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Friday, May 18, 2012

Fujitsu Stylistic ST4120 Recovery without Recovery Disks

Someone recently brought me a laptop which was suffering from 'performance anxiety'. There were some obvious issues. File system fragmentation, low spec (P3 933MHz/768MB RAM/30GB HDD), power management issues (it was underclocking itself to a third of its maximum clock speed even when it was plugged into the local AC point), and general sub-standard upkeep (a lot of unrequired crud was installed on the system). I decided to re-install the system using the existing recovery partition by running D:\RECOVERY.EXE

Somehow, the original owner had managed to delete a critical file though (D:\INSTALL\WATERMRK.JPG) which was required for the program to run. After creating this file the program started but refused to run due to the recovery image being older than the currently installed operating system.

I initially tried to get around this problem by uninstalling SP3 (I discovered early in the piece that physical recovery disks were unavailable and the documentation said that you required a special boot disk to access the necessary files on the recovery partition. I didn't want to go with a clean XP Professional install because it woud be cleaner and more elegant if I could just get the recovery system to run.)(The process is similar to removing a Hotfix but more prolonged for obvious reasons).

However, I discovered that this was not enough (I found out that the recovery image was based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition SP1) and that I needed to go further. Once SP3 was done removing itself I discovered that it also removed a critical uninstall file though. I tried to get around this through registry modifications of keys from the following two folders (I could only guess how the program was getting its version information because I couldn't load tools on to the system due to the system being so slow and unstable after removing SP3).

My Computer\HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Updates\Windows XP\
My Computer\HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\Current Version\

Obviously, this was unsuccessful so I tried using a standard XP boot disk to boot to, 'Recovery Mode' (its three taps using the digitiser or the F12 button if you have a keyboard to activate the boot menu option). I noticed that changing into the various directories ("Access is denied.") and running D:\RECOVERY.EXE ("Command is not recognized.") was impossible though even though it was a FAT32 based filesystem partition and seemed to use standard PE32 executables on initial view (I expected to at least see the standard, "This program cannot be run in DOS mode." string and even saw this string in the initial header of the executable when viewing it via a text editor.).

user@system:/media/sdd1$ file RECOVERY.EXE
RECOVERY.EXE: PE32 executable for MS Windows (GUI) Intel 80386 32-bit

It seemed obvious that these were not standard executables though. I then tried using a Win 7 32-Bit recovery disk (Windows 7 recovery disks are temperamental with regards to the base system and the disk version (32-bit disk should be used with 32-bit base system) if you're curious). This allowed me to move into the required directory and also run D:\RECOVERY.EXE and kick off the recovery processes. Even though it seems possible or obvious that there may have been some co-operation between Microsoft and Fujitsu it looks as though the recovery process isn't quite as clean as it should be (progress meters aren't perfectly aligned, strange screens for particular processes, and so on). Nonetheless, it did what was required (it deleted/copied files to/from rather than formatting the existing Windows partition interestingly) and copied and ran the correct Windows installation files.

Some notes regarding this platform include the following:
- possible design flaw? On my particular system the power cable was quite simply too loose.
- compared to modern imaging techniques/systems (Norton Ghost) the restoration process was extremely slow.
- Windows Security button is the top left in portrait mode if you don't know. Hold it down for three seconds in order to activate Ctl-Alt-Del sequence on the Windows login screen.
- the left hand side of the screen in portrait mode can warm/heat up substantially as the hard drive is located directly underneath.
- even though it is extremely stylish, it seems to have a tiny battery and a high weight though this is synonymous with Windows tablets of this vintage.

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