ATI, UEFI and Windows 8.1 - How to recover partitions


Updated: April 1, 2017

Now, this is a story all about how, my laptop got flipped-turned upside down, and I'd like to take an image, and restore right there, I'll tell you how I became the king of the ATI-UEFI scare. Word.

Less poetically, what happened is, my Lenovo Ideapad Y50-70, running Windows 8.1, suddenly decided to gimp up and stop working nicely. I was unable to obtain any updates, and after a while, I simply decided to restore an older image, taken with Acronis True Image 2015. But then I remembered reading a scare story around ATI and machines with UEFI powered by Windows 8.1. Cue in dramatic score.

Teaser

In more detail

I have not done any extensive troubleshooting, but the fact Windows Update would not get any updates, be it one minute or three hours later, similar to the issue we had with Windows 7 slow updates, except it was not supposed to happen at all. Add to that some more weird errors in the Event Log, and you start thinking. Should you waste time trying to fix a possibly ugly corruption somewhere, or just restore to a sane point? Hint: We will resolve this problem, but not today. An article coming soon.

This emphasizes the importance of backups and system imaging. Having a system snapshot is quite useful, and over the past decade, I did have to restore several of my boxes. Let's say 10-12 times in total. Without proper mechanisms in place, these would mandate costly reinstalls, with time and money and effort lost rebuilding the system, whereas the presence of system image usually takes less than an hour to execute a successful restore.

My imaging tools of choice are Acronis, mainly for Windows-only installations and Clonezilla, which I use for mixed setups and Linux boxes. In this particular case, the Ideapad machine had ATI 2015 installed.

At the same time, I read online, in both the official and unofficial forums about people complaining how ATI does not work well with UEFI setups, and how it may corrupt the bootloader and such. This is because the tool always assumes the classic setup with MBR rather than UEFI+GPT, and that complicates the restore procedure if you are not quite savvy. But it does not have to be complicated or painful. Let me walk you through my experience.

Attempt 1: Use in-vivo functionality

ATI 2015 allows you to try to restore the Windows partition (C:) from within the GUI inside the running instance of the operating system. Naturally, it cannot really do this live, but what it does, it scheduled the restore on next boot. But this does require that you have the ATI bootloader configured. If you do not, the attempt will fail, and the box will just boot back into Windows.

Acronis, main view

Attempt 2: Use ATI bootable media

ATI, since early days, lets you create bootable media, very much Linux-based live systems, so you can perform imaging and restore while the underlying system is at rest. We're talking ancient history, but I did mention this in my UBCD4WIN articles quite some time ago. The concept remains the same. If you use the GUI, you can generate the bootable image (ISO), which was a 477 MB file in my case.

Your next step is to burn it to CD/DVD/USB, and then boot off of it, and then perform the restore operation. This also requires some attention and knowledge, like being able to locate the correct Acronis images (TIB files) and then restore them, in their entirety or parts thereof, to the correct target disks or partitions. But this is a separate discussion.

I started with a live USB image, created using Fedora 25 Image Writer, as this tool has shown some decent results lately. Alas, the image was completely unbootable, and I had to try a move conventional approach. I had a coaster etched with laser, and then it wouldn't boot either.

Fedora Image Writer did not work

Attempt 3: UEFI tweaks

I realized at this point that the ATI bootable media was not UEFI-friendly, so I entered the system BIOS and changed the boot method from UEFI only to a hybrid one, which supports both UEFI and Legacy boot, with Legacy taking priority. Just to double check, I tried the USB thumb drive one more time, and it was a dud. But the CD did finally boot in the conventional mode.

Attempt 3: Warming up

I was wondering if the fact I was using a legacy boot would prevent Acronis from working correctly, but I thought it should be fine, as we've seen in my Lenovo G50 tests early on that this does not affect the system, and the access to the disk was just fine.

Indeed, the bootable media identified the 1TB local disk and its plethora of partitions, and I was able to proceed with the restore option. However, I did not restore the entire image, which includes all the partitions - System Reserved, Restore, whatever AND the MBR. I only restored the C: drive. The bootloader was working fine, and there was no reason to mess up with this.

The operation took a little bit of time, as the image resided on a different partition on the disk, and it was a hefty 26GB backup, but the operation completed successfully. Windows 8.1 booted just fine with the UEFI setup in the hybrid Legacy-first mode, which I later restored to the original setting. I had my older snapshot in place, but the WU functionality was back to its snappy self. Problem fixed.

What did we learn here?

The Internet horrors did not come to bear, and I guess they also highlight some lack of knowledge on behalf of the ATI users and how UEFI systems work. The usability can definitely be improved, including auto-detecting the boot sequence and adjusting the boot media and recovery options to reflect the system setup. It would also help to explain to people the differences between the systems and how they work. To sum it up:

Change UEFI (BIOS) menu to boot both UEFI and Legacy (Legacy first).

Boot from ATI bootable media.

Restore Windows partition (C:) only and do not restore MBR.

Boot into Windows and resume normal operation.

Optionally change UEFI boot settings back.

More reading

You might be interested in these articles, too:

Fix corrupt EFI partition

Quick hard disk failure recovery

Problems with GRUB2, in Fedora and Ubuntu

Conclusion

I am very pleased that I did not have to reinstall my Ideapad, as it would have been a most annoying and fruitless experience. In this regard, the collective fear is not quite as justified as portrayed, and there is a definite knowledge gap vs. facts, or at least the raw functionality of the ATI imaging software. Yes, it should work better. But there's a big difference between better and broken.

Broken it is not. You still do have to combat quite a few annoyances, including the boot media, being able to configure your laptop for Legacy boot, which might not be possible on some models, and then only restore the correct partition and not mess with the MBR since you're using UEFI. Not trivial. Far from it. But it's doable. Hopefully, my little guide slash personal experience will come handy should you ever need it. Well, this is the one article you actually wish won't garner any views. The simple reality is, it will, though, so you might as well give it a thorough read. There you go. Enjoy it, fellas.

Cheers.

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