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Dell Dimension 3100 - PC Restore/ OS Reinstall


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Dell Dimension 3100 - PC Restore/ OS Reinstall

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I have (or rather my wife has) a Dell Dimension 3100 running XP Home (SP2 updated to SP3). It was purchased around 8 years ago and badly needs a clean install.

As I understand, there is supposed to be a function - Dell PC Restore - that "restores the hard drive to operating state that it was in when the computer was purchased". Wonderful, if I could find it. It is supposed to be accessible at PC power on by pressing Crtl + F11, but I've spent at least an hour now trying every which way to get this ethereal Restore screen to come up.The handbook says press Ctrl+F11 as soon as the keyboard status lights flash. By that time it's too late and it boots into Windows. I read somewhere else that you press just as the Dell logo appears and then let go when a blue line appears at the top of the scree. But no blue line or Restore screen.

I note it states in the handbook that Dell PC Restore is not available in all countries, although not helpfully specifying which those countries are. This PC was purchased in the Middle East (Kuwait). So, of course I'm wondering if I am one of the unlucky ones that don't.

But these things I have discovered:

1. Windows Disc Management reveals that, in addition to the system C:\ drive,  there are two unnamed partitions on the hard-drive:

One Healthy (Unknown) FAT32 partition of 3.0GB size and with 1.21GB free space i.e. 1.8GB occupied - is this maybe the PC Restore partition  

One Healthy (EISA configuration) FAT partition of 47MB size and 40MB free i.e. 3MB. Surely can't be an OS backup, so maybe system drivers/driver reset utility?

2. On the C:\ drive there is a folder named Dell with sub-folder Utilities and within that two folders Driver Reset Tool and DSR. Aha !! In the DSR folder there is an DSR1RRemv2 application. Clicked on that and a window pops up asking if want to delete the Dell PC Restore Partition, which of course I don't and so promptly QUIT. Never touched that folder before and so one can reasonably assume that there is indeed a Dell PC Restore partition and function on this PC.

3. In Add/Remove programs there is listed an application called Dell System Restore but I cannot find a path for this application.

So, how on earth can this Dell System Restore function be accessed? 

I cant recall if a XP (OEM) installation CD was provided with the PC. I can only find CD's for reinstalling Microsoft Works, Data/Fax/Voice modem software and McAfee. However, in the installed Programs there is under Dell Accessories a utility for creating (once only) an OS Recovery CD. So I created and burned that and tested it at boot and it does appear to be an XP set-up CD. It appeared to unpack a string of drivers before arriving at the install or back-out decision screen.

So I could use that as a last resort, but the question is:

1. Is it going to load all of the Dell drivers as well or am I going to have to go looking for them. Does it include the other Dell utilities as well or is it just plain XP Home?

2. Am I going to run into problems re-registering a clean XP install. I used (Jelly Bean) key finder tool to dig out the Product ID and 'CD Key' of the existing installation, but are these still going to be valid with a fresh install?

Really need some advice on this. I do have an Acronis full disc bootable backup at the ready, but surely there must be some way of accessing the Dell PC Restore function and saving all the hassle of installing XP from scratch.


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  • To determine if your computer has a functional Dell PC Restore partition, watch the computer boot up.  After the Dell screen disappears following a start-up, a blue bar having the Dell name in it will appear at the top of the display.  The blue bar, or stripe, will show for about two seconds, after which you should see a statement about loading the descriptor for PBR2.  You must press CTRL and F11 during the appearance of the blue stripe, releasing both at the same time before the appearance of the statement about loading the descriptor for PBR2.  If you are successful, you will get a display giving you the option of restoring your PC, or to exit the process.

    If you do not see the blue stripe, the PC Restore feature is either not present, or has been disabled.  There are a number of things that can disable the feature, in particular, any procedure that re-writes the Master Boot Record.  This document by Dan Goodell goes into a great deal of detail about the operation of PC Restore for Windows XP and how to fix it:  Inside the Dell PC Restore Partition.  If you manage to get PC Restore to work, remember that it is an image of the hard drive as was originally delivered by Dell.  If you have changed any of the hardware since you have owned it the PC Restore image will not have a driver for it.  It is therefore best to return the computer to the condition in which it was received before activating PC Restore.

    If PC Restore is not functional, and you cannot repair it, your only recourse is to use the Windows XP reinstallation disk you made to delete the existing partitions, reformat, and reinstall your operating system and applications.  Dell has a page here with links to the various restore options:  Restoring or Reinstalling Windows on a Dell.  Forum member natakuc4 also has a document that goes into much more detail:  A Clean Install of Windows.

    Dell Forum member since 2005

  • Thanks for your prompt reply.

    No, unfortunately, I do not see any blue strip appear after the Dell screen disappears. I did have the system Acronis Recovery Manager activated and wondered if that might be interferring since it also requires hitting the F11 key just after the Dell logo, so I inactivated that, but still no blue strip, just blank screen until Windows boots up.

    From what I've read the Unknown FAT32 partition surely contains the PC Restore files (the other small partition holding the Diagnostic utilities, as I understand) Neither I or anyone else has messed with the existing partitions, the DSR parition removal utility or restored the system before. In fact, it's never even been backed up before now. So, I can't understand how it has become disabled or the MBR over-written.  And I did try accessing the Restore screen a couple of times before installing Acronis True Image, so I can't see that that was the cause.

    Yes, I have wondered whether this created OS Recovery CD might serve the same function i.e. simply reinstalling the OS, Restore and Diagnostic files in the respective partitions, but I suspect you are right. The set-up screen looks like a typical windows installation set-up, and so presumably I'd lose the Restore and Diagnostic files also, unless I recreate the partitions and restore the files from the Acronis back-up. And would it work even then. What a hassle.

    Should I maybe try a Repair install. There is that option on the CD set-up, but I suspect it will tell me that the system is now 'newer' and that a clean install is required.

    I did come across the 'Inside the Dell PC Restore Partition' whilst searching for answers. Rather over my head, but I guess I could give it a go. I think I have some floppys somewhere. I'll look at the other docs you referenced also.

    Thanks alot. 

  • If you're going to all that work, you might consider upgrading to Windows 7. XP is already three versions behind, support will be ended altogether next year. Windows 8 is available at Newegg for $80 for today only.

    If upgrading is not an option, you can borrow an XP retail install disc of the appropriate version, you can install that and use the Microsoft product key utility to activate using your Dell's product key.

  • You may have to run DSRFIX to get the recovery working again if you haven't  re formatted and removed.  If the hidden 8 gig partition is at the end of the drive you can repair or recover that image using PTEDIT and DSRFIX.

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  • @rdunnilI

    I thought they were offering an upgrade to Windows 8 for around $39, or has that offer now passed. Still, Windows 8 needs a CPU with PAE, NX , as well as SSE2 instruction sets and at least 1gB, lets face it 2gB RAM. This Dimension 3100 has a 3.0GHz P4 (MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, EM64T) and only 512MB RAM.

    Why would I need a retail version XP if I have this OEM XP 'recovery' CD? Although I'm still not sure (unless I try it) if it's going to require product re-activation and whether the existing ID and 'CD' keys that Key Finder dug out are valid.


    No, I've not done anything yet, or given up on the PC Restore. It got to 1.30am and I thought it best to sleep-on it, rather than doing anything rash.

    You mention an 8gB 'hidden' partition. As I mentioned in my first post the Unknown (FAT32) partition I'm referring to is 3gB size of which 1.79gB is occupied.  

    Guess I need to get my head into these 'repair' DSR possibilities. Thought it was going to be straightforward, as my wife also complained this morning.

    I might add also, no hardware, other than a printer and, for a couple of months, a Wireless G PCI adapter, has been added or changed. The 80gB hard drive is the original. No RAM upgrades or anything.


  • Hmmm, reading the 'Inside the Dell PC Restore Partition' document I'm wondering whether the DSR on this machine is the DRMK-DOS based version or the the WinPE version that was introduced when Dell began shipping PC's with a trial of Symantec Ghost 10. The article states that started early 2006. This PC, as I recall, was purchased December 2005. Can't see any signs of Ghost program on the PC, but I'm wondering if the DSR is in fact a Ghost image, and therefore technically recoverable using Ghost. I do have a copy of Ghost 9 on DVD (from 2004, I think). Not sure if the license needs updating.

    Might be worth a try?

  • WorBry
    I thought they were offering an upgrade to Windows 8 for around $39, or has that offer now passed. Still, Windows 8 needs a CPU with PAE, NX , as well as SSE2 instruction sets and at least 1gB, lets face it 2gB RAM. This Dimension 3100 has a 3.0GHz P4 (MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, EM64T) and only 512MB RAM.

    The Windows 8 upgrade special is over, although you can buy it from Newegg for $80 for today only, and the E3100 CPU should work. Newegg also offers 1 gb GSKILL DDR2 sticks for $15 with shipping.

    You don't "need" a retail XP install disc, but it will arguably work better, as it will be unencumbered by resource-eroding utilities and the like.

  • I'm happy to report that  DSRFIX resolved the DSR issue - re-wrote the Dell MBR.

    Might upgrade the DDR2 on this PC at some point, irrespective of whether, or when, update Windows. XP Sp3 users have got until April 2014 I think?

    Thanks to all for your help.