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Vista booting from the wrong drive?
Installing Vista on a RAID array?

When I heard that Vista allowed RAID drivers to be installed from a USB device during the installation (instead of a floppy), I rejoiced, thinking that Microsoft had finally seen the light. However, there is a potentially critical flaw with Vista's install process that can hamper your Vista installation on a RAID array...

It seems that if there is any other non-RAID HD connected to your motherboard during the early stages of the Vista install, Vista will secretly choose to install the boot partition on that drive, even if you choose to install the system files on your RAID array. The safest way to avoid this, is to simply ensure that only the drive or RAID array you want to install Vista on is connected. Disconnect all other hard drives from your system during Vista install, or potentially risk the same issue. Why it does this, I don't know.

Here's exactly what happened to me:

In my system, I have an Areca RAID controller with four Raptors connected to it in a RAID0 array. I also have a 500GB data drive connected to one of the motherboard nForce4 SATA connectors.

When I installed Vista and got to the step where you indicate which drive to install Vista on, I proceeded to load drivers for the Areca from my USB stick (yay!) and then selected that array for Vista to install to.

When the installation was complete, I removed the install DVD from my optical drive and went about my business of installing updated drivers and applications.

Alarmingly, on the first reboot, I got the dreaded "No System Disk Found - Please Insert Disk and Restart"... Crap!

It took me a long time and two or three re-installs of Vista to figure out what it was doing. I couldn't understand why it would reboot fine to the Areca array during installation, but as soon as I took the DVD out of the drive, it would no longer boot.

In fact, with my BIOS setup to boot from devices in this order:
  1. CDROM
  2. HD (Areca RAID Array)
  3. HD (SATA Data Drive)

and with any bootable media in the optical drive, I could boot Vista from the Areca simply by ignoring the "Press any key to boot from the DVD drive..." after POST.

However, if I removed the bootable media, or changed the BIOS boot device order, it wouldn't find Vista. It's still a mystery why my BIOS worked this way, but by at least being able to boot through this workaround I was able to figure out the problem. I also give credit to the wisdom on [H]ardforums where folks were having similar issues.

As mentioned at the top of this article, it seems that Vista had secretly installed the boot partition to the 500GB data drive, while installing the system parition (correctly) on my RAID array.

This was evidenced by looking at the partition layout in Vista's storage manager. It should look the way it does in the following picture with the Active, System, and Boot partitions all on the desired drive. If it does not, you will need to do a repair.

The Solution:

Fortunately, the Vista repair process is greatly improved over XP. You simply boot from the Vista installation media, select your language preferences, and then select "Repair" from the next step.

Of course, if you are solving the same problem I had, then you need to disconnect your other hard drives before doing the repair.

I also had to run the repair twice. The first time, it automatically detected a problem with my boot manager, but failed to repair it. The second time I ran the repair process, it gave me a menu and I manually selected "Startup Repair" which did the trick.

Worst case, I suppose, is that you have to reinstall Vista (without any additional drives in your system).


Here is a great Microsoft Technet reference on how the Vista Recovery Environment works.

There is also a set of command line tools you can use if the GUI based RE solution fails which are fully documented in this Microsoft knowledgebase article.

Finally, if you want to understand the role of the Boot and System partitions in more detail, you can read about that here in this Microsoft knowledgebase article.