The Drive Where Windows Is Installed Is Locked

refreshwin8So your Windows 8 drive just crashed and won’t boot, but you were smart enough to create a repair DVD or flash drive. You place your flash drive into the computer and boot from it. You chose the ‘Automatic Repair’ or ‘Refresh your PC’ option only to to get the following message

The drive where Windows is installed is locked. Unlock the drive and try again.

This error causes confusion because it makes you question how the drive got locked. I did a lot of searching on Google to find out how to unlock my drive. It just left me scratching my head even more. Lots of other people had the same issue but no one had a solution. I couldn’t even find out why or how it got locked in the first place. Is this a new Windows 8 thing to lock a drive? Is this a Intel Rapid Start Technology thing that only a Dell device supports? I had more questions than I started with as usual.

After spending way too much time and effort trying to find a solution to the problem I ended up removing the drive from the laptop and putting it in another computer, backed up the user data, reinstall the OS, and put their files back. This was not a solution but Windows 8 is too new to know if this was a Microsoft Bug or a me issue.

I was happy….ish leaving this problem to another day to work on till recently a remote user ran into an issue where her laptop would not see the UEFI boot partition. I had the user create a bootable UEFI flash drive and sent her the files to place on the drive for Windows Recovery Environment (WRE). The user booted to the WRE and ended up getting the same error as I was having before, the drive was locked. The user was In the US and our main office is in Canada so reinstalling the OS was not a first choice to this problem. I had no real way to transfer her files and our online backup would take some time to download to her location. I had the user start downloading their backup on a home machine just in case I could not get the drive fixed. 36 GB was going to take a while to download so I had a day or two to try and fix the issue.

Back to the problem, I had the user boot to the WRE again from the flash drive, we than opened the Command Prompt from the Advanced menu. We then ran an app called diskpart. Diskpart is a nice utility that will list all the disks that are currently connected to the machine. After running diskpart and than a ‘list disk’ I noticed that the only drive that was listed was the 8 GB flash drive we used to boot WRE with, where did my other drives go? I know I have a 32 GB SSD and a 500 GB HDD on this machine so why are these drives not showing up?

I had the user reboot the system and confirm that the UEFI/BIOS could see the drives. The drives were listed in UEFI?BIOS so they are working and are connected. This gave me a clue to look at the SATA operational mode. BINGO!!!  It was set to Intel Rapid Start Technology (IRST) which is in a way a RAID card. From my past knowledge I know that to install Windows on a system that has IRST enable I needed a special driver during the install process. I wonder if WRE also needed this driver to see the drives? After some more poking around the internet I found there was a way to load drivers from the command line.

  • You will need to find the DOS or floppy drivers for your storage controller card from your PC vendors site or the maker of the card’s site.
  • From a different machine (yours is dead of course) download the files for your storage controller, put the files on a flash drive in a folder called ‘drivers’.
  • Boot to your WRE and open a Command Prompt
  • Plug in your USB drive that has the drivers for your disk controller
  • Run diskpart and than run the command  ‘list disk’ to verify what drive letter your flash drive was assigned. Use the disk size column to figure out what drive is your flash drive.
  • Exit diskpart back to the command line
  • Now that you know the drive letter of your flash drive you can run the following command
  • drvload C:\drivers\drivername.inf”  where C is the letter of your flash drive and drivername would be the name of the driver in your drivers folder
  • You should receive a ‘Driver Successfully loaded”
  • If not recheck your paths to make sure the file is there and rerun the command in the step above
  • If it did succeed please run diskpart again than the ‘list disk’ command to see if you can view your HDD that has your Windows install on it.
  • If now you are able to see your disk listed then WRE should also be able to see it. Try to run your repair tool or refresh your system.
  • If for some reason WRE will still not see your drives or you cant find the DOS/Floppy drivers than try changing your SATA operation mode in UEFI/BIOS from its current setting to AHCI or IDE and then testing to see if you can see the disks in WRE. NOTE!! If you change your SATA operation mode please be sure to remember what it was set to because after you fix your drive you will need to be on the correct setting for Windows to boot correctly or else you will get BSOD every time Windows tries to load.


Okay but you never explained why WRE throws the drive is locked errror! The reason I believe  WRE tells you that the drive is locked is because on system that use RAID cards or non default AHCI drivers a third party drive is required for Windows to see the drives. The only drive that WRE can see is the flash drive that you used to boot to WRE and normally that drive is locked So you end up getting the very misleading error that your drive is locked when really its not it just cant see your drive and the only one it can see is locked. So load your drivers to see your disks and use diskpart to confirm your disks can be seen by WRE.

Let me know if it worked for you in the comments below, remember you can post as a guest no login required.


© Caspan 2014