Saturday, February 20, 2010

Acer System Restore Functionality

Many PC vendors today appear to eschew providing installation or restore discs, instead opting for hidden partitions on the system's hard drive to contain the factory default image and restore utility. This has the advantage that you can restore your system without needing to locate any installation media, however, it can cause a bit of a problem if the restore partition is corrupt, missing or you're unable to boot into it!

I was recently rebuilding two Acer laptops; an Aspire 1360 and an Aspire 3690. While backing up user data from both machines, I noticed the existence of restore partitions. After some research, I discovered that the way to access the restore system was to press alt+F10 when booting the system.

The restore functionality for the Aspire 1360 worked without any issue; the machine booted into a pre-configured Norton Ghost instance. I was asked for my confirmation before overwriting the operating system partition with the stock Windows XP image.

However, when I attempted to access the restore partition on the Aspire 3690, I could only access a boot loader screen that offered me the choice of booting either the installed Vista Home Basic instance, or a memory checking utility. After trawling some forums, it appeared that other people have experienced similar issues; usually after re-installing the OS from a standard Windows install CD/DVD. This is because only the Acer supplied image contains the appropriate boot loader option to access the restore feature.

Fortunately, I had a copy of the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD), which I used to manually select the partition to boot from. The UBCD is a very useful tool to have lying around; it contains a myriad of different utilities that can prove useful in the event of an emergency. Booting from the CD presents you with a ASCII-based menu system where you can access the various tools.

I used the Smart BootManager, which I accessed by navigating to File System Tools -> Boot Managers and selecting the relevant entry:

Once the Smart Boot Manager had loaded, it was possible to select the first partition on the hard disk (Primary 1) and boot into the recovery software.

Please note, the above image is not representative of the Acer Aspire 3690 partition scheme, just so it doesn't confuse anybody attempting to retrace my steps! It's simply a screen shot I took when running the utility on a test VM I have.