Fixing upgraded Windows 10 HP Desktop with broken System Restore partition

I know that this post is very niche but given I spent around 11 hours of last Saturday fixing an Hewlett Packard All-In-One Computer that couldn’t boot I thought I’d share my findings in the hope it saves someone else the pain.

The computer had stopped booting into Windows and was showing a flashing cursor on a black background after the HP splash screen. Also, the F11 System Restore option was missing meaning the ‘quick fixes’ weren’t instantly available.

The HP Compaq 6000 Pro All-In-One I was attempting to fix was a refurbished model which had come with a Windows 7 Pro for Refub PC product key. It had been recently upgraded to Windows 10 using an in-place upgrade which at the moment is still free of charge.

When I got the machine to look at, I started off booting in to Linux Mint off a USB stick to try and get to the bottom of it. After booting, Mint showed me the contents of the NTFS drive so it wasn’t a total drive failure and allowed me to back up the user’s Documents folder. I did fix some drive errors in case it was bad sectors that were preventing it booting.

The ‘achilles heel’ to all of this is HP’s decision to create at least two partitions on the main hard drive: a small System recovery partition and a larger Windows O.S. partition. The recovery partition was created at the time the original Windows 7 O.S. had been installed and contains a WinRE branded O.S. to guide you through HP’s restore options.

A lot of advice was guiding me to try a System Repair so initially I started with a Windows 10 bootable USB stick that I’d created off my Windows 10 laptop. Upon trying to run System Repair it failed and told me that it’d logged the error to a file (not massively helpful). Once I’d swapped in to a Command Prompt in the Advanced options, I found it told me that the System partition wasn’t fixable by this version of Windows.

With a copy of a Windows 7 CD I attempted to System Repair the recovery partition using the initial OS. However, this too failed as it tries to find a valid Windows Installation to add to the Master Boot Record (MBR) and of course it couldn’t see one as Windows 7 had been replaced by Windows 10.

So it felt I was in an impossible ‘chicken and egg’ scenario as a result of HP’s decision to make the recovery partition the bootable one. I got sidetracked a little assuming the EFI Boot directory was essential until I discovered this PC didn’t support EFI.

The breakthrough came when I realised that the System Repair partition was currently marked as the Bootable partition and not the O.S. drive. Switching this flag over allowed the Windows 10 System Repair to make the O.S. drive bootable and found a valid Windows 10 installation on the bootable partition. A nervous reboot later I found I was greeted by the Windows 10 login screen once more.

Given the eleven hours I spent fixing it in total, the relief and joy was palpable and needless to say the family member for whom I was fixing the PC was overjoyed. I had avoided needed to wipe the drive and start again which was increasingly becoming a possibility as time marched on. Arguably with a proper backup of the user data this would have always been the saner option.

I did at one point engage HP’s online chat help who were very friendly but when I blurted out my solution, overjoyed, I’m pretty sure the operator dealing with my inquiry wouldn’t have necessarily added my fix to their list of suggestions.

So the moral of this story is, if you’re taking advantage of Microsoft’s free Windows 10 installation on a Windows 7 HP PC maybe remove the System Recovery partition before you start? I found an option to do that in the HP Support tool somewhere.

Alternatively if you’re in the ‘broken O.S. state’ I was in you can hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel. Either way, good luck 🙂

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