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The meat of this question is that I'm looking for a way to either require a password before using a recovery partition or "break" the recovery partition (specifically, Acer eRecovery) in a way that I can later "unbreak" only by booting normally into windows first.

Here's the full details:

I have a set of new Acer Veriton n260g machines in a computer lab. A lot work went into setting up this lab to work well - for example, Office 2007 and other programs needed by the students were installed, all windows updates are applied, and a default desktop is setup. All in all it's several hours work to fully set up one machine.

Unfortunately, I don't currently have the ability to easily image these machines, and even if I did I would want to avoid downtime even while an image is restored. Therefore, I've taken steps to lock them down — namely DeepFreeze and a bios password to prevent booting from anywhere but the frozen hard drive. DeepFreeze is an amazing product — as long as you boot from the frozen hard drive, there is no way to actually make permanent changes to that hard drive. Anything you do is wiped after the machine restarts. It lets me give students the leeway to do what they want on lab computers without worrying about them breaking something.

The problem is that even with the bios locked and set to only boot from the hard drive, these Acers still have a simple way to choose a different boot source: shut them down and put a paper click in a little hole at the top while you turn it on again. This puts them into the "Acer eRecovery" mode. This by itself is no big deal — you can still power cycle with no impact. But if you then click through the menu to reset the machine (we're now past the point of curiosity and on to intent) it will wipe the hard drive and restore it to the original state.

Of course, a few students have already figured this out and reset a couple machines. That's unfortunate, but inevitable. I don't want to destroy the ability to do this entirely (which I could by repartitioning the drives to remove the recovery partition) but I would like a way to require a password first, or "break" the recovery system in a way that I can "unbreak" only if I first un-freeze the hard drive in DeepFreeze.

Any ideas?

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Cool question! But I don't really understand why you don't want to wipe that Acer recovery partition. If you're already using DeepFreeze, what would it be good for? – cregox Mar 24 '10 at 15:11
@Cawas - it's useful as a failsafe if something legitimately breaks. We do the periodically thaw the machines for maintenance, for example. – Joel Coehoorn Mar 24 '10 at 15:46
But if that happens, isn't it better just using a disk or pen drive? Usually the HD itself breaks before anything else anyway! Plus, that recovery partition tool is meant for single computer and user with no recovery disk. – cregox Mar 24 '10 at 16:31
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Try using fdisk to set the partition as unbootable. That doesn't work on some of those recovery partitions, but it might in your case. This would be reversible from a full-boot of windows AND from a recovery boot (install disk) if you had to. Otherwise, I would pull one or two of the drives for safekeeping and rebuild those machines without a recovery partition. Then I'd go through and delete or wipe that partition on the remainder.

I'd also see if in your BIOS you can remove the menu option from the bootup display -- on HPs the button still works, but the vast majority of people don't have the keystrokes memorized.

(As for not being able to image them--if that is because of cost, get Clonezilla. It works great and is FOSS. ANYTIME you have a lab you almost HAVE to figure a way to image them these days. If you're using a domain, don't forget to newsid.exe them before joining up.)

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fdisk is a good idea - I'll have to test it. I can't pull the drives. These are ultra small form factor machines with no access to the internals. Part of the problem with imaging is some additional software our students use, but I suppose I could image everything before installing that software. – Joel Coehoorn Mar 24 '10 at 15:49

Out of the box idea: How about a physical disabling of the recovery switch? If you can't press it you can't trigger it.

Edit to add: Maybe you could disconnect the wiring instead of clogging the hole?

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That's one thing I was going to suggest! :P Quite good that SU warned me about your answer before I posted mine. – cregox Mar 24 '10 at 15:13
It's just a pinhole, but I think I might be able to get some glue or something in there. If I have to permanently break it I will, but I'd rather avoid that. – Joel Coehoorn Mar 24 '10 at 15:49

Ok, I don't have any experience with either, but you were pretty descriptive, so here is an idea: try installing grub 2 or some boot loader before the Acer recover that you can add a password to it.

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Put a tiny hex-drive screw into the pinhole. Your students will be unlikely to have the tool to remove it on them and you won't permanantly disable it that way unlike glue.

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While an interesting idea, we eventually determined that a bug in the Acer firmware was causing the resets, with no student involvement. We ultimately solved the problem by using CloneZilla to take an image of the recovery partition (so we had it if we needed it), and then wiping the partition completely. – Joel Coehoorn May 19 '14 at 15:11

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