I now recovered enough from this weekend’s catasrophe to share the solution I found and to offer some advice.
Advice: Make sure you have a bootable DVD drive before you upgrade to Vista. I had a USB DVD drive on this machine (it’s a Dell Precision Workstation 470 and I’m not sure really why I only got an internal CD-R) and it will not boot. I’m not sure if this is a BIOS problem or what, but not being able to boot off the Vista DVD made this more difficult than maybe it should have been.
So basically either my Master Boot Record (MBR) or the partition table was corrupted was the starting point for all this. The machine would not boot. FDISK could not find partitions.
Here is what I did:
1. I removed a DVD player from another PC and put it in this one. Vista actually booted off the DVD, but wouldn’t do anything except tell me there were problems with a device (which I think was the DVD player actually). It certainly couldn’t find the hard drive.
2. I bought Partition Commander 10 from V-com Software at CompUSA. (I also bought another, similar product but never tried it because Partition Commander worked.)
3. I ran Partition Commander – the CD was bootable. It found the drive and recognized it had issues. So I had it repair the MBR, which in hindsight was probably a bad idea, but I did it anyway. It didn’t solve any problems.
4. I bought a $64 internal DVD player at CompUSA (at the same time I bought the partion management software, since I figured this was going to be necessary.)
5. Installed the DVD player. I needed to to do this to enable the Windows Vista DVD to boot. It actually didn’t work at first, but I finally got to the point where Vista would boot off the DVD. However, it didn’t see the hard drive.
6. So I ran Partition Commander again and had it look for partitions. It found one. After messing around a bit I found an option to Undelete the partion. So I did. it wouldn’t boot off the hard drive.
7. I rebooted with the Vista DVD. It still didn’t see the hard drive.
8. I downloaded the RAID drivers for my CERC / Adaptec SATA RAID from Dell.com. This was more difficult than I expected since it was really unclear what was what, but I finally got them on a floppy disk.
9. I rebooted again and Vista came up from the DVD. I then had it look at the floppy disk which had the RAID driver. It loaded them (although I had to choose one of 4 identically named drivers for it to load). It found the hard drive!
10. I clicked the Repair option on the Vista DVD‘s main screen. It worked!
11. Next reboot loaded off the hard drive and all my stuff was intact. Wow!
As you may have noticed this involved 11 steps. I’ve excluded the steps that were either:
a. Unproductive / dead-ends / useless.
b. Involved me screaming profanities at my computer or smashing things.
So all in this was not a pleasant experience. On the bright side things are working ok now.