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If you install Windows Vista on a computer and you happen to run into this absolutely ridiculous error message:

“Windows could not determine if this computer contains a valid system volume”

The fix is extremely simple.  We’ve run into it a few times when we needed to load a RAID or SATA driver from a USB flash drive.  Let me explain what’s going on, and how to fix it, but not in that order.

The fix: unplug all the USB flash drives on your computer before you boot or reboot the computer. Even if Vista reboots the computer for you, UNPLUG ALL THE USB FLASH DRIVES.

What’s happening when you get the error is fairly simple to understand with a little information about how a PC’s BIOS works, and how Windows interacts with it.  The BIOS attempts to boot from devices in a certain sequence, and on some computers this sequence puts USB storage devices before the actual hard drive or RAID array in the computer.  The key aspect of all of this mess is the device that gets assigned as the first bootable hard drive in the system (known to people familiar with nasty BIOS programming stuff as “drive 0x80”) and Windows uses this assignment by the BIOS to figure out which hard drive in the system will be booted before all the others.

The whole idea here is to use the drive the BIOS says is the first hard drive to install the Vista boot files on.  The problem is that almost all USB flash drives are considered to be hard drives by a modern BIOS, which totally trashes the detected boot order if USB flash drives are set to boot before internal hard drives.  Windows Vista sees that a flash drive is the first bootable hard drive, but it knows that what it’s looking at isn’t actually a real hard drive (and if you’re plugging it in to get RAID drivers off of it like we do so often, the first phase of setup wouldn’t have had this problem while the second phase does).

Thus, “Windows could not determine if this computer contains a valid system volume.”  The “system volume” is basically the first bootable hard drive, and that device is clearly not something Vista can (normally) boot from, so it spews this cryptic error message.

An alternative workaround is to change the BIOS boot order so that your USB stuff boots last, but you never know when you’ll need to boot a Linux rescue system from a USB flash drive to fix Windows, eh?  😉



  1. Thanks for the credit! 🙂

    Let’s hope Windows 7 is smarter this time around although I doubt it. LOL!

  2. Thanks! omg I’ve been working with this for hours, and if anyone wonders, it’s exactly the same issue with Windows 7

  3. I’ve this problem..and yes my usb flashdisk is sticked..let me try..

  4. Thanks so so so much, i was about to rip my hdd out and reformat it in a different computer

  5. Dude, seriously; thank you:)

  6. Thanks!

  7. muito obrigado!!! TKS

  8. Just an FYI this issue still happens when attempting to install SBS 2008. Thanks for the tip.

    • Globalnet IT Innovations
    • Posted November 23, 2010 at 7:18 am
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Worked for me with a Proliant ML350 trying to install SBS 2008.

  9. Thank you. You were right. Very easy.

  10. Thanks so much!!!
    I’m installing a Windows 2008 Server and other posts said I need to create a bootable USB drive or create a DVD with the RAID adapters on it. Your solution was SOOOO much easier and it worked!

    Many thanks!

  11. Thanks!

    You helped.

  12. I love you!!!!!!!! You just fixed my problem!!!!

  13. thanks – I am trying to load Small Business Server 2008 and was going round and around adding/deleting/formatting a partition trying to get past this error message. I had USB memory device with the ASUS drivers – removing it and plugging it in when need worked.

  14. Another fix. Thanks a lot. Paul..

  15. Thanks so much! I was reloading Vista on my laptop and was pretty sure it was toast! Glad I didn’t do anything irrational… 😉

  16. Thank you for the help!!!!

  17. Cool, thanks for the help on this. It was simply the BIOS boot order for me. How restarted. Was trying to install vista on a netbook. I know vista sucks but, that’s what the license is for. They should have given everyone with vista a free windows 7 key LOL.

  18. You the man, f@*k you microsoft !!!!!

  19. This worked on a 2008 server that i was building. GD microsoft for not putting out a better error msg that says please check/remove flash devices and try again.

  20. Thanks.

  21. Dude, where is my car?!

  22. the simplest and the learest explanatipn. after 100’s of forums and 5 hours, problem is solved

  23. Oh man , 6 houers ….
    now its done! Thnk!

  24. Your a genius, spent 2 bloody hours with a SD card in a slot getting this error, formatting and changing disks like a DJ 😦

    Again thankyou

  25. what a faggot error message. fucking stupid programming!!

  26. thank you much appreciated

  27. thank,, it took an ages to install windows, because of micro sd attached into my computer. thanks

  28. Hello

    After deleting all my partitions I could find your page 🙂

    Many thanks, my problem was sd card on my notebook too !

  29. works with hp ML110 G6 and windows server 2008.

  30. This info was gr8. Thx a ton.

  31. Tanx a lot u saved ma life ws bwt 2 commit suecide, tanx once mor

    • I am trying to Install Vista on my PC using my iPhone as a flash drive. When I come to the set up I keep getting this error message. I know u said unplug all USB devices but I can’t as this is where windows is. Any idea’s?? Need this comp back up and running ASAP!

        • nctritech
        • Posted November 9, 2011 at 6:48 pm
        • Permalink

        When the Vista “green dot” sequence appears (after the “Windows is loading files” bar) you should immediately remove the USB drive, and insert it again when you get to the partitioning stage of the setup process. Vista’s setup loads and runs in RAM, so once “Windows is loading files” vanishes, you don’t need the drive plugged in anymore. I can’t test that this works, but if it doesn’t then you may have to work around it by either placing the drive into a different computer for the first phase of Setup or connecting an external USB optical drive. I would highly recommend the optical drive solution.

        If there’s a way in the BIOS setup to change the USB emulation to “USB ZIP” or “USB removable” instead of “USB HDD” then I’d recommend trying that as well.

  32. Jesus man. I fought with this issue the whole evening on a server 2008.
    Install, boot, insert USB stick to install NIC drivers, Update (99 updates to this installation), reboot.
    ….not operating system..

    3 times I tried, trying to figure out what update broke my system…

    This post was a life saver.

  33. OMG Thank You! That is a stupid error message!

  34. Windows Server 2008 came up with this message when I was installing it tonight. I am an avid mac fan (no abuse please) but for the business Windows Server 08 is essential. It took me 5 attempts at the install sequence before I gave in and did a google search for the error message and your instructions popped up.

    How simple, yet how I overlooked it!

    Great advice, well done for helping so many people out.

    Cheers, Dave.

  35. ty, ill give u a reach around for that info 🙂

  36. Hi guys, I was trying to format my Asus netbook from a flash device (since there isn’t a cv/dvd drive) and then ran into the mentioned error above when I was starting the formatting, then when I restarted it, it gave me the famous “bootmgr missing press ctrl alt del” message. Have already tried through comandos “bootfix” and reorganizing first boot in bios but still goes back to bootmgr error. If anyone knows how to fix thanks!

  37. You are a genius! THX!! 😀

  38. After searching through mother board forums, Microsoft, software, and other repair places with no luck, this did the trick. To think it was so simple, yet… so difficult. Thank you.

  39. Haha, thanks a lot. This was the best fix ever!

  40. tank you i resolved all

  41. great help, thanks!

  42. Elegantly simple fix.

  43. Thanks!! The information really help me on the work.

  44. Worked! Thanks a lot!

    • Omg!!! Simply brilliant.

  45. Thnks so much

  46. tank youuuuuuuu

  47. Here the same Problem with Win Server 2008.
    But you gave the solution.


  48. You have saved my life and my career lol thank you, you are my hero 😀

  49. WoW i love you bro!!! you save me from The Hell 😀

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  51. thanks a lot!

  52. Love your writing style! Where’s your respect for Uncle Bill??!!

  53. thanks

    • Alvin K. TAJI-Deen
    • Posted December 10, 2013 at 9:32 am
    • Permalink
    • Reply

    Hahhahahha it is so simple that I am laughing outta ignorance. Lol. Thanks.

  54. Thank you very very very much. Didn’t realize that such simple usb flash disk can cause this kind of problem.

  55. It worked thanks.

  56. Thank you very much. That really help me!!! BIG thanks!

  57. Changing the boot order of USB to last did not work for me. But removing the USB while booting worked fine.
    Thanks a lot for this post.

  58. Thank you thank you a thousand times thank you. I have been fighting this for 5 hours, my frustration level was beyond insanity.

  59. Had the same problem, with a HP Proliant ML110-G4 with Xeon Processor, thought I’d have to resign myself to breaking the RAID-1 and installing on independant SATA drive first. But your solution worked 100% I am very pleased and lucky to have come across your posting. It saved me alot of hassel

  60. Thank you sooo much…
    I know it sound foolish to be installing Vista in the year 2016, but wait I ain insane… I think..
    Since I do have upgrade media from vista to windows 7 and then I can slap windows 10 on top of all that 🙂

  61. Holy Shit, after several hours of despair and anger this was the solution.


  62. Worked like charm on PowerEdge R720. Thanks

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