Windows Server 2003 fails to boot after it is deployed by Windows PE


You have a system which has a blank, unpartitioned hard disk (or logical drive presented by a RAID controller). You use Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) 2.0 or later to create partitions on the hard disk. After you do this, you try to install Microsoft Windows Server 2003 on the hard disk.

When you attempt to boot to Windows Server 2003, you are unable to boot. The computer may stop responding, or you may receive an error message resembling one of the following:

A disk read error occurred

Unable to load operating system

Error loading operating system

Illegal OpCode

Note: These symptoms are the same as those described in the following related Knowledge Base article:

931761 You cannot install Windows Server 2003 successfully after you use Windows Vista or Windows PE 2.0 to create partitions on a hard disk 

While the boot failure is identical to the one described in that article, the root cause may be different, depending on the computer. Please see below for more details.


One scenario in which this can occur is described in Knowledge Base article 931761. That scenario involves a complex set of factors which only affect computers with an "automatic disk translation" function in the BIOS.

On other computer systems which do not include this function, there is a second scenario which can lead to the same problem:

  • You have a brand new, or freshly wiped, SCSI disk in which the Master Boot Record (the first sector of the disk) is completely zeroed (null)
  • The BIOS is not reporting a disk geometry of 63 sectors per track
  • You boot into WinPE to partition and format the disk
  • You install Windows Server 2003 or earlier

In this scenario, Windows PE may incorrectly populate the geometry data in the BIOS Parameter Block, leading to boot failure when you attempt to start the newly installed operating system.


A resolution to this problem is to configure the computer to use 63 sectors per track for the disk geometry.

This problem has been encountered on Hewlett-Packard servers using Smart Array RAID controllers.

While creating a logical drive using HP's Option ROM Configuration for Arrays (ORCA), you will be presented with an option labeled "Maximum Boot partition." Selecting "Disable" configures the Option ROM to report a disk geometry of 32 sectors per track for the logical drive. Selecting "Enable" configures it to report 63 sectors per track.

Alternately, if you use HP's Array Configuration Utility (ACU) to create the logical drive, you will be presented with an option labeled "Sectors" which will allow a choice of 32 or 63 sectors per track.

On these storage controllers, if you intend to deploy an operating system using Windows PE 2.0 or later, Microsoft recommends that you enable the "Maximum Boot partition" (in ORCA) or choose "63 sectors per track" (in ACU) when creating the logical drive. This will avoid a scenario in which you may experience boot failures when using Windows PE 2.0 or later to deploy Windows Server 2003.

Note: The "Maximum Boot partition" or "63 sectors per track" setting on HP Smart Array controllers is only recommended for use on systems whose drives will be partitioned using Windows PE 2.0 or later, or Windows Server 2008 or later. If you use Windows PE 1.x to deploy the operating system, or you boot directly to the Windows Server 2003 setup media to partition and format the drive, it is recommended that you disable "Maximum Boot partition" or select "32 sectors per track" in order to maintain optimal disk performance.

More Information

The boot sector of a Windows volume contains a data structure called the BIOS Parameter Block (BPB). This structure includes data about the geometry of the disk. The Windows Server 2003 boot code makes use of this disk geometry data during the boot process.

During boot, if the disk geometry data in the BPB does not match up with the disk geometry currently presented by the BIOS, the boot code may fail to correctly locate the OS Loader program (ntldr) on the disk, and the boot attempt may fail in unpredictable ways.

The problem described in this article has not been observed when installing Windows Server 2003 from the original setup media.