Windows 8.1, recovery partitions, and bootable USB sticks

Discussion in 'Microsoft Surface Pro' started by Quicky, Jul 1, 2013.

  1. Quicky

    Quicky New Member

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    TL;DR Even if you don't have a recovery partition, you can still restore your SP.

    So today I did a bit of tinkering with my Pro which resulted in me losing my recovery partition, followed by sheer panic, followed by the discovery that it’s actually all good. I thought I’d detail my mistakes/lessons should anyone else find themselves in the same situation.


    I upgraded to Windows 8.1 via the iso. I didn’t put it on a USB stick, I just mounted it and ran the setup locally. I didn’t take the time to back up my recovery partition. Everything installed fine, except I had very limited space left due to Windows.old taking up a load of it. Not wanting to re-download all my content, I copied windows.old to my micro SD card before deleting it.


    As a test, next I decided to see if I could recover my original Windows 8 install via a factory reset in the recovery options. I’d read that if you install using the iso, this wouldn’t be possible. However everything worked, and my Surface was restored to how it was when I bought it.


    I then reinstalled 8.1 using the iso as before. After deleting windows.old again, I noticed that I had less free space than I expected. Looking at Disk Management, I could see that for some reason I now had four partitions labelled as Recovery Partitions. They were 7.62GB, 600MB, 350MB and 350MB in size. Disk Management was unable to mount, manipulate or delete any of those partitions.


    Wanting to reclaim some space, (not much I know, but every MB counts on the SP), I installed a third party partition management tool from Free Partition Magic alternative & free Partition Manager Software for Windows PC, Workstation and Server - EaseUS.


    I knew the largest partition was my original recovery partition, so had a quick look at the others, and deleted the two 350MB partitions. I applied the changes and restarted.


    I immediately went back to Disk Management to check the status of the partitions. As expected the two I deleted were removed, so I increased the size of my primary partition. I then noticed that the 7.62GB partition was now no longer called “Recovery Partition” in Disk Management, but was instead called “OEM Reserved”.


    Worried, I thought I’d better create a backup of my recovery partition to USB stick. Actually, I thought I should have done it earlier, but there we are. Unfortunately, I got an error along the lines of “Recovery media could not be created, there are missing system files”. I don’t have the exact message to hand. I began to panic at this point and thought I’d try starting from scratch again, using the “Remove everything and reinstall Windows” option. I got a message saying the recovery image couldn’t be found, and was asked to provide the installation media. So there was no coming back now. I assume one of the 350MB partitions was used as the recovery for 8.1.


    I don’t like the idea of not being able to restore my system following some sort of catastrophic failure, so I began the search for options. I found this guide to installing a bootable image of Windows 8 Enterprise onto a Surface Pro: Installing #Windows8 Enterprise on #Surface PRO | Håvard aka Howie


    I followed this guide, except substituted the Windows 8 Enterprise image for the Windows 8.1 Preview image that I’d kept on my SD card.


    That allowed me to install a clean version of Windows 8.1 from USB. During the install I took the plunge and deleted all the existing partitions on the drive, under the assumption that the 7.62GB recovery partition was now useless and taking up much-needed space. It’s worth mentioning at this point that I had been in touch with Surface Support a couple of hours earlier who said they would be happy to arrange an exchange of my device should my tinkering not resolve the problem. The support operative actually said he’d call me in the evening to find out how everything went, and if I’d ballsed it all up, he’d book me in for an exchange. I have to admit, the Surface Support is outstanding.


    Anyway, thankfully Windows 8.1 installed successfully, taking up the minimum of space, and the subsequent firmware update from Windows Update put back all the latest drivers. Therefore I now effectively have recovery media in the form of a bootable iso of Windows 8.1 on USB stick. I don’t have any way of going back to Windows 8, but at this point that would be a backwards step anyway.


    The support operative did call back later to find out how it went. I told him I was happy/relieved, but was worried about what would happen in my case when it became time to update to Windows 8.1 Proper. As I no longer had a licensed copy of Windows 8, and only have the public licence for Windows 8.1 Preview, I was concerned that there would be issues at update time. He told me a couple of interesting things that allayed my fears.


    Firstly, the 8.1 Final will be available as an update in the store to 8.1 preview users (although he did say he wasn’t 100% on the final distribution methods), but he did confirm that there would be no need to do any more full, clean installs.


    Secondly, he said that the licence for Windows is included in the Surface’s firmware so I have nothing to worry about with regards to licensing issues when upgrading to 8.1.


    I realise this has become a ridiculous essay now, but I’ve learned a few things today which have been useful. Most notable of which is that I would recommend all SP users to create a bootable USB stick with a version of Windows 8/8.1 on it as this could be indispensable as a recovery device or simply as a secondary backup should you wish to remove your recovery partition. For info my 128GB SP had just over 100GB free space after all this messing about.
     
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  2. spectre51

    spectre51 Member

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    I followed this guide: http://thingsthatmightinterestnerds.com/surfacepro_dumpfactoryimage/ to create my usb recovery drive since I got a used Surface Pro and the person before me had removed the stock recovery partition due to the limited space of the 64gb model.

    Works great. Definitely the way to go.

    Sent from the SurfaceForums.net app for Windows 8
     
  3. maddyacca

    maddyacca New Member

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    To create hard drive partition in your Windows 8 PC, this link may help you: partitioning - How to partition hard disk with Windows 8 preinstalled? - Super User

    and after creating partition, you can create a bootable USB and install Windows 8.1 with this guide: Install Windows 8.1 from USB Flash Drive [How To] | Techmell

    Hope it will help you.
     
  4. Ruffles

    Ruffles Active Member

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    I too soiled my pants while trying to move some partitions around and make backups of the factory restore image. I tried creating USB restore disks using 4 different USB drives that all failed. After pulling my hair out, I found removing the SD card made the difference and I was able to create the media and get everything sorted out.
     
  5. DOS

    DOS Active Member

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    So much to read... Darn! I forgot what I wanted to reply, now I have to read the whole thing all over again. Now I understand Twitter...
     
  6. Sit

    Sit Member

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    Good stuff Quicky! Thanks for sharing!
     
  7. Nuspieds

    Nuspieds Active Member

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    For intermediate and advanced users, I would never recommend relying on those recovery partitions. After all, what if the hard disk itself fails and/or is corrupted? Then what?

    Rather, I have always relied on and recommended using disk imaging software (I use Acronis) and then make multiple copies of their boot medium.
     

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