Re: MediaDirect 3.5 (installed on Vista laptops)

"Timothy Daniels" wrote:
Dell's Windows laptops (at least some), ship with a partition
dedicated to an app called "MediaDirect" on a seemingly
embedded OS. Trying to preserve the functionality of Media-
Direct while setting up a Linux dual-boot is getting to be a major
problem. It has to do partly with the special button (with the
"house" icon) that launches MediaDirect. The linkage between
this MD button and MediaDirect launch, and the linkage between
the power button and Vista launch seems to be set by a ccommand
"rmbr" that is found in the DellKit directory on the MediaDirect
re-installation DVD. Using XP's MDDOS prompt window to
inspect the DVD, running "rmbr /?" reveals that it has 3 arguments
with the following permitted values:

1st arg [VenderName] - DELL, HP, Generic, SPF, Demo
2nd arg [OS partition] - 1, 2, 3, 4
3rd arg (EmbeddedOS partition] - 1, 2, 3, 4

Some forum posters report that they can link the launch buttons
to XP and Linux by use of this command, but they typically run
the command in XP's MSDOS prompt window, and both OSes
are in Primary partitions, the Utility and System Restore and
MediaDirect partitions having been deleted. This leads them
to theorize that args 2 and 3 must point to Primary partitions -
bolstered by Vista's Disk Management which indicates that all
4 partitions that Dell puts on the laptop are Primary partitions.
BUT, Cute Partition Manager and Gparted and other partition
managers indicate that MediaDirect's partition is actually an
Extended partition. Dan Goodell believes Vista's Disk Manage-
ment to be outright buggy because of this. The partition does
correspond to Microsoft's new partitioning scheme which puts
the start of a partition 2,048 sectors after the start of a hard
disk drive and 2,048 sectors after the start of an Extended
partition, and this offset is shown for the Extended partition by
Cute Partition Manager and by Gparted. (In Gparted, it's
shown by a 1MB unallocated area, i.e. 2,048 sectors.) Since
the factory-supplied partition arrangement puts the MediaDirect
in such an Extended partition, rmbr must be able to treat an
Extended partition as a bootable partition, perhaps by putting
a boot sector in the Extended partition which passes control to
a boot loader within MediaDirect's logical partition. This
Extended partition might be marked "active" when the BIOS
detects the MD button-press because Dan Goodell says that the
Dell MBR is an absolutely standard Microsoft MBR.

So why am I futzing with this? I want to keep MediaDirect (with
its handy remote control for media playing), but it has gone a little
haywire recently. It used to boot up as if it were a separate OS.
Now pressing the MD button does the following:

The MediaDirect splash screen appears immediately,
pause, then Vista boots up normally and *needs a password*,
then Vista's Desktop appears and Vista behaves like Vista,
then a reduced window appears with the MediaDirect screen,
and it behaves like an app running under Vista - with full screen
it looks like the old MediaDirect, but when one reduces or
minimizes the window, Vista's Desktop is still there and Vista
responds just like Vista.

I hope to correct this by running rmbr under WinPE (the Windows
Pre-installation Environment - the descendant of MS-DOS), with
WinPE on a live USB stick and the MediaDirect DVD containing
the rmbr function. In any event, I will have to understand and be
able to run rmbr if I delete the Utility EISA and the System Restore
Primary partitions and create some more logical partitions for Linux -
which will shift the positions of the Vista and MediaDirect partitions.
Can anyone here share any knowledge about this rmbr function?


At mid-afternoon on a weekday (today), I was able to get a
reasonably sharp Tech Support guy in Dell's Express Service division,
and he was able to point out that MediaDirect can also be restored
from the System Restore partition (along with Vista), essentially
automating the MediaDirect re-installation procedure without the
need for a MediaDirect DVD. Using the Vista recovery environment
(press F8 during startup), I selected Repair and then the command
prompt window, I cd'd to the D: partition (the System Recovery parti-
tion) and saw a "DellKit" directory which contained an "rmbr.exe" file.
Hot-cha! So, guessing that "rmbr DELL 3 4" would cause the power
button to link to partiton 3 (Vista) startup, and the MD button to link
to partition 4 (MediaDirect) startup, I ran that command. Then I shut
down and then pressed the power button - Vista started up! Then I
shut down again and then pressed the MD button. The Dell Media-
Direct splash screen appeared... But that's all. No MediaDirect control
center ever appeared..

I then looked at the partitions using CutePartitionManager. Partition
4 (the Extended partition containing MediaDirect) was marked "active"
(i.e "bootable"). Then I shutdown and restarted with the power button,
and Vista started up, then I shut down again. On the next reboot, I
looked at the partitions with CPM again. Now partition 3 (Vista) was
marked "active". The same thing was shown when I looked at the
partitions with Gparted. Apparently, "rmbr" sets the "active" flag in the
specified partition - even if the partition is an Extended partition. This
implies that there must also be a boot sector that is placed in the
Extended partition that boots MediaDirect from one of the logical drives
within it and that the MBR doesn't distinguish between Primary and
Extended partitions - just like Linux.

I then repeated the rmbr experiment with "rmbr DELL 3 2" to see if
partition 2, the System Recovery partition would be marked "active".
Vista booted from partition 3 if I pressed the power button - as expected.
But when I pressed the MD button, an error message said "No boot
manager". Checking the partitions with CPM, I could see that partition
2 had been marked "active", as expected. So it's definite that rmbr links
the buttons with the setting of the partitions' "active" flags.

Wondering if I could bypass the deletion of partitions and the re-
installation of Vista in order to re-install MediaDirect, I tried running
the MediaDirect DVD from inside Vista (normally the 3rd step in the
MediaDirect re-installation procedure. The DVD said that it was
initializing.... then it stopped, saying that it had encountered errors.
Hmmm.... Vista's Disk Management showed that the Utility, the System
Restore, and the MediaDirect partitions were all 100% free and no longer
had names or file systems. They had essentially been emptied and hosed
out and were now just shells. Neat, huh?

In making the MediaDirect partition so fragile and difficult to fix and
so dangerous to other partitions, Dell seems to be making its laptops
needlessly inflexible. Whether that is by design or lack of forethought
is moot. The stark reality is that it sucks, and it pains me to know that
part of my laptop's price was to pay for the sucky MediaDirect software
and its hardware remote control.