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Background: I am preparing a PC that I am sending to a relative abroad, who has little or no internet access, and next to no sensible options for getting IT support should anything go wrong. As such I am trying to provide a full set of recovery options such that they are able to reinstall the OS with minimum fuss or assistance if required. The PC is a brand new Acer laptop that came with Windows 7 pre-installed (and an associated recovery partition) and a free upgrade to Windows 8. I have installed Windows 8 from scratch performing a format and clean install from media I burned from the official download. The existing Windows 7 recovery partition is still there, and I can still boot from it. I have created recovery DVDs of that in case it is ever lost.

Here are my recovery options so far.

  • I can perform a factory reset of Win 7 via the recovery partition
  • I can perform a factory reset of Win 7 via burned recovery DVDs
  • I can re-install Windows 8 cleanly from a DVD

All of these are useful, but not what I want, because the first 2 methods use Win 7, and still fill the machine with crapware, and the latter doesn't provide for any post-install customisation and software installation. So, I am looking to see what other options are available to perform a Windows 8 recovery that will be more than a simple install.

I am aware that Win8 comes with some useful refresh tools:

  • Refresh your PC - Re-install Win 8 over the top of your existing installation, recovering from any Windows corruption etc. I can run this from my current install, although it says some files are missing that will be provided by me install or recovery media, which seems to be code for stick your install DVD in, and it starts after I do that - unfortunately for this particular laptop you need to specify a particular WIFI driver or the install bombs out part way through with IRQL errors, and this refresh method skips the part where you can load a driver, so it's no use to me. I think I can fix this by creating a custom recovery image using the recimg.exe command but it takes hours to complete so I haven't tried it yet.

  • Reset your PC - Perform a full install and lose all your files. Again it needs my Install media inserting before it will do anything, but then it provides an error (will include later when I recreate it...)

Now, these recovery options look useful (in principal, although both are fail for me) but they rely on having a working system to access the tools, which leads me to the last option, of making a Recovery USB drive.

I have made a recovery drive, and it should perform loads of useful things, including copying my WIN7 recovery partition to the drive, providing the above refresh and reset options, providing other troubleshooting options and also the ability to restore from a custom image, only none of them seem to work for me.

  • Creating the Recovery Drive - the option to include my recovery partition is greyed out. The partition exists and works fine, why will it not copy it?

  • Refresh - I imagine this would have the same issues as I described before, but this is moot because when I try it says that the "drive where Windows is installed is locked, please unlock the drive and try again" with no info on what that means and how to do it.

  • Restore - Again, probably pointless as I can just use the DVD, but it also errors: "unable to reset your PC. A required drive partition is missing"

  • System Restore - should let me roll back a bad driver etc as per normal in Windows, only it simply says "To use system restore you must specify which windows installation to restore. Restart this computer, select an operating system, and select system restore" ?!?!

  • System Image Recovery - this seems to be offering to restore from a Windows system image, but this is deprecated in Windows 8, although you can still make one if you use the Windows 7 Backup tools, however the resultant file is too large to put on the USB stick as it's FAT formatted, and would be a massive stack of DVDs anyway. So useless. It would be nice it it would work with the custom recovery image you can use with the refresh command, but there seems no option to do this.

  • Automatic Repair - some diagnostics, which seem useless as it happily tells me it can't fix my problem, even though I have none.

  • Command Prompt - yay, this works! What on earth do I want to use it for...

Had any of the above worked, it might be useful, but as any form of install still requires you to have the DVD, and any form of custom recovery image also requires you to have either a massive stack of DVDs or an NTFS formatted backup device in addition to the recovery drive, it sort of ruins the point.

It doesn't seem rocket science. I want to create a bootable USB drive that I can refresh Windows over an existing install with, perform a clean reinstall to a bare system, or recovery a customised image with existing apps installed. If anyone can point me in a direction that allows me to make a single recovery drive do these all these things, I would appreciate it. I have a 32Gb USB3 thumb drive that I bought for this very purpose, but it's seems to be fighting to let me do anything useful. At this rate I will be making a DriveImageXML recovery stick and dumping the OS with that, which I know works, but isn't so elegant as using the proper tools..

share|improve this question
Look into (Linux or WinPE based) backup programs (Ghost? Clonezilla?) that will allow you to image the drive and can be automated. Create separate images for a clean OS, OS with apps etc. and create a script to display options that will call the program and apply the specified image. – Karan Dec 21 '12 at 3:12

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