Monday, November 16, 2009

Adventures with Windows 7: Descent into Hell

Day whatever: Dual booting.

As my previous entries on this subject have explained, my HP desktop has two physical drives: an old Samsung drive that I pulled out of my old Micron desktop before discarding it two years ago, and a Hitachi drive that came with the HP. When I first acquired Win7, I decided (for reasons that in hindsight don't seem particularly compelling) to install it over XP on the Samsung drive. After convincing myself of its superiority to Vista, yet also discovering that it wouldn't support legacy apps, I decided to install Win7 over Vista on the Hitachi and reinstall XP on Samsung.

I began by installing Win7 on the Hitachi. In practice, this was very nearly a full day's worth of work. Yes, the installation itself was very clean and seamless, but following up with the applications (because although the old files were saved, they 32-bit to 64-bit transition meant that everything had to be redone) and updates (many hours of downloading and multiple restarts), getting the system working just-so was pretty time intensive. Finally, however, it was done, and I set about installing XP-SP2 on the Samsung.

Bad mistake. Colossally bad mistake. For reasons documented quite nicely here, if you are dual-booting Win 7 and XP, you must install XP first. Otherwise, the XP installation will overwrite the information in the boot sector (or something) necessary for Win 7 to boot, and the XP information is not forward compatible. What the article doesn't say is that the damage this causes cannot be repaired, at least by the Win7 "repair" utility on the installation media, or by any other method I tried. Once done, Win7 must be reinstalled from scratch.

But just as bad was that the XP installation wouldn't complete! Oh, it completed enough to destroy access to Win 7, but after the first reboot (operating system installations usually require multiple reboots), I was told that a file needed by the installation didn't exist on the installation media. I checked the media and the file was there, but for some reason it wasn't reading. I tried another installation disk. Same result.

I then tried to start the XP installation from the beginning, but after reading a bunch of files, it announced that I had a "disk error", and ordered a reboot. So now I was stuck with a completely dead computer: I couldn't run Win 7, I couldn't complete the XP installation or start a new one!

Still hoping to salvage all my work installing the Win 7 OS and apps, I installed Win 7 again on the Samsung drive. This was successful, and at least allowed me to manually save my files. But nothing I tried to could undo the XP installer's damage to the ability of Win 7 to start on the Hitachi drive.

Okay, so I would have to start from scratch, starting with the XP installation. But XP still wouldn't install! I even reformatted both of the drives! Not the "soft" reformat that just erases the contents; no, this was a "hard", sector-by-sector, nuclear reformat. And I still was told that I had a "disk error".

The only thing left to fix that I could think of was the bios. As I contemplated the effort that would take, I decided, on a lark, to retry the XP installation, not from the newer ATAPI DVD reader that came with the HP, but on the older Samsung DVD reader that originally came with the old Micron.

It worked.

In hindsight, it's easy to see what the problem was, and many of you have already guessed it. The XP-SP2 disk didn't contain the drivers for the new ATAPI DVD drive. As it began the installation, it made progress because it was using the ATAPI drivers already installed on the Samsung hard drive; after the reboot, however, it only had the drivers on the disk itself. Those drivers worked with the Samsung hard drive and DVD player, but not with the new drives, including the one from which I had attempted to install the operating system.*

What good fortune that I had recycled the older Samsung DVD player from the computer; had I not, the XP installation media would have likely been useless (although I may have devised some order-of-battle that would have succeeded).

The drives were not the only devices for which SP2 didn't have drivers. The others were the network adapter, the video card, and the sound card. I first installed XP on the Samsung HD, and then promptly installed Win7 on the Hitachi. Once I used Win7 to copy the network adapter driver to the Samsung drive, I was able to download and install SP3, which did have the drivers for the new hardware.

Frankly, I still haven't solved all the problems associated with dual-booting yet. Somewhere in the course of the installation, the bootsector on the Hitachi stopped working again; however, the boot sector on the Samsung is still controlled by the new Win7 boot manager that let's me select the operating system, so this isn't critical (as long as it, too, doesn't become corrupted). And once I created a network on XP side, I couldn't connect my laptop anymore to the Win7 side. Any advice?

*Technically, the driver I needed was for the IDE ATA/ATAPI controller. I was able to update this automatically after I installed SP3.

1 comment:

trumwill said...

I'm not generally a fan of dual-booting systems, but I never know when I might make an exception. So good to know!