I've been had, once again by ridiculous software. Although I now know what caused it, I still blame Windows for this because of its unnecessary gyrations, in checking digital signatures and just failing with misleading or nonexistent error messages when that fails for whatever reason.
Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit.
The story starts with a very fussy (but very nice) older lady. When I say fussy, I mean an icon in the wrong place would drive her "koo koo" (as she likes to say lol). Her hard drive has a few bad sectors, that have been mapped out by chkdsk. While it was running fine, she wanted it fixed because of what I told her, that more bad areas could be encountered and corruption or even complete loss of everything could occur..
I normally would never waste my time trying to clone or image from a hard disk with bad sectors, but for her... attempting to image the hard disk is worthwhile. I did a chkdsk /r before I started, and no more bad sectors were found. Should be a safe bet and will save me assloads of aggravation.
I decided to try Macrium Reflect, as I hear it's good. Indeed, I like... it creates a nice Windows PE environment with a Windows 7 kernel to boot from and you can use this disk both for imaging and restore (as well as accessing data to copy to removable media etc.)
Everything went well, I created an image file on a USB 3.0 external hard drive. I installed the new hard disk (a nice Western Digital Scorpio Black, 7200 rpm hard disk) and restored the image to it. When it was done I watched with glee, as Windows booted right up, with her desktop intact with every niggling detail.
Windows gave the mysterious "you need to reboot to complete the hardware installation" as it does when a disk signature needs to be written. It wasn't a surprising thing after an image to a new disk. (bold because this proves to be significant)
I let it reboot and all seemed well. I started to poke around and the first symptom of a problem were strange prompts from UAC that shouldn't have happened on Windows 7. For example going to Computer Management or Device Manager etc. causes the orange dialog prompting to run an unknown program, publisher unknown, mmc.exe. Windows Update doesn't work (silently fails, and manually clicking the "check for updates" button does nothing). Microsoft Security Essentials can't get its updates. Trying to install a driver fails, because Windows thinks its unsigned.
This problem obviously has to do with digital signatures. Windows can't read them anymore.
I thought this had to do with the disk imaging reading corrupted data from the original disk, but it was only this minor niggle that I should be able to fix, right? WRONG. I spent a lot of time troubleshooting that and manually followed every step that the Microsoft "Fix It" for Windows Update was to do. (It actually wouldn't run... you guessed it, because of the problem I was trying to fix lol). I registered dlls, deleted catalogs etc.
Then I thought, well, how about an in-place upgrade of Windows 7 to reinstall it? That ought to fix whatever broken signature verification shit was happening, right? Again, wrong. The install went perfectly, and everything was just fine afterwards, but same problem. It preserves all your setup, including third party drivers.
I came home last night to work on this. I wasted the whole rest of the night on it... stayed up until 7 am. I wasted time again today on it, I tried to image the old hard disk again with the same results. I tried some more to fix the Windows problem without success.
Finally, I decide to clean install. I gather up all the drivers from Gateway (Acer now) and I proceed. Blah blah boring... install drivers now. Chipset, SATA AHCI driver (Intel Matrix Storage Manager in disguise)... fine, reboot again and...
The mysterious prompt to reboot after a hardware change again. OK, Windows does that after detecting disk controllers. But the same problem is occurring now with digital signatures. On a clean install. Damnit! The Intel Storage Matrix drivers caused it. I uninstalled them from Programs and Features and rebooted and everything was fine. No more problem accessing digital signatures.
This is absolutely bizarre, there's no way I could have thought of that without seeing it happen like it did. What would that have to do with Microsoft's asshole signature verification process? Evidently something... I'll bet the driver somehow changes what windows gets when it queries the signature in the disk's MBR. Here I was blaming my hard disk imaging.
This must only happen on some disks (wasn't happening before I changed the disk and restored the image) but that wouldn't surprise me. Probably disks with different firmware or something. Maybe bogus characters are in the string and it doesn't work anymore.
Anyway, I am restoring the image I made and I will uninstall the Intel Storage Matrix SATA driver. I don't even need that, because I have no need of the RAID. Installing the "Chipset" (.inf files from Intel) identifies and programs the SATA controller correctly for Windows. The Intel Storage Matrix driver is usually a better one (better performance) but this will do.