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Most of the Linux distributions I use allow me to override where GRUB is installed, but I now need to install Ubuntu on some Dell Latitude laptops, and on the test install I did on my old Vaio netbook, it installs GRUB2 on the MBR of the drive without offering any alternative.

While I could still get to both the recovery partition and to Windows from GRUB2's boot menu, further attempts to recover my original boot setup failed (e.g. after force-installing GRUB2 to the /boot partition and writing syslinux's mbr.bin to MBR, pressing F10 which normally boots the recovery partition now just yields a blank screen).

So the question is: - do manufacturers like Sony, Dell etc. use a special MBR, or will Windows' bootrec /fixmbr do the right thing? - would backing up the first 446 bytes suffice, or do I have to do something more?

Edit: One of the auto-suggested question has more details: GRUB MBR vs Windows MBR

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

It depends - the windows xp based thinkpads used a special bootloader, as do some other recovery solutions and while there was a often a tool to fix em, it was a pain to fimd. The 'easiest' option is to generate recovery disks, or to do what MBraedley suggested and clone the entire system with something like DD or clonezilla.

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with these custom bootloaders, would backing up the first 446 bytes (the MBR) of the disk be sufficient to fix things? – michel-slm Nov 11 '11 at 12:45
honestly, i have no idea - the last time i 'fixed' a bootloader was with an R51, and a special tool hidden somewhere deep in the IBM website – Journeyman Geek Nov 11 '11 at 13:17

In my experience, FIXMBR will work to restore the typical Windows boot experience. However, I've always used custom built desktops, so YMMV with laptops.

I'm not sure what's required as far as backing up the MBR. Personally, I would just clone the entire drive before doing anything radical.

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If I could just back up the recovery partition itself, plus any custom MBR but without the partition table (because everything after the recovery partition might change over time as I repartition for different OSes) that'd be nice. If only Sony allows creating recovery media on USB sticks. The netbook in question does not even have an optical drive (and I have a subnotebook with the same problem too). – michel-slm Nov 11 '11 at 16:00

Yes Dell and HP (maybe others) do use customized MBR's, they have for quite a few years, I suggest you back them up because the ones customized for XP and Dell are not easily recoverable unless you have a backup of it.

This changed with the advent of Vista-W7 and how manufacturers made their recovery discs which restores all partitions and the custom MBR. Dell was slower to adopt "image" recovery discs.

MBR backup tool here

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