Skip to main content

Acer Aspire One: Backing up the hidden Windows XP factory image partition

My wife recently got the Windows XP 160GB version of the amazing popular Acer Aspire One (this seems to be the only netbook people ever have!).

I'd heard from a friend that we should save off the backup image which is preloaded onto a hidden partition (called PQSERVICE). But how do you gain access to the partition in order to save it off?

After much research I came up with the following options:
  • Install Linux on a USB pendrive, boot from that, then save the partition using Linux tools
  • Hack the master boot record to remove the 'hidden' attribute of the partition, then save it somehow
  • Numerous other tough/dangerous/involved methods
  • Follow my method below which is easy, safe and free!
Here are the steps you need to follow to be able to save off a backup image of the factory install of your Acer Aspire One as well as save a copy of your Master Boot Record (MBR) incase your hard drive dies...

Saving your hidden PQSERVICE partition

Download the free version of Macrium Reflect and install it

Run Macrium Reflect, let it analyse your drive and then right-click on the listed PQSERVICE partition (it's not hidden to this tool!):

Choose the "Create Image of '1 - PQSERVICE'" option

Save the partition to wherever is suitable, I place mine directly on my NAS storage box (I selected the "Intelligent Copy" option rather than the sector by sector copy, but I've not restored the image so please don't rely on that advice for a safe copy...).

An image of your hidden WinXP partition will now be saved:

Saving your Master Boot Record (MBR)

You will also probably want to save off the master boot record of the Acer's drive so that in the case of a complete drive failure you can set it up in a similar manner to the factory settings to be able to restore it correctly.

Download the free MBRWizard and extract the archive

Open a DOS box, navigate to where you extracted MBRWiz.exe and run the following command:
MBRWiz /Save=C:\acer_aspire_one.mbr
Copy the acer_aspire_one.mbr file in your C drive to somewhere safe (I put mine in the same place on the NAS box as the above PQSERVICE partition image file.

That's it!

Note: I've not restored this partition or master boot record, and I don't expect to, but at least you have a copy without messing about with your new netbook too much!

All this information was gleamed from The Importance of Backing Up EISA Hidden PQSERVICE Partition and MBR on a New Laptop (includes details on how to view the contents of the backed up image) and 5 Free Tools to Backup and Restore Master Boot Record (MBR) from the fantastic blog. They go into much more detail and I would recommend that you give them both a good read.

UPDATE: This blog post looks like a good source of information if you want to Restore XP from the Acer Aspire One Hidden Partition.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


JimmyB said…
One more interesting tidbit about the Acer PQSERVICE partition... it is actually just a rebadged NTFS partition. In fact, you can also use MBRWizard to gain direct access to this partition from Windows by changing the partition type back to NTFS. Make sure you download MBRWizard 2.0b, as this version has the required functionality.

After shelling out to the command prompt (Start->Run->cmd.exe) and navigating to the folder containing mbrwiz.exe, do the following:

- mbrwiz /list Look for the partition number of the PQSERVICE partition on the disk (this can be identified by it's type, which should should be type 12 or D)

- mbrwiz /part=x /type=7d where 'x' is the number identified from the previous step.

Now, simply reboot and Windows will assign a drive letter for direct access to this partition!

Best of luck, JimmyB
Andrew Beacock said…
Cheers for the tip JimmyB!

I wanted a solution which didn't involve changing the MBR, but thanks for the details, if I ever need to directly access it, I'll follow your detailed instructions.
jefferson_frantz said…
Hi, thanks for this!!

But, how i use the image i just create in case i need to use for restore?? is there a way to make booteable this backup from a pendrive???
Andrew Beacock said…
jefferson_frantz, first of all cheers for the comment!

I don't think you would want to make it bootable, I don't think that's the idea of it. If the windows install gets corrupted but the disk is fine then the standard Alt-F10 on boot up should give you the option to restore from the hidden partition.

I took the backup image in case this hidden partition got corrupted or the whole disk broke.

To be honest, I don't have a solid solution for this, I just know that with a backup of the original image saved elsewhere will give me a fighting chance of restoring it if it corrupts. I also wanted to obtain this image with the least fuss and possible problems as possible - hence not fiddling with the MBR...
Anonymous said…
Ah, I read this too late. I bought an AA1 with WinXP today with the plan to install Linux on it and use it as a cheap file/mail/webserver. I did keep the PQSERVICE partition (just in case) but unfortunately the Linux installation installed GRUB as MBR, overwriting the original Acer master boot record before I could make a copy. Is there any chance that you could make acer_aspire_one.mbr file available for download?
Andrew Beacock said…
Joakim, I'm happy to upload my MBR record but whether it will work for your system is a different matter. The MBR is very 'disk specific' so it would be at a "at your own risk" type thing. I'll upload it in a few days once I get my hands on the backup file again...
Anonymous said…
Andrew, thanks for your effort!

However, yesterday I managed to sort things out. In linux, I mounted the hidden partition PQSERVICE (as vfat) and there I located the file rtmbr.bin, which in fact is the "original" acer_aspire_one.mbr. Then I used command "dd if=/path/to/rtmbr.bin of=/dev/sda bs=446 count=1" to restore the MBR. Done. :-)

NOTE! The value of bs must be 446 and _not_ 512 as you would expect, otherwise you will overwrite the current partition table of the harddrive, which is a Bad Thing to do... Thank goodness for gpart utility! :-)

Regards, Joakim
Unknown said…
seems a little bit simpler here ... I used Macrium to back-up the PQSERVICE patition, then booted with the recovery CD, then restored the partition in the first 4 gigs, with clicked 'restore MBR' from backup.

when rebooting, I pressed ALT-F10, and it booted into erecovery, but erecovery would not restore because the remainder of the drive was not 'LINUX FDISKED to TYPE 7 (NTFS). So I booted on a Linux CD, and entered Fdisk, deleted the 2nd partition, replaced it with a Type 7 HPFS/NTFS partition, and rebotted, pressed Alt-F10, and now AcereRecovery is restoring the partition...
Qsr Nrwn said…
Interesting post. It inspired me to take some steps further for backing up and restoring the partition and making a post with the process involved. Just visit my blog.
Anonymous said…

I use Norton Ghost 15. After booting NORTON Boot CD (using an external CD drive), on Utilities tab, select Partition Table Operations. On next screen, select device \\.\PHYSICALDRIVE0 (149GB) and click on View/Edit and click Next>. On first row change the type from 12 to 0B (partition COMPAQ test type to FAT32). Click Next> and confirm the changes.
At this point, Ghost can see the hidden drive. Do the backup of PQSERVICE partition as a normal drive. At the end, don’t forget to undo these changes, and put again the partition type equal to 12.
I only did the backup, but did not have the necessity (yet) to test the restore of the disk using this method. Since I can see the existing files on the Ghost image I assume the restore will work.

Best regards,
Unknown said…
Hi Andrew,
Thanku so much for the above post. I have created backup of PQSERVICE and mbr as you have described. But i am clueless as how to use them on a new hard drive to create the auto recovery feature. Please guide me. Thanks in advance.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for your posting, i am just a newbie in the internet business, need to learn a lot from the gurus
windows 7 home basic product key