21 September 2010

Windows 7 system drive letters

I've previously blogged about Wandering drive letters in Windows 7. I've now a little more hard-won knowledge of what's going on.

Be very careful if you resize a Windows 7 system partition when the partition letter is not C. In fact, don't do it!

I am revisiting this issue because I ran into a problem. Our family shared laptop came with Vista. However this started playing up showing a DOS box regularly and Windows Update wouldn't install a particular patch. So I decided to install Windows 7 on drive D. This worked fine with W7 running with its system drive as D:.

Recently, drive D: started getting full so I decided to resize the partitions with the great Partition Wizard. This seemed to go OK. However, Windows 7 started playing up very badly, showing DwmHintDxUpdate error messages and worse. I eventually tracked the problem down to the fact that Windows 7 had decided that drive D: would now be called drive C: which is a serious problem as Windows and other software will store many full file locations (in the registry and elsewhere). If W7 thinks a file should be on drive D when in fact it is on drive C, then there's going to be serious problems. It's amazing that it booted at all.

The post by MarcusOS7 here explained what was going on, ie that Windows 7 tries to rename its system partition to drive C if the drive is resized, ie when the drive identifier changes. This is a serious flaw in Windows 7 and must be fixed.

I had hoped that with this information, I would be able to mend my W7 system. Even though I could just run regedit, I did not know what magic to do to change the system drive letter.

Eventually I decided to reinstall Windows 7. I saved the data over to an external USB drive. For this installation I wanted to be sure that W7 would install itself on drive C. Previously I must have done the installation when running the Vista system which somehow prevented W7 from using the C drive. This time, I was careful to do the install after booting into the Windows DVD. This trick ensured that W7 marked its install partition as drive C (even though it was not on the first partition).

In fact: before doing this, I re-partitioned the system so I had 3 partitions in the laptop, one each for Vista and W7, and one as a data drive. This process also helped me clear the previous W7 installation which was quite stubborn to remove, permission-wise. I eventually had to clear the partition by reformatting the drive.

Back in the new W7 system, I was able to restore the desired user data from the backup. And then I had to set up W7 again from scratch for each user, and installing all my development tools. As usual one of my first tasks is to turn off various system sounds, particularly the annoying Start Navigation click...

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