This is what comes of dabbling. I have an Acer laptop and, in the modern trend, it did not come with backup software. Instead, Acer has created a recovery partition on the hard drive that can be accessed if you do something to your computer and need to recover. Normally, when the ACER splash screen appears when the computer is turned on, you can hold down ALT and F10 to access the so-called erecovery partition.
Except when you can’t.
My GRUB Failed to Boot
I frequently dual boot my laptop into the latest version of Windows and Ubuntu that I am running. In this case, I added Ubuntu 13 to the factory installed Windows. One result of this change is that the Master Boot Record – which makes that ALT F10 hot key combination work – is changed by Ubuntu. While I could get into either Ubuntu or Windows, I could no longer access the Acer recovery partition.
This is really no big deal until you need it. It takes up about 15 GB so it’s not chump change as far as space goes but you probably have plenty more.
It all started when I came down to my computer and I had this ominous prompt on my screen:
grub rescue >
This is not normal. When my computer starts up, it displays GRUB – the boot manager application that allows me to select Windows or Ubuntu – and then boots up. Clearly grub was no longer happy. I followed a number of tips on the Internet, most of which started by typing the ls command:
grub rescue > ls
which returned all of my partitions: (hd0),(hd1,msdos5), etc. This ended up not helping because each partition was inaccessible, returning an unknown filesystem error.
I have had this problem previously. Usually, you can pull out your Windows installation CD or DVD and escape to a command prompt from the normal setup of Windows. That kills GRUB and your ability to reach Ubuntu but Windows will start. You can then use an Ubuntu Live CD to restore GRUB.
Repair Your Boot Sector and Master Boot Record
But I didn’t have a Windows installation disk and the Acer recovery partition was not accessible. The first thing I wanted to do was to reset the Master Boot Record (MBR) so that I could get into Windows. The lack of the Acer partition was also starting to concern me a bit.
This led me to the remarkable Boot Repair, a customized install of Linux with the primary purpose of repairing the master boot record! Download the ISO – this is a disk image which, when it is unpacked, will create a bootable disk – for Boot Repair. Then use a tool like UNetBootin to unpack the ISO file to external media. I put mine on a USB drive that I would then be able to boot my laptop from. If your Acer doesn’t find your Boot Repair drive when it starts, you may need to hit F2 at the Acer screen and change the boot order (F6 will promote the USB drive up to the top of the list).
Long story short, when Boot Repair starts, it automatically determines your MBR repair. Click the button and you’re fixed. There are no other configurations or customizations required. It’s a bit anticlimactic.
Backup the Acer Partition
At this point, though, I wanted to preserve my Acer backup partition. I was also thinking about just blasting my Windows and Ubuntu partitions and starting from scratch. Since I’ve had the laptop for 3-4 years, it has accumulated a bunch of cruft from the installs and deletions I’ve made.
There is an Acer utility called eRecovery Management. You can make a backup disc with this utility (and you are supposed to do it blah blah blah as soon as you get your laptop blah blah blah). Needless to say, I had not used it in 3 years. And it now no longer worked, because whatever version of Microsoft .NET or C++ Runtime was no longer installed.
This appears to be a remarkably common problem for Acer users:
- I have an Acer laptop
- I have the Acer recovery partition – called PQService
- I have [done something] and the ALT F10 hotkey doesn’t work
and the advice seems just as common and involved activating partitions and copying files. To be honest, the ones I could figure out didn’t work for me and I didn’t really understand the others.
It occurred to me that a Windows equivalent of GRUB might be the solution. I have a partition manager (although you can use Windows’ disk manager too) but it occurs to me that fiddling with the partitions is more than many people are comfortable with. So I decided to find a way to get started without following any advice that dealt with changing partition information.
The first thing I did, though, was to use the free Disk Image utility to create a copy of the Acer eRecovery partition. This means that I can mount it as a virtual drive and back it up onto portable media just in case. It took about 20 minutes to make the image file. Once copied off safely, I moved on to the next step.
Windows Boot Manager – Like Grub
The Boot-US Boot Manager was just what I was looking for. It creates a GRUB-like boot menu when your computer starts up. First you install the manager. Then, you need to install the boot manager so that it replaces your master boot record (mbr). The manager is free for a single, private, noncommercial PC and has a bunch of features. But you really only need the MBR function. When I installed the boot manager, it found the 3 partitions – PQService, Windows, and a second Windows partition. I renamed the PQService to “Recovery” so it would be obvious to me what it was. It mean that I could reach the recovery partition when I restarted my computer. Once you have the boot manager, reboot, and choose your option.
At this point, unless you are going to actually use the Acer eRecovery, you can stop. The ALT F10 hotkey still won’t work but the boot manager will get you into whichever partition you need.
If you decide – as I did – to blast your computer, just choose the PQService (or Recovery as I renamed it) partition and a version of Windows will start. Then you’ll get the wizard for the Acer recovery tool. You can either blast away everything or it will replace just the operating system, leaving your data.
Once it has finished with whichever choice you’ve made, it will have damaged the boot manager. The boot manager will appear but, when you select Windows, it will no longer load. Reboot your computer, go to the boot manager and look for the uninstall option. Uninstall the boot manager, reboot again, and it should load up your refreshed Windows.
Now that I have a backup of my Acer recovery partition, I am less likely to worry about whether I can get into it or not. I went from a bit of panic when I wasn’t sure what the grub rescue prompt meant to actually now having a completely refreshed laptop. I’ve grabbed a half GB of Windows updates and reinstalled my main apps and, thanks to cloud storage and synchronize browser content, am back up and running.