Solving XPe boot problems in Microsoft Virtual PC

20 05 2006
Anybody who has tried to facilitate an XPe deployment on so to say "bare metal" virtual hardware in Microsoft Virtual PC, might encounter some problems to boot.
You should have completed these steps to prepare the system:
  1. Create a new VPC with a new virtual disk
  2. Boot into WinPE (this is on disk one of Windows Embedded Studio)
  3. Partition the disk using diskpart
  4. Do not forget to activate the OS partition. Otherwise XPe will not boot!
  5. Format the partitions using either NTFS or FAT
  6. Connect to a network share e.g. on your dev machine that exposes the recently created XPe image for VPC. This can be one using the net use command.
  7. Copy over (via xcopy) all files and folder onto your OS partition of the VM.

Now the system should be ready to boot from and to start into the FBA phase. But unfortunately it does not! You will get an error message the an OS is missing. This is absolutely strange? You just copied the OS on the disk!
It took me a while but I have found out some interesting facts about the problem. The reason for this behavior is that during the formating of the partition in WinPE the master boot record is not written (it stays empty). This seems to be some non-conform behavior of VPC and I do not have any clue why this happens.

But nevertheless there is a workaround:
You are able to capture a valid MBR from a normal XP Pro VPC installation for instance with the help of an MBR-Tool (there are several available for free, such as MBR-Tool from
Using one of these tools the workaround consists of the following steps:

  1. Create a bootable virtual DOS floppy disk for the VPC (see VPC documentation on how to do this)
  2. Copy the  the tool onto floppy
  3. Capture a correct MBR from a normal XP Pro installation onto the floppy disk
  4. Boot the XPe VM from the floppy
  5. Restore the MBR with the help of the tool onto hard disk
  6. Reboot after releasing the virtual floppy image
  7. Things should be up and running as normal (XPe booting into FBA), again

To avoid doing all those steps every time you need to create a bare metal VM, just create an empty virtual template disk, you have reasonably partitioned and formatted, for re-using it in those cases.







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