Inside the Dell PC Restore Partition

An Exploration by Dan Goodell
Introduction Backup Image DSR Booting DOS-Type DSR PE-Type DSR Troubleshooting Appendixes
Symantec Ghost 10

In early 2006 Dell began shipping computers with a time-limited trial version of Symantec Ghost 10. This section describes the effect this change has on the DSR partition.

Ghost is a program used to create backup images of entire partitions or disks, and is particularly useful for backing up your operating system partition. Note that a backup image of a partition cannot be stored on the source partition itself, so it must be stored somewhere else--perhaps on an external hard drive, a set of CDs or DVDs, or even just another partition. Accordingly, in systems Dell preloads with Ghost 10 the main XP partition (formerly the only user-accessible partition in the system) will be split into two partitions--one partition for XP and the other for Ghost backups. (See this example.)
(Note to reader: the "Backup" partition need not be used exclusively for Ghost. It is an ordinary user-accessible partition, and can be used by the user to store other files, if desired.)
The customer can use Ghost 10 to create "recovery points"--snapshots of the operating system at chosen points in time, and store them on the "Backup" partition.

In effect, the Dell factory has already created something similar with the DSR backup image. So if you already have Dell PC-Restore, why would you want Ghost 10, or vice versa? Here is a comparison of the two systems:

Dell PC-Restore by Symantec (DSR) Symantec Ghost 10
Dell license, derived from older Ghost version Symantec license
free, included with DSR system time-limited trial version
cannot create backups--restore only can create and restore backups
image stored in DellRestore partition images stored in "Backup" (D:) partition
Dell provides image of XP as of date system was shipped make your own up-to-date images of XP

Bear in mind that PC-Restore is based on an earlier version of Ghost, and the two programs and the format of their image files are not compatible! (For the record, Symantec did not develop either program. The software conglomerate purchased the two programs from different companies, so it is not surprising that the programs are incompatible.) Ghost 10 cannot work with the factory image in the DSR partition, and PC-Restore cannot work with any Ghost 10 backups in the "Backup" partition.

Ghost 10 is more versatile and allows the customer to periodically update backups (renamed "recovery points"). However, it is not free . . . and if you're going to have to pay for something, it would be prudent to also consider other worthy alternatives before deciding which to buy. Do your homework, and don't pay for Ghost 10 just because Symantec cut a deal with Dell to preload it on your computer.

You can delete Ghost 10 and the "Backup" partition, and PC-Restore can still be used (although repair may be necessary). You can delete PC-Restore and the DSR partition, and Ghost 10 will still work with its recovery points from the "Backup" partition. (However, note Ghost 10 will no longer work from the SRE because the SRE would have been on the DSR partition, so if you delete the DSR partition you will need to run Ghost 10 from XP or from a Ghost bootable CD.)

The PE-Type DSR Partition

The WinPE version of the DSR partition serves multiple purposes. These multiple purposes are available from a "Symantec/Dell Recovery Environment" (SRE) menu. (See here for a few screen shots from a PE-type DSR partition.)

While Ghost 10 is made to run in XP, sometimes the XP operating system might be unbootable. Thus, Dell has enhanced the DSR partition to add the ability to use Ghost 10 from there. That way, if XP will not boot you can still boot to the SRE and use Ghost 10 to revert to a previously saved recovery point. Since Ghost 10 is a 32-bit program, the 16-bit operating systems used in earlier DSR versions are unable to run Ghost 10. Therefore, the DSR partition has been changed to boot WinPE so that it is compatible with Ghost 10.

Some of the SRE menu options include: The "Original Dell Configuration" option still serves the original DSR purpose--restoring from fi.gho, the factory-created DSR backup image. Note, however, that the image is in Ghost 8.3 format, which Ghost 10 cannot read. The OS change from DOS to WinPE means the 16-bit recover.exe utility previously used will no longer work, so it has been replaced with RestoreGhost.exe, a 32-bit counterpart identical in appearance.

The "legacy Ghost image" option is similar to "Original Dell Configuration", but whereas "Original Dell Configuration" is predestined to look only for fi.gho and restore only to partition 2, "legacy Ghost image" can be used to manually restore any Ghost 8/2003 images to any partition.

Some users may prefer not to keep Ghost 10 or the extra partition. Ghost 10 can be removed from the Windows Control Panel. The "Backup" partition can be deleted via the SRE.
author: Dan Goodell