The first question you’ll be asking is why? Answer, because we paid for an expensive Windows Vista Ultimate license when it was released and like many, we resent paying Microsoft for an upgrade without getting our money’s worth. Particularly since Vista ‘Ultimate’ turned out not very ultimate; little of the promised extras ever turned up, unless you count two games and some wallpaper.
When this monstrosity arrived, Windows Vista was the worst train-wreck of an operating system we’d ever seen. Ridiculously slow at everything; launching applications, file copying and especially search. Aargghh! XP was faster on the previous generation single core machine. Removing the trialware didn’t help. Nor did Windows Update. It was quickly abandoned. Later, we tried Service Pack 1. It didn’t help.
Dusted off again last year, Vista wouldn’t even start, hanging part way through the boot process. Running every disk check and diagnostic revealed nothing, meaning a corrupted registry or file was to blame. It was put away again.
Needing to try some things on a clean Windows OS recently led us to try the Recovery tools and a re-furb, which gave us the biggest surprise – a working copy of Vista!
Method in our Madness
The first thing to do is back-up your data! I used a Linux Live-CD to boot Partition Magic. From there I could mount the non-booting drive and copy everything I thought I might need from the hard drive.
Then, with nothing to lose, I accessed the Windows Recovery Partition by pressing F8 on the Dell splash screen during the cold-start process.
With this recovery method, you can recover your system within minutes. It uses a separate partition of your hard disk, normally hidden, that contains a highly compressed image of the system software – a “snapshot” of Windows and all the applications, Dell customizations, drivers and so on, at the time when the computer left the factory. Most PC’s now use this method to provide a fatory reset on software. It’s cheaper than supplying CD’s or DVD’s, which often get lost anyway, whilst many machines come without an optical drive to read them. This is fine until you have a dead hard drive that you have to swap out, but that’s a different problem.
Recovery using this utility includes a re-format of your boot partition; wiping all data and programs you added after you first used your computer, which is why you need to back up first. That should include any driver software for hardware added since the original purchase.
- On the advanced boot options dialog, there is a ‘repair computer’ option
- When the Windows Recovery window opens, choose a language.
- Selecting that, I logged into the admin account as requested (the Recovery utility got a list of User Accounts from UAC when the machine was running). This process needs to be run by a user that has Administrative rights.
- At the bottom of the next window that pops up there is an option to Restore to Factory settings.
- Click on “Dell Factory Image Restore” and follow the prompts. Confirm that you want to restore by checking the checkbox and clicking “Next.”
- When the restore is complete, click “Finish” to restart the computer.
In less than ten minutes, the Dell was back to it’s Day One configuration. I had a shiny fresh install of Windows Vista, not that it thrilled me.
- Install Vista Service Pack 1 and Vista Service Pack 2, preferably before you do anything else. I can’t overstate how much of a difference this makes.
- These are sizable files – SP1 is 434Mb (I have it on CD), SP2 is around 348Mb to download.
- Service Pack 2 includes a stack of patches and updates NOT covered by Windows Update – as you’ll find if your try to update Internet Explorer to version 9.
- You’ll want to connect to the Internet and run Windows update to bring the software up to date with oatches and security fixes. Make sure your firewall is turned on.
- Download any additional security software you want to install.
- Next, remove the bloatware. All the trial-ware had to go; Macafee Security Centre, Roxio Media Suite, Microsoft Works (light-weight I know, but we removed it anyway), Tiscali and Orange broadband. I also ditched the hideously compromised Adobe Reader 7. I could have done all this first, but I used the cover of the bundled security suite in order to go online and get its’ replacement!
- Install newer drivers and additional drivers for any hardware added after purchase.
- Take a whistle-stop tour of the system to make sure all your base hardware and software works. Find the glitches now, before you expend time and effort customising the system – fault-finding is easier at this point.
- Go customise your Windows version to the way you like it. Add user accounts, install favourite programs.
The main benefit of using Dell PC Restore/Recovery Partition
- It gives a much faster restore time than running a manual recovery from the Dell DVD’s.
- It’s easy to use; you can start the process in a few clicks
- It restores all the hardware drivers for the display, network cards and other hardware that came with the machine out of the box
- No optical drive needed, so you don’t even have to dig out the DVD’s
Downside of using Dell PC Restore/Recovery Partition
- You have no flexibility; you can’t opt out of installing any software contained in the recovery image that you don’t need. It’s “All or Nothing”
- If something happens to the hard disk, you can’t use the partition to recover the computer. This is why, on most Dell systems, you used to receive a second method of recovery.
- It doesn’t include driver updates or drivers for hardware installed since the original delivery.
I have to confess we put additional memory modules in this machine – actual RAM, not the Ready-Boost cheat using SD Cards – raising the orginal spec from 1Gb to 4Gb. Not surprisingly, this gave Vista a massive kick up the rear in terms of performance. However, the basic operation of Vista remains the same and the biggest surprise is how usable it is. Suddenly, file indexing and searching are turbo-charged, Windows Explorer doesn’t lag and programs launch without waiting an age.
This has been a success beyond all expectation, turning an old dog of an operating system on old hardware into something spritely and responsive. AJS