Sunday, November 24, 2013

[Rant] Still could not get rid of the Dell Latitude 10 Tablet (part 4)

The story so far.

With both methods coming to a dead end (part 3 above), I didn't know what to do. This was last Thursday. I was hoping to go to Akihabara to sell the tablet on Saturday (16th of November). But with only 2 days to go and no solution, I gave one last shot. I had to put my faith on Google Gods.

After searching the internet for a while I came across a forum post which sounded promising. Apparently one guy had created a tool to automate the job in method 2 which I mentioned in part 3 of the story.

The tool is called Anarethos Recovery Tools with Media Creator. I didn't if it would work though. However, that tool has been in development for a long time and that pushed my hopes up.

I went to his website and downloaded the tool which came in the form of an file archive. I extracted the archive. I also downloaded the manual from the same location. There weren't a lot of instructions in it, so I couldn't understand how to begin at first. Without understanding all of it, I tried the instructions one by one. Then things became quite clear to me.

I'll describe the steps in short. in case you would be in the same spot as I was.

  • First you have to have a bootable USB drive or a bootable DVD to install Windows from.

  • Then you have to add an autounattend.xml provided by the author. This file contains how to partition the hard drive. (Yes, you will lose everything on your hard drive, so you have to backup everything first.)

  • Then you have to copy a folder to the USB drive - one from the set of folders provided in the archive we downloaded earlier. The folder corresponds to the OS you want to install (Windows 7 or Windows 8) and where you want to place the  recovery partition in the hard drive (towards the beginning or the end). If you are using a bootable USB drive, you can copy it to the same drive. If you are using a bootable DVD, then you have to use a separate USB drive. (Yes, you still need a USB drive for the whole thing to work.)

  • Then you have to boot from the install disc or USB drive and install Windows as you would normally do on a PC. It will detect the autounattend.xml and partition the drive automatically. I went into an issue at this point, but I managed to solve it. The problem was that it failed to automatically detect the OEM product key. I rebooted back to Windows and managed to dump the OEM product key using this VB script. Then I modified the autounattend.xml so that the Windows setup reads the product key from it. Then the setup started.

  • The setup wouldn't show the normal OOBE after the first reboot. OOBE is the place where you initially setup the PC with a name and user accounts etc. It would automatically log into the Administrator account. When you go into the desktop, it will show up a dialog box called Sysprep. You have to close this as soon as possible. Don't touch anything on it - just close it from the close button.

  • Now install the apps and drivers you want to be included in the recovery image. But I don't think you can reboot if you are prompted to do so. I'm not entirely sure about this. I didn't have to reboot so I couldn't test it. Perhaps it works fine because there is no reason why the OOBE should be launched.

  • Run the Install.cmd file and let it do its thing.

I'm not sure what exactly he did in his scripts. Seems like it needed an additional step called “generalization” of the image, which was missing in the instructions in the Technet guide. It took a while for the whole thing to finish. Maybe about 30 minutes to 1hour as the tablet is quite slow.

After that, it rebooted Windows and I was presented with the OOBE where I had to enter a name for the tablet and create a username. I didn't log into a Wi-Fi network though. Because of that, the tablet couldn't be activated. At first, I thought I should have activated Windows and then created the recovery image. But when I checked online, this was the preferred behavior. The OS is not pre-activated usually. The user has to go online or use the telephone and activate Windows on your own. Well, if the tablet

can connect to the internet, it would be seamless and automatic. You wouldn't even know that it was not activated in the first place.

I tried Reset and Refresh - many times because of the previous unpleasant experience. Refresh was fast. Reset where you format just your first drive was fast as well - finished within 30 minutes. Reset where you format all your drives was slow. In fact, it took like 2 hours for the whole thing. I guess that is normal. eMMC storage is has crappy read and write speeds.

I was quite happy. Everything was working just as I wanted. Now, I could sell the tablet. I was able to finish everything by Saturday morning. I even had to take the tablet to work where I did a multiple Refresh and Reset cycles. I wouldn't have finished it by time otherwise.

There was one problem though.

When I checked the size of the recovery partition, it was quite large. 11GB. I'm pretty sure the recovery image was smaller than 4GB. That's the size of the custom Refresh image. There was nothing I could do at that point other than to start from the scratch. Then how you do is by editing the partition sizes specified in the autounattend.xml file. Now that I had the recovery partition, I could temporarily assign a drive letter to it (as it is a hidden partition) using DISKPART and read the size of the image file. Then I had to make the recovery partition just a little bigger than the size of that image. It would have been the optimal size for the recovery partition. Of course I would have to leave 500MB or so “buffer” in case the size of the image grew slightly bigger the next time. You never know. Better safe that sorry. Leaving 500MB of extra space shouldn’t be a problem.

There could be other ways, but I didn't have time to search for them or the try them if I found any. So I decided to sell the tablet the way it was.

My quest to sell the Dell Latitude 10 tablet continues.... here.

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