Image Backup – When a Restored Image fails to Boot
This was an unplanned article but it came about as a result of deciding to restore my PC back to a point in time before I started to perform a series of tests scenarios for my recent articles on XP Service Pack 3. I created a Image Backups before and after each install of SP3 using Norton’s Ghost (version 10), as a result I had at least eight image backups created on various partitions on my hard drive.
Part of the testing involved extracting key folders and files (using Ghost’s “Recover My Files” option, which can run from within Windows) from a number of the image backup files to a unique folders located on another drive. This allowed me to compare the results of installing Windows Service Pack 3 a number of different ways. The technique of extracting folders and comparing the results worked flawlessly and up until now I had performed a complete restore of my C: partition only a few times using only one or two of the numerous image backups I had created over the last few months.
Well yesterday while trying to answer a newsgroup post related to installing Windows XP SP3 using the Windows Update web site, I realized that all my tests involved using the SP3 download file and not the Windows Update site. So I decided to restore my test PC back to a point in time where I had a clean install of SP2 and then use Windows Update to install SP3.
I identified the image backup file that I would use, inserted the Ghost ‘Recovery CD’ and restarted the PC and booted using the Ghost CD. Once the Ghost recovery console finished loading I picked the image backup file I had identified and let Ghost do it’s thing to restore the image, this process of course would effectively wipe my C: drive of any and all files currently on the drive and restore it back to the way it was over a month ago.
Since it would take some time for the restore process to complete, I walked away for a while and peeked back into the room after a period of time. Much to my surprise the PC was locked into a cycle of booting, flashing an error message (not a BSOD) that was gone before I could read it and then restarting the cycle all over again and again and again. I could not get into Safe Mode, and yes I forgot to disable “Automatic restart on system failure” feature.
Thinking that I had a bad image file I tried another image backup file made one day later, same results. So I picked another more recent Image Backup file and started yet another restore process, this time Windows made it as far as the progress bar scrolling away for as long as I cared to watch, I hit the PC’s reset button and this time I was given the chance to enter Safe Mode, so I picked the ‘Safe Mode without Networking’ option and Safe Mode worked.
So I was now in Safe Mode but what I wanted was a fully functional Windows XP up and running. It should be noted that I also tried the “Last Known Good Configuration” option without any luck.
Take a break: At this point it was late at night, I was tired and frustrated so I turned the PC off and watched the last few minutes of Sunday night football. Once my mind began to relax I realized that the failure to boot had all the earmarks of a device driver failure. But which driver, the video card, network chip, firewire chip, sound chip. Well if you have been to this site before and read some of the articles there was mention of the problems I had trying to get my Broadcom 4401 Network chip and the 1394 firewire drivers installed and working. The Broadcom Network chip is dependent on getting the Firewire driver successfully installed and working, but even if the firewire driver was working properly installing the Broadcom 4401 driver was always a hassle.
The next day I powered up the PC, entered the BIOS and disabled both the Network chip and Firewire chip. Rebooted with the Ghost restore CD installed and once again picked the same image backup file that had failed to boot the first time I had tried. This time the PC successfully rebooted and I was able to log into my account. Feeling lucky I tried several other backups which failed earlier and this time they all worked. So was it that the hardware had failed or was the problem always there and I had failed to discover it.
Not wanting to go through the frustration of getting my Network chip’s driver installed again I decided to install a PCI Network Card and permanently keep the Firewire and Network chips located on the motherboard disabled. From a recent experience after changing a network card on one of my other computers, a new network card meant that XP would need to be reactivated, and to make matters possible worse, this PC was first activated less than two months ago. To my surprise XP was perfectly happy with the new card, no activation required. So I after testing the new card’s connectivity I immediately created an image backup.
The Next Day: Not wanting to totally cop out on the problem, I decided to use Safe Mode with Boot Logging to see if the log file showed any problems. So I removed the PCI Network card, enabled the Firewire and Broadcom chips in the BIOS, used the Ghost recovery CD to restore the PC once again using the same image backup that had failed to boot in the first place. As Murphy would have it the PC booted and I was able to logon without any problems. So I was unable to recreate the problem and capture it in the log file.
Conclusion: In at least some cases you may find that your image backup fails. In my case it was those stubborn firewire and network chips on my motherboard and their associated Windows drivers. For other computers a sudden failure of a key hardware component may cause the associated driver to fail to initialize and as side effect Windows will not boot using that image backup you created just yesterday, a week ago or even several months back until you find the underlying problem. And don’t forget to try Safe Mode with Boot Logging.
So for sanities sake, test your Image Backup software using a non destructive method or the software’s restore capability. By non destructive I mean you can not afford to restore the backup to your current hard drive and find out the hard way you can no longer boot to Windows. If you are lucky enough to have a spare hard drive that is not in use, remove your current hard drive, connect the spare drive (don’t forget to check the drive’s Master/Slave jumper) and restore the image backup to it. Then see if the PC boots, you are able to logon, the Desktop looks normal, that your tray applications are there and then test some of your key applications for proper functionality. If all is well then place your original drive back into the PC and have a good nights sleep.