Is it safe to remove hidden Windows partition on ASUS Eee Box?

Forum: LinuxTotal Replies: 37
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Alan_W_Irwin

Jan 16, 2011
3:07 PM EST
I just bought a used ASUS Eee Box (b202) which has one of those hidden "Recovery" partitions which would allow me (if I were running Windows) to return my machine to its "original working Windows state". I would like to completely remove this partition using a Linux partitioning tool (probably fdisk) that is part of an ordinary Debian install. I want my machines to be completely free of Windows for a number of political (I avoid running proprietary software whenever possible), practical (I want to remove all possibility of Windows messing with my boot process), and legal (remember how Microsoft treated charities that were using donated computers with Windows software still installed?) reasons.

The only concern I have with removing a hidden Windows partition is if it could turn that machine into a brick. This could happen if, for example, Microsoft have forced ASUS to use a BIOS that _must_ interact with that partition in order to boot the machine at all. There is a lot of noise about this topic on the internet in general but nothing specific to the ASUS Eee Boxes. So I hope someone here who has had some practical experience with removing such partitions will comment.

BTW, the b202 is fairly underpowered, but it doesn't use much electrical power, it is extremely quiet, and it has a well-supported graphics chip (the Intel GMA 950). Thus, it should be ideal for my purpose which is to install a minimal Debian distro + X server on it (instead of something more complicated like installing and configuring ltsp). That simple way of creating an X-terminal should allow me to use the "X -query" command on the b202 box to give me network-transparent access to the faster machine in the office where I can run my KDE desktop at just the same apparent speed as if I were sitting at the keyboard of that faster machine. I was using an older machine exactly that way, but I bought the used b202 to replace it because that older machine's disk drive was beginning to fail.
fewt

Jan 16, 2011
3:10 PM EST
No, leave it there. If you ever decide that you need to restore Windows, or sell the hardware you will regret not having it.
gus3

Jan 16, 2011
3:17 PM EST
I'm kind of with fewt, but there is one additional point about Asus and DOS partitions: They use FAT12 in the BIOS for doing BIOS updates. That is, you don't need to boot anything special, as long as you have the right file, with the right file name and checksum, on a FAT12 partition. The BIOS can take it from there.

What is the size on this partition, anyway?
tmx

Jan 16, 2011
3:53 PM EST
My experience with Asus has been pretty good and I never had trouble with them in term of firmware locking so I wouldn't have a second thought about just wiping out the partition table to rid of Windows.

The recovery partition basically holds the original Windows installation to recover it exactly as factory shipped. There should be no problem of deleting it and booting linux should work. And as you know Asus manufactured and sell motherboard, so they should allow users to install freely. On the Asus Eee-Box that I bought, I had swap out the original harddrive and installed a new one and dual boot Windows and Linux, before putting the original back to return it.

You can use Clonezilla to backup the original hdd contents before making changes. Then image it back if you are going to return/sell it.
Alan_W_Irwin

Jan 16, 2011
4:34 PM EST
The guy I bought this from had a higher power nettop at his disposal so he was willing to let this one go at what I think is a good price ($75). Anyhow, I am not concerned about resale value.

tmx's experience with simply replacing the disk with another proves the bios does not need that hidden partition. So I am going with his advice to remove the hidden partition only I won't bother with backing up that hidden partition because I have absolutely no use for it. Furthermore, it is extremely likely the next deal I make involving this device will be to give it away several years down the road. And why in the world would a Linux advocate want to give a hidden Windows partition to a friend? :-)
penguinist

Jan 16, 2011
5:45 PM EST
Alan Irwin wrote:why in the world would a Linux advocate want to give a hidden Windows partition to a friend?


Good point!

In my own case, disk space is usually precious on my notebooks and small netbooks/tablets, so my practice is to always recover the wasted space. I'm in the habit of first making a dd backup of the partition which I save on a server with big TB's of raid space, but I have to admit that I've never actually needed the backup.
fewt

Jan 16, 2011
6:14 PM EST
"why in the world would a Linux advocate want to give a hidden Windows partition to a friend?"

A good Linux advocate understands that Linux isn't always the right tool for every job. :D
gus3

Jan 16, 2011
9:09 PM EST
I zapped my Xandros rescue partition early on, but that also zapped the FAT12 area used for BIOS updates. Not to fear too much, the Asus BIOS will scan the USB devices for FAT12 partitions as well.

The low price you paid for it, plus the fact that it's used, plus the fact that you seem ready to tinker, suggests to me that you're not going to need that Windows rescue. If push comes to shove, and you somehow render the internal storage un-bootable, you can always prep a USB flash drive to rescue it.

Good luck, and enjoy!
tracyanne

Jan 16, 2011
11:14 PM EST
Quoting:A good Linux advocate understands that Linux isn't always the right tool for every job.


Yeah Linux is really bad at running Windows only software. But then so is Windows.
penguinist

Jan 17, 2011
12:32 AM EST
fewt wrote:A good Linux advocate understands that Linux isn't always the right tool for every job.


I've been sitting here trying to think up some reason that I might recommend windows to a friend, and my head is starting to hurt. Sorry fewt, I'm certainly not with you on this one.
jimbauwens

Jan 17, 2011
3:21 AM EST
I don't think fewt recommend windows to other people, I think he just means, that sometimes you need windows. It might not be better, but sometimes you just have software that is windows dependent. And for that it is always handy to have a windows partition. I know lots of good software (software with no replacement in Linux) that needs windows and that doesn't run in wine.
chalbersma

Jan 17, 2011
7:02 AM EST
As much as I don't believe ASUS would have done someting funky with their bios I do believe it would be a good Idea to dd that partition and make sure that nothing weird happens. Worst case scenario you can use it in a windows VM.
jdixon

Jan 17, 2011
8:00 AM EST
Allow me to add a vote for at least backing up the hard drive before you start. You never know when you might need a legal copy of Windows, and without that restore partition you're chances of being able to reinstall Windows drop off sharply.
fewt

Jan 17, 2011
10:22 AM EST
@jimbauwens - That is exactly what I meant, thanks.
jimbauwens

Jan 17, 2011
10:26 AM EST
@fewt: You're welcome :-)
Bob_Robertson

Jan 17, 2011
6:02 PM EST
The one and only reason I have Windows around, on VirtualBox for me and a dual-boot for the kids, is Windows-only software that just doesn't work any other way.

Netflix streaming, and HP Photoprinting for me,

Wizard 101 and LOTRO for the kiddies.

Not a huge list.

Oh, one more thing: Virtualbox saved my butt at a client's site! The client's ISP had a Windows-only support program to give them access to a machine on the client LAN, but every client PC was so locked down (Kiosks) that there was no way to run the program.

So, I started up WinXP on VB, defined the network as "bridged", and the ISP support guy never knew the difference.



tracyanne

Jan 17, 2011
6:58 PM EST
@Bob, what you do is tell the bloke that he was really accessing a Linux computer, you just had it configured to look like windows. Play with his head a bit.
Bob_Robertson

Jan 17, 2011
8:33 PM EST
> Play with his head a bit.

Suddenly wondering if the support program would run on ReactOS...
tracyanne

Jan 17, 2011
8:42 PM EST
or WINE
Steven_Rosenber

Jan 17, 2011
9:03 PM EST
My Lenovo G555 came with that idiotic "hidden" partition, which takes up quite a bit of disk space, by the way. My wife got an Acer, which also has this screwed-up setup.

If you ever need to reinstall, do that. These "recovery" schemes are terrible.

I'm dual-booting the Lenovo, and I killed out everything, started with a "clean," cr@pware-free Windows 7, then put Linux (First Fedora, now Debian) on after that. No "hidden" Windows partition.
tmx

Jan 17, 2011
9:36 PM EST
PS. I forget to mention about hidden Windows partitions. Here's a bit info on it, so if you don't want to learn about Windows don't read.

Usually if you buy a Windows 7 PC, there should be three partition. One 100mb hidden partition, one recovery partition, and one Windows 7 partition. The 100mb partition holds the Windows bootloader. If something happens to the bootloader, you can insert a Windows 7 disk and do "Start up repair". Or you can connect that harddrive to another computer and use a software such as EasyBCD to install the bootloader into either the 100mb partition or the Windows 7 partition itself, then set whichever partition has the bootloader as "Active" aka "boot".

Whenever you install Windows 7, it creates two partition, one 100mb and one Windows. There is a trick to force install both Windows 7 and its bootloader into a single partition. First use GParted to create a single NTFS partition, then install Windows 7 to that NTFS partition. (If you were to create a single partition using Windows 7 disc, it will create two partition.) But this method might makes it harder to restore Windows bootloader once Grub has been installed to the harddrive MBR. Which mean if you want to wipe out GRUB, you have to delete the first 446bytes of the harddrive to clear the boot info, while leaving the partition table alone (dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sd#/ count=1 bs=446 <--DANGEROUS!) , then run Windows 7 "start up repair".

To prevent conflicts between Windows 7 and Linux bootloaders, I always install Windows 7 bootloader into its own Windows partition, then install Grub (one) into its own Linux partition. Then set the Grub partition as active and update it to detect Windows. When Grub 2 has been introduced, I had a lot of problem with this method and getting linux to boot, so I much prefer Grub one, hence I'm switching from Ubuntu to Linux Mint Debian now.
Sander_Marechal

Jan 18, 2011
12:25 AM EST
Quoting:If you ever need to reinstall, do that. These "recovery" schemes are terrible. I'm dual-booting the Lenovo, and I killed out everything, started with a "clean," crapware-free Windows 7


You can do that from the recovery partition too. Start up the recovery partition, drop to a commandline and use the imagex.exe utility manually, but include the /OOBE flag. It stands for "Out Of Box Edition", meaning that you get Windows as sold by Microsoft, without all the crapware added by the OEM.

Google around for exact instructions.

What I really hate is the new ASUS partitioning scheme. They come configured with all four primary partitions used up. C: with Win7 installed, an empty D:, a recovery partition and a small partition that holds the fast-boot image (i.e. when you press the other "on button"). But, ASUS has configured their imaging program in such a way that you can only reinstall C: if the D: partition still exists, even though it doesn't touch D:. So, you can't remove it and replace it with an extended partition to hold your Linux root and swap. Boo!
jdixon

Jan 18, 2011
8:18 AM EST
> If you ever need to reinstall, do that. These "recovery" schemes are terrible.

That won't include any of your drivers or licensed software, many of which will NOT have reinstall disks. :( Many times you won't even have a Windows disk to reinstall with.

Yes, the recovery schemes are terrible, but they're what the manufacturer supports.
JaseP

Jan 18, 2011
9:44 AM EST
I have one of these, that came with Ubuntu installed (Can't remember which version, wiped it & had installed the more current version). Mine was produced before the ASUS "M$ only" fiasco & was an import to the US.

You're fine to wipe the drive on these things. The key is using a current distro. They have Intel graphics (not GMA500, thank God) & work best with the most current drivers.

A good idea would be to reduce swappiness & consider using the "no-patch" kernel scheduler fix for increased responsiveness. They can be network booted with the right BIOS settings. I recommend using a better WiFi antennae, if you use the WiFi. They come with a little stubby thing. All in all, they are great little machines.
fewt

Jan 18, 2011
10:26 AM EST
Fuduntu should work fine on this box, the swappiness tweak, no-patch cgroups tweak, and support for the Asus super hybrid engine are already built in.
Bob_Robertson

Jan 18, 2011
10:35 AM EST
I must ask, under what circumstances would someone want to go back to their OEM Windows after installing linux anyway?

Two of the times I sent my Vaio laptop in for repair, they discovered Linux and simply re-imaged the disk for me.

Dell, I know, puts a OEM-specific partition, and then goes ape-poop if it's not there, but does Asus do the same?
jdixon

Jan 18, 2011
12:09 PM EST
> ...under what circumstances would someone want to go back to their OEM Windows after installing linux anyway?

When it's no longer your machine.

But seriously, circumstances change, and there may come a day when you need Windows for some program or other, and a virtual machine isn't always an option. Say you win the lottery, and your ISP in the Cayman's uses a Windows only setup program for configuring your router. :)
Steven_Rosenber

Jan 18, 2011
12:31 PM EST
I did a clean 64-bit install of Windows 7 Home Premium to replace my cr@pware-laden 32-bit install of Windows 7 Home Premium.

Yes, I needed to download the drivers, then install. And yes, it's barbaric in comparison to what we enjoy in Linux.

In my earlier comment, the "hidden" partition I mean is the one that facilitates the "one click" restore of the original system, not the 100 MB boot partition that Win 7 seems to need.

It does seem a bit sinister: Microsoft and partners using enough primary partitions on the drive to make adding Linux that much more difficult.

Unfortunately for them, it probably means more people wiping Windows entirely ...
Bob_Robertson

Jan 18, 2011
12:44 PM EST
> and your ISP in the Cayman's uses a Windows only setup program for configuring your router. :)

Had that problem at a hotel once, had to use I.E. Was the first time VirtualBox was more than just a toy.

I'll go with Steven here, if you need Windows a "real" retail copy is the way to go anyway. Especially if you just won the lottery and can now afford one.
Steven_Rosenber

Jan 18, 2011
3:32 PM EST
Get your Windows 7 ISOs here:

http://techpp.com/2009/11/11/download-windows-7-iso-official...

You need a product key, but it's nice to be able to do a clean, cr@pware-free reinstall. If you have a 32-bit install, you can use your same product key for 64-bit, which is what I did.

Disclaimer: I first started using Linux and BSD on "found" machines, and I generally wiped Windows if it was there at all.

This is my first Linux-Windows dual-boot; I need a working Win 7 machine to test the various "likes Windows" devices and software that comes my way. Luckily I don't need it much (because it's not all that different from XP, and I don't mean that in a good way).
tracyanne

Jan 18, 2011
4:45 PM EST
All my computers are sans Windows when I purchase them new. I fortunately have a wholesaler/factory avilable to me that sells the machines with Windows or Ubuntu pre installed, or No Os at all.
Steven_Rosenber

Jan 18, 2011
4:56 PM EST
You'd think it wouldn't be such a big deal to buy a computer without an OS. If there's a regulation I'd like to see, it would be one that compels computer vendors to sell a computer with a blank hard drive and no OS license to those customers who want that. Forcing customers to buy any OS, let alone a certain one that we might not want, just doesn't make sense for the consumer.

Of course that's why we're all here, no?
tracyanne

Jan 18, 2011
10:16 PM EST
Quoting:just doesn't make sense for the consumer.


But it makes a lot of sense to the manufacturer.
fewt

Jan 19, 2011
8:29 AM EST
Consumers don't care about computers coming with an OS or not coming with an OS, it is a misconception to assume that they do. The only people that care are geeks.

I don't see it being cost effective for a manufacturer to sell a computer with no OS due to the added support cost. If there was a way to build a diagnostic partition that could not be destroyed by a user, that could reduce that cost but I don't see that happening.
Bob_Robertson

Jan 19, 2011
9:41 AM EST
> But it makes a lot of sense to the manufacturer.

Microsoft's one glorious marketing triumph, preinstallation.
Alan_W_Irwin

Jan 19, 2011
10:35 PM EST
For those interested in what happened to that ASUS Eee Box, the minimal Debian testing install (using the daily snapshots) was a snap including wiping the entire disk including the Microsoft partition (heh), before repartitioning from scratch. However, after that good start, installing X proved problematic for a day because of Debian testing bug 606340 (which is classified severe so I hope they fix it before the coming release). Fortunately, a temporary workaround (going back to a previous version of xserver-xorg-video-intel) suggested in that bug thread works for now, and as a result I now have a high-quality 2D X-terminal which allows me to transparently run a 2D KDE desktop on another machine using the keyboard, mouse, and display of the X-terminal. In fact, I am posting this from that new X terminal.

Sadly, the reorganized Intel X stack appears to be extremely inefficient at displaying remote 3D applications compared to when I last tried that test three years ago. Has anybody else had success at this, e.g, by ssh to another computer on your high-speed LAN (1 gigabit in this case, but the successful test of this three years ago was with a 0.1 gigabit LAN) and running, e.g., foobillard there. foobillard runs locally quite smoothly on the b202 X-terminal computer and also on my other g33 based computer so openGL and 3D display appear to be working fine in both cases. But foobillard slows down to ~1 frame per second when executing on the b202 via ssh while displaying on the g33 (essentially the test I did three years ago with success on a 0.1 gigabit network) or vice versa.

I may have made some fundamental mistake when doing this test so a further question I have is there something special you have to do (ssh configuration, for example) to get remote running of 3D games like foobillard to have acceptable frame rates when displayed locally? Anyhow, I would appreciate it if others here with Intel (or any other supported graphics chips) would give these sorts of tests a try.

Hopefully, the bad frame rates for local display of remote 3D applications is not a signal of a massive efficiency regression on the Intel driver side in the last three years for this scenario. It is an important issue for Intel-based X-terminals because those who have them would like to be able to run remote desktops with 3D effects as well as remote low-end 3D games like was possible three years ago.
Alan_W_Irwin

Jan 27, 2011
7:33 PM EST
Just to finish off this topic, somebody on the Intel-gfx list finally clued me in that you have to set

export LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT=1

on the remote box running the 3D X client (such as foobillard). It's frightening that the experienced Linux users that hang out at lxer.com (including me) didn't have a clue about LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT. In addition there seems to be no fundamental documentation of this important environment variable (say in a man page).

Setting LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT as above made foobillard smoothly playable from my X-terminal. However, etracer (extreme tux racer, the successor to tuxracer) is still not playable (using the mouse to select menu items was almost impossible) even when LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT is set to 1. Thus, there still seems to be a real regression in how efficient the Intel X stack is for displaying remote 3D applications compared to when I last tried a tuxracer test of this capability three years ago.
Bob_Robertson

Jan 27, 2011
7:55 PM EST
Sure enough, glxgears displayed on my local machine from the remote machine with export LIBGL_ALWAYS_INDIRECT=1

However, it was AWFUL.

So I don't think remote 3D is going to work well for me any time soon. :^)

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