Need to reinstall XP on SERIOUSLY screwed machine with no optical media

Okay, so I have one of those "Ultra Portable" laptops that have no physical drives other than the HDD. It's an HP/Compaq NC4010 (not that that makes much difference).

Anyway, long story short, the XP install is screwed (how and why is not really important) and I want to do a complete reinstall. Now, when I say "screwed", it IS operational and I CAN boot and launch applications - I'm actually writing this on the machine in question.

I have no access to another machine (so swapping drives around is not an option) and even if I did, I have no laptop/IDE converter to facilitate this.

My plan therefore, is to use Partition Magic to jiggle the partitions and create a tiny second, bootable DOS 7 drive with a multiboot option so I can boot to dos. I also intend to create a third partion, on which I'd copy the i386 folder to so I can then (theoretically):
1. boot to DOS
2. format old XP install
3. reinstall XP from drive 3
4. boot to XP
5. remove other partitions with the aid of Partition Magic again.

See? Good plan eh?

My questions therefore are:
1. does that sound feasable?
2. how do I install DOS from XP with no bootable CD/floppy?
3. how do I create the boot menu from XP
4. Have I forgotten anything?

I guess my main issue is 1 as everything I've read about installin DOS 7 involves boot disks (floppy or CD, which are not available) oh, and in case you were wondering, System Restore is not an option (already tried and failed) and the machine (insofar as I can tell) is too old to boot from USB (again tried and failed).


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Computer101Connect With a Mentor Commented:
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hows about getting an 'image' of an XP disk on there and doing an installation from within your current installation?

OR copy the contents of an XP disk to USB media, then to c:\XP_Disk or something?

I believe you can install XP without a bootable device if you can boot to dos and run the I383\WINNT.EXE

Reason I say this is because occasionally I would have CDs with windows xp on it, but they were not BOOTABLE cds, it was just the data files. However, if I could use a win98 boot disk to get into dos with access to the cdrom drive I could still initiate the installation by running the executable manually from dos.

So... if you can copy the entire windows xp cd to a new partition on the computer, and then boot to dos by whatever means you need (usb key, small partition etc.) you can possibly execute the exe on the other partition and get windows xp setup going


alternatively... can't you beg/borrow/steal an external cdrom drive and boot to it?

and surely the manufacturers of the laptop already thought of this. What kind of recovery media does the laptop come with? There may very well be a recovery partition waiting for you to run it.
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Danny ChildIT ManagerCommented:
not sure how you're going to get the XP setup files onto one of the partitions unless there's a CDROM drive available, in which case I'd be with Frosty's suggestion of the External drive.  

If you're getting the data over a network, that implies other pcs, so I'd go back to the master/slave option - get one of the ide converters for laptops.  Mine cost £7 and has paid for itself twenty times over.  
cheaper now:

some info here on your DOS install if you want to go that way:
alex_hearlAuthor Commented:
Well, I COULD do that (either method you suggest would work), but that would only serve to reinstall XP over itself and I'm looking for a complete reinstall.

yes, that's basically the method I described (but I'd only need to copy the i386 folder for XP rather than all the CAB files for 98). And as for booting to DOS to initiate the install... well that's what I said I want to do, I just don't know how to install DOS 7 on partition 2 without the use of a floppy/CD/USB as the machine cannot boot to them.

And nope, there's no recovery discs (can't boot to them even if there were) or a recovery partition - it's very old  (I got it 2nd hand - courtesy of ebay).

Finally, as to how HP (and the people I bought it from) installed the original OS, my educated guess is that they removed the HDD and slipped it into another machine that did have bootable optical drives - which, unfortunately is not an option in my case.
alex_hearlAuthor Commented:

I have a (legal) iso backup of my XP disk on my external USB HDD (created before my even older desktop decided to let the "magic-blue-smoke-that-makes-everything-work" escape from the capacitors on the mobo and psu etc - i.e it blew up very impressively) which the current XP installation will recognise (with only a small amount of cajoling), so copying the i386 folder is not a problem, however the laptop won't boot from USB (otherwise I'd have booted to it).

However, although no-one's yet attempted to answer my real question of "how do I install DOS from within XP without boot disks", I really do honestly appreciate the altenative suggestions.... anyone got any more bright ideas as to how I can achive the goal of reinstalling XP....?
alex_hearlAuthor Commented:
btw I also have alchol 120%, Daemon tools and Magic ISO so I can easily read the contents of the iso incase you were wondering.
Do youself a favor and buy a cheap USB cd-rom - its a lot less hassle !
alex_hearlAuthor Commented:

not really as I can't boot from USB (I'm sure I mentioned that once or twice...)
You can't boot from anything other than the hard drive onto which you want to reinstall the OS? Can't remove the hard drive and slave it to another unit because you have no other unit?

Can't be done.

Allow me to quote a section from the Experts Exchange Help Page:

"The correct answer to some questions is "You can't do that."

Sometimes, you'll get an answer that isn't what you want to hear; this doesn't make it a bad answer. So even if the answer you receive is not what you want to hear, it still may be the correct answer, and you still need to award points to the Expert that gave you that answer. Sometimes there are things that just can't be done."

The only other option I'd suggest is contacting HP support to see if they can give you some ideas about how to resolve the issue.

alex_hearlAuthor Commented:

I'm afraid that you may be correct, however, I know it is possible to manually edit the boot sector of a floppy disk, so I was wondering/assuming that it would be possible to manually edit the boot sector of a Hardisk (or a partition), but, if it truly cannot be done (I'm still skeptical) then, as the first person who

A. seems to have read my entire original post and understood it,
B. said that it cannot be done,

then you will get the points. However, if you don't mind too much, I will leave the question open for a few more days to see if anyone else knows a way or if I can find a way myself.

(hope that doesn't sound to flippant - apologies if it does, it's not intended)

No, your response didn't sound flippant. :-)

Certainly it's possible to manually edit the boot sector of a hard disk. However, in the scenario you've described, imagine if you will trying to fix the brakes on an automobile *while* you're driving it. That's essentially what you'd be trying to do.

And you're going to have to have some sort of bootable device other than the target hard drive from which to load DOS. That's your deal-killer right there.

I'd heartily recommend contacting HP to see if they have any recommendations. While the unit is older and probably no longer under warranty, if anybody should know what to do in your situation, I would imagine they do.

I did actually have exactly this problem half a year back or so. Had an old acer tablet pc with no optical media and needed to reformat it. After many days of struggling, I eventually caved and gave the laptop to a computer repair shop that had that particular external cdrom drive model that was compatible with the recovery media. It was very embarassing all around.

I have theories on how you can do it, but none of them are sure-fire and I don't want to leave you with a "bricked" computer that won't boot. I'll think a little more on it.

This is a long shot, but worth a try since I don't think it will break anything too easily. Read all this carefully.

First, use partition magic to make a second partition on the computer that's sized large enough to accept the new windows xp installation.

Now follow these instructions:

What you're going is using VMWare to make a virtual machine on your computer. Then you can specify a CDROM drive as one of the hardware components in the virtual machine, and give your winxp cd as the iso file to use for the virtual cd in the virtual cdrom drive of your virtual machine.

If it is possible to specify that vmware expose an actual partition of your hard drive to the virtual machine, use the new partition you made.

Then, if all goes well when you run the virtual machine it will boot it's "virtual" cdrom drive, which should run the winxp installer from inside the vmware player.

Now, I don't know how well the vmware player will emulate your disk drives. If the winxp installer now has access to the *actual* partitions on your computer, you may be able to install winxp to the new partition you made. If vmware is emulating partitions... you won't see anything except the virtual disk drives that vmware exposes which would disappear as soon as you close the player. In that case you're SOL unless you can find a way to expose actual partitions to the vmplayer.

If all goes well and the installer actually puts windows on the new partition... use partition magic to make that partition the primary one and try to boot from it. In theory the installation should continue as normal. And when you have the new winxp going, blow away the old partition.

I don't know if this will work. There's a lot of Ifs and Maybes. Don't DELETE any important partitions from within the windows installer, and make sure EVERYTHING you care about on the computer is backed up.
alex_hearlAuthor Commented:
Frosty - I like your way of thinking... I'll have a play with VMware and see if it can access a literal partition (I have a feeling that it does) and then (assuming it does) use the iso to install XP to the new partition, then use partition magic to "swap" the partitions.

I'll have a bash at that, but before I do, I've had another plan, which is to create the partitions, copy i386 folder, a (and a few other DOS files e.g. etc) , then boot to SafeMode with Command prompt. Then, I think that if I change to the new ("psuedo dos"?) partition and format the C: drive (using the command from the new partition) - I can (theoretically) then launch the setup.exe without rebooting.....

Now my trouble is, that my method has fewer if and maybes, and is probably easier to do, however it would be more damaging if it goes wrong.

I'll have a think about it and chose one and then let you know the outcome.


That's another way to try and do it. I would suggest though that you not format the C drive. The winxp installer is more than capable of doing that, and once you have it running, you're in business.

Put the contents of the "win98 se boot disk" onto your partition - its msdos plus a plethora of legacy drivers and tools. If you can find a program that can get the master boot record info off of the disk image and put it on a hard drive instead then you've got a very good chance of it booting and working.

(direct link:

I know there's a bit of master-boot-record magic that needs to be done to make a partition bootable, even to dos. Copying the files isn't quite good enough. But it's been a long time since I've done it. I always used to just format the drive using FORMAT.EXE with the "/s" switch to "add system files to the disk"... but that option no longer exists as of Windows XP.
alex_hearlAuthor Commented:
I think I may have found the solution:
this site appears to do what I want to do - i.e. boot to DOS (in this case it's FreeDOS as opposed to MSDOS 7, but that doesn't matter to me)

I'm working through it now, and i'll let y'all know the outcome (assuming I don't completely kill my machine :p)

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