Upgrading the SSD in the Dell XPS 12 – what not to do

Upgrading the SSD in the Dell XPS 12 – what not to do

So, in the previous installment in this upgrade game I was crowing about how I knew how to boot from a USB drive on the Dell XPS 12 and therefore upgrading the SSD in it was going to be a piece of cake. Well, it turned out to be a piece of the heaviest, densest, fruit cake you’ve ever seen. Dropping it onto a wood floor would have dented the floor.

XPS Duo 12 NotebookTo recap, I decided to purchase a new Crucial M500 480GB mSata SSD to replace the 240GB unit I’d initially installed a year ago in my Dell XPS 12. Back then I didn’t worry about any backups of my data: the machine was new (to me) and I was wiping it clean. Hence the ‘normal’ Windows 8 recovery worked just fine: I created a bootable USB drive using the Dell tools and booted and installed from that. No problem. This time though, I didn’t want to have to reinstall all the apps I had on the laptop; I just wanted to switch drives and restore from a backup. Of course, that presumes I had a good backup to begin with: a backup is not a backup until you can restore properly from it.

I had in my hot little hands: a new SSD, a bootable USB external drive with the latest backup (created with Dell Backup and Recovery Premium – DBAR), and my XPS 12. Installing the new SSD was simple (the XPS 12 is very easy to get into), and so it was time to reboot. As it happens the setup on the machine recognized that there was only one drive that was bootable, so all that shenanigans about F12 didn’t seem to be that important. DBAR booted up, gave me a list of possible backups to restore from, and asked me which one to choose.

It was at this point I should have just chucked DBAR in the bit bucket, swapped drives again, installed Acronis True Image Home, backed up, and saved myself hours of frustration and just plain anger.


Because the list DBAR showed me didn’t have the latest backup in it. I mean, talk about a serious WTF moment. What the heck was I going to do now? I hit the Back button and then the Next button to get to the list again. And suddenly the latest backup was listed. Again I should have just dropped it all and moved on, but, oh no, whackjob that I am, I continued.

If I recollect – it gets hazy – that first restore ‘succeeded’ but produced a machine that would not boot. Trying to boot would just produce the friendly Windows 8 blue screen (was this Error code: 0xc0000001, or Error code: 0xc0000225? I forget). This is where I did use the F12 boot trick and booted back into the external drive. Repair my disk, I selected. Nothing needed doing, it seems. Either that, or the repair didn’t take. Tried rebooting again, but no go.

After a small nightmare of trying various things and just getting blue screens, I decided to try using the USB stick recovery approach. This worked and I got a minimal Windows 8 installed on the new drive. Yay. Except I had previously had Windows 8.1. DBAR was pre-installed on this recovery OS so I launched it, but it refused to recognize my backup. Time to reboot back to the external drive.

Another nightmare of trying various things ended up with the supremely ridiculous 0x4001001300001002 error code and DBAR wouldn’t even get through the full restore any more. Booting from the internal drive came up with “This disk is full” and I was starting to think I’d somehow damaged the new drive. Was this $280 down the drain?

I swapped drives again and resolved to try again with Acronis True Image instead, once I had a spare couple of hours. This turned out to be this lunchtime. I installed True Image Home 2014 on the XPS 12. I created an Acronis Rescue Media on another USB stick to launch True Image (those freebie USB sticks you get at conferences are really useful), and then did a disk backup (not a file backup) using True Image. Finally it was time to swap SSDs again and see what happened.

The Rescue Media booted beautifully, and then flipped into graphics mode and presented a garbled UI. DAMN IT! Was I forever doomed? At least this was something different to Google. I landed on this knowledgebase page on Acronis’ site which talks about this and gives ideas to solve it (in essence, the Rescue Media boot app cannot identify the graphics adapter and is selecting an invalid graphics mode, resulting in a garbled display). The vga=ask parameter didn’t work for me, so I just selected the value that defined the highest resolution (vga=0x31B).

Success! I could see the True Image display and I could easily locate the backup, and it just went ahead and recovered. The main partition on the old drive was automatically grown for the new drive and everything was restored correctly. It truly was a beautiful sight when the machine booted properly and my login image was displayed. Beautiful. And it didn’t even take a couple of hours, more like 45 minutes all told, from install to restore via backup and a bit of Googling.

So, the moral of this tale is this: ditch Dell Backup and Recovery and buy a true backup program, Acronis True Image Home 2014. You will not regret it. And I’m not even getting any kickbacks from Acronis for this, I just wish I’d saved myself a whole lot of bother by using it in the first place.

And, remember this: if you cannot restore from a backup, it is not a backup, despite what the backup program tells you. It is more than useless, it’s a waste of time and power, and is a bucket full of sloppy false hopes.

Album cover for Touch YelloNow playing:
Yello - The Expert
(from Touch Yello)

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4 Responses

#1 Chewbacca said...
24-Sep-14 3:49 PM

Hi nice post. I'm trying to upgrade my Dell from 256 to 512 and have Acronis but when I try and clone it hangs after the Restart. It just sticks on the Dell Logo on black screen, did you get this problem? I have the original hardrive in the laptop and trying to clone to a USB stick. I tried to clone to an external drive but it didn't recognise the drive. Any tips?

julian m bucknall avatar
#2 julian m bucknall said...
24-Sep-14 6:29 PM

Chewbacca: OK, there are two components to this. First is a USB stick, and the other an external drive. Backup your current system to the external drive by doing a disk backup from within True Image.

Now the fun part: from within True Image, select "Tools and Utilities", then "Rescue Media Builder" within the Protection tools section. This will create the bootable USB drive. It'll ask you what you want on the USB stick, make sure you select Acronis True Image. Let it do it's thing (which will wipe the USB stick clean). After it's done you will have a bootable USB stick with True Image on it, and an external drive with the backup.

It's at this point I had to modify the configuration file mentioned above to force a particular VGA option. This file is on the USB stick.

Switch drives in the laptop. Plug in the USB stick and the external drive, then boot using the USB stick. After that just follow the 'normal' True Image restore instructions. As I said above, it took 45 minutes for me.

Cheers, Julian

#3 Wolfgang said...
21-Oct-14 5:43 AM

To be able to boot the Acronis USB stick in secure boot mode I had to edit the file bootx64.xml in the directory /efi/boot/ and change Arguments="quiet" to Arguments="vga=0x31B quiet".

The corresponding file for legacy boot mode is bootwiz.cfg in root directory. There the line 'KERNEL xyz.dat quiet' can be changed to 'KERNEL xyz.dat vga=0x31B quiet' but I think it is not necessary to edit anything.

Thanks Julian for the hint! :-)

#4 Robert Côté said...
26-May-15 1:27 PM

Thanks for the post. It helped me in upgrading my XPS 12 from 128 g. to 1tb. I could not get any USB stick to boot so I used an mSata/Sata adapter in USB 3 and cloned the old drive with the new one in the adapter - I modified the type of partition from MBR to GPT - When I installed the new drive in the XPS 12 it was not recognised at all (no disk message...) I ran the internal PSA test and after the complete test, it found the disk and Windows 8.1 rebooted perfectly... Scary moments but worth the effort!!!

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