Aug 29, 2011

Problem loading and finding drivers for Windows Home Server (WHS) PC full system restore from backup

I'm a big fan of the Windows Home Server (WHS) product - specifically the earlier versions prior to WHS 2011 before they removed the Drive Extender feature. I've deployed several HP MediaSmart servers for small businesses and home offices.  The full PC restore feature has come in handy on several occasions. You just boot from a CD, connect to your WHS box and select the image that you want to restore and sit back and relax while it completely restores your PC.

The only real tricky part of this process is making sure that the WHS boot environment recognizes your hardware drivers - network cards, hard drives, disk controllers, etc.  If it can't talk to your network card, it won't be able to find your WHS server, if it can't talk to your disk drives, you won't see any drives available when you try to select the drive mapping during the restore process. 

Most of the time it seems to find all of my hardware without any issues. Sometimes it will be missing the Ethernet controller so you'll need to provide drivers for that.  Typically you can just go to another PC on your WHS network, open the WHS console, go to Computer & Backups, select the PC that you are trying to restore, right-click and select View Backups, select one of the recent backups and hit "Open"..., select a partition, and let it open the backup so you can see the files.

On each partition, you'll find a special folder that WHS has created called "Windows Home Server Drivers for Restore".  You copy all of these files to a USB flash drive and then put it into your PC that you are trying to restore.  Then boot into the WHS environment again.  When it gets to the screen were it detects your hardware, you'll need to hit the button to tell it to scan your drives for additional drivers.  It will then scan your USB drive and it SHOULD find all of the proper hardware drivers.

This method has worked for me 100% of the time until last week.  I was trying to restore a Dell Inspiron laptop that would no longer boot.  Even when I copied the drivers from the "Windows Home Server Drivers for Restore" folder, I was still missing Ethernet and storage controller drivers.  So what I did was look up the service tag on the Dell laptop, go out to the support and drivers page and manually download the Ethernet and any storage-related drivers I could find.  These will be compressed .exe files.  Make sure you run them first, so they will extract all of the files into a folder tree.  Then grab these extracted files and put them on your USB drive.  The location on the USB drive doesn't seem to matter - it scans the whole drive.

Once I manually downloaded my drivers and put them on the USB stick, I rebooted into the WHS restore environment once again, told it to scan for additional drivers and thankfully it found them this time!  My Ethernet card was listed as well as the hard disk controllers.  Now I could browse and see my WHS box on the network, select my PC name, select my most recent backup and then it asks you to map the partitions that you want to restore C: to C:, D: to D:, etc.

Hopefully this will help if you run into this situation.

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