Restoring a PC from Windows Home Server

Everybody tells you about the importance of keeping a back up (hey, even Jesus saves!!!) , with a ton of suggestions and practices, ranging from simply using a USB drive for your most important documents and files  to using special software to more complex solutions. The thing is however, that when you own more than one PC you would prefer an easy, almost automated back up solution, right?


This is exactly what a friend thought, a friend who is crazy enough to own and operate six different boxes (without counting his two laptops), and after some internet research, he bought another machine and a copy of Windows Home Server and called me to set it up, some months ago.

Yesterday, he called me to tell me that one of his machines (a two year old Dell) crashed and he was waiting for a replacement HDD and asked me if  I could stop by to help him set it up again. Having only used Norton Ghost (with a 98% success rate mind you) I thought it would take half an hour tops, but that was not the case at all… I don’t want to tire you with boring ranting, so I will describe the procedure that worked. Note here, that the WHS manual says nothing of value (except “Follow on screen instructions” 😛 ) – read my verdict at the end of this post.

Before you read any further, I am talking about a complete restore. If you just want to bring back the porn you accidentally deleted, look elsewhere 😉

Step 1: Boot the machine you want to restore with the WHS restore cd. Microsoft claims that in 90% of home networks it will get in touch with Home Server and prompt you to start restoring your PC. What Microsoft forgot to tell us, is the fact that if your machines do not use DHCP, but have fixed IPs instead you belong to the 10%, so you’re not able to communicate with the server. Just go over to the server box and change the IP setting to DHCP. Everything else on your network will lose the server, but the machine you want to restore will find it… I did not try it my self, but someone said that he just connected the two machines with an ethernet cable. Crazy? Yes! Worked? Yes!

Step 2: You will be presented with a list of backups and after you chose which one you want to restore, the procedure will start. In my case the machine had a single HDD with a single partition, so things were rather simple. If you have a different set-up, you might want to be careful what you restore where, since all data in the destination disk will be lost.

Step 3 : I wish you don’t have to read this step, because in theory, everything worked out as supposed and you only have to press “Finish” to reboot into your newly restored machine. Before you reboot, take some time to review boot.ini. There is a button there, that will open a notepad with your OLD boot.ini. Now it is a good time to stop for a while and start thinking about the past. No, don’t laugh, I am dead serious. Think what you are trying to restore. In my case, as I said, it was a Dell box. Dell boxes, usually mean that apart from windows partition there is another, smaller and hidden partition that you use to restore your PC to factory settings. Does that ring a bell? HP does that too, Fujitsu Siemens does that too. If you are trying to restore after an HDD crash, chances are that this little partition will not  exist in your new HDD take a look at the following boot.ini :

[boot loader]
[operating systems]
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(2)\WINDOWS=”Window XP Professional” /noexecute=optout /fastdetect

Do you see the (2)’s? It means that your old windows installation was on partition number 2, which of course no longer exists, so you cannot boot. You have to change those (2)’s into (1)’s and you will be fine. Really, this is the only thing you have to do… This little thing that Microsoft could have told us about, but did not…

There are many ways to do that. If you are lucky enough and have a newer build of WHS, you can edit it in notepad (when you press Review/Check boot.ini at the end of the restore) and save it and be done with it. If not, when you try to save, you will be informed that boot.ini is a read only file and you will have to save your changes under a different file name. So, do exactly that. You can then use something to access your disk, delete the old boot.ini and rename the file you just saved into boot.ini. What you use depends on your personal taste and resources. I only had a windows XP cd, so I booted with that, pressed R to go into recovery console and worked from there. You can also use a Linux live cd, one of those special boot disks (like Hiren’s), anything that will offer you access to your HDD.

I spent many hours trying to figure out those things I wrote above. See, when you restore and fail, the first thing that comes on your mind is the case you did something wrong, missed a step, chose the wrong option, so you try it again. That means time wasted… No matter how convenient I find the possibility to manage all your backups centrally, store files (WHS is more than a backup solution) and do all those neat little things, but for fuck’s sake, how do you expect an average user to come up with all those ideas and manage to do the simplest thing? Why on Earth don’t you provide all this info in the damn manual? You want me to propose your product to my clients? Seriously??


4 Responses to “Restoring a PC from Windows Home Server”

  1. December 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for your blog post.
    After 4 years, you have probably forgotten about this post. I am very glad to have found it.
    Like you I was trying to replace an HDD. In my case I was upgrading to a Seagate Hybrid, hoping to coax a little more performance from an old XP laptop. It should have been simple: backup the old drive one last time; swap in the new drive; restore. The first time when the restore had completed, I did see the button for edit Boot.Ini (Advanced). Alas I didn’t go down that path right away.

    My next step was to attempt to launch the Recovery Console. This led to the well known problem, that the XP setup disks do not support SATA drives. (The machine shipped with Vista, but I downgraded it to XP.)

    I thought if I could just get the machine to boot, I would be able to see what was different about the new drive.

    I tried:
    Changing the BIOS setting. There isn’t one.
    UBCD for DOS – couldn’t see the SATA drive.
    SpinRite – which saw the drive just fine – This confirmed the drive was connected; The BIOS could see it etc.
    SnapShot – (an excellent backup & restore utility) – It could see the drive, but it does a low level restore, so it does not support writing to a NTFS disk. Also while SnapShot can validate teh MBR, it does look at Boot.ini
    UBCD4Win – My machines all have multiple i386 folders, and I could never get to build without errors. I had an older version, but it could not see the SATA drive.
    Slipstreaming new drivers into a XP Sp2 setup. I was too frustrated from flipping drives back & forth and telling mhy wife I was just cleaning up a few things that I was not careful about what SATA drivers I used. Although f6flpy32.zip seemed promising.

    I tried building to USB sticks, thinking it would be easier to patch, but discarded that approach as one more variable I did not need.

    I looked at least 29 promising web pages, and many more that I quickly discarded, as they suggested using my floppy drive, (Seriously?)
    All suggested one of the above approaches.

    Then I altered my Google terms to Windows Home Server Restore. This led to any number of hits about restoring WHS itself.

    At the end, like any successful search I found your post. I made a note to myself to try the restore just one more time and to review the boot.ini, when the restore was done. Just like you, the original machine had a hidden restore partition. At the end of the restore, I found that Boot.ini was pointing to a non-existent partition. I changed a 2 to a 1, and held my breath after saving out of NotePad, and rebooting. Of course that was the answer, since I am commenting on your helpful solution.

    Any of my above approaches should have worked. If yours failed I was ready to clear off an old USB drive and backup & restore or build Windows to that. I think that neither of these would have worked. So I am really glad to have found your solution in time to complete this Christmas present to my wife.

    Thank you so much.

    • December 24, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      I received a lot of emails today and let me tell you that the notification from WordPress about your comment was by far the best piece of news I got.

      I am really glad I could help somebody even after all these years. I wish you a happy 2014!

  2. March 3, 2015 at 8:47 am

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  3. August 28, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Cheers for the wonderful submitting! I really loved reading through it, you are an incredible author.

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September 2009
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Yeah, I got one o’ those…

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