Monthly Archives: October 2011

The saga of the broken SSD and the temporary rescue of my HTPC

The Problem
It happens to the best of us.  The computer you’re working on dies.  Kaput, no more usefulness.  After some checks, you determine that the hard drive has died.  Either the circuit board has fried, dust has gotten on the drive platters, or the read/write head has met its maker.  Either way, the hard drive is toast, and along with it is all the data you’ve put on it.  Unless, that is, you have a backup and recovery mechanism for dealing with it (which is a totally different article in and of itself!).

Enter me, and my situation.  Similar to the above, I had a hard drive go bad on my HTPC.  However, it wasn’t due to a bad platter, a busted read/write head, or a bad circuit board.  No, this hard drive was a SSD.  It was even a popular branded, highly rated SSD.  But it gave up the ghost.  Well, actually it did it very slowly.  So slowly, in fact, that it would just lock up randomly when the computer was running, force a reboot, and then no longer be detected by the BIOS.  So, at that point you would shut down the computer, wait a while, and turn it back on, and the drive would be back, almost as though nothing happened.

Fortunately, that happened a few month ago.  I took down the HTPC, pulled the drive out, sent it in for replacement, got a brand new one in the mail as its replacement, popped it in, and recovered the OS (I use Windows Home Server, so I was able to recover it quite nicely).  At that point, my encounter was over, and I was able to enjoy my HTPC again.  Again, that was, until recently…

A few weeks ago the same thing began happening again.  The computer would randomly lock up, randomly restart, and BIOS would fail to detect the hard drive.  A careful scan of the SSD determined that it had died as well, and needed to be replaced.  Repeat the process of getting an RMA, and send off the drive, and go without a HTPC again until a new one came in.

The Alternative
It was at this point that I became sad.  Why should I have to go for a few weeks (AGAIN!) without a HTPC in my living room, and without a quick and easy way to watch TV in the livingroom while waiting for my replacement of the replacement of my SSD to come in the mail?  After all, my HTPC was comprised of two HDDs – the SSD drive used as an OS drive, and a separate 500GB HDD used to record all the TV shows on.  And then it hit me.  I could partition the 500GB HDD to accommodate the OS that used to be on the SSD, and I could boot into the system and watch TV again while waiting for the SSD to come in the mail!  Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult, would it?  Oh how I wish it were easy!

For those of you who are not familiar with partitioning a drive, partitioning simply involves breaking up a HDD into more than one “logical device” known a a partition.  In the Windows world, these can then be given drive letters, and appear to the user and the OS as individual disk drives.  My goal was to replicate three main partitions:

  • Main OS Boot Partition
  • System Configuration
  • TV Recordings

I started out by thinking that I could simply use the Windows Home Server Recovery CD, boot into the recovery console, repartition the drive, and then restore the various partition data to their respective partitions.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work that well.  After bringing up the Windows partition manager, I attempted to shrink the volume on the HDD to make room for the two additional partitions that I wanted.   And, in popular Windows fashion, I was treated with “An unknown error occurred.  Please check your system logs to determine the cause of the error.”  Good one, Windows.  I don’t have a system log to check, since I don’t have a Windows install with which to check the system log!

GParted Live
Enter Plan B.  After doing some digging online, I found various ideas as to the root cause of the problem.  Most of them involved defragging the HDD, disabling System Restore, and deleting the pagefile.sys.  Unfortunately none of them seemed relevant to my issue I was experiencing, since I wasn’t even able to shrink the partition a very small amount.  So, tapping into my previous knowledge and experience with Knoppix, I came across GParted Live, a bootable CD that contains GParted and various other utilities.  Bingo!  I downloaded and burned the ISO and tried it out on my HTPC.  To my excitement, it worked! The partition was shrunk, and I figured I was in business.  Time to restart back to Windows Home Server Recovery and try again.

After waiting and getting back into the recovery console, I once again brought up Windows partitioning tool.  I checked at the size requirements of the System partition and the OS boot partition, and created two new partitions of that size in the tool.  I crossed my fingers, and they worked.  I didn’t bother formatting them or giving them a drive letter.  I figured I’d let Home Server do that busy work.  I backed out to the recovery screen, selected the partitions and told the recovery console which ones to restore to, and clicked to proceed.  I couldn’t actually see the sizes of my two newly created partitions since they were given random GUIDs that overtook the viewable space on the screen.  I started the recovery process, and came back in a half hour.


Apparently I attempted to recover the partitions backwards, since the recovery failed.  So, I had to start all over again.  This time, I formatted each partition (quick) and gave each a drive letter so that I could identify them during the recovery process.  I then tried to recover again.  After a short while I came back, and success!  They had been recovered.  Now, to reboot and enjoy my HTPC!

Damn again…

After rebooting, I was greeted with “BOOTMGR is not found” and a failed boot.  Great, must have marked the wrong partition as the boot partition.  So, at this point it was time to reload GParted, and mark the right partition as the boot partition.  Once restarted, I noticed the wrong partition was in fact marked as the boot partition.  Ok, simply need to change that to the right partition, and try again.  Restart the computer, and?

You guessed it.  Damn again.  “BOOTMGR is not found.”  What the heck now?  Time to do some more Googlin’.

Windows Recovery
After some digging, I came to the realization that even though Windows Home Server recovered the right partitions as expected, it did not recreate a boot manager on that drive.  However, the problem was that I had no way to recovery the boot manager, since I didn’t have a Windows 7 disc available to run.  Enter some more Googin’.

Some more research led me to instructions on how to create a Windows 7 System Repair Disc.  To do so, you needed Winodows 7 installed on another PC, and you were limited to the following restrictions:

  • A 32-bit repair disc could only be created on a 32-bit Windows 7 install.
  • A 64-bit repair disc could only be created on a 64-bit Windows 7 install.
  • A 32-bit repair disc could only be used to repair a 32-bit Windows 7 install.
  • A 64-bit repair disc could only be used to repair a 64-bit Windows 7 install.

Thankfully, my main desktop was running Windows 7, 64-bit, and my HTPC was as well.  So I quickly burned a Windows 7 repair disc using the build in utility (by running recdisc.exe in the search box).  I then plopped it in my HTPC and crossed my fingers, and booted it up.

The system repair booted up, and as it was searching for OS installs on the drive, immediately noticed that the drive was missing boot entries for the main OS that I had recovered.  It asked if I would like it to add the record (yes!) and then was complete, and restarted.  I kept my fingers crossed waiting for my last boot into Windows, and got…. “BOOTMGR not found!”  Gar!

Ok, must have missed something.  One more boot from the recovery CD, and I was presented with a few options.  I selected “Startup Repair” and let it look for problems with the OS.  It then came back to me and said that it was missing the boot manager, and that it properly built a new one for me (hurray!).

One more restart later, and…… Welcome to Windows 7!  Finally!

At this point I clicked on Windows Media Center, crossed my fingers, and was happily presented with a Windows Media Center interface, complete with all of the recorded media from the recorded TV partition.  It was almost as though I had my SSD!

It’s important to note at this point that even though the HTPC is working fine without the SSD, it is working much, MUCH slower than before.  Obviously it’s slower due to running a traditional platter-based HDD, rather than the newer SSDs.  However, the big difference overall is that it is trying to run the OS on the same drive as it is trying to record media to constantly.  Furthermore, at times, it may be doing three things at once; running Windows 7, recording TV to the HDD, and reading previous recordings from the HDD for viewing purposes.  Talk about head thrashing on the drive!  So although it’s working now, I will be impatiently waiting for the day that my third replacement SSD comes in the mail to help get the HTPC back to peak running performance.

Whew!  That was a long process.  But if you’re at all involved in IT or computers, I’m sure you understand that even the most seemingly mundane tasks can quickly explode into much more complicated, time-consuming tasks at the drop of a hat.  Hopefully this article will give someone an idea of what to do the next time their HDD goes kaput, and they need to repartition, or even just to repartition in general.  Good luck, and make sure you have plenty of beer on hand!

– Admin