08 February 2010 ~ 15 Comments

Restoring a PC using the Windows Home Server (WHS) Restore CD

Yesterday started well and ended well; not so much in between :)

After finishing some laundry and cracking open The Four Steps to the Epiphany, I decided to add two, 2GB DIMMs to my wife’s Windows 7 desktop.  After inserting the memory, Windows 7 booted and proceeded to fry the hard drive (corrupting at least the boot record, likely more).  I removed the memory and spent the rest of the day attempting to perform a bare-metal restore from our newly purchased HP EX490 Windows Home Server.  Thank goodness for backups!

The Good News: Successfully restored Pokin’s machine from the WHS backup (Time Machine-like, pretty slick).

The Bad News: Getting the restore started took about 10 hours.

In no particular order, here’s everything I learned.  If there’s anything missing, please leave a comment below.  Hope this helps!

Creating a WHS Restore CD or USB Key

Restoring Windows from a Windows Home Server is done using the Windows Home Server Computer Restore CD (download from Microsoft).

Alternatively, you can extract the ISO to USB key if the machine doesn’t have a CD/DVD drive (e.g. netbooks) or you prefer the speed of a fast key.  I would suggest using a USB key since it will likely take a few attempts to get your network drivers right during the restore wizard and you don’t want to have to deal with re-burning CDs.  Plus, most keys have activity lights on them so you can see the key is getting used during those looong pauses while the WHS restore does who-knows-what.

For some, creating a CD/USB key and booting is all you need to do.  The WHS restore wizard kicks in (it takes a very long time to process, be patient) and you can stop reading here.  If that doesn’t work, read on…

WHS kindly backs up your critical drivers if you have automated backup turned on.  These files are stored with your backup on the WHS, so using another PC you can extract the drivers on to your bootable CD/USB key and the WHS restore wizard will find them during restore.  Unfortunately, there is a problem here – the WHS restore CD is 32-bit.  If you are restoring a 64-bit flavor of Windows, the drivers that WHS stores with your backup are… not that useful.  Microsoft mentions this caveat in their Windows Home Server Technical Brief for Home Computer Backup and Restore.  You mean you haven’t read it? :)

Even if the WHS finds your drivers, that means almost nothing.  It reportedly found the drivers for my “Atheros AR8121 PCI-E Ethernet Controller” and did not properly install or configure them.  How’s this as a backdoor?  Click on help during the restore wizard, right-click “View source” on a help page which opens Notepad.  In Notepad go to File->Open, find your driver’s setup.exe, right click “open”.  Yes, this was the only way I could get my NIC drivers loaded.  Credit goes to someone in the MS support forums, which I can’t find (sorry!).

The big takeaway is that you really should prepare (and test!) the WHS restore CD or USB key in advance.  Boot the CD and get to the point where your network is up and you can see the WHS.  You don’t want to be going through this while freaking out about your crashed drives!

General Restore Tips

  • Be sure your Windows PCs are doing full backups every night.  That saved us.  The prospect of losing a day’s worth of work isn’t much to be concerned with, especially on a home PC.  I suppose that excludes things like term papers the day before ;)  Once you get past a day, it’s difficult to reason about what exactly you’re missing.  We’re backing up from 3am to 6am nightly.
  • If you’re going to be doing a bare-metal restore from the WHS, buy a 100′ cable ($25 at Fry’s) and plug your computer into your wireless access point, assuming the WHS is wired up as well.  Technically, restores are not supported over wireless and besides – they’re terribly slow.  My wife’s restore was ~250GB and it took so long we left it on overnight (this was wired too!).
  • Wireless security is not supported during a restore.  You won’t have a wireless network UI to configure wireless security, and it needs to be on the same subnet as the WHS.  Yet another reason to go wired!
  • During restore, the WHS does not like other backups or restores happening and (I think) this includes Time Machine.

15 Responses to “Restoring a PC using the Windows Home Server (WHS) Restore CD”

  1. roneous 12 April 2010 at 5:40 pm Permalink

    Thanks for passing along the view source/file open hack! This is the only way I could get my nic to work for the restore process. I did a few tests when I first got the home server and never got it to work — now that I lost my drive I was really motivated to find the solution. Thank you!

  2. John 12 May 2010 at 4:19 pm Permalink

    Great worked really well once you have access to cmd.exe you can try a ipconfig to check network settings and check dns resolution. Just installed my nic driver this way, copies it to a usb stick, ran as administrator after finding it using open in notepad.

  3. Dina 15 June 2010 at 6:19 pm Permalink

    One million thank-yous! Two million, even! I worked on it for 2 hours before I found this post, and once I tried your “View Source” and “right-click” hack, hubby’s computer was on its way to restored heaven. Now, if he would only learn not to click “yes” every time a website asks him to download something…

  4. Krish 15 July 2010 at 7:23 am Permalink

    I found a restore CD on a website (www.breakinghomeserver.com)that had all the drivers on it. But its good to know why things did not work and for next time I know -especially the bit about the 64-bit drivers (Yeah! Yeah! I know MSFT did warn me in their brief). And the notepad trick is quite convenient. So, Cheers mate!

  5. mkztg 31 July 2010 at 4:54 pm Permalink

    Thanks for this tip! Running the setup didn’t work for me but I did figure out that the drivers I pulled off the WHS had the .inf actually setup at ._nf so the recovery console wasn’t using the drivers. Not sure why this was like that but I was able to fix the file extension and at least it will now see the network card. It still didn’t see the server using these drivers, I had to pull the actual drivers from the laptop support site but now everything is GREAT! Thanks for the tips!


  6. summersby 14 October 2010 at 8:09 pm Permalink

    Seriously, great tip! Saved me the few hairs I have left on my head.

    “How’s this as a backdoor? Click on help during the restore wizard, right-click “View source” on a help page which opens Notepad. In Notepad go to File->Open, find your driver’s setup.exe, right click “open”. Yes, this was the only way I could get my NIC drivers loaded.”

  7. rembtito 14 December 2010 at 6:12 pm Permalink

    ” You won’t have a wireless network UI to configure wireless security, and it needs to be on the same subnet as the WHS.”
    Are you sure that this is so?

  8. Benoit Miller 20 December 2010 at 8:18 pm Permalink

    Another, much simpler “back-door” into WHS: Once the restore CD has finished booting, press (and hold) LeftCtrl-LeftAlt-LeftShift for about 5 seconds, and a command prompt will appear. From there you can navigate wherever you need…

    (I found this by accident just now!)


  9. Dina 28 December 2010 at 6:06 pm Permalink

    Just wanted to say thanks again. Hubby downloaded a nasty virus over the Christmas weekend. Good thing his backup ran the day before we left! I totally have this article bookmarked as “Restore Hubby’s PC”

  10. Mike 4 March 2011 at 8:46 am Permalink

    I tried what you suggested. When I right click on help use
    “view source” and file open there are 4 places to look:

    Local Disk (C:)
    Boot (X:)
    The CD ROM Drive (iso disk)
    USB drive

    The only place I could find a setup.exe file was on C:WINDOWS/SYSTEM32 and when I right click and open I get the error:

    pSetupAppendStringToMultiSz could not be located in dynamic link library SetupAPI.dll

    Doesn’t work for me. I am looking in the right place?


  11. Andrew 19 March 2011 at 3:37 pm Permalink

    To OP: Thank you so much! It’s taken me 12 hours of not getting restore to work before I found this backdoor.

    To Mike: Try to get the driver installation for your network card (if that is the driver you are having problems with) as a single installation file. This might be named SETUP.EXE but mine from Dell was something like R12345.EXE. Put this on your USB stick, navigate to that directory in Notepad as explained above and run that file as administrator. This will then run the driver install. In other words, the SETUP.EXE you want is probably not on the WHS PC Restore disk.

  12. Box293 11 May 2011 at 7:16 pm Permalink

    You *can* restore from a home server that is located on another subnet. You can do this by editing the hosts file that will then allow us to resolve your server name to an IP address.

    When you get to the part where it asks you for the name of the server, IP addresses aren’t accepted.

    Press (and hold) LeftCtrl-LeftAlt-LeftShift for about 5 seconds, and a command prompt will appear.

    notepad x:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts
    Press Enter
    Add to the end of the file
    For example: SERVER

    Save this file.

    If you return to the command prompt you should now be able to ping your home server by the name you gave it in the hosts file.

    Go back to the part where it asks you for the name of the server, now you can use the name you gave it in the hosts file. Sometimes it takes two goes before it works but you will be able to proceed to restore from the home server.

    All of these steps assume that the router between your computer and the home server allows communication between them AND the correct default gateway is defined on the home server and the DHCP scope that hands the IP address to the machine you are restoring to.

  13. Greg 24 December 2011 at 10:01 pm Permalink

    Thanks a million, only struggled for 3 hours before finding this. Notepad trick worked to install a set of 32 bit vista drivers.

  14. Thrivingdead 29 January 2012 at 5:42 am Permalink

    Wonderful, the notepad workaround finally worked!

    The drivers only become active after continuing to the restore dialogs, (before that they report in ipconfig “an internal error occurred, the data is invalid”). And then for some reason it insisted I had the server password wrong

  15. Floris 12 October 2013 at 6:41 am Permalink

    Help, I did download the right drivers for my Asus USB 2 to UTP plug.(from AXIS site). But whatever I try(setup.exe ‘Open’ or ‘run as administrator’ nothing happens. I tried another exe that came with the driver folder, instmsiw.exe, but the popup I get is; ‘wrong OS or OS version for application’. I tried, 32bit drivers for Win8, Win7 and WinXP/Vista. But all the same error..

    I think the restore cd run from my USB stick blocks the execution of the setup.exe!? How can I check and how can I disable the check.

    I also tried on boot the F8 option of the restore CD(3rd option beside smaller or larger than 512mb memory) and then choose the option to disable the verification of driver signature. But still didn’t work…

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