pre-XP boot level as the hard-drive light was going to town. A re-scan for bad sectors didn't turn up any new ones.

I checked the system properties and all error logging and scans were turned off. The BootOptimizeFunction for the registry was enabled.

Chkdsk and autochk were acting fine and the registry boot settings for the autochk was normal. However, in that page, it described a "Dirty Bit" setting that forces Windows to run an autochk drive scan. That sounded like the behavior I was seeing and made some sense. Since my Windows system had gotten almost tanked before, maybe this got set and now wouldn't clear after the fixes so it was continuing to run at each boot, making my boot time longer but otherwise ok.

So I set out trying the suggested fixes. Method one didn't help and method two ended up creating a new issue.

Windows File Protection

Windows File Protection helps ensure that your critical Windows system files are not replaced. After the reboot, WFP began running every time. The bigger problem was that it kept asking for my Windows XP Professional setup CD but this was a XP Home installation. No amount of disk feeding or canceling would stop this madness.

So I backed up all my critical files and folders to another partition and did a XP repair (after uninstalling IE7, just to be safe). This is the first time I ever had to run an XP repair on my home system.

That seemed to work fine. The boot time was now down from 3+ minutes to just over 2 minutes. Making progress. My programs and applications and settings all seemed to have been preserved.

Only the WPF dialog box was still coming up after every restart.

So more research. This time I found an interesting fact. It seems the erroneous request to insert a Windows XP Pro CD in WFP on an XP Home system is a known Microsoft issue, and is caused by errors in the Fp40ext.inf file, and sometimes the Ims.inf file, both located in the INF folder of the system directory.

To resolve the problem, I opened each file in Notepad, scrolled to the [strings] section, and change each instance of "Professional" to "Home".

After trying that WFP would take my slipstreamed SP2 XP Home disk and was happy.

Except it kept re-running now after each reboot.


Back to the Net.

This time I tracked down the System File Checker (SFC) command line switches for controlling the WFP utility.

I gave the following command a try: SCF /REVERT

It took and I did a reboot.

WFP stopped appearing! Hurray!

One Last Thing to Do...So I Thought

Since I had run a XP Repair, I knew I lost all my critical Windows updates and needed to reapply them all.

I went to Windows Updates and downloaded all of the required guys, except a new problem reared its head: the downloads would not install. It would find and download them, but no installs!

So I used my heise Offline Update disk to get all but nine or so put on manually.

Then I turned my attention to the issue.

This Microsoft tip was no help: Automatic Updates stops working after a repair install of Windows XP

I could successfully manually download and install them, but that didn't give me a lot of confidence. I even tried all the tricks I eventually used to get Dad's system going (at the bottom of this post). Nothing!

So with a heavy heart, I decided to do the Format C: /Q /FS:NTFS solution, and re-install my system from scratch.

The Aftermath

It was a pretty painless thing in the end (for a sysadmin at least).

I won't bore you with the process of reformatting your primary partition and rebuilding XP. I toyed briefly with the idea of going ahead and upgrading this system to Vista, but eventually decided against it for now.

The process did take me the better part of an entire day to complete, and I am still working on installing some applications, but I would say it is close to 95% back to where it was before.

Some notes of interest;

  • I backed up each of our user profile's "My Documents" folders.
  • I made sure to run Belarc Advisor before the format and printed out the audit to make sure I knew what applications I had installed and had a copy of key program keys.
  • I copied the "Mozilla," "Thunderbird," and "Windows Live Writer" folders and files from my C:\Documents and Settings\Claus\Application Data and C:\Documents and Settings\Claus\Local Settings\Application Data system folders.
  • Once I got done reinstalling and updating the system I then put all the "My Documents" folders back along with the ones mentioned above.
  • I defragged my C: and the registry using the freeware versions of Auslogics defrag tools.
  • I reinstalled Firefox and Thunderbird...and because I copied the special folders above, when launched, all my settings and files for both were back just like before. Hurray!
  • I reinstalled iTunes and since my library is on another partition, it found the files and everything there was also back like before instantly. Besides my email, that was my only other "real" concern about the process.
  • Yes, I installed Grisoft AVG Free v7.5 as my anti-virus and Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall for my software firewall.
  • Automatic Updates are working again normally.
  • Having my drivers backed up helped me...however I only ended up needing to use the backups to restore the systemboard's audio drivers only. All the rest got picked up the XP system or via a Custom Windows Updates run which was a pleasant surprise!
  • I reinstalled Microsoft Office 2003 (Student and Teacher Ed.) and put all the updates on it as well.
  • Finally, I am going to resist the urge to reinstall every application listed on my Belarc audit, choosing to only install software "packages" as I run into the need for them.

And my boot time?

Now, it is down to a blazing 45 seconds from power-on to user login screen.


I probably should have done this a long time ago.


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