tldr: If you can’t install Windows 8/8.1 to your new SSD try disabling UEFI and Secure Boot during the install. Re-enable them once everything has been installed and you are able to boot to the desktop.
Seriously, I hate Windows 8. Almost everything about it from the trouble you have through to get it installed, the bizarre interface they tried to force on the users, the lack of a start menu, to the endless search for settings since they are no longer kept in one place.
Things used to be simple in the Windows world. Boot to the first floppy and run through the installation. The nightmare didn’t begin until after setup was complete. Things have obviously changed. They don’t actually want you installing Windows on your own. They want the OEM to do that. It reminds me of the way cars are made now. They don’t really want you working under the hood. Some of them make it as difficult as possible.
So I decided to replace the hard drive in my laptop with an SSD. I had been toying with the idea of buying a new laptop but decided to simply make a couple of upgrades since there really wasn’t anything wrong with the laptop. An SSD and a little more memory should make it seem like a brand new system.
I dual boot Windows 8 and Xubuntu on that laptop. I have a copy of Windows 7 running in a virtual machine on the Xubuntu partition, but sometimes you need to do something that can’t be done in a virtual machine. I would rather not simply clone the drive so I decided a full re-install was in order. I have the DVD from Dell that I used to re-install the Windows 8 OS once before. I also have a Windows 8.1 Pro N iso file and an unused license key that I decided to install instead of the Windows 8 Home version that the laptop came with. I’m no amateur when it comes to Windows. In my 25 years experience in the IT industry, a little more than half of that was spent supporting primarily Windows desktops and servers. I’ve installed, used and supported it on every bizarre configuration that you can image. Even though I haven’t updated it I have an MCSE from the NT 4.0 days. I know what I am doing.
Some of the errors I encountered trying to install it:
Windows cannot be installed to this disk. The selected disk has an MBR partition table. On EFI systems, Windows can only be installed to GPT disks.
This was when trying to install Windows 8.1 Pro, from both USB and a DVD. UEFI and Secure boot were enabled, SATA set to AHCI, not Smart___ listed in the bios, no other drives attached to the system. I used my Google-fu to try and find every possible solution to this. Download a new ISO, try a different USB drive. Nope. Try the Windows 8 re-install DVD from Dell which worked on the normal hard drive before. Nope. Booted to the console on the Windows 8 disc, ran diskpart to clean and create a new NTFS partition. Nope. Update the BIOS, which honestly I should have done anyway since the last BIOS is almost a year old. Nope. Boot to a Linux Live CD and create the partitions manually. Nope.
At this point I was suspecting something was wrong with the drive. It is brand new so it is entirely possible there is a problem with it. Popped in my Xubuntu 14.04 USB and ran through the install. Not a single problem. And, ridiculously fast to install, update and boot. So the problem has been isolated to Windows, there is no problem with the drive. Someone suggested disabling secure boot. Almost worked.
Windows could not update the computer’s boot configuration. Installation cannot proceed.
It ran through the entire install and at the very end gave me this message. Ran through all that stuff I did before one more time. Nope. More Google. More similar attempts. Fine, since disabling secure boot seemed to make some progress lets just disable UEFI completely. The Dell DVD was already in the drive, so started it up. It looked like it was going to work, but it failed when I tried to manually configure the partitions. Started over and let the setup create the partitions. Magic. Disabling all of the security BS that Microsoft wanted makes the installation complete normally. Well almost.
If you delete Microsoft Store tile you are screwed
When the system finally finished the setup and first boot it dropped me into the horrible new Windows 8 Metro interface. All of those live tiles updating themselves without asking really annoy me for some reason. I usually disable them but when I right-clicked them this time and saw the uninstall I figured why not since I will never use them. Everything that looked useless was uninstalled, except for the Skydrive which apparently you can’t uninstall (I have to remember to make some /etc/hosts file changes for that later). I had completely forgotten I would need the Microsoft Store to upgrade to 8.1 so I deleted that as well. When I fired up Windows update to get those out of the way it just sat there waiting forever. Left it overnight and the updates were waiting for me when I came back to it in the morning. After going through them I remembered I needed to update to 8.1 so I started to do that – but you need Microsoft Store for that. Oh no problem, I should easily be able to re-install that, right? Wrong. There is no re-install for the Store. Genius. More Google and I find that the only way to get it back is to re-install the OS or copy the tile from another Windows 8 system. So I copied it over from a virtual machine running 8.1 I have on my regular desktop. The store would start but the 8.1 install failed. Screw it, I didn’t want the home edition on this anyway.
Back to square one, but using the Windows 8.1 Pro iso on the USB drive. Since I disabled UEFI in the BIOS I simply selected the USB flash drive from the boot options. Back to square one. Reboot, try it by selecting the UEFI PMAP and it installed normally. But, after booting there was an annoying little message in the bottom right hand corner of the screen I couldn’t get rid of – SecureBoot isn’t configured correctly. On a lark I rebooted and in the BIOS re-enabled UEFI and Secure Boot, assuming things would fall apart again. No, everything ran normally. Annoying message gone. No signs of any problems booting or running Windows. Unbelievable.
So I disabled the hybrid fast boot garbage, resized the partition down to a reasonable 80GB which should be more than enough. Rebooted to my Xubuntu 14.04 USB and went through the install. I left 20GB empty for SSD performance reasons – able half of the people say you need it the other half say you don’t. Used 8GB for swap and the rest went to /. If I had another drive I would probably drop the swap, /tmp and /home on that but I only have the one. Of course, there were zero problems with the installation of Xubuntu. Funny how it used to be the exact opposite.
Xubuntu is so fast on this SSD drive. I can literally start my laptop faster than I can start my phone or tablet now. I honestly never though that would be possible.
I probably could have formatted that a little better. But if someone is looking for a solution to this problem I hope it was some help.