Windows Enterprise Desktop


September 23, 2011  2:05 PM

Great UEFI Post Appears on “Building Windows 8″ Blog

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

MS UEFI diagram

Microsoft’s UEFI boot sequence diagram from “Building Windows 8″ blog post

The BW8 (Building Windows 8 ) blog struck gold again yesterday (9/22/2011) with a new post entitled “Protecting the pre-OS environment with UEFI,” a discussion of how the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface creates a secure boot environment for PCs modern enough to include this latest-generation collection of “…chipset, hardware, system, firmware, and operating system…” components in their makeup.

I’ve been curious about UEFI for a long time now, having read about it in numerous books, articles, and discussions of PC architecture and BIOS replacement technologies. This blog post goes a long way toward filling in the gaps in my knowledge base, and can probably do the same for you, in explaining what UEFI is, how it works, and how it helps to define a firmware validation process better known as “secure boot.” The big issue is that before the OS loads, older BIOS based systems can be hijacked by malicious boot loader programs that work outside security coverage built into an operating system or antimalware software, simply because this permits malware to take up residence in a system before any of these protective or palliative measures can be brought to bear on the security situation.

The only problem here is that motherboard makers for desktop or notebook PCs have been slow to release UEFI-based systems (MSI demo’ed an X79 motherboard with UEFI at IDF on September 19, 2011; and AMI announced its supportfor the UEFI BIOS at the recent MS BUILD conference on September 15, 2011). I don’t think we’re going to see widespread desktop/notebook support for this technology until 2012, but of course that means Windows 8 will be able to support it–but only on systems new enough to include built-in UEFI. If you ask me this strikes another interesting blow at the notion that “any system that runs Windows 7 can also run Windows 8″ that MS has bruited about from time to time. Given the recent Hyper-V disclosures (which require SLAT support in the processor to run the hypervisor) and now this, it looks like that while older Windows 7 PCs may be able to run Windows 8, they will most assuredly not be able to take advantage of some of its most interesting and advanced features.

To learn more about UEFI, check out the BW8 blog link at the head of this post. You may also want to consult the following resources as well:

UEFI-Just How Important It Really Is” (Hardwaresecrets.com, 9/21/2011)
Unified Extensible Firmware Interface” (Wikipedia, references materials dated as recently as 9/20/2011, and includes a great “External Links” section with pointers to other references)

September 22, 2011  5:34 PM

Noodling on Windows 7 Footprint Reduction for SSD Migration

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m in the process of switching all my production notebook PCs over from conventional hard disks to SSDs, thanks to a recent sale at Newegg that put the latest 120 GB OCZ Agility 3 units (SATA 2/3, SandForce-based, with astonishing read/write data rates for SATA 3 in excess of 500 Mbps) for under $170 a pop. To that end, I’ve been noodling on various techniques for reducing the Windows 7 footprint to move from 250-500 GB HDs to a 120 GB SSD replacement. I’ve been blogging like crazy on this topic over at EdTittel.com, so I’ll share some pointers and observations here, and make some recommendations for similarly-minded IT professionals and computing enthusiasts:

  • You can use a nice CodePlex tool called DriverStore Explorer to identify and delete obsolete or duplicate drivers from the Windows 7 C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository directory. This has never failed to deliver less than a 1 GB disk space saving on all of the systems I’ve tried it on, notebook and desktop systems alike. See my blog “Another Nice System Drive Cleanup Maneuver: DriverStore Explorer.”
  • If you’re running VMs on a PC, you can easily relocate the huge virtual hard drive (VHD) files from your system disk to a different hard disk, even a plug-in portable USB (preferably USB 3) hard disk, if your notebook supports that technology. Read more about this at “More Noodling on System Drive Space-Saving: Move those VHDs!” I have yet to save less than 4 GB on any VHD I’ve relocated, sometimes a great deal more space than that, in fact.
  • If you run Outlook without storing messages via an Exchange server, you’ll have two or more large PST files to deal with by default–namely, Outlook.pst and Archive.pst. I’ve learned some interesting tools and techniques for repair and compaction of such files, covered in my posting entitled “Interesting tips and tweaks for PST file cleanup & optimization.” Check it out: on heavily used systems these techniques usually deliver 2-4 GB of space savings!
  • Be sure also to check your restore point allocation for the system system: Click the Configure button in the Protection Settings pane on the System Protection tab of the System Properties windows (launch this by clicking Start, right-clicking Computer, then properties, then System Protection), to manage your Disk Space Usage setting. My laptops with 250 or 500 GB drives routinely allocated 10 GB or more to this use, and I trim to under 4 GB for a 120 GB SSD. More big space savings that way.
  • Download and run Piriform’s CCleaner on your notebook or PC hard disk before you do your migration process. There’s absolutely no point in copying over stuff that needn’t be on your drive in the first place. You should also grab the SourceForge software package WinDirStat and use it to zero in on large files and directories on your system to see if there’s stuff you can move or delete before imaging over the hard disk contents to an SSD. YMMV will vary on space savings realized.
  • Look over your applications carefully before you migrate, too–I use Revo Uninstaller to clean apps off of my systems–because you can save on disk space by eliminating unnecessary applications. On new PCs or laptops, I’ll often use the PC Decrapifier to get rid of pre-installed programs I don’t want or will never use from my machines. You may find it helpful, too. YMMV will vary on space savings realized here, too.

If you have any other space-saving tips for Windows 7 machines, please share them as comments on this blog post. If I get any real doozies, I’ll write them up and give you credit for inspiration, too! Thanks in advance.


September 19, 2011  3:34 PM

The Real Secret Behind SLAT and Hyper-V for Windows 8

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

So now that I’ve been introduced to Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) as a requirement for Hyper-V on the upcoming release of Windows 8 (see my recent blog on this discovery at edtittel.com: “Be Prepared for Windows 8 Hyper-V Gotcha“) I’ve been wondering about why it has to be this way. So I dived into the newly-created Windows 8 Developer Preview MSDN forums to see what I could learn there, and in the context of a discussion entitled “Hyper-V cannot be installed on Lenovo Thinkpad W500” I found a lovely source of enlightenment on this topic. While it is technical enough to make some eyes bleed, it does provide a key insight into the SLAT requirement.

Ben Armstrong explains how SLAT avoids Hyper-V performance bottleneck

Microsoft\’s Virtualization Guy Explains Hyper-V and SLAT

This source is Ben Armstrong’s blog from waaaaaaaaaaaay back in November 2009 entitled “Understanding High-End Video Performance Issues with Hyper-V.” In a very tight nutshell, the upshot of this posting may be summarized as follows:

1. High end graphics cards require frequent and resource-intensive/expensive memory allocations that come from using a PAGE_WRITECOMBINEprotection operation in the hypervisor.

2. This requires the kernel memory manager to flush the translation lookaside buffer and the page cache, which in turn sends an intercept into the hypervisor.

3. Lots of resource intensive hypervisor operations like this turn a (normally) infrequent operation into something frequent enough to hamper or cripple performance. There’s a great diagram in the blog post that shows why a hypervisor falls prey to this limitation, while a virtual machine manager (VMM) like that found in Virtual PC or Virtual Server remains immune to the problem. And interestingly, the faster and more capable the video card in a PC the more likely it is to fall prey to this problem.

One fix mentioned in Armstrong’s blog reads as follows “Get a system with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT).” This lets the hardware handle multiple translation lookaside buffers, on a one-per-VM basis (which is just what’s needed to sidestep the potential performance bottleneck that could otherwise occur). It looks like Microsoft simply opted to avoid potential performance problems from older hardware that might otherwise experience significant delays on the desktop to bypass potential customer complaints. In light of Armstrong’s admonitions to use the SVGA driver, choose a low-end graphics card, or turn off advanced graphics features, I find this decision “interesting” (in the sense of the Chinese curse) but also eminently understandable and defensible. But I still sigh to think of my otherwise very capable quad core Yorkfield processors (QX9650s, in fact) being consigned to the scrap heap of history (or turned into hand-me-downs) because they can’t run Windows 8 Hyper-V.


September 16, 2011  2:57 PM

Combatting Notebook Windows 7 Video Driver Woes

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, I admit it: I’m dangerous when bored. Earlier this week, I was stuck in an all-day conference where I started to lose both interest and focus. As is sometimes my wont when that happens, I fired up DriverAgent on my HP dv6t notebook PC. No sooner fired up and run than I found a new driver for the unit’s built-in Nvidia GeForce GT 320 M graphics adapter. Here’s what Gabe Topala’s excellent SIW (System Information for Windows) has to say about that component:

SIW output for Nvidia GT 320M

SIW provides the current details on my notebook graphics situation

At first, I turned up the Verde 280.26 driver (which is what Nvidia still recommends for this chipset on their site) but when I installed it on my machine, Windows 7 presented me with a black screen the next time I rebooted, which immediately told me this graphics driver and my particular configuration weren’t suited to each other. I rebooted again in safe mode using HP’s equivalent of the “press-and-hold F8″ maneuver immediately after BIOS boot complete to get a generic VGA driver that would actually show me something on the screen.

Next, I launched Control Panel, and took advantage of Device Manager’s “Roll Back Driver” button on the Driver tab in the Properties window for the affected device. Luckily for me, this worked like a charm and my system was working again after one more reboot to switch over to the previous driver version.

Roll Back Driver button

The Roll Back Driver button can occasionally be a real life-saver

This also got me to thinking about what I would have had to do to get back up and running if there hadn’t been a driver to roll back, or the rollback effort had failed. My quickest fix would be to try the Last Known Good Configuration for the system (another boot option in the F8 menu). Next, I would download a known good working driver to a USB stick, then install that driver in Safe Mode, and try again. I’m pretty sure either one or the other (if not both) of these approaches would restore the unit to proper operation. As it was in my case, I’m pretty sure that none of my meeting colleagues noticed that anything was amiss with my system: it took less than five minutes to set things right.

Eventually I tried the beta 285.27 graphics driver in this machine, and I’m happy to report it’s working just fine. This graphics chipset is something of a wimp, but using MSI Afterburner with the settings turned up as much as I dare, it works OK for me.


September 14, 2011  12:04 PM

Windows 8 Developer Preview Now Available!

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Rats! I’m working out of town this week, and when I tried to grab the “new Windows Dev Center” Web page yesterday, it wasn’t up and running just  yet. Now, I just tried again and there it is! The Developer Preview versions of Windows 8 builds (including both check builds with debugging code inserted, and unchecked builds for performance testing and just plain fooling around) are available for download. I won’t be able to grab and go anywhere with this stuff until I get back home tomorrow afternoon, but don’t let me stop you from beating me to that punch. Enjoy!

[Added 10 AM 9/14/2011] See this Windows 8 Developer Preview Hands-On article from Laptop Magazine for a great overview of the UI, plus new features and functions. A very nice piece of work, but too short on screen caps and illustrations; however, given the speed of its production, I totally understand why this might be the case. Read it to get a pretty good sense of what you’ll find in this Alpha version of the Windows 8 OS.


September 10, 2011  2:40 PM

Interesting Windows 7 Driver Signing Issue

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Apexwm is an active but anonymous IT professional who posts all over UK forums, and who also blogs prolifically for ZDNet in the UK. He recently posted a fascinating item entitled “Windows 7 driver signing conundrum” wherein he recounts a vexacious “chicken-and-egg” problem. The issue has to do with trying to slipstream a driver for a particular device into a Windows 7 image — in this case, an integrated wireless network adapter from RALink Technology — when the manufacturer only makes an Installshield program available to install the driver, but which must be installed manually after Windows itself is installed.

In attempting to automate the install, the author used a test machine to get the list of necessary files from Driver Details in Device Manager, and also grabbed the related oem*.inf file from the C:\Windows\inf folder to complete the collection of items to attempt an automated and unattended install. Imagine his frustration when this effort produces the following error message:

Windows cannot verify the digital signatures for the drivers required by this device. Error Code 52.

The drivers are in fact signed, and the problem is apparently well-documented all over the Internet for drivers of all kinds. But alas, no easy fix is available, without turning to 3rd party software products to remedy this known Windows defect. I’m sure apexwm isn’t the only Windows admin who would voice his sentiments on this approach “No thanks. I’m not about to start installing a bunch of unknown 3rd party products to try and help with a Windows problem.”

If I were in those shoes, however, I would try to take advantage of Windows’ ability to run post-install scripts after the initial installation process completes (which is how additional common applications such as Office, 7-Zip, FileZilla, and so forth, often occur at the tail end of automated installation processes). It seems to me that if the driver uses an InstallShield .exe file, there should be some way to script or automate its installation as a post-install task.

I do get apexwm’s complaint that Linux/Unix does a much better job of integrating drivers into its kernel directly, and that compilation into the kernel is an option for those few odd drivers that aren’t already included under this umbrella. But I’m a member of the “where there’s a will, there’s also a way” club of Windows-heads and suggest that he needn’t have given up in defeat.


September 5, 2011  9:17 PM

Best Windows 7 System Drive Space-Saving Techniques

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone through some systematic exercises to reduce the disk space consumed on my Windows 7 system/boot drives, especially on notebook/laptop systems where disk space is always precious and sometimes scarce, but also on a couple of my desktops where I’m running SSDs for the speed they bring to start-up, shut-down, application lauches, and context switching maneuvers. Here are some pointers to recent blogs I’ve written on various related topics on my personal Website at edtittel.som in the Windows 7 Tips and Tricks section:

All told I was able to reduce system disk size by at least 5 GB on each system where I tried to use two or more of these techniques. In one case, the savings was over 10 GB where I was able to reduce drivers, compact PSTs, and move the Windows XP VHD to my F: drive. I like it! Got any similar tips to share? Please do, and I’ll write them up if I can put them to work, too.

Here’s a concluding recommendation: try out the free WinDirStat graphical file system display utility. It will show you which files on your drives are the biggest, and point you at the fattest (if not most vulnerable) targets for cleanup. That’s what got me started down the cleanup road I document in the various aforecited blogs.


September 2, 2011  9:49 PM

Ed Bott Gets “Invert Selection” Right

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m working on a book about Windows 7 right now for the Microsoft Technology Association (MTA) program, specifically for Exam 98-349 “Windows Operating System Fundamentals.”  And in fact, I’m knee deep in Chapter 4 of that book which takes Windows file management and Windows Explorer as a core topic. That’s why I read Ed Bott’s blog for today “Demystifying Windows Explorer: What ‘Invert Selection’ is good for” with great interest and appreciation.

Headline for Ed Bott’s 9/2/2011 blog

Apparently the appearance of this function in the Building Windows 8 blog earlier this week caused  a tempest in a teapot with some readers, who went off on the continued existence of the function in the Windows Explorer of the future (not to mention the Windows 7 present as well). Pet peeves aside, it turns out that “Invert Selection” is a very nice little function, once you understand what it does. Basically, you can pick a list of things you want to keep unchanged in a folder (especially if it’s shorter than the list of things you want to move, delete, or modify), then use “Invert Selection” to de-select those items and select everything else instead.

For example, let’s say you’ve got a folder full of photos that you grabbed from your digital camera. After reviewing 75 snaps, you decide you only want to keep 5. So you pick them, then  do ‘Invert Selection,’ then right click any of those entries, and pick “Delete” from the pop-up menu. Presto! All 70 unwanted photos are gone, gone, gone. Easy as pie!

In Windows 7  run Explorer (type explorer.exe into the Start menu search bar, or click your favorite icon: I usually use the Folder icon that’s pinned to the Task bar at the bottom left of the screen to launch Explorer myself). Then click the Alt key to show the ordinarily hidden “File Edit View Tools Help” menu bar. The Invert Selection item appears at the bottom of the pull-down menu for the Edit entry in this menu bar. And it works like a champ, too.


August 31, 2011  1:28 PM

Windows 8 Gets Integrated ISO/VHD Support

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Yesterday, MS honcho Steven Sinofsky posted an entry to the Building Windows 8 blog entitled “Accessing data in ISO and VHD files.” It explains how, in Sinofsky’s own words “Windows 8 enables easy access to the contents of two important storage formats: ISO and VHD files.”

ISO is, of course, an archive file format that represents a disk image of an optical disk or other storage medium, and usually takes .iso as its file extension. Microsoft uses ISO images to package up downloads of its various OSes and other products but until Windows 8, you’ve had to grab some kind of 3rd party ISO handling program to unpack them in a readable on-disk format. I use Alex Feinman’s excellent ISO Recorder v3.1, which functions as a Windows Explorer shell extension, but there are lots of great tools to do this job on earlier Windows versions.

VHD is a Microsoft virtual hard disk format (originally created by Connectix, since acquired by MS, for the Microsoft Virtual PC–and later Virtual Server and Hyper-V–products). It represents an image of what might appear on a physical hard disk drive, including disk partitions, a file system, files, folders, and so forth. A VHD represents the storage space for a virtual machine in the form of a single portmanteau file that takes the extension .vhd. Microsoft makes the VHD Image Format Specification freely available to third parties under its Open Specification Promise, which “provides broad use of Microsoft patented technology necessary to implement a list of covered specifications…[whose] goal…is to provide our customers and partners with additional options for implementing interoperable solutions.”

What does this all mean? It means you’ll be able to mount and read ISOs and VHDs from inside Windows Explorer in Windows 8, without having to install additional software. Unfortunately, it looks like the planned ISO implementation will be read-only, though. If you want to create ISOs, you’ll still have to install additional software on Windows 8. The same restrictions do not apply to VHDs, though: of them, Sinofsky says “you can…work with the virtual hard disk just like any other file storage in your system, whether you are modifying, adding, or removing files.”

Sounds good! When can we start playing with this new technology?


August 29, 2011  2:56 PM

Great Win7 Deployment Resources: Deployment Guys Blog

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In my ceaseless trolling for good Enterprise Windows 7 news and info, I regularly scan the Microsoft and TechNet blogs. This morning, I decided to read the whole list of bloggers on TechNet and somewhat belatedly came across a listing called “The Deployment Guys.” I’m really glad I did because I came across quite a few gems there.

The Deployment Guys blog banner

The Deployment Guys blog banner

Aside from containing one of my all-time favorite “sniglets” — namely, automagically — this site offers up some incredibly useful information particularly when it comes to mastering the ins and outs of the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2010, including the following items among many others:

I could go on further, but this should be enough to show you that there’s a raft of great stuff here, along with lots of good tips and tricks about how to make the most of Windows 7/Windows Server 2008 deployment tools and technologies available from MS. If you’re at all like me, you’ll add this to your favorites, and you’ll start picking up on their Twitter or RSS feeds.

Enjoy!


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