Creating a Dell diagnostic partition on a bare hard drive

Discussion in 'Dell' started by Ben Myers, Mar 15, 2005.

  1. Ben Myers

    Ben Myers Guest

    Yes, you can create a Dell diagnostic partition on a bare hard drive. Or at
    least I can. Or I did, and I can do it again, sometimes.

    First, I tried with a pair of Dell Latitude notebooks, a C810 and a C840. The
    user's guides give a clue that it is not possible, because they tell you to run
    the diagnostics from either floppy or CD-ROM. No mention at all of diagnostic
    partitions. The basic problem here is that the notebooks' BIOS does not give
    enough menu choices for the F12 key boot menu. The choice to boot the
    diagnostics is missing on these models.

    However, I did succeed with a Dell Precision 360 for which one of my clients
    wanted a larger hard disk than originally installed. Here's what I did using a
    Windows 98 boot disk, RANISH partition editor, a CD burner on another system, a
    download of the appropriate diagnostics from the Dell web site, and my own bare

    1. Create a primary DOS partition on the drive using FDISK. I picked a
    partition size of 40MB, but if you want to put more stuff in this partition,
    make it larger.
    2. Reboot, and format the partition to boot up Windows 98 with the command
    FORMAT C: /S
    3. Burn a CD with the unzipped diagnostics for your model of Dell computer.
    Add a reboot command plus any other software you want on the partition.
    4. Copy the contents of the CD to the C: drive of your target system. You can
    organize the diagnostic partition with folders (directories) if you'd like.
    5. Using the Win 98 EDIT command, create an AUTOEXEC.BAT text file something
    echo off
    and save the file as C:\AUTOEXEC.BAT . The three commands shown here assume
    that both the Dell diagnostics and the reboot command are in the root directory
    of the C: drive.
    6. Reboot the system and make sure this all works, because it is a pain in the
    ass to go back and fix it up. But it can be done. If you don't like what you
    see, fix it now and test again before changing the partition type.
    7. Run the RANISH partition editor (or PTEDIT), change the partition type to
    0xDE (that's hexadecimal DE), make the partition NOT bootable, and save the new
    partition sector.
    8. Install your favorite operating system.
    9. Now when you press the F12 key to see the boot options, one of them should be
    menu choice #8 to access the diagnostic partition.

    A couple of comments:

    The tools to do this are pretty simple, but it really does help to know DOS
    commands. More important than the tools, get things done in the right order.

    The Ranish partition editor is an old-style DOS menu-based editor, but it does
    work well. PTEDIT has a Windows look-and-feel, but it is downright crippled if
    you don't load up a DOS-based mouse driver before using it... Ben Myers
    Ben Myers, Mar 15, 2005
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  2. Ben Myers

    dg1261 Guest

    Oh, yeah--I forgot to mention that. My autoexec.bat always loads a DOS
    mouse driver, so I tend to forget what it's like trying to use ptedit
    without a mouse. <blush>
    dg1261, Mar 15, 2005
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  3. Ben Myers

    Patrick Guest

    Isn't all this about the same thing as setting up a dual boot
    situation and putting into the first partition, the files you want to
    run? And instead of fdisk, I think Partition Magic is preferred now
    but thats assuming cost isn't an issue.

    I too started in dos and agree that even nowadays it helps to remember
    the old days. Frankly I'm a bit rusty in some of the old dos things I
    did (low levels, high levels, batch programming, etc..) but it's good
    to have started in dos and them moved into windows. I've seen people
    who just started in windows and when in trouble, have no clue what to
    do outside windows.
    Patrick, Mar 15, 2005
  4. Ben Myers

    Ben Myers Guest

    It's a little different than a straight dual boot. The partition type is not
    standard. The dual boot depends on the system BIOS recognizing the non-standard
    partition type. To do it absolutely right, the diagnostic partition must be
    created before the operating system partition... Ben Myers
    Ben Myers, Mar 15, 2005
  5. Ben Myers

    Patrick Guest

    Is this non-standard partition a hidden partition?
    Patrick, Mar 15, 2005
  6. Although it wouldn't have suited Ben's purpose (setting up the system
    like it is from the factory), it's fairly simple procedure if you go the
    dual boot route. Simply create a DOS partition, copy all the recovery
    files there, and use a boot loader like Grub to access the partition
    (instead of booting with F12). Assuming the partition is on the primary
    master first partition, the grub entry is simply:

    title Dell Utility
    rootnoverify (hd0,0)
    chainloader +1
    Nicholas Andrade, Mar 15, 2005
  7. Ben Myers

    dg1261 Guest

    Essentially, yeah, it's a kind of dualboot (though not that dopey scheme
    Microsoft calls a dualboot). But instead of using an external boot manager,
    the boot menu is built into the bios, and unlike an external boot manager
    the user has no control over the bios boot menu. The built-in menu is
    already there in the bios, intended for Dell's special purpose. Ben is just
    trying to restore Dell's special purpose so the menu option isn't orphaned.
    (I'm the one who is co-opting it for additional purposes.)

    Note it's the partition table indicator that's non-standard, not the actual
    partition itself (which is a standard FAT16 partition). The non-standard
    partition-type indicator in the partition table has the effect of making the
    partition "hidden" to normal operating systems in other partitions. That's
    no different than how standard boot managers or partition managers (like
    PartitionMagic) hide a partition--they just change the partition-type
    indicator in the partition table to a non-standard value (though by now
    they've standardized what non-standard values they use <g>). The partition
    itself is never altered, only the partition table. Any non-standard value
    will effectively hide a partition, but Dell has chosen to use 0xDE because
    nobody else uses it, and thus they can customize their bios to look for it.
    Dell does this deliberately so it doesn't interfere with the main OS when
    Windows boots normally.

    Note that "hidden" has always been something of a misnomer--a better term is
    "disguised". Even when standard boot managers or partition managers (like
    PartitionMagic) "hide" a partition, that doesn't make it invisible to
    Windows--Windows knows it's there, but the non-standard partition-type
    indicator fools Windows into not trying to read or use it. Look at a hidden
    partition in XP's Disk Management snap-in and it will be there, but it will
    be listed as "(Unknown Partition)" and won't have a drive letter.
    dg1261, Mar 15, 2005
  8. Ben Myers

    Patrick Guest

    The only reason I brought up the dual boot question was because a long
    time ago, I had set up some pc's that way (not currently tho) but I
    never had a need for hidden partitions. Maybe it's not a bad idea to
    do it again with a hidden partition with certain handy utils built in
    to a menu. Others would rather just carry these handy utils on a cd
    instead. But Ben had a good question or idea to consider even if we
    don't do it Dell's way.

    BTW, I haven't seen such a nice well written description / explanation
    like this in a long time. Even tho I knew most (not all) of what
    you're saying, I couldn't have explained it as well as you. Are you a
    writer by chance?? Thanks for taking the time to explain it so well.
    Patrick, Mar 15, 2005
  9. Ben Myers

    Ben Myers Guest

    The partition is hidden only in the sense that it has a partition type which is
    not recognized by Micro$oft operating systems. So it does not get assigned a
    drive letter. Not sure how Linux would treat it... Ben Myers
    Ben Myers, Mar 15, 2005
  10. [Snip dual-boot stuff]
    I have loved this delightful jaunt down memory lane to the BADD,
    even if I did get a tad crabby with Brad Licastese [sorry, Brad].
    Thanks, Ben, for starting us off on the journey.
    Ogden Johnson III, Mar 15, 2005
  11. It's mountable just like any FAT or FAT32 partition; assuming it's on
    your primary hdd's first partition (and the drive is PATA):
    mkdir /mnt/dell
    mount -t vfat /dev/hda1 /mnt/dell

    If you want it to mount during boot, add to your /etc/fstab:
    /dev/hda1 /mnt/dell vfat defaults,user 0 0

    If you'd like to boot directly to it, add the fillowing lines to grub:
    title Dell Utility
    rootnoverify (hd0,0)
    chainloader +1
    Nicholas Andrade, Mar 15, 2005
  12. Ben Myers

    dg1261 Guest

    I'm an avid proponent of multibooting, as one can guess from my webpage at I've also setup all my kids' computers to
    dualboot with partitions hidden from each other. One boot partition is
    where they do their real work (schoolwork, email, dtp projects, etc.), while
    the other is where they do their Kazaa and similar risky stuff. This way
    the inevitable viruses and other junk don't bring down the entire computer.
    Every few months or so we can wipe the Kazaa partition and restore it from a
    clean backup image, all without compromising their trusted partition. Note
    the Dell diagnostic partition wouldn't be suitable to dualboot a full-blown
    Windows partition like this because of FAT16 limitations, though it's ideal
    for a utility partition.
    Not really. Though I did spend several years developing and teaching
    training classes (each class was 3-6 months long) for the Social Security
    Administration--hence my bemusement at the wildly off-topic Social Security
    threads in this newsgroup right now. That, plus a decade of coaching youth
    soccer/baseball/softball (3 kids, all grown now) has given me lots of
    practice in rephrasing concepts for different audiences.
    dg1261, Mar 15, 2005
  13. I noticed you mentioned you put Partition Magic in your boot menu, I was
    curious what the licensing for PM is? Are you alowed to use it on
    multiple computers, or are you suppose to buy a seperate license for
    each PC?
    Nicholas Andrade, Mar 16, 2005
  14. Ben Myers

    dg1261 Guest

    The Dimension 4600 I setup with the customized Dell Utility partition was
    for a company with their own copy of PartitionMagic.
    dg1261, Mar 16, 2005
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