Earlier this week I stumbled across a January PC Magazine story entitled “Build a Touch-Screen All-in-One Desktop.” The star of the story is from EliteGroup (a Taiwanese mega-manufacturer of PCs and parts) known as the G11, a bare-bones compact PC with an integrated 21.5″ touchscreen and lots of other interesting and useful features (check out the PDF specsheet for a nice overview).
The upshot of the PC Magazine story is that you can put together a nice Windows 7 touchscreen PC for under $850 by adding your own CPU, memory, hard disk, and slide-in slimline DVD burner. Matthew Murray’s story features the following selection of parts to put that modest system together: ECS G11 ($449), i3-2120 CPU ($117), 2x4GB DDR3 SO-DIMM RAM ($40), 2 TB WD Caviar Black hard disk ($200), and a Lite-On DS-8A5S DVD burner ($33; actual total: $839; today you can get the 2 TB Caviar Green for $120, the memory for $37, and the DVD burner for $24; so today’s price is a nice and low $747).
I started wondering about the other possible tack, with Windows 8 in mind. What kind of top-of-the-line configuration might it be possible to install in this compact unit to use it as a Windows 8 learning, test, or pilot machine? Here’s what I came up with:
- The ECS G11 works with any Sandy Bridge processor whose TDP is 65 W or less. That means the i7 2600S will work, and these i5 items: 2500S, 2500T, 2405S, 2400S, and 2390T. All of the i3 models are rated 65 W TDP. Today’s going price for the quad-core 2.8 GHz 2600S is $310.
- The ECS G11 can handle 16 GB of RAM, using two 8-GB DDR3 SO-DIMMs. I found some serviceable GeIL units for $99.
- Instead of an optical drive, I selected a slim-line SATA drive tray to 2.5″ drive enclosure from NewModeus for $42 to accommodate an OCZ Vertex 3 55 GB SSD for an ultra-fast boot drive at $65 (after $15 mail-in rebate), along with a 2 TB Samsung Ecogreen SATA hard disk at $120.
- Most people who work on PCs want a mouse and keyboard at some point, too, so I picked the Logitech MK710 desktop set for $70.
- A mini PCI-e 802.11n wireless and Bluetooth combo card adds wireless capability to the unit and goes for $26.
When it comes to installation for all this stuff, I refer back to Murray’s PC Mag story, because it includes photographs and step-by-step instructions to put all these part in their proper places — except for the optical to SSD tray install, which requires plugging the drive into the internal SATA connection inside the tray, and then installing the tray just as you’d install the optical drive.
The ECS G11 is still priced at $449, so my total top-of-the line budget comes to $1,181. For just over $1,200 you can add in the cost of a portable USB-based optical drive to plug into this unit to write or write CDs or DVDs should you need to (I have two such units already, and suspect many other readers here do as well, which is why I didn’t make it part of my baseline budget, believing that the combination of an SSD for the boot/system drive and a bigger but slower data drive would be much more compelling).
I do still have some open questions, though: I’m working to find out if the ECS G11 supports SLAT, which is mandatory to take advantage of Hyper-V support in Windows 8. Ditto for the motherboard’s support for UEFI, necessary to use Windows’s pre-boot malware protection capabilities. I’ll report back as I find out more (I’m trying to get in touch with Elitegroup’s Fremont, CA offices, and have also e-mailed Matthew Murray to see if he knows more than he included in his PC Mag story).
Scott Fulton has just written a bang-up story for ReadWriteWeb entitled “Top 10 Windows 8 Features #7: Client-side Hyper-V.” It’s a gem of a story not just because it explains why Hyper-V beats the pants off the Virtual PC technology that made Windows XP Mode feasible (but alas, never terribly popular) on Windows 7, but also because it takes you through all the steps necessary to convert older virtual machines from the Virtual PC/Virtual Server environment into their Hyper-V compatible counterparts.
Running users through a sequence of Hyper-V setup and configuration screens, Scott explains what settings are needed and how they should be populated to enable Hyper-V to mount and use these VMs in the Windows 8 environment (or on other PCs that support Hyper-V including Windows Server 2008 R2 and the upcoming Windows Server 8 as well). Combine this with Sysinternals Disk2VHD tool, and you’ve got a sure-fire way to keep legacy OS images alive and well in the brave new world of Hyper-V that’s now on its way to a desktop near you (if not already on your own desktop).
Symantec recently announced general availability of its various Norton 2013 beta products, including Norton AntiVirus, Norton Internet Security, and Norton 360. Although they come only with two weeks (14 days) of free subscription support, these programs may be worth trying out for those running Windows 8 to get a sense of how third-party security software functions in a Windows 8 runtime environment.
I’d already been running NIS 2012 on a couple of Windows 8 Customer Preview machines with great success, so it was interesting to see what kinds of differences showed up between the current year’s version and the impending (beta) release. The interface has been spruced up and is a great deal more Windows 8 friendly, and it seems like the overall system footprint is lighter and speedier, though a full system scan still manages to consume appreciable levels of system resources.
That said, the full system scan on my i7-2640M X220 T notebook, with just under 40 GB of stuff on the C: drive, took just over 20 minutes to complete and caused no perceptible system drag as I opened IE windows, and ran various other applications while the scan was underway (Gabe Topala’s excellent System Information For Windows, Windows Explorer, the Snipping Tool, and so forth).
But so far, I can’t get Norton Management on my Windows 7 production machine running NIS 2012 to “see” the test machine running beta NIS 2013, or vice-versa. I may have to do some additional futzing around to get this to work. But from what I can see when logged into my Norton Account online, it looks like there’s some kind of deliberate isolation of the beta from production versions (later note: it uses a completely different account login, so there is a deliberate separation between beta and production accounts). I’m going to keep exploring the beta and will report back further as and when I learn anything interesting. But so far, it seems completely on par with the production 2012 version, if not slightly less intrusive (a pretty nice accomplishment, considering what a great job Symantec has already done in reducing Norton’s once-substantial footprint to something less obnoxious in the past 3-4 years).
There’s been some discussion recently in relation to the Enterprise edition of Windows 8 that it will be made available only to subscribers to Microsoft’s Software Assurance program. Not so! Subscribers to the Windows Intune program pay a monthly per-seat fee for this service, and what they’re paying for includes a license to Windows Enterprise for each such seat, in addition to the management and configuration tools and services that come along as part of the overall deal. Methods for grabbing the download are addressed in an SMB-oriented TechNet blog post entitled “Windows Intune: How Do My Customers Get Windows 7 Enterprise?”
For $11 per PC per month (up to 25 machines), PCs with some version of Windows Professional already installed can partake of Intune. No bare metal coverage here, sorry. If you want into Intune with a do-it-yourself PC, you’ll have to buy or otherwise acquire a license for Windows Professional or better before you can use what MS calls “the upgrade rights to Windows 7 Enterprise.”
Perhaps it’s a leap of faith, but I’m assuming the deal for Windows 8 will remain more or less the same once the product becomes generally available, so this represents another way for users to get into Windows Enterprise 8 without necessarily getting into a Software Assurance deal with Microsoft.
It’s been two months now, and I’m finally starting to get comfortable with Windows 8 and the nuances of the touch-based interface and its various mouse equivalents. That’s why I found myself nodding my head when reading two recent articles from Paul Thurrott on his Supersite for Windows:
The idea behind these activities is similar, and involves a bit of a change from normal mouse selection behavior to make them work properly — something of a trick, in fact — that highlights a lot of what’s new, different, and occasionally frustrating about the Windows 8 interface. In each case moving the mouse cursor into the upper left corner (for the back tip) and lower left corner (for the start tip) works the same way: after moving the mouse to elicit the corresponding thumbnail display (a miniature Start screen at lower left, a miniature display of the last application accessed at upper left), you must click the left mouse button to switch to the display that’s showing in the thumbnail.
I experienced some frustration with these functions until I got that trick and started clicking the mouse button instead of trying to move the cursor to “grab” the thumbnail itself. Doesn’t work, and in fact, makes the thumbnail disappear. Who knew?
I had a very interesting conversation with former Microsoft MVP and current MS employee and “virtualization guy” John Savill last Friday. I’ve recently had to back out of my role as a primary author for an upcoming Windows 8 book, thanks to a welcome and unexpected surfeit of expert witness work, and have therefore found myself with some pretty neat but underutilized test equipment that I want to switch over to a production role.
The reason why I called John was to ask him how best to migrate my current 32-bit Windows 7 production environment to my latest desktop test rig (a home-built desktop that includes a socket 1155 motherboard, i7 2700K CPU, 32 GB of RAM, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, and an nVidia 650 GTX graphics card). Not coincidentally, John now works for Microsoft as a virtualization expert, with equal emphasis on both desktop and server virtualization, so I figured he’d have some useful suggestions to make. For Windows long-timers, some may remember John from the late 1990′s as the brains behind the Windows NT FAQ which he ran independently back then (it’s now a permanent part of the Windows IT Pro Website as the FAQ For Microsoft Windows). He’s also the author of numerous books on Windows Server versions from NT 4.0 through Windows Server 2008, including his latest title Microsoft Virtualization Secrets, due out in August, 2012).
His first suggestion came as no surprise to me at all: he recommended that I use the excellent Sysinternals Disk2VHDto capture my current runtime production environment. Through no coincidence whatsoever, in planning to upgrade that machine to accommodate 8 more GB of RAM I’ve purchased (running 32-bit at present, it can only handle 4 GB of RAM which is how much it has installed as well), I’d already used that tool to make a snapshot to give me access to any settings, preferences, passwords, and so forth, I might somehow lose in making the move from 32- to 64-bit Windows 7 on the original machine.
But John’s next suggestion really floored me, though in a thought-provoking way: He also urged me to go ahead and switch over to the Customer Preview of Windows 8 on my new hardware, since it was expressly purchased to meet Windows 8 requirements (UEFI, SLAT support, and even a touch screen). I gave him the usual “still can’t get my head around the desktop metaphor and organization” stall, to which he replied with three remarks:
1. Get used to it; it’s not going to change.
2. Hyper-V beats the pants off Virtual PC, even as implemented for Windows XP Mode in Windows 7.
3. Windows 8 is already “extremely stable,” so if you keep working on a VM, it will be trivial to jump from Customer Preview to final release.
I’d planned to set up a production native Windows 7 64-bit environment and slowly cheese over from 32- to the 64-bit world, but his remarks have me thinking pretty serious about cheesing over from a 32- to 64-bit Windows 7 VM instead, running on top of Windows 8. I have plenty of horsepower and memory to burn on this new machine, so why not? I have some major deadlines this week, or I might have tried it already, but I’m leaning ever more seriously in this direction, and will keep you posted on my thought processes and progress.
When I saw the news that Microsoft Security Essentials (4.0) had recently been released (see Paul Thurrott’s Microsoft Security Essentials 4.0 blog post for more information and a download link), I quite naturally found myself wondering if MSE and Windows 8 might finally collide. When I first installed the customer preview in late February of 2012, I tried to install MSE 2.0 shortly thereafter, only to have the installer inform me that the program was incompatible with my version of Windows. Thinking that now that MSE developers must surely take cognizance of Windows 8 with the Customer Preview already out, and more releases in the offing for July and October, I tried to install it on my Windows 8 desktop, only to be greeted with this very interesting results window:
You’ll notice that the preceding message include language indicates that Windows 8 essentially includes the same capabilities as MSE 4.0, built into the Defender module whose name is familiar since the days of Windows Vista. Although the Building Windows 8 blog addressed the OSes anti-malware capabilities in a post dated September 15, 2011, it hadn’t dawned on me that Windows 8 includes comprehensive, built-in anti-malware protection right out of the box. But when I saw this message from the MSE 4.0 installer, I started doing my homework, and learned that there’s a lot more to Defender in Windows 8 than there was in either Windows 7 or Vista.
The blog post says it best: “The improvements to Windows 8 Defender will help protect you from all types of malware, including viruses, worms, bots, and rootkits by using the complete set of malware signatures from the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, which Windows Update will deliver regularly with the latest Microsoft antimalware engine.” Also: “…Windows Defender will no provide you with real-time detection and protection from malware threats using a file system filter, and will interface with Windows secured boot, another new Windows 8 protection feature.”
This blog post (“Protecting you from malware“) is worth a (re)-read because it covers Windows 8 anti-malware features and protections pretty comprehensively. I certainly perused it with more interest and attention than I did last year, now that I’m running several systems with the Windows 8 Customer Preview. Maybe I didn’t really need the Norton Internet Security 2012 I installed on my Windows 8 desktop, after all?
Buckle your seatbelts! Since its hiatus the Building Windows 8 blog has come roaring back with lots of new content in the last week (see my previous blog “The Return of BW8: Two Posts!!” for info about its recent resumption of activity). Monday, they fired off another salvo with a SkyDrive related blog entitled “Making personal cloud storage for Windows available anywhere, with the new SkyDrive.” Here’s she skinny on what you’ll find available right now through the Microsoft SkyDrive pages (Windows Live ID required for sign-in and use). And right now, those who already SkyDrive qualify for a free upgrade from 7 to 25 GB of storage space. Considering that adding 20 to 100 GB of storage costs from $10 to $50 a year, that’s a pretty good free offer.
But there’s more to the latest iteration than more storage. SkyDrive is now accessible via a preview app on Windows Vista, 7, and 8 in 106 different languages. Users can access, browse, or stream files from a remote PC running the new preview app which works on lots of different platforms, as depicted below:
Set-up is fast (under half a minute) and easy, and I’m already transferring files among Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs, and my MacBook Air, plus my iPhone and iPad. Way cool. Be sure and give it a try (and if you’re already signed up for SkyDrive, be sure to upgrade from your original 7 GB allotment to the 25 GB made available to us pioneers).
BW8 is a common abbreviation for Microsoft’s Building Windows 8 blog, an occasional source of insight and information about the upcoming new desktop OS from the wizards of Redmond. After a 20-day hiatus (from March 28 to April 17 — the longest gap between two posts for BW8 on record so far), posts resumed last Tuesday, followed two days later by another one with the following titles:
- April 17: “Reclaiming memory from Metro style apps” by group program manager Bill Karagounis, from the Windows Performance team
- April 19: “Managing ‘BYO’ PCs in the enterprise (including WOA)” by program manager lead Jeffrey Sutherland, from the Management Systems group
I’m very glad to see BW8 back in action, with some interesting posts on some key concerns about how the new OS manages memory, and how best to maintain control over personal computing devices that employees and contractors are increasingly inclined to bring “on the job” with them to work.
Reclaiming memory from Metro stype apps
An explanation of how Windows 8 manages memory for Metro style apps that are suspended and not in active use. Here’s a key statement from this post “…whenever Windows  detects memory pressure on the system, it will repurpose nearly all the memory that suspended Metro style apps would otherwise hold onto. Windows 8 can reclaim this memory without having to terminate an app” (emphasis from the author). There’s even a nice video that uses Task Manager to show how memory usage adapts to overall machine workload for suspended Metro-style apps. Essentially memory pages are queued up to be written to disk when memory pressure occurs, then “tricked out to disk” to prevent the IO from impacting other processes, and gotten out of the way in the background. I like to think of it as private, app-level memory management for Metro-style apps, which is way cool. The blog post backs up the video with a nice set of diagrams and explanations, and is worth a quick once over.
Managing BYO PCs
This posting is well worth reading, and makes some interesting points. First and foremost, the post discloses the development of “a new management client that can communication with a management infrastructure in the cloud to deliver LOB [Line Of Business] apps to users” (emphasis Sutherland’s, who also promises that this capability will be covered in more detail in an upcoming System Center blog). There will be a client-side agent built in to Windows 8, ready to interact with an organization’s management infrastructure, with a Metro-style app called the self-service portal (aka SSP) that users employ to find and install LOB apps visible to them. This post also explains how BYO devices connect to the management infrastructure, how settings policies are established, used, and managed, how LOB apps can be managed and controlled, and more. Very interesting!
And again, I’m glad to see BW8 back in action, and find myself looking forward to further posts soon.
DISM stands for Deployment Image Servicing and Management. This tool was introduced in Windows 7 and will be taking on more features, functions, and responsibilities in Windows 8. DISM replaces the following well-known image creation and management tools: pkgmgr, PEimg, and IntlConfg, and adds considerably to previous tools for customizing and managing images built around the Microsoft Preinstallation Environment (WinPE or sometimes just PE).
Still unclear about DISM? Here’s how the afore-linked Technical Reference describes this toolset:
Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) is a command-line tool used to service Windows images offline before deployment. You can use it to install, uninstall, configure, and update Windows features, packages, drivers, and international settings. Subsets of the DISM servicing commands are also available for servicing a running operating system.
DISM is installed with Windows 7, and it is also distributed in the Windows OEM Preinstallation Kit (Windows OPK) and the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK). It can be used to service Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 (SP1), Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, or Windows PE images. DISM replaces several Windows OPK [OEM Pre-installation Kit] tools, including PEimg, Intlcfg, and Package Manager.
To me, the best things about DISM are its abilities to let you customize WinPE to add to the basic functionality that a minimal Windows run-time image already brings to the Windows installation media (which runs off WinPE) and to any system repair disks you might choose to create (which also run from WinPE). What I sometimes need to do is to add drivers to that basic image so I’ll be sure to be able to access various bits and pieces of hardware on my various desktop and notebook PCs (case in point: unless I provide WinPE with a driver to recognize the Ricoh SD card reader in my Lenovo X220 Tablet, it happily ignores the 32 GB SDHC card I keep in its card slot, with a bunch of tools and utilities designed to help repair balky or boot-troubled PCs).
The following TechNet tutorials explain how to do this kind of thing:
In fact, a search on “use DISM to add drivers to WinPE” also comes up with numerous third party tutorials as well.
With Windows 8, DISM will gain some cool features. For one thing, you’ll be able to interact with VHD images (for virtual machines) and not just Windows Image (WIM) files. The old, clunky ImageX utility is gone, replaced with a number of direct image manipulation commands (see the MSFN.org post entitled “DISM Improvements in Windows 8” for more details). Looks like working with images in Windows 8 is going to be a lot easier and more interesting than it has been so far. Good-oh!