Linux to the Rescue of Windows Vista
This weekend my parents bought a new Acer desktop that comes preloaded with Windows Vista. Upon first boot you have to choose the OS language. Usually from then on the setup works flawlessly. This time it didn't.
Some Vista users are caught forever in a reboot lock after undoing an OS update. In this case you can either be happy to have a Vista recovery DVDs at hand (which we obviously didn't have), or the only remaining option is a partition editor.
Do not even bother downloading the Vista recovery disk (100MB download) as it does not always find your hard disk, and is apparently bound to the language of your Windows Vista copy.
After some research I found lots of similar user reports and a link to the Open Source GPartEd tool. This tool even comes as a bootable ISO Linux image (GPartEd Live), which was precisely what I needed.
So off I went downloading the Live ISO image, rebooting the hanging desktop, hitting <F12> to open the system boot menu, loading the still warm CD-ROM in the CD tray, and booting the desktop from the CD/DVD drive.
Apparently the Acer desktop (Aspire M1641) has a problem with a timer not connected to an IRQ handler, as can be seen from a Linux error with a Kernel panic (APIC not syncing: IO-APIC + timer doesn't work). Use the <TAB> key to edit the boot command sequence and add the ‘noapic’ option to circumvent this error (mind the keyboard layout for typing this option: the ‘a’ is the 1st letter on the 2nd row of letters on a US QWERTY keyboard).
Now a graphical environment (X) should start, along with GPartEd. Select the hard disk and you'll see it features 3 partitions, with the middle one bearing the ‘boot’ flag. The first partition is the smallest one, and this is the one you want to set bootable again as it contains the Windows Vista recovery image. Click on this small partition, edit the flags to set the ‘boot’ flag. You'll notice that now the ‘boot’ flag moved from the first big partition to the small partition. Exit GPartEd now.
You can now reboot yur computer by clicking on the power button at the top left of the X desktop. Upon shutting down the computer the GPartEd Live CD will be ejected from the drive. Remove it and the computer will be able to boot from harddisk again.
- In following the procedure described in this post you will lose all data saved on the Windows partition (usually C:) which in my case was not a problem since there was none.
- It is not recommended to plug your computer on the network before all preloaded Windows patches are applied.
- Acer will install a couple updates on the fresh Windows Vista installation. These updates can take ages to complete so you better refrain from thinking “wow, my PC hangs, so let's reboot”. Also, do not reboot when prompted by Vista, unless you see that all Acer patches have been applied.
Hope this trick will be useful to others.