HPA Dell Hard Drive Upgrade

I agreed to upgrade a laptop for my wife’s friend last week. I have Acronis True Image Software and a USB connected external hard drive so I figure this is easy money right? NOT!

I took the laptop home and went to work. The laptop is a Dell that is about three or four years old. I made a full backup of the drive, inserted to 160 GB drive that replaced to 36GB drive. My first indication that all was not well was when the system was booted via the Acronis disk and the software could not see my removable drive. I had to copy the image file from my removal drive to my desktop computer. Only in one of the Public folders in my Vista machine could the backup file be seen via the Network option on the Acronis software. After the backup was completed, I booted up the computer and was greeted by a 36 GB hard drive that should have been 160 GB!

After much research I found that I was the victim of proprietary and hidden software that Dell stuck on their hard drive! I was not a happy camper. Acronis has an article on their support website called “HPA Makes the Cloned Drive Display Wrong Capacity.” While this is great information, it does nothing to fix my problem.

Most of the solutions that I found on the Internet were dangerous and/or dubious. One family of solutions involved using the Windows Repair Console. The owner of the laptop could not provide the master Administrative password so I was stuck and could not use most solutions. For those not yet familiar with this problem, when Windows is first installed it prompts you for a password. Whatever you type will be the only password that you can use three years from now to access the utilities on your Windows installation CD. Otherwise you get to wipe your hard drive and reinstall everything in your computer. Refer to http://www.goodells.net/dellrestore/hpa-issues.htm

So what I knew at this point is that any solution involves fixing the Master Boot Record (MBR) on the laptop. The other part of the solution involved killing the HPA software that made my new hard drive exactly the same capacity as the old drive. Once this size change is made on the drive, both the BIOS and the Windows installation program see the drive capacity as being the same as the old drive. You can even delete the partition and reformat and the new disk will still be the same size as the old drive!

Some Internet solutions say you must find a hexadecimal editor and edit the MBR on original disk. If you do this and screw-up you just lost all the data and you know that the owner of the laptop has never made a backup CD of all her vacation photos from her trip to Europe last year. After editing the MBR then they say make your backup and restore on the new disk. Yeah, Sure!

So the Master Boot Record must be killed, fixed, replaced or otherwise deal with to fix the computer. Then the drive size must be repaired. To repair the drive the only option that seemed to work was from Hitachi. Download the Feature Tool from this page. Get the ISO image file and make a CD. The program is bootable and simple to run. I will tell you when to use the disk in a moment.

The Hitachi tool will let the computer see the whole drive but what then? I found the answer on this discussion thread. http://www.wilderssecurity.com/showthread.php?s=984536e28c3c7ee064a0e7d6e054dc57&t=167401&page=2 The solutions proposed on this page mostly don’t work but there is a nugget in their that rang a loud bell in my mind. To get the space back on the drive one of the postings references Acronis Secure Zone. They said create a Secure Zone of any size and then delete it and pick the option to allocate any unused space to the partition that you select.

What I’m telling you now took me five nights staying up past one in the morning to figure out. Yeah much of the time was waiting for my Vista computer to send restore files via my home network to the laptop. I did 12 to 18 restorations during the period to find a fix.

I kept refining my attempts and this is what finally worked:

1. I restored everything from the old drive to the new one: C:\, the MBR and the two hidden partitions that Acronis found on the Dell laptop. Elapse time for this step about three hours.

2. Then I got my old DOS 6.22 bootable CD with Windows 3.11 and Norton Desktop on it and booted up the computer. Any bootable DOS disk that you can get will work as long as FDISK is on the disk. At the DOS prompt type A:\ FDISK /MBR and press enter.
(Even though it says A Drive, this command knows to run on the C Drive.) Remove the disk.
Insert the Hitachi disk, reboot computer and start via this CD and then follow instructions to resize the new hard disk.
To restore the drive to its full capacity you need to remove HPA on the target drive:

5. Click on the “Features” menu or press Alt-F keys and select “Change Capacity”;
6. You should see “Manufacturing values” and “Current values” on the appeared window;
7. Click “Options” and choose “Maximum Capacity” from the list. The appropriate value will be automatically entered in the “New Capacity” field;
8. Click OK.

At this point if you want to start Windows and look in Disk Management you will see the balance of the drive as unallocated space.
Warning: Don’t delete the other two partitions that you see via Disk Management Console. If you do the computer will not boot because your boot.ini file will then not match your computer configuration.
Elapse time for these steps is about ten minutes.

3. Lastly, get your Acronis CD again and boot the computer. Create a Secure Zone on the unallocated space on the drive. As you go through the process DO NOT SELECT ANY DRIVE OR PARTION. Leave all check boxes empty. Keep going Next. The program will automatically select space on the unallocated portion of the disk. The partition can be any size.

4. After the Secure Zone partition is created restart the wizard for Secure Zone again. This time delete the partition you just made. As you go through the screens you will see one with your disk partitions. Select the one that is labeled as C Drive. On my computer the other two partitions had no drive label. This selection allocates all unused space on the entire drive (not just the Secure Zone you are deleting) to your C drive. This is what you want. Click on Proceed. In fifteen more minutes you are done.

That’s it, enjoy your upgraded machine.