troubleshooting Question

BCDEDIT shows error "The volume for a file has been externally altered so that the opened file is no longer valid." on 22 identical computers.

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Simon Smith asked on
* Boot issueWindows 10* NVMe* Disk Cloning* GPT
12 Comments1 Solution4515 ViewsLast Modified:
I created a base image for a set of computers with good, fast hardware.  I backed up a disk image and cloned 21 other systems with it. All was good for 18 months or so until it was found that the Windows 10 creators update failed to install on all of these computers. The users see the message "We can't tell if your PC has enough space to continue installing Windows 10. Try restarting Setup." On the Windows 10 updates screen it shows "Something went wrong", "Microsoft can't install important security updates on your PC." and "Please provide the support representative with this error code: 0x800703ee".

I have had zero success with any past calls in to Microsoft whether I paid for support or not, I have not bothered to get them directly involved in the issue.

Disk space is not the issue. All of the computers are HP Z240 Workstations with a 512GB HP Turbo Z drive. Windows 10 Pro and 16GB RAM in each. I've checked disk space on a sample of the computers and all have better than 350GB free space.

The partitions are setup pretty simply:

  Partition ###  Type              Size     Offset
  -------------  ----------------  -------  -------
  Partition 1    System             100 MB  1024 KB
  Partition 2    Reserved           128 MB   101 MB
  Partition 3    Primary            476 GB   231 MB

These systems use UEFI to boot and I recall having some trouble getting them to boot successfully after cloning. If memory serves correctly I was trying to use MBR style partitions with Norton Ghost (circa 2008) which I used successfully for many Windows 7, Windows 8 and various server and VMware backups and cloning tasks. Unfortunately I was forced to use UEFI and GPT partitions as the HP Z240 workstations with the Turbo Z drives just refused to work properly with MBR.  In the end I put together a script to create the 3 partitions you see above. Cloned from an image file to the 3rd partition. Deleted the 1st and 2nd partitions then recreated them with diskpart and some BCDEDIT commands. All the system booted up fine and have been in production for almost 2 years.

When I found out about the Creators Update failing issue, I tried what I could to fix it remotely but nothing worked and I had the client send me one of the systems as they are an 8 hour drive away.

I have tried the basics like SFC /scannow and CHKDSK with no luck. I have tried pushing the Creators update many times through auto updates, the media creation tool and by having the media creation tool generate a bootable ISO. No luck.

I have tried deleting and recreating the EFI and Microsoft Reserved partitions. But this always ends one of 2 ways. The system won't boot or I still have the error when running BCDEDIT "...file has been externally altered..."
My troubleshooting of the Windows Update error 0x800703ee is what led me to discover the issue with BCDEDIT. While I'm not positive that they are related I have mostly convinced myself if I fix the BCDEDIT issue then creators update will fall in line.

I used a long ago registered copy of Norton Ghost (about 2008 or so) to create the image files. Ghost doesn't do gpt disks very well anymore but generally has no issues creating images from NTFS partitions (not whole disks unless in forensic mode) or cloning partition images back to a partition. To ensure compatibiliy I pre-create the partitions with DISKPART so Ghost won't do anything odd by todays partitioning standards.

I have tried quite a few combinations of utilities and programs to correct whatever I messed up with my cloning of the 22 systems.

Some of my attempts:
Clean Win10 install to SSD. Boots fine and does not have the BCDEDIT issue and can update. Restore cloned partition to the windows partitions leaving all other Microsoft partitions untouched. Won't boot - INNACESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE. the usual battery of BOOTREC BOOTSECT didn't fix nor did running a startup replair from a Windows 10 installer ISO.

Cloned the SSD to a HDD (using acronis). System boots fine but BCDEDIT issue follows the disk clone.

Used a Windows 10 Installer ISO to perform a startup repair on the SSD result: "Startup Repair couldn't repair your PC"

Did the same fix on an HDD with the same result: "Startup Repair couldn't repair your PC"

Tried shrinking partitions to leave some free space on the SSD then running the Startup Repair. I actually think this may have worked once, but when I tried it a second time I was back at "Startup Repair couldn't repair your PC" and haven't managed to get further success there or determine what else I may have changed that helped fix the issue.

A clean install on these computers (whether to the SSD or a HDD for testing) of base Windows 10 or the Windows 10+Creators works fine, installs and does not have any issues with BCDEDIT.

I have tried cloning the entire SSD to an HDD (and back). The BCDEDIT issue occurred on both HDD and SSD.  I have tried a clean install of windows 10 (which boots) plus restoring the third partition to the primary partition that the Windows 10 created. This failed to boot (INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE) and my usual battery of BOOTREC BOOTSECT and BCDEDIT commands would not resuscitate it. Windows install did generate a significantly different partition layout than I have from my cloning procedure. If I were dealing with MBR partitions and had a similar issue, I'd expect that cleaning the disk and restoring the partitions in the correct order would make both windows and BCDEDT happy. But since looking at the bizarre arrangements of  GPT disks in the last few years they just don't seem to have any obvious rules. I've seen computers arrive from various manufactures with anywhere from 3 to 7 partitions and there never seems to be any issue with which one is the actual "Windows" partition, they just boot.

I am looking for a fix that does not require the reloading from scratch of 22 computers plus the  40+ accounting apps installed and registered on each one.

If there is a bypass to get the Creators Update to work despite this error that is acceptable as there is no real need to use BCDEDIT as we have cloning procedure that can reload the systems from scratch in about 10 minutes (minus domain join and updates).

Simon Smith

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