Troubleshooting Windows NT Installation

Get answers to questions about NT installation and more.

John Savill

February 28, 1998

15 Min Read
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In my work, many questions about Windows NT come up over and over again. In this article, I'll answer some of these questions about NT installation issues and NT coexistence with other operating systems.

To get the most from this article, you'll need a basic understanding of active, boot, and system partitions. (For more information on partitions and the boot process, see Mark Minasi, "Troubleshooting NT Boot Failures," April 1997.) In the Master Boot Record (MBR) of each disk, you can mark one partition as the active (primary) partition. When the computer starts, the computer will look at the partition boot record of this partition for information on how to start the operating system. With utilities such as FDISK and Disk Administrator, you can set which partition is the active partition; however, changing the active partition can be dangerous and can result in your computer failing to boot. (For more information on NT's Disk Administrator, see Michael D. Reilly, "Windows NT Disk Administrator," November 1996.)

Boot and system partitions are NT terms that refer to the partitions containing the %SystemRoot% structure (e.g., winnt) and the core startup files (, ntldr, and boot.ini), respectively. These two partitions can be the same physical partition, and this configuration is not uncommon or a problem. The system partition must be the active partition.

Q: I have Windows NT installed. How do I install DOS on the same system?

Typically, you format the hard disk, install DOS, and then install NT. The NT installation will detect the existing DOS installation and add it to the startup menu. You don't want to install NT first because you will lose your configurations and setup when you install DOS.

When you install DOS, you replace NT's MBR with DOS's boot files, thus disabling the NT boot menu. But, you can fix this problem with the procedure I outline below and with one condition: The system partition (the active partition) must be FAT because DOS cannot read NTFS.

On the NT machine on which you want to install DOS, make an up-to-date Emergency Repair Disk (ERD). Run the rdisk.exe utility that NT supplies. When the utility starts, select Update Repair Information. When the repair information is updated, click Yes to create the ERD. Keep this disk in a safe place.

Next, ensure you have the three NT installation disks. If you have misplaced them or cannot access them, you can re-create them with winnt32/ox. Load the NT installation CD-ROM, and enter the command

:winnt32 /ox

After you've created the three installation disks, store them with the ERD and insert disk 1 of the MS-DOS installation disk set. Reboot the machine. Install DOS. The machine will reboot into DOS and you will notice you've lost the NT boot menu.

Now, insert disk 1 of the NT installation disk set and reboot the machine. The installation routine will prompt you to insert disk 2. After the system has read disk 2, the display will give you several options. Press R for repair. Deselect all options except Inspect Boot Sector and continue.

From here, follow your usual installation process. If you let the NT installation process detect hardware, press Enter and insert disk 3. If you specify drivers, press S and insert the relevant disks. The procedure will ask whether you have an ERD. Select Yes, and insert the ERD. This procedure will replace the MBR. The system will prompt you to remove all disks and reboot the machine. You will see the old NT boot menu, but you won't have a DOS menu item.

When NT has completed the boot process, log on and start a command prompt (cmd.exe) to update the boot.ini file to include an option for DOS. Before you can edit the file, you must remove the read-only and system attributes. Type

attrib c:boot.ini -r -s

Now edit boot.ini and insert


at the bottom of the file. Set the attributes on boot.ini back to the defaults with

attrib c:boot.ini +r +s

Reboot the machine. Now you have MS-DOS and NT on the boot loader menu.

Q: I have a new hard disk. How do I move Windows NT to this new disk?

You can accomplish this task in several ways, depending on your setup and needs. If you have a tape drive, here's the best method to use.

Back up your NT disk to a tape, and make sure you back up the Registry (this step is a separate check box in NTBACKUP). Create an up-to-date Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) with the RDISK utility. Make sure you have the three NT installation disks (you can create the installation disks with winnt32 /ox). Shut down NT, and insert the new hard disk in place of the old disk.

Install NT on the new disk in a directory with a different name from your final NT installation directory name (i.e., if you will install to winnt, install this version to winntemp). When you finish the installation, restore your backup tape. Sometimes problems exist with Registry entries, so reboot and boot off the NT installation disks.

After inserting disk 2, select Repair, and select everything except Check System Files. You will need to insert disk 3 and then the ERD. Reboot, and NT will work as required. You can delete the temporary NT installation, but you might find it useful.

If the tape drive is not an option and the partition is NTFS, you can use the scopy utility from the Microsoft Windows NT Resource Kit. Install the new hard disk, create an NTFS partition on it, and perform

scopy : : /o /a /s

To use scopy, you must have backup and restore user rights. When you complete the copy, shut down NT, remove the old drive, and set the new drive to master (if IDE) or SCSI 0/6 (if SCSI) and boot off the NT installation disks. Again, repair everything except Check System Files. If you have time, create a temporary NT installation on the drive before performing the copy. If you boot off this minimal installation and perform the scopy, you won't have files locked from your real NT installation. If you use a temporary installation, repair the boot sector only. This caveat also applies to the first method. Create the backup while booted into an alternative NT installation to ensure that no files are locked and that you don't compromise the integrity of the backup.

Other methods for moving an NT installation to a different disk include Ghost copy from Ghost Software ( and DriveCopy from PowerQuest ( These methods copy an entire disk and eliminate the need for performing a repair.

If you are moving NT to a different type of disk (i.e., one that needs a different driver), install the new driver before you perform the copy. When NT boots using the new disk, the required drivers will be available.

Q: How do I remove Windows NT from my system?

If you have no other operating systems installed, you can simply format the system and boot partitions. But, if you also have DOS and Windows 95 installed and you want to keep that operating system, follow this procedure:

Create a DOS bootable disk (format a: /s from a DOS machine), and copy the deltree.exe utility to it. Boot the machine with this disk. If the boot partition is FAT, delete the %systemroot% tree structure. For example, for winnt, type

deltree winnt

If the boot partition is not FAT, you must use fdisk.exe or the delpart.exe utility to remove and re-create the partition.

You'll also find a Program Files directory structure that might contain NT-related programs; however, Win95 might also use this directory. If you are confident another operating system is not using this directory, you can delete the structure with the deltree.exe utility. Or you can delete the NT subdirectory with

cd progra~1
deltree window~1

Now remove the NT boot files, which are at the base of the system partition:

del ntldr.
del boot.ini
del bootsec.dos
del ntbootdd.sys

(Use the last line only if you have SCSI disks.) You must also delete any page files that NT has created. Check the base of each partition for pagefile.sys, and delete any you find:

dir :pagefile.sys
del :pagefile.sys

Boot your computer with a Win95 or DOS startup disk, and type

sys a: c:

This command will replace the Master Boot Record to look for DOS and Win95 startup files. When you reboot the machine, NT will be gone.

Q: How can I remove Windows 95/DOS from my Windows NT system?

You can use the following procedure to remove Win95 and DOS. However, note that sometimes a DOS installation is handy for hardware setup and similar tasks. Before you start this procedure, make sure you have an up-to-date emergency repair disk (ERD) (rdisk -s) and the three NT installation disks (winnt32 /ox) just in case.

To start the removal process, modify the attributes on boot.ini so you can edit the file. Type

attrib c:boot.ini -r -s

Using Notepad (or another editor), open c:boot.ini and remove the lines for DOS and Win95 from the [operating systems] section. The lines to remove might be

c:="MS DOS 6.22"
c:bootsect.622="MS DOS 6.22"
c:="Windows 95"

Do not remove lines that have the following structure:

multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(2)WINNT="Windows NT Workstation Version 4.00"

Now, save the file, and put back the file attributes. Type

attrib c:boot.ini +r +s

If you are removing DOS, to delete the DOS tree structure, use the command

deltree c:dos

If you are removing Win95, make sure it is not in the same directory that NT is installed in. Delete the Win95 tree structure with

deltree d:windows95

You must also remove applications that were installed for use only with Win95 and DOS (e.g., programs under Program Files). But be careful, because NT also installs applications in this directory.

On the system partition, DOS and Win95 place several files that you can delete (e.g., autoexec.bat, config.sys, io.sys, msdos.sys, bootlog.txt, You might want to copy the files somewhere before deleting them and make sure NT boots. To set the files to be deletable, use

attrib -r -h -s

You can delete all files at the base of the boot partition except boot.ini, ntldr,, ntbootdd.sys (for SCSI systems), and pagefile.sys (if it is the NT pagefile), which you need for NT startup. When you reboot the machine, Win95 and DOS will be gone.

Q: What are symbol files? Do I need them?

When you compile a program, you get an executable file and symbol files. Debugging programs use symbol files to translate between the source code and the executable. Someone with the correct tools can view code as the software is running. You do not need symbol files unless you are a developer.

Q: How do I install Windows NT over the network?

If you do not have an operating system installed on your machine, you need to create a bootable floppy disk that contains a driver for your network card and network protocol. NT Server comes with a tool, called Network Client Administrator, that automatically creates a bootable disk you can use to install Win95 or Network Client. With a bit of tweaking, you can use this tool to create a disk to install NT.

Use DOS to format a system floppy drive with the command

format a: /s

On the NT server, create a share containing the entire i386 structure, copied from the NT installation CD-ROM, and give everyone read access to the share.

Log on as the Administrator (or a member of the Administrator group). Go to Start, click Programs, and select Administrative Tools and Network Client Administrators to start the Network Client Administrator. (To back up previous dialogs at any time in Network Client Administrator, click Cancel.) Click the Make Network Installation Startup Disk option and click Continue. The path should be :clients. Select Share files and accept the default share name, clients. Click OK, and the program will perform some background actions.

Next select the floppy drive, and click Network Client V3.0 as the client. Choose your network card from the drop-down menu, and click OK. Enter the name of the computer. The username and domain will automatically be completed for the current user. If you copy and distribute this disk, use a different name for each installation to avoid duplicates.

Now, you need to choose the protocol. For this example, choose TCP/IP, and clear the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) check box. Enter an IP address, subnet mask, and gateway. Insert the DOS system disk you created earlier, and click OK. Review the information in the Confirm Network Disk Configuration dialog box, and click OK. The system will copy files to the floppy disk. When the copy process is complete, exit Network Client Administrator.

You must edit the disk to stop automatic installation of the Network Client. Start Explorer, and open the A: drive. Right click on autoexec.bat, and select Edit.

Remove the last two lines of the file (echo running setup and the location of the setup.exe file). You can also change the NET USE command to point to the share you created on the machine with the installation CD-ROM. Click Save from the File menu, and close Notepad.

Insert the disk into the machine where you want to install NT, and turn the power on. When startup is complete, change the directory to Z: (or whatever NET USE pointed to). Start a floppyless install with

winnt /b

You can easily add the z:winnt /b to the end of the autoexec.bat file. You will speed up the installation time if you copy the DOS SMARTDRV utility to the diskette and add it to autoexec.bat.

Q: Can I use disk duplication to distribute Windows NT?

Yes. However, you need to use tools such as NTSID (, Ghost Walker (, or SIDchanger ( When you install NT, the system creates a security identifier (SID) for the machine during GUI installation. NT 5.0 might use this SID as part of network security, which will lead to many problems. Also Microsoft does not support systems installed without unique SIDs.

Follow these steps to retain a supported NT environment when you use disk duplication to distribute NT: Use the winnt /b installation option to start an NT installation on your source machine. Stop the setup at the second reboot when the system has finished the text portion of the installation and is about to start the GUI section. Remove and duplicate the machine's hard disk. Install the duplicate hard disk in a new machine. Start the new machine, and the GUI sections will start.

Q: Install detects the wrong video card and locks the installation. How can I correct this problem?

When Windows NT detects a video card, it insists that you click Test. If the NT installation procedure incorrectly detects the hardware, the installation can hang. You must press Reset to continue.

To correct this problem, click Cancel when NT detects the card. NT will leave the default VGA driver. When the installation has finished, manually install the new driver supplied with the graphics card, or download the driver from the manufacturer's Web site.

Q: Can I create a 4GB or larger NTFS partition during installation?

During the text-based portion of the Windows NT installation, you can create and format partitions. The maximum size for an NTFS partition is very large (16 exabytes); however the maximum size for a FAT partition under NT is 4GB. If you format a partition as NTFS during NT installation, the system initially formats it as FAT and converts it in the final stages of the NT installation. This procedure limits you to a maximum partition size of 4GB during the NT installation. You can avoid this problem in several ways.

Before you start the installation, insert the hard disk into an existing NT installation and use Disk Administrator to partition or format the disk. Then insert the disk into the machine for installation.

Alternatively, you can partition the disk into smaller partitions. For example, if you have a 5GB disk, you can have a 1GB system partition and a 4GB boot partition. The system partition is where NT's core startup files--boot.ini, ntldr, and (ntbootdd.sys if SCSI)--reside and is typically the active partition. The boot partition is where NT stores the rest of its files (i.e., the %systemroot% directory).

With this method, you create a 4GB partition at installation and extend the NTFS partition after installation. To extend the partition, from the Start menu choose Programs. Select Administrative Tools and Disk Administrator. Select the NTFS partition, and hold down the Ctrl key to select the unpartitioned space on the disk. From the Partition menu, select Extend Volume Set, which will create a new partition that is the sum of the two partitions. The result is a volume set. The system and boot partitions cannot be part of a volume set, so you cannot use this method for either of these partitions.

For more information on extending NTFS partitions, see Knowledge Base articles Q138364 ( and Q119497 (

Q: Why can't I upgrade my Windows NT 4.0 installation with the NT 4.0 upgrade CD-ROM?

On occasion, you might want to reinstall NT but keep your settings. If you install NT over your existing NT installation, the software treats this action as an upgrade. The setup procedure checks the Registry entry HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersionCurrentVersion for the version number and upgrades only if the version is 3.1, 3.5, or 3.51. If the version on your system is 4.0, the installation is aborted.

To work around this problem, edit the Registry entry and change the current version number. Start the Registry editor (regedt32.exe or regedit.exe). Move to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREMicrosoftWindows NTCurrentVersion. Double-click CurrentVersion in the right-hand pane. Change 4.0 to 3.5, and click OK. Close the Registry editor. Now you can upgrade.

Microsoft has confirmed this problem with the software. For more information, see Knowledge Base article Q154538 (

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