Re-partitioning the HP G42 laptop

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I recently purchased a HP G42 laptop having an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB DR3 RAM. Everything was good until I failed to create a few more partitions on the built in hard disk drive for software, documents, etc. The problem was with the default partition structure:

* SYSTEM (200MB hidden). This was apparently created during Windows 7 setup when the hard disk has no other partitions. The partition only contains the bootloader and its various language packs.
* WINDOWS (NTFS). This is where Windows 7 is installed.
* RECOVERY (NTFS hidden). If you press F11 during boot time, BIOS will boot from this partition to begin the recovery process.
* HP_TOOLS (hidden). Some BIOS utilities will require tools on this partition.

There are already 4 primary partitions so creating another one is impossible unless you have an extended partition. If you want to dual boot with another OS, you will have to delete one of the existing partitions as most OS cannot boot from an extended partition.

It’s actually easy to delete the SYSTEM partition if you know how to do it correctly:

1. Use EasyBCD to write the bootloader to the Windows partition (and not the SYSTEM partition). Reboot the system and make sure that Windows can start.

If Windows fails to start, set the SYSTEM partition back to Active (boot) and there should be no damage. During my experiment, I used GParted Live CD for this purpose.

2. If step 1 is successful, delete the SYSTEM partition. As it’s no longer in use, Windows should still boot properly.

Reclaiming the space occupied by the SYSTEM partition is tricky. My first attempt was to use GParted to extend the Windows partition to cover the free space. This process took almost half a day and eventually failed with an unspecified error, making the whole hard disk unusable with a partition table error. Only a low-level format would help. As of now, I am still not sure of the cause.

The solution was to use Norton Ghost, which only took around 1 hour:

1. Create an image of the working Windows partition (after the SYSTEM partition has been deleted).
2. Delete the Windows partition and create a new partition covering the original SYSTEM partition and the just deleted Windows partition.
3. Restoring the ghost image to the newly created partition in step 2 and the system should be able to boot into Windows

Why can’t I simply just delete the SYSTEM and the Windows partition and use the HP recovery program to restore? Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple, since the HP Recovery program does not ask you where you want your Windows partition to be and simply recreates the SYSTEM, WINDOWS and HP_TOOLS partition. It does not, however, re-create the RECOVERY partition if this partition does not already exist (e.g. the recovery program was launched from a USB or DVD backup).

The entire HP_TOOLS partition contents is stored on the RECOVERY partition, which is hidden from Windows Explorer and is only accessible via a third party file explorer such as Free Commander. This partition contains the pre-installed Windows 7 image, with a .wim compressed file (readable via 7Zip) that has installers to some bundled programs. The device drivers can also be extracted from a a folder named SWSetup in this .wim file.

One last thing about the HP Recovery Manager program is that it only allows you to backup the recovery image to DVD/USB once. In my case, I backup to a USB thumbdrive, which can later be restored to a bootable hard disk partition by simply copying all the files over and use EasyBCD to write the bootloader. If you backup to DVDs, be sure to make ISO copies of the disks.

Once you have finished re-partitioning the system and set up all your software, simple use Norton Ghost to backup/restore your setup. Do not ever use HP Recovery Manager again as it will destroy all your hard work!

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A tough developer who likes to work on just about anything, from software development to electronics, and share his knowledge with the rest of the world.

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