Avatar of Simon Smith
Simon Smith
 asked on

BCDEDIT shows error "The volume for a file has been externally altered so that the opened file is no longer valid."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

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).

* Boot issueWindows 10* NVMe* Disk Cloning* GPT

Avatar of undefined
Last Comment
Simon Smith

8/22/2022 - Mon
Andrew Leniart


Thank you for being so thorough with your Question explanation. Unfortunately, I've little to suggest at this point, but will give it some more thought as I have a vague recollection of striking a problem like this before - albeit not with Windows 10, but the principles remain the same.  I can certainly appreciate why you would want to avoid reimaging that many systems.

Can you please clarify the following;

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

If you check the properties of all of those partitions, how much (if any) free space does each show?

My failing memory has to do with clearing or making space on one of those partitions to resolve the error, but I just can't put my finger on the scenario I'm half-remembering at the moment.


Simon Smith

any ideas on how to check space on that partition #2 the reserved MSR one. Actually any idea how to check what is on it or what should be on that partition? I'll confirm space on the EFI partition (part #1) when I'm back in the office on Tuesday.
Andrew Leniart

any ideas on how to check space on that partition #2 the reserved MSR one.
I'll confirm space on the EFI partition (part #1) when I'm back in the office on Tuesday.

Apologies Simon, I meant partitions 1 & 3 (1 in particular - so yes, please do) You obviously know how to temporarily assign a partition letter to the System Reserved partition using Disk Management.

Please also note and report back on the contents of the System Reserved partition.

I've been revisiting some of my old question answers along with a couple of other forums I frequent since my last post, trying to find where I've helped another user troubleshoot a problem very similar to yours - only not for so many installs.

I know we eventually managed to solve it and it had something to do with clearing space in the System Reserved partition because I distinctly remember the chap verifying the solution, but damned if I can find the thread I'm only half-remembering. I'll keep looking and will post back if I recall it. Sometimes I need to stop thinking about something before my mind lets me remember what I'm trying to think about - if that makes any sense lol

The joys of getting old ;)
This is the best money I have ever spent. I cannot not tell you how many times these folks have saved my bacon. I learn so much from the contributors.
David Johnson, CD

I haven't used ghost in ages since microsoft came out with the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit so my only suggestion is to use it to do your imaging from now on. This allows the OS to set up the drive and BCDSTORE  and pretty much guarantee this problem will not reoccur.
Simon Smith

Partition 1 (EFI) has 91.5 MB free out of the 100MB assigned.
Partition 3 (Windows) has 383GB free out of the 450GB assigned.
Simon Smith

At least a partial solution found if not an explanation of the cause of the problem. Booting the system with an older Window 10 ISO  - Build 10586 (downloaded sometime mid-2016). Then going to Next (on the language selections) -> Repair My Computer -> Troubleshoot -> Advanced -> Startup Repair. rapidly gets two messages "Diagnosing your PC" then "Attempting to repair your PC" then goes straight to an auto restart. Once regular windows 10 booted up I checked and the BCDEdit issue was fully corrected and I see the normal listings for "Windows Boot Manager" and "Windows 10 Pro". I will be testing the Creators Update install soon. As well as trying that startup repair from other build dates of Windows 10.
Try out a week of full access for free.
Find out why thousands trust the EE community with their toughest problems.
Andrew Leniart

Partition 1 (EFI) has 91.5 MB free out of the 100MB assigned.

Thanks Simon. That won't be the same issue as I was thinking of then. In the problem I was thinking of, the system partition had been filled and needed to be cleared.

I will be testing the Creators Update install soon. As well as trying that startup repair from other build dates of Windows 10.

Curious, hope you can get this resolved. Please let us know if you identify the cause. I'll keep an eye out in the meantime for any similar situations.
Andrew Leniart

Any news on your progress on this Simon?
Simon Smith

Very confused. Cloned the computer back to the original image, repeated the fix with an old Windows 10 ISO successfully. Replaced the SSD with a HDD and restored the original clone, repeated the "fix" successfully again. Put the SSD back in and restored the clone image. Tried the "fix" with several newer ISO's of Windows 10 - all failed to fix the issue and gave a message "windows 10 startup repair couldn't repair your pc". I then went back to the older Windows 10 ISO -  now it won't fix the issue either. Soft boot, hard boot, hard boot with no power for 15 minutes, with and without  SATA dvd connected, booted ISO in different USB ports..... Still can't seem to get it run a successful start up repair. The computer still boots up Windows 10 just fine and still has the error about "externally altered" when I run BCDEDIT.

I took a separate clone of the computer with Acronis while it was fixed on the SSD, and while this restores a production copy of the fixed clone just fine to a working, booting and 'fixed" state it creates differently sized and differently ordered EFI and MSR partitions. I compared BCDEDIT displays of the BCD file from an unfixed, fixed, and fixed with reversed partitions BCD file, they all show very similar if not identical information but a binary compare of those files is significantly different.

So I am further puzzled by the rules of booting GPT partitions. and I still don't have a reliable way to fix the other 21 computers with this issue. I am tempted to ask the client to send me a second computer so I can at least confirm consistency of the results on a second computer.
All of life is about relationships, and EE has made a viirtual community a real community. It lifts everyone's boat
William Peck
Andrew Leniart

Hi Simon,

Any update on this problem?
Simon Smith

Restored the system back its original state (broken as far as Windows Creators Update) but Windows boots fine and running BCDEDIT gives the "externally altered" error.
Booted the computer up on the latest Windows 10 download (Apr 2018) on a 32GB USB stick. Hit Shift+F10 for a command prompt as soon as I was prompted for language settings.  
   lis dis
   sel dis 0
   lis vol
   sel vol 3 (in my case it was 3 for the fat32 partition called SYSTEM that did not have a drive letter assigned)
   assign letter=z
   exit (from diskpart)
   CD efi\Microsoft\boot
   attrib BCD -s -h -r
   ren BCD BCD.old  (or another name if BCD.old already exists)
   bootrec /rebuildbcd  (wait a minute then say Y to add it)

exit from command prompt, exit from Windows 10 installer and reboot.
Windows 10 boots up normally and I check it with the BCDEDIT command. Perfect! Shows me all the correct BCD gunk it is supposed to. Start with Windows 10 install/update off the same usb stick. Great!  35 minutes later windows is fully updated too.

Repeat the experiment twice more with different backups restored  and go back to a restore from the original disk clone I made in 2016. All work and accept the same fix and have a functioning BCDEDIT and can install newer Windows 10 issues.

Download the same ISO to a computer at the client site (a flight away otherwise) . Have them put a USB stick in a computer I can access. use rufus to put the ISO file on the USB and make it bootable. Copy a couple .BAT files (so the onsite staff don't have to type too many "dangerous" commands from the command line).

Everything works up until the bootrec /rebuildbcd. They get the same prompt Y/N/A to add the windows install. But when Y is chosen, they get a new error message: "The requested system device cannot be found."

Restore my test PC back again and repeat my repair... Now I get error too: "The requested system device cannot be found." after running the bootrec /rebuildbcd command. But at least I am consistent with my client's setup and I have another error message to track down.

I am about 99% confident I have at last solved this. I burned that April 2018 Windows 10 ISO to a DVD instead of a USB stick and booted it up. I noticed on the boot menu I had two entries for the bootable DVD (UEFI hp DVDRW and Legacy hp DVDRW). The UEFI one worked. I went back and checked all my USB sticks. Some were GPT (UEFI) FAT32, some were MBR-NTFS and some were MBR-XFAT. Apparently I messed this up at the start by creating a BCD file while booted up under Windows PE on an MBR USB stick.  If I'd used a GPT (or UEFI) USB stick for my cloning I'd never have seen this issue.

I've used a bucket load of different apps for turning ISO files into bootable USBs over the years. I am really surprised more people haven't encountered this issue. The error messages you get when it has gone wrong are entirely unhelpful in resolving the issue.

(HPUSBF, HPUSBFW, CD2ISO, RUFUS, old GHOST32 and more) none of them ever prompted or asked about UEFI or MBR during USB stick formatting or setup. And they all work just fine when installing windows 7/8/10 just on for fixing it and/or creating or repairing BCD files.

UEFI  rhymes awfully well with GOOFY.

I am pretty sure the automatic startup repairs I did earlier didn't work or not dependent on what version Windows 10 it was, but rather worked or failed whether the USB stick was partitioned GPT or MBR.

Attached is a screenshot of the boot menu from these HP Z240 workstations with 2 different USB sticks and a DVD-R in it as boot choices.
Simon Smith

View this solution by signing up for a free trial.
Members can start a 7-Day free trial and enjoy unlimited access to the platform.
See Pricing Options
Start Free Trial
Ask your own question & get feedback from real experts
Find out why thousands trust the EE community with their toughest problems.