Resizing (shrinking) the Windows partition when there is a recovery partition

Many computers are equipped with a recovery system by the manufacturer, which contains the Windows system enhanced with hardware drivers and (in most cases useless, free to download) software. It is the cheaper OEM version of Windows where the manufacturer (in stead of Microsoft) is responsible for the service towards the customer. Microsoft obliges the manufacturer that customers are able to restore their Windows installation to the factory defaults. Because burning an installation CD or DVD is costly, the cheapest alternative it to use a (in most cases) hidden recovery partition. In some cases, the customer is able their own installation CD/DVD the first time Windows boots, but many forget to do this when the CD-R or DVD-R are not available at that moment.

The advantage of a recovery partition is the simplicity to restore Windows (drivers and software included) to the factory settings. Unfortunately, this is the only advantage, there is no other reason of being happy about this recovery partition. It uses some hard disk space and when the hard disk crashes, the recovery partition is gone as well (in which case you have to go back to the computer store and/or request a recovery CD/DVD at the manufacturers helpdesk). However, the biggest disadvantage are the poor possibilities to make changes to the partition table. And if the partition table has been changed, the recovery procedure won't work anymore.

For Windows XP, the installation can possibly be done with a borrowed installation CD of the same Windows version (it goes without saying that the own product key has to be used!). This is a fine solution to prevent the use of the recovery partition. For Windows Vista, this procedure doesn't work because the procedure will eventually lead to activation problems. If there is nog installation DVD, the recovery partition has to be used for reinstalling Windows Vista.

Shrinking the Windows partition

If a smaller Windows partition is desired (e.g. to make space for an additional data partition) then the partition has to be resized before or after the recovery procedure has been passed through. Deleting the current Windows partition and to create a new but smaller one, is the most simple way to resize the partition. All data will be lost, but there is a big chance that the recovery procedure won't work anymore. It the resizing of the Windows partition is done afterwards, the resizing has to take place while keeping the data untouched. Only the better partitioning software (like Paragon Partition Manager) is able to resize a (both Windows XP and Windows Vista) NTFS partition safely. Although Windows Disk Management in Windows Vista is able to resize the Windows partition as well (it is a new feature compared to Windows XP), the result is deplorable: the resizing is limited to the free space at the end of the partition! When the resizing of the partition is to limited, it is better to reinstall Windows on a newly partitioned hard disk (and hope that the recovery partition won't repartition the hard disk to it's previous settings...). Whatever you do: don't delete the recovery partition!

Starting the Windows XP recovery procedure

For Windows XP there are two possibilities: firstly running the recovery procedure (as prescribed by the manufacturer) followed by a resizing of the Windows partition while the data stays on the partition, or firstly partition the hard disk followed by running the recovery procedure. For the last option, the recovery partition has to be activated manually (which can be done with a simple partitioning tool like EFDISK). After activating the recovery partition and the computer has been restarted, the recovery procedure starts automatically. This activation procedure works for many recovery procedures because the recovery partition has it's own operating system (the Windows Preinstalled Environment) which starts the Windows setup (which has been adapted by the manufacturer) automatically. If the recovery procedure is a recovery of an image of the Windows partition (in stead of a Windows setup procedure), in most cases the hard disk will be repartitioned to restore the Windows partition to it's original size. If this is the case, nevertheless the Windows partition has to be resized afterwards. If possible, try to prevent the repartitioning of the hard disk, to prevent this from happening.

Starting the Windows Vista recovery procedure

For Windows Vista, it is a different story because Windows Vista is not installed properly when the recovery partition is activated manually. Using the Windows Vista Preinstalled Environment will result in a problem with the assignment of disk letters, with a badly installed Windows as a result. To prevent this from happening, the recovery procedure must be started by the Windows Vista boot manager, already present on the Windows partition. But after deleting the Windows partition (necessary for the repartitioning of the hard disk), the boot manager is deleted as well (because the boot manager is located on the boot sector of the primary Windows partition)! For this purpose it is important to save the boot manager data (Boot Configuration Data, BCD) before the Windows partition is deleted. When a new Windows partition has been added and the BCD has been restored, the recovery procedure can be activated.

Saving and restoring the Boot Configuration Data (BCD)
Saving and restoring the BCD (I advise to use an USB memory stick) is done with the Command prompt. Normally, the Command prompt can be accessed within Windows, but at the moment of restoring the BCD, there is no operating system available (because the Windows partition has been deleted previously). The Command prompt has to be started by booting from a Windows Vista DVD (because it is not available in case of a recovery system, you have to borrow it...). Because it is important to know whether the BCD can be restored using the DVD, it is safer to save the BCD using the DVD as well.

To start the Command prompt from DVD: boot the computer from the Windows Vista DVD, run the setup, confirm the language and keyboard settings, select Repair your computer, select the Windows Vista-partition, click the button Next and select Command prompt. The command BCDEDIT /export "G:\VISTAPC.BCD" will save the BCD to the file G:\VISTAPC.BCD, and the command BCDEDIT /import "G:\VISTAPC.BCD" will restore the same BCD from file (change the disk letter G: into the disk letter of the back-up location!). The command EXIT closes the Command prompt. As a (time consuming) alternative, one can first install Windows Vista on a smaller Windows primary partition using a borrowed DVD (without entering e product code) and start the recovery procedure to overwrite this installation.

Booting the recovery partition
After the BCD is recovered, it can be shown with the command BCDEDIT (or BCDEDIT /v for a more extended view). If the recovery partition is not mentioned, then it can be added with the command BCDEDIT /create /d "Starting the recovery procedure" /application osloader. This command creates a new entry in the Windows boot menu, which can be identified with a unique GUID code in the format {xxxxxxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxxxxxxxxxx}. This GUID is important for changing the boot options of this partitions. The following commands are necessary to make the entry work (replace GUID with your own specific code and change the disk letter (in this example F:) in drive letter of the recovery partition):

BCDEDIT /set {GUID} path \Windows\system32\boot\bootloader.exe
BCDEDIT /set {GUID} device partition=F:
BCDEDIT /set {GUID} osdevice partition=F:
BCDEDIT /set {GUID} systemroot \Windows
BCDEDIT /set {GUID} detecthal yes
BCDEDIT /set {GUID} winpe yes

While using the arrow keys, the previous commands become available, which makes it a lot easier to execute the commands (it saves the time for entering the long GUID code). If you like to, you can change the entry for the recovery partition to the default entry to boot from with the command BCDEDIT /default {GUID}. After a reboot, the changed BCD is loaded and the recovery will start automatically from the recovery partition (if necessary select the added option Starting the recovery procedure from the boot menu).

It is obvious this is not a simple procedure to change the BCD! In comparison to the Windows XP boot manager, it has become a lot harder to change it! This is one of the reasons of using EasyBCD (download: to make changes to the boot manager quickly and easy. View the Microsoft Technet ( for more information about changing the Boot Configuration Data with the command BCDEDIT.

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