How to Upgrade the Hard Drive in a Dell Laptop

July 27, 2009 at 3:57 pm by

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Through my personal experience, I have learned that this is not only a very aggravating process, but if not done properly it can lead to many problems.

I have written a help guide to combat this rising problem.

This guide is intended for Dell Laptops containing an HPA-based Media Direct feature (which becoming ever-more popular).

This help guide is designed to help and guide those with a Media Direct Feature built into their laptop. Most likely, if you are reading this you either plan on upgrading your hard drive to a much bigger one, or you have tried upgrading your hard drive and it is not working properly. Any problems that will occur or have occurred are caused by the Dell Media Direct feature.

What is Media Direct?

Media Direct is an interesting feature built into many models of Dell laptops. When the laptop is powered off, this feature is available at the push of a button. When the Media Direct button is pressed, a feature is booted on the computer that allows the usage of music, videos, pictures, and other forms of media stored on the laptop without having to start the entire Windows operating system. Basically, the laptop acts as a giant iPod without having to wait through a boot process and with less battery consumption.

How Do I Know if I Have Media Direct?

The easiest way to tell if your laptop has Media Direct is by locating the button that activates the feature. Usually the button can be located near the power button.

Why Would Media Direct Cause a Problem?

Since Media Direct is basically a specialized operating system while at the same time being a program itself, it is in a partition of its own. This partition has been hidden to prevent editing the software. These terms will be explained later in this document. In laymen’s terms, in order for the Media Direct feature to work, special scripting must exist in the BIOS and in the hard drive.

Things to Know

What is BIOS?

BIOS stand for Basic Input/Output System. The BIOS is what makes your entire computer work. The BIOS has scripting that has been hard programmed into it so that only specialized programs made by professionals and manufacturers can change it. Any time you press a button, it goes through the BIOS and it decides what to do with it. Without the BIOS, the PC becomes useless (it will not even turn on). A computer with a missing or corrupted BIOS is commonly referred to as a “boat anchor.”

What is a Partition?

A partition is a formatted section of a hard drive. Much like how almost all hard drives have a “C:\ drive” and sometimes an extra “D:\ drive,” In reality, they are separate partitions on the same hard drive designed to separate data. For example, say you wanted to keep al of your programs and personal files separate from your operating system and drivers. You could use a program to break your main C:\ partition into C:\ and D:\ partitions and keep your OS and drivers on the C:\ partition while your programs and personal files get stored on your D:\ partition.

What is a Host-Protected Area?

A Host-Protected Area (HPA) is the exact same as a partition except for one key factor: it has been hidden. The HPA cannot be accessed by any program or even the operating system unless the program has been specially programmed to access the partition. Only the most powerful programs can get into the HPA, and among these programs some viruses can actually hide in the HPA.

What is the LBA-3 Script?

The LBA-3 script is located in LBA sector 3 (hence the name LBA-3). The main purpose of the LBA-3 script is to tell the BIOS where the C:\ partition begins and ends and where the Media Direct HPA begins and ends. This is so partition management programs cannot resize the C:\ partition to overlap the Media Direct HPA. However, when copying all of the data of one hard drive to the next, the LBA-3 script gets included because it is in the first track of the drive in the boot sector.
Picture this: The C:\ partition is a box and the LBA-3 script is a required standard stating that the box be a certain size, no matter what. You hard drive is a room full of space and your C:\ “box” is in the room.

Now say you want a bigger room. You move all of your Furniture (data) into this room so you can enjoy the vast amount of space. In fact, you wanted so much more space you bought a whole warehouse to store everything in. Considering you now have this big warehouse, you want to put everything in your C:\ “box” into a much bigger box so you can put more in it. You put everything into this new box and shut down the warehouse for the night (rebooting). When you come in the next day, you find out the maintenance crew (BIOS) has come in and put everything back into the small box because of a law stating that your box must be that size.

This is basically what the LBA-3 script does. Dealing with this script will be described later on.

Understanding the Dell Media Direct Partition

There are multiple types of Media direct; each being generally the same, but different in how they operate. Of the types of Media Direct, the ones that cause problems are the ones that are HPA based. Dan Goodell best describes how HPA based Media Direct works (keep in mind that the following information only applies to Media Direct 1 and 2, version 3 is in a logical partition and will not cause a truncation problem):

The HPA-Based MediaDirect Partition

As installed by Dell, MediaDirect is placed in a FAT32 partition at the end of the disk and the area is then closed off as a HPA. Figure 1 shows a representative example of a 100 GB disk, which would actually be shown as 93.13 GB after taking into account the binary-vs-decimal issue and the way XP calculates disk size. (Note to reader: the sizes of the partitions are illustrative only. Your partition sizes may vary.)
XP will not be aware of the HPA, and will think this disk is a total of 91.27 GB. When viewed in XP’s Disk Management snap-in, the user will only see the area enclosed in red. The two Dell “hidden” partitions appear in Disk Management, but they will not have drive letters and will not appear in “My Computer”. The disk’s partition table will contain only three entries. The MD volume will not have any entry in the partition table. The only clue that a HPA exists is that the disk size will appear smaller than it should be–that is, assuming you know what the reported disk size should be.

To be MD-aware, the Dell MBR has been expanded to two sectors. The non-MD Dell MBR is designed to either boot the XP partition, or boot the DellRestore partition when Ctrl+F11 is pressed. This MBR is still used in LBA Sector 0. When MediaDirect is installed, additional MD-specific boot code is stored in LBA Sector 3. LBA-3 also contains a secret partition descriptor–the missing descriptor for the MD partition that is not in the real partition table.
When the MediaDirect button is pressed, the extra LBA-3 code instructs the disk controller to expose the HPA, it temporarily swaps the MD partition descriptor into slot #4 of the real partition table, sets that partition active, and proceeds to boot the now active partition. When the computer is powered off or rebooted, the HPA and partition table return to their normal states.

The HPA-based MediaDirect partition creates special maintenance issues for users. Since utilities are unaware the HPA exists, using Symantec Ghost or Acronis True Image to backup your hard disk will fail to include the MD partition. If you replace your hard disk, cloning/copying utilities will fail to copy the HPA. They will see and copy only the area in red in Figure 1.

[Dan Goodell, “The HPA-Based MediaDirect Partition,” (publish date unknown), Received April 21, 2008 from http://www.goodells.net/dellrestore/mediadirect.htm -excerpt taken with permission]

The Cloning Process

Now that you know everything that you need to know on this issue, it is time to being the process of getting everything off of your old hard drive and onto the new hard drive. Keep in mind that several of these processes can take hours so be prepared to not have access to your laptop for at least a full day. I recommend doing this during a weekend at home.
Recommended Hardware and Software

Hard Drive Enclosure Kits

In order for you to work with your new hard drive; you need some means of connecting it to your laptop while still having your original hard drive in the internal slot. I recommend a data enclosure kit by CMS products. This particular shown model supports both SATA and PATA notebook hard drives. It has a strong metal casing with breathable sides and includes a carrying bag, USB and an additional power cable, and a disk with BounceBack, a data transfer program.

Make sure you confirm the type of hard drive (ATA, SATA, PATA, etc.) You safest bet is to go to the manufacturer’s website, input your service tag number, and purchase one from them directly.

The previously displayed product can be found at: http://www.cmsproducts.com/products/…_solutions.htm

Data Transfer Software

In order to get all of your data from the original drive to the new one, you need software to copy not just your personal files and programs, but your operating system and registry.
Two of the three transfer methods listed later require programs to do this.
For the file-by-file method, I recommend BounceBack by CMS products. If you purchased the kit from their company, you will get this program with the included price.
For the image copy method I recommend Norton Partition Magic. One of its features includes the ability to copy partitions, including the data.

Norton Partition Magic can be found here:
http://www.symantec.com/norton/produ…d=sp&pvid=pm80

Data Management Software

For anything you need to use for dealing with you hard drive in general, I recommend Norton Partition Magic. It can manipulate partitions in just about any manner: copy, resize, merge, move, switch between Primary and Logical, hide/unhide (not HPA), create book disks, and much, much more. It is a very useful and functional program.
For revealing HPA’s, nothing does a better job than HDAT2. It can even set passwords and set MAX addresses of truncated hard drives.
In the event that you need to start over, nothing obliterates all forms of data than Darik’s Boot ‘N’ Nuke. In a 3 hour process, it wipes, zeros, and blanks a hard drive and all other forms of data storage attached to the PC. When using this program, remove your original hard drive so you do not lose the data, the drive that needs to be “nuked” must be in the internal slot.
One program that you MUST get, or at least the equivalent of, is Roadkil’s Sector Editor (yes, it is spelt properly). Without using this to zero the LBA-3 script, you will be re-copying and failing from now to doomsday.

You can find these programs here:
HDAT2- http://www.hdat2.com/download.html
Darik’s Boot ‘N’ Nuke- http://dban.sourceforge.net/
Roadkil’s Sector Editor- http://www.softpedia.com/get/System/…r-Editor.shtml

Emergency Data Repair Software

In the event that the worst happens, you need some means of being able to fix the nearly unfixable. I recommend a nifty thing I found called “The Ultimate Boot CD.” It is about 134 MB of pure, DOS 6.22 based, goodness. Not to mention that the entire thing is fairly user friendly

This spectacular disk has just about every program you could possibly need for when the worst happens. In fact, this disk has a few programs that are recommended such as “Darik’s Boot ‘N’ Nuke” and “HDAT2”. Make sure you have a copy of this disk for in the event your hard drive “kicks the bucket.”
Ultimate Boot CD can be found here- http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/download.html

Operating System Installation Disk

This disk covers basic data management, emergency data repair, and is the key piece of software for the “Fresh Method.”

Preparing Your BIOS

Before you go about messing with your shiny new hard drive and changing things, you need to make sure that your BIOS can support everything. Keep in mind, upgrading your BIOS is a very risky thing to do, but it is required. If the reflashing process gets interrupted in any way or the upgrade is incompatible, you could be left with a boat anchor and you will have to pay a professional to use special equipment to manually reflash the BIOS for you. Thankfully, manufacturers are aware of this risk and have taken measure to reduce incompatibility issues dramatically. With Dell, the only way you can get a copy of a BIOS update is by inputting your service tag number (located on the bottom of the laptop) at the support site. After the upgrading program has been downloaded, it will perform a compatibility check before beginning the reflashing process. Considering this is for laptops, there is less chance of a power outage being a problem. Just make sure your battery is fully charged in the event that the upgrade takes more than a couple minutes and the power does go out.

Preparing Your New Hard Drive

This step is relatively quick. Place your new hard drive into a hard drive enclosure kit. Be very careful when doing this, hard drives are very delicate and any debris on the contacts can create a problem. Hard drives are no where near the durability of jump drives, and can break easily if banged around. Treat it like thin glass that can easily conduct electricity.

“Cleaning” a “Dirty” Drive

In the event that you are starting over with your new hard drive, you need to “sterilize” it. For example, you tried transferring the original drive with the LBA-3 script in it and now your partitions are overlapping. To properly eliminate and possible scrap of data, you need to use Darik’s Boot ‘N’ Nuke. Make sure your new drive is in the internal slot and your original drive is in no form connected to the PC. This includes removable media such as jump drives and formatted disks.

Preparing Your Original Hard Drive

Preliminary maintenance

Before you begin the transfer process, remove any data that you do not need to copy (such as programs you have been meaning to remove but just haven’t gotten around to it). Make sure you also defragment your hard drive so everything is nice and condensed with no gaps between the data. Once your hard drive is ready, you have one more crucial step.

Locating and Zeroing the LBA-3 Script

Make sure you follow these exact steps or you could corrupt your hard drive in a manner that may not be recoverable. You may be hesitant to zero a script on a HDD, but for these particular models of laptops, it has to be done to keep your partitions from being truncated.
1) Start up Roadkil’s Sector Editor
2) Open your physical sector (should be labeled “Physical 0”)
3) Navigate to sector 3 using the Next button at the bottom right of the screen

4) Go to Edit and click Zero Data. You should see all zeros now.
5) Click File>Save Sector, and then Exit the program.
6) Relocate the script to confirm the changes.
Now that the LBA-3 script is zeroed, you can begin the Data transfer process. The LBA-3 Script can be restored on the new drive using a utility provided by Dell in the event that you want to restore the Media Direct feature on your new hard drive.

Cloning Your Original Hard Drive to the New One

How you go about cloning your original hard drive is your choice, but I will explain three known methods that have been tried and true.

The Fresh Method: A.K.A. The Painstaking Method

This method requires extra steps to get it to work. First off, you need an operating system install disk so you can do a fresh install of your OS. After it formats and partitions your hard drive, it then installs your operating system. After this long process, you then do fresh installations on all of your programs followed by fresh transfers of all of your personal files. You also have to start your registry from scratch. Now isn’t that nice and fresh?
Note: This method does not require the LBA-3 script to be zeroed!

File-by-File Method

This method basically takes everything that the “Fresh Method” does, except after formatting and partitioning your hard drive, it just copies your operating system. As an added convenience it copies your registry. However, the integrity of some of your programs (such as anti-virus) and registry integrity can be an issue. A program that does this entire process easily would be BounceBack by CMS products, which is included with the hard drive enclosure kit that you can purchase from them.

The Image Copy Method

This is my most recommended method for copying your original hard drive. Using Norton Partition Magic, or an equivalent program, you can copy over the partitions from your original hard drive along with the data in them to your new hard drive in one step. After that, you just move the Dell restore partition to the end of your hard drive (if you plan on copying it) and then resize your C:\ partition to fill the rest of your hard drive. This method maintains the most registry integrity and program registry. However, some anti-virus programs and some registry entries go by the serial number of the hard drive and will need to be replaced.

Help! My New Hard Drive Is Not Working Properly!

Diagnosing the Symptoms

Is your hard drive not booting? Is your new drive reading as the same size as your old one? Do you get a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) when you try to boot from your new drive? All of these issues tie to the same problem. The LBA-3 script was not zeroed (if you zeroed a script, I really hope you didn’t zero the wrong one because I can’t help you there).

Repairing a Truncated Hard Drive

The solution to this can be done two ways:
The first method involves zeroing (or re-zeroing if you did something wrong) the LBA-3 script and then unhiding the HPA sector of your C:\ partition. Follow the steps to Locating and Zeroing the LBA-3 Script section. Then shut down your computer and boot from your selected program for unhiding HPA’s. If you are using HDAT2, boot from the disk, let it load, type in HDAT2 and then wait for the program to load. Select your hard drive (it should have a “!” symbol next to it to say that there is a portion hidden). Navigate to the “SET MAX ADDRESS” command and use the keys listed at the bottom of the screen to unhide the HPA section of your C:\ partition. Then exit the program and restart the computer. Then if you need to, resize the C:\ partition using a partition resizer found on the Ultimate Boot CD. If this does not work (or if the resizer tells you this), then most likely the LBA-3 script has caused your C:\ partition to overlap the Dell Restore. You will then need to perform the second method.
The second method is simple to say, but not so simple to do. “Nuke” the new drive and start from the beginning with zeroing the LBA-3 script on the original drive and re-copying all of the data. In other words, start over from the beginning of this document.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You should now have a hard drive that is exactly the same as your last hard drive, only larger. At this point, if you chose to, you may restore your media direct partition and LBA-3 script so you can keep the Media Direct feature using Norton Partition Magic to resize your C:\ partition to allow enough room for the Media Direct HPA and the Dell Utility to give your hard drive a new LBA-3 script.

FAQ

Q:What now if, before deleting Sector 3, I export Sector 3 to a binary file. If after the whole cloning I re-import Sector 3 to my old HDD, everything will be back to normal using my old hdd?

A:The LBA-3 Script is a code made for your current hard drive defining the size of the C:\ partition. Placing it back on your new hard drive will re-truncate it.

Q:What happens if i press the media-direct button running the new HDD? i have read some stories, that this could corrupt the MBR… what do u say?

A:If you press the media direct button with your new hard drive, you will see the automatic BIOS display screen, and then Windows will boot up. I looked into possibly restoring my media direct feature and the Dell website says that in order to recover it, you will have to re-install/re-partition for the feature. This will re-write a new LBA-3 script for your new hard drive BUT will erase ALL data on your hard drive. Personally, I decided against this and went with the fact that I probably would never need it (plus, I could use the extra space).

Q:When does the truncation of the new HDD happen? Apparently only when copying both MBR (sector 0) and LBR (sector 3) to the new HDD, so a solution could be to just clone the visible partitions and then manually re-import sector 0 to the new HDD….is this correct? I would prefer this, because i preferably don’t want to do any alterations to my old HDD such as zeroing sector 3.

A:The only thing that the LBA-3 script does (or as far as I know) on these kinds of laptops, is it defines the limitations of your partitions on the hard drive to prevent them from writing over the HPA. Like I said earlier, re-importing the LBA-3 script will re-truncate your drive to the old size.

Q:If I don’t care about media direct, can I simply delete the media direct partition before upgrading?

A:You may, but keep in mind that because of the HPA, whether the Media Direct is on the new HDD or not, the old LBA-3 script being transferred over will keep truncating your partitions back to the old sizes.

Q:What if I want to use a different method or different programs that are not mentioned in this article?

A:It’s perfectly fine, just keep in mind that the upgrade process on these particular laptops is a very tricky process. This article was written with the assumption that the person upgrading their laptop has medium to no experience with computers, or they cannot figure out why their partitions keep getting truncated.

© 2009 RazgrizSeed

Filed under Hardware.
  • Chriss

    Will this procedure work for all dell laptops? I have DELL INSPIRON m5030, will this help with this series??

  • Simon

    there are other easier ways for disk upgrade, eg. you can use free trial acronis migrate easy or true image 2013, here are some step by step guides http://www.allacronis.com/step-by-step.php