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Aurora R7, M.2 NVMe bootable options

Hello all,

I have been reading a lot in this forum about how to upgrade the Aurora with a M.2 NVMe and it looks like everyone does something different. May this post serve as a reference, and also as a help for my case.

I just got the Aurora R7 with only the 1TB Hard Drive. Additionally, I have a 960 EVO M.2 NVMe from Samsung. I wish to add this to the machine as my main (bootable) hard drive. Therefore, the options could be:

- Copy the content from the existing Hard Drive into the new NVMe. I read that this might hinder the performance of the NVMe because of driver-related stuff?

- Do a raw install of Windows in the NVMe using a USB flash drive, and then change the bootable order in the BIOS. Do I need to format the factory HDD in this case so I can use it as additional storage?

- In case of doing the raw install, what software am I missing from Alienware? Can I download it?

 

Thank you

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8 Krypton


@encomeswrote:

Hello all,

I have been reading a lot in this forum about how to upgrade the Aurora with a M.2 NVMe and it looks like everyone does something different. May this post serve as a reference, and also as a help for my case.

I just got the Aurora R7 with only the 1TB Hard Drive. Additionally, I have a 960 EVO M.2 NVMe from Samsung. I wish to add this to the machine as my main (bootable) hard drive. Therefore, the options could be:

1. - Copy the content from the existing Hard Drive into the new NVMe. I read that this might hinder the performance of the NVMe because of driver-related stuff?

2. - Do a raw install of Windows in the NVMe using a USB flash drive, and then change the bootable order in the BIOS. Do I need to format the factory HDD in this case so I can use it as additional storage?

3. - In case of doing the raw install, what software am I missing from Alienware? Can I download it?

 


1. Yes, you can direct Clone or Image-to-File. I prefer Imaging (with Verify After Creation ON) to external USB-HDD with Macrium Reflect. You clone/image the whole physical drive (not just the C: partition). That facilitates connecting only the SSD (or drive to be C: ) and a "bare-metal-restore" with Macrium Rescue flash-drive.

Yes, it caries over everything ... including pre-installed Dell software (ie SupportAssist), their "heavier" driver suites, and Intel-RST (which I prefer to NOT use and never install). In general, Cloning/Imaging can be tricky/finicky (especially if using some other software) so YMMV.

2. Yes, a clean-Windows install (aka Nuke-and-Pave) is usually preferred (especially on a new computer with nothing really on it). Build it up lean from scratch, from a "perfect copy of Windows-10 64 bit" foundation.

- Before starting, be sure you have all your data-files backed up. Also, your serials/keys and access to any disc/installers to get your legit/owned software reinstalled later. If you purchased Microsoft Office (or other software) with your Dell, you should Activate those first (before erasing).

- Create your Windows Recovery Drive (just in case you need it). Lately, it takes a 32gb flash-drive. We are not using it here, but conceivably, this should restore machine back to Dell Factory shipped software condition (see notes below).

- Connect only the SSD (or destination drive you wish to use as bootable C: )
a. Easier for installer to find desired destination (since only one installed)
b. There is no chance any other drive can be deemed "Windows Boot Manager" boot drive
c. If you are still not running your bootable C: (Windows and Apps) from a fast SSD , now it a good time to fix that. SSDs are inexpensive now.

- Drive should be completely RAW and uninitialized. Windows installer will take care of MBR/GPT type selection.

- Set BIOS to UEFI and AHCI (Not sure why SATA options affect PCIe drives on Dell/Alienware, but reportedly, they seem to). 

- SecureBoot Enabled (if using Microsoft authorized BootKit or "blessed" media as suggested below). Otherwise, leave it off for now.

- Your future C: drive should appear in BIOS, and report as the proper size. But, maybe not yet if installed in separate PCIe-Addin card in lower PCIe-Slot.

- Be sure machine passes ePSA Diagnostics (on this current hardware). You don't have to always do long-ram-memory test if it has completed before. All Over-Clocks should be OFF.

- Press F12 to boot (a recently created) Microsoft.com Windows-10 Media-Creation flash-drive.
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10
If this flash-drive is NOT recently created, sometimes it helps to have an ethernet cable attached to your router (so it can download any more recent "Pre-Installation Files").

- Install Windows-10 (64bit) to BLANK/Raw drive. It should say "UnPartitioned Space" and you install to it.

- Do Windows-10 first-time setup.

- Toward the end, if Cortana asks you about installing a large/major-upgrade she found, you can usually click "Do It Later". It should work fine for now with Windows-10 v1703 or v1709.

- I suggest you DO NOT install Intel-RST when finished (or ever ... just use the included Microsoft drivers instead). It's often troublesome and just not required.

- Windows Update should load all drivers on most machines. Device Manager should be clean and free of error-ed devices. Generally, at this point ... I do not mess with working devices, or Dell validated drivers for any that are not in error. Maybe drop-by Nvidia.com or AMD.com and pickup a WHQL desktop video card driver. I suggest you "keep it lean".

- On newer Dell machines, the Windows serial-key is stored in BIOS. Check that Windows-10 is automatically Activated as legit. For older machines, you enter Windows-7/8 key manually (usually from CoA sticker on machine).

- Turn-on SecureBoot in BIOS if not already on. After rebooting a couple of times, run msinfo32 and check its status.

https://www.dell.com/community/Alienware-General/fixed/td-p/5627124

Notes:
a. If having problems ... before each new attempt, the destination-disk should be completely erased and left raw/uninitialized. I like to use "DiskPart Clean" ... but be very careful with this command (it's easy to erase the wrong disk). Pretty sure DiskPart is on the Windows-10 Installer flash-drive and/or a Windows-10 Recovery drive. But if not, you can use the Win-PE on a Macrium Reflect Free Rescue flash-drive boot-disk.

b. In UEFI mode, it seems the process of installing Windows (either clean or overlaid) is one way to get the "Windows Boot Manager" properly configured. On Dells, you also have the one-time F12 Boot Menu at your disposal. This really only applies to attempted clonings gone a bit wrong.

c. Alienware owners can get the proper Alienware Command Center for Desktops for their exact computers at http://support.dell.com . There is nothing else special you should need.

d. If this is a newer machine that still has the Dell software factory-load on it, and you are getting ready to (erase it all and) clean-install Windows ... you might want to use the Windows utility to create the Dell Windows Recovery flash-drive first. I finally used mine as a test. It seemed to restore the machine to very close to it's original "shipped from Dell, factory software load". You should probably create it just in case you need it. This might be only way to get Dell-OEM version of Cyberlink DVD/BD (and similar OEM software) back.

e. I don't know why you would, but if you must use RAID-Mode (instead of AHCI-Mode) ... don't be surprised if you have to Load the "Intel F6-Driver" at Windows-Install "select install drive" step. Since you have decided to go this way, I think most go ahead (all the way down the rabbit hole) and install (your proper) Intel-RST inside Windows. Remember, it's virtually impossible to completely remove later (IIRC, takes another clean-install). This enhanced driver suite is unique because Windows needs a working disk-driver to boot and initialize Windows. You can't be using it and updating at the same time.

EDIT v10 (Jan-2020)


Registered Microsoft Partner and Apple Developer
- Like many of you, I can appreciate a good game-engine.
- I answer questions here, but I'm not a Dell employee.
- Consider giving posts you like a "thumbs-up"
- Posting models-numbers and software versions speeds trouble-shooting.
- Click "Accept as Solution" button on any post that answers your question best.

View solution in original post

Community Accepted Solution


@encomeswrote:

Thank you for your insightful answer.

I think I will do a fresh install in the SSD through a USB stick. However, do I need to format the 1 TB HDD that comes with the computer?


After you get the new SSD working for a while (and you are sure you no longer need the HDD) ... Yes, you then finally connect the old HDD

I suggest you remove the multiple existing partitions, create one large partition, and then format it.


Registered Microsoft Partner and Apple Developer
- Like many of you, I can appreciate a good game-engine.
- I answer questions here, but I'm not a Dell employee.
- Consider giving posts you like a "thumbs-up"
- Posting models-numbers and software versions speeds trouble-shooting.
- Click "Accept as Solution" button on any post that answers your question best.

View solution in original post

Community Accepted Solution
Replies (31)
8 Krypton


@encomeswrote:

Hello all,

I have been reading a lot in this forum about how to upgrade the Aurora with a M.2 NVMe and it looks like everyone does something different. May this post serve as a reference, and also as a help for my case.

I just got the Aurora R7 with only the 1TB Hard Drive. Additionally, I have a 960 EVO M.2 NVMe from Samsung. I wish to add this to the machine as my main (bootable) hard drive. Therefore, the options could be:

1. - Copy the content from the existing Hard Drive into the new NVMe. I read that this might hinder the performance of the NVMe because of driver-related stuff?

2. - Do a raw install of Windows in the NVMe using a USB flash drive, and then change the bootable order in the BIOS. Do I need to format the factory HDD in this case so I can use it as additional storage?

3. - In case of doing the raw install, what software am I missing from Alienware? Can I download it?

 


1. Yes, you can direct Clone or Image-to-File. I prefer Imaging (with Verify After Creation ON) to external USB-HDD with Macrium Reflect. You clone/image the whole physical drive (not just the C: partition). That facilitates connecting only the SSD (or drive to be C: ) and a "bare-metal-restore" with Macrium Rescue flash-drive.

Yes, it caries over everything ... including pre-installed Dell software (ie SupportAssist), their "heavier" driver suites, and Intel-RST (which I prefer to NOT use and never install). In general, Cloning/Imaging can be tricky/finicky (especially if using some other software) so YMMV.

2. Yes, a clean-Windows install (aka Nuke-and-Pave) is usually preferred (especially on a new computer with nothing really on it). Build it up lean from scratch, from a "perfect copy of Windows-10 64 bit" foundation.

- Before starting, be sure you have all your data-files backed up. Also, your serials/keys and access to any disc/installers to get your legit/owned software reinstalled later. If you purchased Microsoft Office (or other software) with your Dell, you should Activate those first (before erasing).

- Create your Windows Recovery Drive (just in case you need it). Lately, it takes a 32gb flash-drive. We are not using it here, but conceivably, this should restore machine back to Dell Factory shipped software condition (see notes below).

- Connect only the SSD (or destination drive you wish to use as bootable C: )
a. Easier for installer to find desired destination (since only one installed)
b. There is no chance any other drive can be deemed "Windows Boot Manager" boot drive
c. If you are still not running your bootable C: (Windows and Apps) from a fast SSD , now it a good time to fix that. SSDs are inexpensive now.

- Drive should be completely RAW and uninitialized. Windows installer will take care of MBR/GPT type selection.

- Set BIOS to UEFI and AHCI (Not sure why SATA options affect PCIe drives on Dell/Alienware, but reportedly, they seem to). 

- SecureBoot Enabled (if using Microsoft authorized BootKit or "blessed" media as suggested below). Otherwise, leave it off for now.

- Your future C: drive should appear in BIOS, and report as the proper size. But, maybe not yet if installed in separate PCIe-Addin card in lower PCIe-Slot.

- Be sure machine passes ePSA Diagnostics (on this current hardware). You don't have to always do long-ram-memory test if it has completed before. All Over-Clocks should be OFF.

- Press F12 to boot (a recently created) Microsoft.com Windows-10 Media-Creation flash-drive.
https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10
If this flash-drive is NOT recently created, sometimes it helps to have an ethernet cable attached to your router (so it can download any more recent "Pre-Installation Files").

- Install Windows-10 (64bit) to BLANK/Raw drive. It should say "UnPartitioned Space" and you install to it.

- Do Windows-10 first-time setup.

- Toward the end, if Cortana asks you about installing a large/major-upgrade she found, you can usually click "Do It Later". It should work fine for now with Windows-10 v1703 or v1709.

- I suggest you DO NOT install Intel-RST when finished (or ever ... just use the included Microsoft drivers instead). It's often troublesome and just not required.

- Windows Update should load all drivers on most machines. Device Manager should be clean and free of error-ed devices. Generally, at this point ... I do not mess with working devices, or Dell validated drivers for any that are not in error. Maybe drop-by Nvidia.com or AMD.com and pickup a WHQL desktop video card driver. I suggest you "keep it lean".

- On newer Dell machines, the Windows serial-key is stored in BIOS. Check that Windows-10 is automatically Activated as legit. For older machines, you enter Windows-7/8 key manually (usually from CoA sticker on machine).

- Turn-on SecureBoot in BIOS if not already on. After rebooting a couple of times, run msinfo32 and check its status.

https://www.dell.com/community/Alienware-General/fixed/td-p/5627124

Notes:
a. If having problems ... before each new attempt, the destination-disk should be completely erased and left raw/uninitialized. I like to use "DiskPart Clean" ... but be very careful with this command (it's easy to erase the wrong disk). Pretty sure DiskPart is on the Windows-10 Installer flash-drive and/or a Windows-10 Recovery drive. But if not, you can use the Win-PE on a Macrium Reflect Free Rescue flash-drive boot-disk.

b. In UEFI mode, it seems the process of installing Windows (either clean or overlaid) is one way to get the "Windows Boot Manager" properly configured. On Dells, you also have the one-time F12 Boot Menu at your disposal. This really only applies to attempted clonings gone a bit wrong.

c. Alienware owners can get the proper Alienware Command Center for Desktops for their exact computers at http://support.dell.com . There is nothing else special you should need.

d. If this is a newer machine that still has the Dell software factory-load on it, and you are getting ready to (erase it all and) clean-install Windows ... you might want to use the Windows utility to create the Dell Windows Recovery flash-drive first. I finally used mine as a test. It seemed to restore the machine to very close to it's original "shipped from Dell, factory software load". You should probably create it just in case you need it. This might be only way to get Dell-OEM version of Cyberlink DVD/BD (and similar OEM software) back.

e. I don't know why you would, but if you must use RAID-Mode (instead of AHCI-Mode) ... don't be surprised if you have to Load the "Intel F6-Driver" at Windows-Install "select install drive" step. Since you have decided to go this way, I think most go ahead (all the way down the rabbit hole) and install (your proper) Intel-RST inside Windows. Remember, it's virtually impossible to completely remove later (IIRC, takes another clean-install). This enhanced driver suite is unique because Windows needs a working disk-driver to boot and initialize Windows. You can't be using it and updating at the same time.

EDIT v10 (Jan-2020)


Registered Microsoft Partner and Apple Developer
- Like many of you, I can appreciate a good game-engine.
- I answer questions here, but I'm not a Dell employee.
- Consider giving posts you like a "thumbs-up"
- Posting models-numbers and software versions speeds trouble-shooting.
- Click "Accept as Solution" button on any post that answers your question best.
Community Accepted Solution

Thank you for your insightful answer.

I think I will do a fresh install in the SSD through a USB stick. However, do I need to format the 1 TB HDD that comes with the computer?


@encomeswrote:

Thank you for your insightful answer.

I think I will do a fresh install in the SSD through a USB stick. However, do I need to format the 1 TB HDD that comes with the computer?


After you get the new SSD working for a while (and you are sure you no longer need the HDD) ... Yes, you then finally connect the old HDD

I suggest you remove the multiple existing partitions, create one large partition, and then format it.


Registered Microsoft Partner and Apple Developer
- Like many of you, I can appreciate a good game-engine.
- I answer questions here, but I'm not a Dell employee.
- Consider giving posts you like a "thumbs-up"
- Posting models-numbers and software versions speeds trouble-shooting.
- Click "Accept as Solution" button on any post that answers your question best.
Community Accepted Solution

If you have cloned or imaged the original OS from the HDD to a SSD or M.2, and you then connect the original HDD into the system, you may not have access to it as it will be off line owing to collision of disk ID. You will need to change the UUID for the original HDD using diskpart in an administrative command window. see 

https://www.maketecheasier.com/fix-disk-signature-collision-error-windows/

and 

https://www.guidgenerator.com/online-guid-generator.aspx

Re-Imaging (usually preferred):

1. Create a Macrium Reflect Image-File backup of whole system (or at least boot drive). Any external USB-HDD can hold Image file.

2. Install new (blank/raw) SSD (that is to be bootable C-drive). Disconnect all other drives for now.

3. Boot with Macrium-USB Recovery and Restore Image file to new SSD.

4. Reboot. It should be working (Windows Boot Manager, Windows desktop, etc.).

Cloning (laptop):

Move your C: drive (bootable Windows and all Apps) from slow spinning HDD to
fast SSD.

Install blank SSD. It (only) appears in BIOS (which is correct).

--------

Install Macrium Reflect 7 (Free) v7.2.3954 (or higher).
- Created a full drive image to external HDD (about 60gb shrunk to 30gb) with Verify-after-creation option ON ... for emergency backup. There have been situations where I had to restore spinning-HDD and start over.

Clone drive
- Partitions past C: might not fit.
- Adjust C: partition by just the amount needed for rest of partitions to fit at end of drive
- Drag those last ones into position. A little "unallocated" at end of drive is fine.
- Might not as fast as expected, but should complete in under 30 minutes

Shut-down and reboot.
Macrium should detect TWO bootable partitions, and present a pre-boot menu ... boot the top/new one.
Windows should load from SSD this time.
In Macrium and use "Fix Boot" option. Select the new SSD install. Reboot.
Reboot and Windows should auto-load from SSD.
In Disk-Management, SSD should show handling all functions
- If so, you should Remove spinning HDD, or DiskPart-Clean/Format it (if on laptop you don't feel like opening).
Reboot a few times. By now, should see:
- Just ONE "Windows Boot Manager" BIOS entry , on Priority #1.
- No extra boot-menus or BCD entries.
... just normal fast-booting from new drive

Notes:
- If you see more than one "Windows Boot Manager" entry in BIOS, I think it's because it detects another on some drive. If you are sure it's gone, reboot again.

- Sometimes, SupportAssist incorrectly can't find a boot-drive, and starts ePSA. Cancel it and reboot.

- While I usually remove drives to avoid WindowsBootManager and BCD problems (seems more fool-proof), this was a new laptop and I didn't feel like opening it. It worked fine. 

- This is also an alternative way to fix ... Machine has SSD and HDD, but machine shipped with Windows installed to and booting from HDD (instead of fast SSD). 

- This also works with Intel RAID-ed drives (only from BIOS ... no Intel-RST was ever loaded in Windows).

Updated 4/2020


Registered Microsoft Partner and Apple Developer
- Like many of you, I can appreciate a good game-engine.
- I answer questions here, but I'm not a Dell employee.
- Consider giving posts you like a "thumbs-up"
- Posting models-numbers and software versions speeds trouble-shooting.
- Click "Accept as Solution" button on any post that answers your question best.

Thank you!  I followed the Nuke-and-Pave instructions and it worked perfectly the first time.  I purchased a 8930 refurbished without SSD and added a Samsung 970 Pro 512GB M.2 NVMe.  It is running perfectly and is super quick.

I keep reading that Alienware says you can't use a PRO or EVO SSD w/ NVMe m.2. But why am I seeing so many of you say you've installed a Samsung EVO/PRO m.2 ssd? Does it work or does it not?


@moxiejeff wrote:

I keep reading that Alienware says you can't use a PRO or EVO SSD w/ NVMe m.2. But why am I seeing so many of you say you've installed a Samsung EVO/PRO m.2 ssd? Does it work or does it not?


Of course they work.

The best threads are where Alienware says they don't work, while simultaneously shipping thousands of them (the Samsung OEM versions) in Auroras (like R6 and R7). I got one of those shipped in my Aurora-R6 (and it works real nice).


Registered Microsoft Partner and Apple Developer
- Like many of you, I can appreciate a good game-engine.
- I answer questions here, but I'm not a Dell employee.
- Consider giving posts you like a "thumbs-up"
- Posting models-numbers and software versions speeds trouble-shooting.
- Click "Accept as Solution" button on any post that answers your question best.

I just installed a 1TB NVMe and fresh installed Windows.  Everything is working as it should.  I hooked the internal drive back up and while the BIOS sees it, Windows does not.

Not sure what I need to switch to get it to work.  Thoughts?

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