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Recovery partitions are created not by Windows or Microsoft, but by computer manufacturers. As a result they rarely get upgraded when Windows does.

I plan on updating to Windows 7. My question is when I upgrade what happens to the recovery partition of my laptop? Does it get upgraded as well or do I just reformat it and free up the space? Other suggestions?

I don't know.

It's not that I don't have some guesses (I'll share those in a moment), it's just that there's no standard for what should even be on a recovery partition, much less what might happen to it when you upgrade.

It's one more reason I really, really dislike recovery partitions.

It'll also depend on where you get your copy of Windows 7.

Let me run through the two scenarios and my alternative.

The Recovery Partition

The recovery partition is not produced by Microsoft and is not a part of Windows. Rather, it's created by the computer manufacturer. And of course there are probably about as many different kinds of recovery partitions as there are computer manufacturers.

I believe recovery partitions exist for two primary reasons:

"Unfortunately recovery partitions suffer from what is in my opinion a fatal flaw: they live on the hard disk."
  • To make recovery easier or faster. Simply rebooting and choosing some kind of recover option is a pretty fast and easy way to restore your machine to its initial configuration.

  • To save the cost of shipping you additional installation media, such as a Windows installation DVD or the media required to install all the other software that comes with the machine.

Unfortunately, recovery partitions suffer from what is in my opinion a fatal flaw: they live on the hard disk. If that hard disk ever dies (and they do), you have nothing. No operating system, no data and no installation media with which to start over.

The Ideal: The Recovery Partition Gets Upgraded

If you get your new operating system from the same manufacturer as your computer, and if that manufacturer chooses to update their installation process to do it, they could actually update the data on your recovery partition to the new OS as well.

I'm not aware of any manufacturer that does this.

Not a one.

The Common: Nothing Happens

Typically the recovery partition is left untouched by an operating system upgrade.

In fact, if you get your Windows upgrade from anywhere but your computer's manufacturer it's the only possible result. No one knows how that recovery partition is set up except for the manufacturer that set it up in the first place.

What you'll be left with is a recovery partition that, if you use it, will recover your machine back to its initial state: the original version of Windows that was on the machine when you got it. You'll need to perform your Windows 7 upgrade all over after the recovery is complete.

At least you'll probably have the Windows 7 upgrade media to do so.

The Alternatives

I'd delete the partition, myself.

However...

With or without the partition, and even with or without the upgrade, you need to be prepared for the partition to not be there.

Like I said, the partition is on your hard disk. That's convenient, but what if the hard disk dies completely, taking all of your data, your OS and the recovery partition with it?

You replace the hard drive and then what? There's no recovery partition, and no installation media.

You're S.O.L. (Severely Out of Luck).

Prepare first:

  • If you can, get the installation media to be able to install from scratch onto a completely empty hard disk.

  • Take an image backup as soon as you can when you get the machine, or after performing the upgrade. This will act as the ultimate restore point - you can always restore the machine to this state should you ever need to.

  • Backup regularly.

If you do any of those, but particularly the image backup, you're freed of any requirement that the recovery partition even exist, no matter what's on it.

Which is why I delete the partition and increase the usable space on my hard disk for other things.

Article C4701 - January 10, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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16 Comments
Raymond Cote
January 11, 2011 9:28 AM

If you have 2 or more areas/partitions on your hard drive and you want to have only one area - The C: drive - then do not think in terms of deleting an area/partition (and assume it will attach to the C: drive) or think of merging 2 areas or partitions.

You have to EXPAND the C: drive. You can only expand into or from "unallocated space" (or empty space or free space that is not somehow protected). Therefore, if you have an actual partition, you would delete it so that the area becomes unallocated space. The unallocated space must be adjacent to the C: drive. (You can't have a F: drive in between) You then increase/expand the C: drive to the max - it can't go beyond the size of the unallocated space. Voila!! One area, one partition, one C: drive.

You could use any of a number of free partition manager software packages and when you deal with all areas/partitions (Other than C:) and have converted everything into "unallocated space" - look for a "Move/resize" or "enlarge/expand" feature.

By the way, this works backwards - decrease C: drive and you create unallocated space, which you could partition, format with a drive letter and use for whatever reason.

For HP or Dell, if you have a recovery partition, you should go into the "recovery" function and delete the partition. For Lenovo, you usually have to go to BIOS Setup and find (and unhide) the security setting for the partition.

steven
January 11, 2011 9:41 AM

I always assumed that every manufacturer made the owner burn his own re installation DVD's as I did for me and my mother. My coworker is on his second computer, still has not made one, even through he lost all data on his first machine HP has pop-up to nag him to do so. It takes hours to run the program. I upgraded my hard drive.

whs
January 11, 2011 11:43 AM

If you install Win7 in C, the Vista recovery partition stays. You can restore Vista from there if you desire.

Jim
January 11, 2011 11:50 AM

I'm with you Leo, I completely hate recovery partitions as well and it makes no since to have them...except a quick recovery, but youll still have to reinstall all of your programs such as the new OS and the antivirus.
If you are upgrading from lets say, Vista to 7 all your programs and files stay in tack, but if you are going from XP to Win 7 it will have to be a clean install (starting from a blank drive (which I think is the way to go). Get all the Windows updates first after install, install your antivirus and the programs you will be using. Then hook up an external HDD (wouldnt go less than 320GB) and backup the system as an image back up on it, if you have problems or lose the drive, just put in the new drive, use the Win 7 disk to recover from back up (with external drive). If install more programs just simply run a new back up. If you have problems after that, put in the Win 7 cd and run a recover and the new setup will be as you left off.
System restore is great also, some people have the delusion it isnt very good....it takes up to much space...that was in the days of Win98. With the bigger drives, it really dont now.

I would delete the recovery partition and install Win 7 fresh (the restore points use far less HDD space than a recovery partition), get Windows Updates, install software (update those) and run an external backup and create restore point from there.
You should be golden

John Ellis
January 11, 2011 12:51 PM

Forget all that "Recovery Partition" BS!
Do a CLEAN install of Windows-7 (means either use a NEW HDD or save your data and RE-FORMAT the drive and install Windows-7 as NEW!)
Windows-7 creates a "system partition of ca. 100MB); you should then create a partition of ca. 85-125GB for Windows-7 (system) and all programs, and at least another partition for all documents/pictures/videos, etc.
A "Recovery Partition" / Backup should be created on either a DVD or two (1 st. choice), or on a separate external HDD (2 nd. choice).
That is how I do it for all my customers, and it's good!

David Lindsay
January 11, 2011 1:59 PM

I would to add a different approach here:

With Terabyte hard Drives so Cheap these days why don't you just get an external Hard drive and do a mirror image of your C: drive. it would have all the O/S files as well as all your data ... You might need a copy of the manufacturers Windows setup on a DVD a a few other things that could create a Quick working copy of the basic Windows O/S and then you use your Copy function [Ctrl-C / Ctrl-V] and then reboot the system .

Using this method allows you some flexibility ... as to use of new O/S or as most of the programs and data are on your backup hard drive.

Gary Knop
January 11, 2011 3:45 PM

1.make recovery disks
2.recovery partition is relatively small (next owner will appreciate it being there)
3.partition is essentially invisible any actions done to C:\
4.do above and then forget about it until needed

Ralph Fernandez
January 11, 2011 3:47 PM

The major complaint (IMO) with recovery partitions is that if used, they also restore all the crap ware that the manufacturer put on your system. I'm the last technical resort for some older non-techie friends and relatives and I can understand the manufacturers decision to put the system "mirror" on the restoration partition. It's so much easier to walk a newbie through a rebuild when it's only a couple of key presses. Why don't you post an article on (re)building your own restoration partition after an OS upgrade?

sandy Smith
January 11, 2011 3:58 PM

I like the recovery partition. I have used it as well as installing Windows from the disc. Why not have more options... what if you the external drive you backed up the image on dies??? The more options for disaster recovery the better.

Thant being said, when you are upgrading to a new OS, and you know you don't want to go back - you can go ahead and repartition and include the recovery in - giving yourself more space. I did that using Acronis Disk Director 11 before I clean installed Windows 7 on a Vista Machine.

Sandy

alphaa10
January 12, 2011 12:03 AM

A few readers question the wisdom of an external HD, asking, "What happens if the external drive fails?" To this, Leo (patiently) repeats the point no backup of major importance should be kept on the original (source) device.

My own experience suggests loss of an external USB HD is not nearly as likely as corruption of an image backup on that USB external HD. That is, in the process of connecting and disconnecting an external USB device, strange things have been known to happen. Whole partitions have been lost in the blink of an eye.

Veteran PC writer and tech expert Scott Moulton (www.myharddrivedied.com) says USB can do terrible things to data. We can surmise this is related, in part, to the gymnastics of adapting 40 (80) data lines of IDE to only four lines of USB.

Or maybe because most external USB HDs are extremely vulnerable to physical disturbance-- an accidental brush of the data cable from a finger or knee, not to mention a solid bump from any source, especially during imaging.

In any case, the best insurance-- as cheap as USB external HDs are now-- is to make at least two image backups, and keep them on separate USB external HDs. Be sure to alternate imaging to the USB devices, so no single device has all the latest data.

And when imaging, always request verification of the completed image. Periodically check the image for integrity (Acronis True Image 2010 and 2011 permit such integrity checks.)

For really solid backup insurance, a few PC experts have taken the trouble to back up / image ultra-important data to DVDs, as well as USB devices. (If you have the patience to sit through burning a tall stack of DVDs, may your DVD set last forever.)

Ultimately, however, no single backup device will save all your data all the time. That is why keeping vital data on multiple devices-- and in widely separated locations-- is so important. Ideally, consider a safe desposit box for really important stuff, and keep the image fresh.

Budgeting for a good backup / imaging system is at least as important as budgeting a good computer. How much is all your data worth?

Warren
January 12, 2011 12:36 AM

Is there no way that the recovery partition can be made into a bootable disk?

In general: not that I'm aware of, no. However since each manufacturer does something different it's possible that some can, and it's further possible that that's exactly what they have you do when they suggest you make recovery didks after getting your new machine.
Leo
11-Jan-2011

indianacarnie
January 12, 2011 1:40 PM

Due to my habit of never letting my poor abused machine rest when it comes to "tinkering" with the O.S. I have come to know my recovery partition very well indeed,haha. And yes I would very much like to see the partition updated, because due to the unsigned wifi drivers Toshiba so thoughtfully used in my machine, I must first install from the partition(or disc's I made)(Vista) and then upgrade. 45 minutes for the O.S. then up to FOUR hours for the bloat/cr*pware from Toshiba. Oh, lets not forget the many hours of updating Vista before I can even start to upgrade! My next machine WILL come with the original O.S. disc's or I will not buy it. I am tired of spending up to 12/14 HOURS just to reinstall a O.S.! I have plenty of space on my internal HDD so space is not the issue with me, but the wasted time I've spent just because the machines maker wants to load me up with garbage via a recovery partition(and no original discs) is outrageous.

patrick Harte
January 12, 2011 5:41 PM

I have been through the torment of reloading windows from the recovery partition and to be honest I think its a waste of space and time.
As stated earlier all it does is restore to crap the manufacture gives you , norton trial etc etc.
I discovered Norton Ghost and it has become my best friend. If you restore your computer from the original backup , up date all the drivers and reinstall all your important software( not crap )
then you can install Norton Ghost and create a recovery backup.
what has taken hours to set up now only takes 30 minutes or so to restore with norton ghost.
Make a cup of tea and its done while you drink it .this image will work on computers of the same specs as i have tested it on two dell systems I own . Hope this has been of some help. Love your site Leo

Wayne Talmadge
January 13, 2011 7:44 PM

I have to agree with Indianacarnie. There is no reason to buy a machine if you are not able to purchase the OS and Driver installation media. If you can't get them when you purchase your new machine, DON'T buy the machine. The disks are a convenient way to reinstall drivers if they become corrupt, repair parts of your OS if they need it and, as Leo points out, the ONLY way of repairing your computer if the HDD fails. I am a big fan of regularly (every year or so) backing up all my files and reformatting. It can't hurt and it is refreshing to have the opportunity to decide what you want to reinstall after it is reformatted. You will be surprised what you will choose to reinstall when you have a 2nd chance.
Thanks for presenting that question, Leo. It was a great opportunity to vent about restoration partitions.

Sandy Smith
January 14, 2011 12:08 PM

One thing to keep in mind as well... I put Window 7 on a Vista computer but kept the recovery, I didn't partition it in because that machine is getting older and one day I plan on giving it to someone, but I know I will want to keep that copy of Windows 7. I will give them the computer with Vista on it... Just something to keep in mind if in your future, you want to keep the OS, but not necessarily the computer...

Michael Johnson
August 31, 2012 9:00 AM

I like recovery partitions. They are so much quicker and easier. I normally just uninstall the stuff that I don't want once it has all gone back on. It doesn't take that long to do. I have a recovery partition on both my XP PC and my Windows 7 Laptop and I would much rather have them there to having a disc, which just takes up space and could end up being lost. It only takes ten minutes to reinstall XP from the partition and I can even keep my files and programs too.

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