Full nuclear-option wipe and rebuild of your M17x-R2: A full, detailed description.

Discussion in 'Alienware 17 and M17x' started by VoiceInTheWilderness, Dec 17, 2010.

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  1. VoiceInTheWilderness

    VoiceInTheWilderness Notebook Consultant

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    Let's say you own a m17x-R2 and you would like to wipe the system of all software bloat and errant files, and/or you need to roll the system back (or just into) a best-possible default state before proceeding to load just the things you want on it or working to diagnose any issues you might be having. Take it from me, if you go reading the Alien website or Dell's, it rapidly becomes clear that there are no good instructions anywhere as to how to do this, particularly, which order in which one should install the drivers for all the system's hardware. In fact, you will probably find up to 4 (!) different sets of instructions scattered in various places within the Dell realm, all of which are contradictory and are not even tailored to the hardware than an Alien contains, so it's hard to even compare them.

    I have a new beast, and I wanted to start fresh with it, using only my own softwares and choices. On new systems I never do un-installs; I do scorched-Earth campaigns, wiping it to a lonely blinking cursor on a black screen. Then I put it very carefully all back together exactly like I want it, with no junk present. Along the way, I learn as much as I can about it and how to deftly recover it in case disaster strikes later on down the road. I absolutely hate being at the mercy of whoever sold me the computer, having their junk on it, their vendors' promo programs that I won't use, and their often-suboptimal choices and setups. I want my machine clean and running great, and I want complete control and knowledge of what is on it. Don't you just hate those cryptic folders buried deep in the program tree that contain gigabytes of advertising-based who-knows-what for programs that you never wanted installed anyway? It makes me feel so violated (okay, maybe I'm overstating that a bit.)

    So anyway, my specific machine has ATI/AMD 5870 Crossfire cards and RAID storage (and no TV tuner), and I reference those components here, but essentially all ATI/AMD-based systems will be very similar with respect to the information I have here. Apart from BIOS updates and minor hardware differences, probably nVidia machines will be similar too. I have compared many driver install sequences, and I called an Alienware tech who was very confused and uncertain about the sequence himself but eventually came up with a near-recitation of a driver sequence I had seen posted for earlier Aliens. I tried his sequence and proved that it was not correct, as it was throwing errors with the OSD application. I researched this forum some more and also studied instructions offered by 'Grimfan' and 'steviejones133' (thanks guys!), taking everything I could into account. I executed some wipes and redos that failed due to errors generated by drivers that were not in a compatible sequence. Eventually, after an incredible amount of trouble, I whittled it all down to the following proven approach. This is not the only sequence that will work, but it will work and it is the one I used with success after some failures and setbacks.

    I wrote this assuming you know very little about doing this (it will admittedly be way over-detailed for some readers) and have not yet updated your main BIOS or VBIOS, if yours needs an update there. Note that this is not based on a "Respawn" factory image disk, or a recovery partition, or any other cleanup shortcut. This is the real McCoy, strip-it-to-the-studs-and-rebuild Alienware wipe job that will cleanse all software-based nasties from your system. It will take 2-3 hours to do once you have everything ready, so plan a good uninterrupted block of time for it.

    Update: Steviejones himself has added a valuable comment below that will be good for Respawn users. It will add a modification to my upcoming drive partition wiping instructions, so decide for yourself what you want to do before proceeding. My procedure is the absolute most "nuclear" option you can do, and it is totally safe and clean, but those with recovery partitions may not want to delete them. It is your choice. Also, Stevie has indicated how to change back to an Alienware logon screen, or one of your own choosing, after the rebuild. My procedure will produce the default Windows logon screen (you know, the blue screen with the Windows logo, birds, squiggly lines, etc.)

    Go to the Dell support site and download all of the latest drivers for your system, including any needed BIOS updater. You will need to know exactly what hardware you have to do this, so refer to the email you received when you bought your system, or the shipping list, or your account at Dell, or whatever. There can be significant detective work involved in figuring out exactly what you need, including cross-comparisons of version numbers between "properties" tabs and the download site, folder names in the driver directory on the hard drive, the list(s) you already have for the system (assuming you have those at all), vendor names (Broadcomm, Realtek, Widcomm, etc.), the Windows device manager, and other options. Do not expect to use the included so-called "Resource disk" that came with your system for drivers. It is out-of-date and confusing, with old driver versions, poor organization, and I read that the command center application on it may actually be corrupt, depending on the vintage of the disk. There is a "My System" tab in its HTML file when you have it open, and that supposedly discovers what components you need for the system it is running in, using little check-marks, but I can confirm that it doesn't properly flag all of your needs, and it may flag things as needs when you don't actually have them installed in your particular build of R2 Alien. I would strongly suggest you not use it for anything other than perhaps basic discovery and reference.

    Run the flashing utility to update your main BIOS to the latest version (which as of Feb. 2011 is A10) before beginning if you haven't already. You only need to do this once, so if you have already done it, you needn't do it again. It is flashed on a chip on the motherboard, so it always survives OS wipes once in place. If there is a video BIOS update available, flash it now too. A VBIOS update will require you to make an image on a disk or flash memory from which to boot the machine. Booting from things other than the hard drive is mentioned just ahead in these instructions, for the Windows OS disk, so follow that approach if you need help. VBIOS updates are burned onto permanent (EEPROM) chips too, so doing it once is all you need until the next update (if ever).

    Use your Windows 7 install disk to boot the machine by starting up with it in the drive (you will have placed it in before shutting down previously), holding down F12 as soon as you see Alien life on the screen, and then choosing the "boot from CD/DVD/..." option from the gray menu. Even if you have a damaged operating system, an unstable system, or have blown one install already, this always works because it only relies on firmware permanently on the motherboard. You are living exclusively in the BIOS while doing these tasks, and you do not need to change your machine's boot order in the BIOS to accomplish this step because the F12 option is the one-time boot menu for just this need. The machine refers to the BIOS boot order normally, but that's no issue here.

    If you are using your Alienware-branded Win-7 disk, you will not need to enter any product key number or do any special activation procedures at any point in this process. They set those up to be tied to the Phoenix OEM Alienware BIOS in such a way that it is a seamless install. If you do not have an Alienware OS disk and are therefore using a retail Win-7 copy, you will have to enter a key and do a little activation step somewhere along the way. You will be prompted accordingly by the installer (it's no big deal), but be prepared for that step if necessary.

    Follow the prompts and when you arrive at the list view of your machine's drives and storage locations, select the 'Drive options (advanced)' link, then go through each partition on the drive, format it, and then DELETE it (you might not really need the format if you are just deleting, but it won't hurt). At the end you will have only unpartitioned space on the drive, and that's where you will install Windows to get one big "C:" drive at the end, like you almost certainly had when you started this task. If you want to set up a partitioned drive, this would be the time to use the options you see to do it, but I didn't (and wouldn't, since everyone I know from the past who ever partitioned their main drive eventually decided they didn't like it that way and went back to having one big "C:" drive. Dual-boot people who have, say, both Windows and Linux operating systems on the same machine might want it differently, but they will know what to do here.) At this point EVERYTHING you had stored or installed on the machine is truly gone, for all practical purposes. Incidentally, if you are wondering why the main drive always ends up being "C" and not "A" (for example), there are good reasons for it, most of which are somewhat historical, but Wikipedia has articles explaining it. Basically, you can't go lower than "C" in a modern consumer PC by default, and you have no choice here. I'm digressing, sorry...

    Okay, now let the Windows installer run and do its tasks. A few restarts will occur, you will respond to a few setup prompts, and you end up back to a full squeaky-clean Windows installation in about 40 minutes. With only standard Windows drivers it will be a little unsophisticated, but it's functional and you are ready to install all OEM (Dell and others) drivers now.

    When installing each driver, take the downloaded .exe installer out of any folder you had it stored in and place it naked on the desktop before running it. This is particularly true with the video driver, which could cause a very minor Windows error if you take the immediate restart while the Windows Explorer (folder contents manager) program is open. This is why the driver installers usually say "It is highly recommended that you close all programs before installing." An open folder is equivalent to an open program: the Windows Explorer. Anyway, if you forget and experience an error, it isn't damaging since the driver will have already installed itself fully by the time the error occurs, so don't get all squeamish or worried to the point of quitting and redoing over it; just keep going.

    Install in the following sequence, preferably restarting after each installed product (I would, even if it doesn't require it.) Do NOT allow the system online until directed later. This is important because Microsoft has now supplied an infrared driver and it will come with an update that you should take. You want to get the ITE OEM driver in first, then let the update happen. If you do it the other way around, you will not be able to install the factory driver at all (it is very cranky), but then you will have already unzipped its install package and made a (minor) mess of things. Trust me, I've been through this already. Anyway, here's the sequence:

    1. Intel Ibex Chipset -- This is a package of critical updates to very low-level hardware drivers and you must do it first.

    2. Video card driver -- There are several options in this installer if you want to change from a default installation, but I don't see why you would want to.

    3. IDT audio driver

    4. LAN network driver -- This one is a little different because you choose to install drivers from a panel that includes some other choices and you have to click to exit the application manually once the driver is installed. Most of the others just finish in an obvious way.

    5. Wireless card driver

    6. Bluetooth module driver -- This driver installs many smaller specific component drivers and will trigger a bunch of status balloons. You may get one saying "failed to install driver" or something similar but it is normal (but poorly stated) because the system doesn't yet have anything paired to it and isn't fully built up. It doesn't mean that the whole Widcomm Bluetooth package failed to install. It means that some peripheral, likely optional, wasn't seen at the time, and it will straighten itself out whenever you add that thing later, if you do. Be happy, it's fine.

    7. Synaptics touchpad driver -- I highly recommend that once installed you un-check the box in the touchpad controls that disables it when an external mouse is detected. Otherwise, if you have a mouse problem you might find yourself stuck at some point needing mouse control and not having any backup control via the touchpad. Did they offer that just for battery life improvement? Hmm, but being plugged in so much, you should set yourself up for maximum utility.

    8. On-screen display (OSD) application -- This makes your little Alienware touch panel work and provides the little animated screen popups.

    9. Intel RAID manager aka "RST application" -- Note here that there is an option checkbox in the installer to install an additional add-on manager at the same time, but the checkbox defaults to un-checked. Leave it that way is my preference. Whatever that other manager is, you don't really need it. All your RAID management will be fully enabled by default without adding anything more. Also, whatever RAID state (0 or 1) you were in when this process began is the one you will be in when it's over. The BIOS knows what to do, so don't plan on changing your RAID mode during this process. I should have mentioned before, but if you want to change your RAID mode, do it in the manager right before you begin all this. The change will definitely wipe-out all your data and you will then have to go through this, but that's how you do it if you want to. Also, for those who do not have a RAID setup at all, but have just a single hard drive: You can still install this drive management software. It works great and will add some nice little features. I have a friend with a single drive system and this manager was installed from the factory. Certainly, it would not be necessary, so ideally you will have already played with this software before the wipe and will have a sense of what you would like to do here if this situation applies to you.

    Note: Those with solid-state drives may have a controller to be installed for the drive. I don't know much about them yet, so if you are one to whom this applies, your sequence might be slightly different. Perhaps such a controller goes right after the chipset? Research it and perhaps give me a PM and we can expand these instructions for others?

    10. Free-fall sensor driver (aka "accelerometer", since that's what it actually is. If you drop the machine, for the brief moment that it is logging air time before meeting with the ground, it cannot feel the downward pressure of gravity because it isn't sitting on anything, and the accelerometer can detect the low-acceleration state and instantly throw a command under battery power to the hard drive(s) to lock the heads safely. Pretty cool, eh?)

    11. Ricoh media card reader driver -- This provides functionality to your various memory card slots.

    12. CIR/infrared driver -- It says "Smart Your NB" on its splash screen when installing.... uh, whatever, it's from ITE in Taiwan!

    13. Install your antivirus program (just in case you start surfing around with the embedded Internet Explorer), place the system online, get your antivirus program updated immediately and wait and accept (a large bunch of) Windows updates. Restart during this and be sure to get all cycles of them. Some updates prepare the way for subsequent ones, so you might get a few volleys of them before it's over. I think it took me 4 complete checks and update installs before everything was done, but this will change over time as Microsoft adds new updates and repackages older ones.

    14. Install the Alienware command center -- This likes the latest .NET Framework installed and should be last anyway, so this is why you should get updates first.

    Congratulations! Your machine should now be as clean and functional as it's going to get. Now proceed with all other software installations and personal setups. You are done!

    Note: If you actually want the webcam software or the vendor-supplied disk burning software, Cyberlink media player, etc. you will find these on the "Resource disk" that came with the machine. Use at your own risk, or do what I did and "just say no." You are not missing any important drivers or critical functionality. You cannot download them at the support website because they don't want the whole world to be able to get them without buying a system. In Win-7, Windows Media Player is better than ever, now featuring built-in DVD playing codecs and other good stuff, so much of the vendor softs on the disk are now totally superfluous. Do you actually like webcamming with your grandma, putting on avatar hair, or looking like a tranquilized dog in a room full of bubbles? Okay, that was a cheap shot, sorry...

    As a general rule, if you don't see your needs covered by this list and procedure, it is safe to assume that the higher-level and more sophisticated an application is, the later in the sequence it should go. Some techs say the sequence doesn't really matter, as long as things like the chipset, video driver, audio driver, and any other low-level functions are well-established first. I can prove from my own actual experience that this is not always exactly true, but so long as you don't see errors and keep the large fancy applications that only provide embellishments to the system later in your sequence, you are probably fine.

    A note about Turbo Boost: Core i7 CPUs generally (actually, I think always) have Turbo Boost Technology, which is a neat dynamic clocking utility that can throttle each execution thread independently as resources become available or drop away. It is completely CPU- and BIOS-supported; there is absolutely no driver required to have it, so don't worry about it in the slightest. It's still there and active if your machine ever had it in the first place. Note that there is a Turbo Boost Technology "driver" at the Dell download site, but you will not be able to install it on your machine; if you try, it will not install. I don't know why it is there, but it may be an early version of what I mention next.

    If you would like to see TBT in action, you can go to Intel's website and get a desktop gadget that one can install that will give you a little desktop square with an animated barplot of its real-time activity. This link worked in December 2010:

    http://www.intel.com/support/processors/sb/CS-031441.htm?wapkw=(turbo+boost)

    I had it installed at one time, just for fun, then quickly realized that it wasn't telling me anything that I desperately needed to know, so I didn't replace it after the rebuild. These high-end Core i7 machines have 4 CPU cores and 2 execution threads per core, for a total of 8 (!) execution threads. This is why when you open the device manager you see what looks like 8 independent processors. They aren't perfectly independent like they are in a real multi-processor cluster ($$$$$$), it turns out, but the more sophisticated applications these days can nevertheless get a big performance boost by spreading computational demands across all the threads. It depends on how the application is coded, and not all are real sophisticated about this, but over time they will keep getting better at recruiting more thread horsepower. I run a large scientific computing package that can literally take over all threads when I tell it to and do mathematical parallel-processing on all eight at once if I write my code right for it. Talk about "firing on all eight"! (A little old-school car buff lingo for ya.)

    I hope this helps someone. It was a big project that I am glad to have finally finished! Both Grim and Stevie have good related driver install procedures here too, so you can compare or mix-and-match if you want.
     
  2. devoidx

    devoidx Notebook Consultant

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    Great guide. This will come in handy for the SP1 rebuild! :D

    +Rep
     
  3. steviejones133

    steviejones133 Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Fantastic user friendly guide!! + rep for all the effort and hard work !

    The only thing alot of people may or may not be aware of is that by deleting all partitions on the HDD will effectively "nuke" the recovery partition too.....if you want AlienRespawn "reloaded" onto your system (down to preference) I would leave the recovery partition in tact so you can follow instructions here http://forum.notebookreview.com/ali...datasafe-software-respawn-faq-discussion.html to get it back and working. You will need Respawn if thats how you want to perform back-ups, although there are alot of other "aftermarket" back up tools out there that do the same thing. Its down to personal preference.

    If you HAVENT already created recovery media, I would also STRONGLY suggest doing so BEFORE starting this procedure to ensure you have an "out of box" image stored for future use. Keep it safe and should you need to revert to this state, you should be able to boot from it and restore your system to factory conditions. If you dont require Respawn to be on your HDD, fine...go ahead and "nuke" the lot but it wont re-install if you have killed off your recovery partition.....;)

    EDIT: One other thing worth noting - if you want to use AMD drivers instead of Dell 8.763, have them downloaded and to hand too as it will save having to uninstall Dell ones and make for a squeaky clean video driver install eh? (note. if you havent flashed to the latest dell vbios, you will need to have 8.763 installed to do so - THEN, if you wish, dump Dell drivers and go to AMD) - no odd bits leftover after removing the Dell drivers you would normally add at stage 2 of the above process. This would be assuming you have updated to the latest Vbios as mentioned in the original post.
     
  4. steviejones133

    steviejones133 Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Also, after you fresh install of windows OS, you will find that the log-on screen has defaulted back to that of windows colour scheme...if you want to revert back to an Alienware log-on screen (or any other of your choice for that matter) you can do so by using this program ..... you can customise your log-in screen easily but if you prefer, you dont have to, it aint gonna impact on system performance, just aesthetics.... this small program can be found here Windows 7 Logon Background Changer - Customize your Windows 7 welcome screen wallpaper and it will give your system that "Alienware" feel again....if aesthetics is up your street.....if not , it isnt that imperative.

    Just thought i would mention it for those who wondered where their AW login screen had disappeared to!!!
     
  5. jiggymf

    jiggymf Notebook Evangelist

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    There is a much easier and 'no software needed' way to accomplish that.
    This is how I did it:

    1> run REGEDIT
    navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Authentication\LogonUI\Background

    Make a new value, type dword. When you've done this give it the value 00000001
    Now close Regedit

    2> Navigate to C:\Windows\System32\oobe, (If you miss the oobe directory, make sure your OS shows hidden files and folders which you can turn on from the control panel, if you still do not have it, then create the directory yourself).

    3> Copy your image you want to use to that folder. Make sure the image is not bigger then 256Kb in size, and is a JPG. Name the image backgroundDefault<resolution>.jpg.
    Example: background1360×768.jpg
    You can put several images here to use with different resolutions

    Now you're done.

    It's also easy to re-ad Manufacturer information and an Alienware logo to your Computer properties, as well as an alienware logo as icon for your user. Let me know if people want to know how to do this.
     
  6. alienwolf

    alienwolf Notebook Deity

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    Very nice guide, explained somethings I did not know about the drivers. Why its best to do in a certain order. Also I keep a win 7 USB another with all the drivers, and a third with the recovery Image on it. All kept in my bag in case the worst ever happens.:eek: +Rep
     
  7. VoiceInTheWilderness

    VoiceInTheWilderness Notebook Consultant

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    Thanks Wolf! It was a project, but I'm glad I went through with it. I learned a lot.

    I do exactly like you do, maybe with an embellishment or two: I have a folder I call my "Rebuild" folder that I keep on an offline hard drive, and within it I have a bunch of sub-folders, with each one containing the .exe file for its driver and nothing else. Then I have each folder named with what driver it is (since the file names are just version/product codes) and the order number for its installation. I spent a few hours downloading and assembling all of that before embarking on the rebuild. When ready, I do the Win-7 wipe job, then I just plug in my external drive, copy that one big folder onto the desktop, and go one-by-one through the install sequence, always being sure to delete the package and containing folder after each one. This way, if I get distracted or pulled away mid-stream, I always know exactly where I was in the process and can pick right up where I left off. Works perfectly reliably every time, and now I have no more fear of redoing the beast. Other than the big software installs, I can do the whole job in about 3 hours with a fast internet connection.

    Well, I hope it can serve you well, if you ever need it. Actually I hope you never need it; that would be best of all!
     
  8. steviejones133

    steviejones133 Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    good to see your getting some recognition Dave....excellent thread that i have recommended to many. Keep up the sterling work fella...(id rep you again but it wont let me LOL)
     
  9. unreal25

    unreal25 Capt. Obvious

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    Nice guide, but my opinion is you're overthinking it. I never follow any particular order and never had any problems with drivers. Probably because the stuff that comes with default Win install already contains most of the important chipset drivers etc. so they just need to be updated. Last time I remember install sequence mattered was in Win98 or so.

    Btw, might wanna install DirectX runtime too at some point. I always forget about it, until I run Media Player Classic to make sure things work and then it reminds me. :)
     
  10. ElSerch

    ElSerch Notebook Consultant

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    Yes I did it, I deleted the partition and now I am unable to complete the installation. I am getting this screen using the Win 7 cd-dvd provided with the laptop:

    [​IMG]

    and if I try to use a regular Win 7 CD-DVD I have an other different mesagge:

    [​IMG]

    I don't know what I have to do to get my M17x running one more time.
    Please I need advices, comments or suggestions!

    Regards

    PD. how I can eject the CD-DVD?
     
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