Windows Enterprise Desktop

Jan 21 2013   4:55PM GMT

What Gets Lost When Using Win8 Refresh

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ve frequently looked at and pondered the meaning of the following “warning display” that precedes the use of Windows 8’s much-vaunted “Refresh your PC” maneuver. Last week, I actually launched this tool to truly understand what it would do to a PC if put to work. Going through those motions illuminated this warning with some interesting and — at least, for me — unforeseen implications of what’s really involved in the kind of refresh that returns Windows 8 to “factory fresh” settings.

There are some interesting implications in the warning that may not be immediately apparent.

There are some interesting implications in the warning that may not be immediately apparent.

As it turns out the promised list of apps removed is quite illuminating. Too bad it comes only after you’ve committed to performing a refresh. I’d recommend that MS consider performing a preliminary scan, and report this information before actually doing the refresh, so as to permit potential users of the utility to better assess the impact on their Windows 8 PCs. A quick look at this list gives me the opportunity to explain where I’m going with this and one great big honkin major gotcha that lurks therein:

Take a close look at the Intel and Nvidia items in this list...

Take a close look at the Intel and Nvidia items in this list…

Indeed, I expected my applications to be gone when I restarted my PC after doing the refresh. The warning is quite clear in that regard. But I didn’t realize that because installing Windows drivers often occurs in the content of running some kind of install utility, that the same thing would happen to the bulk of the device drivers installed on that PC as well. According to a favorite driver maintenance tool I use regularly — namely, DriverAgent — I had zero drivers out of date before I ran PC refresh. After running the refresh, I found myself with 21 (out of 69 total) drivers out of date, with all the lovely headache and aggravation that comes along with running down, obtaining, and installing Windows drivers these days. It wasn’t terribly difficult, but it did take more than half a day for me to figure out how to get those drivers installed and working after I’d laid hands on the most recent versions of the files involved. Now, my number of out of date drivers is down to one (it’s for an Intel 82579LM Gigabit Network Connection network interface I’m not actually using on that motherboard; though I’ve found the most current driver, I haven’t yet figured out how to install it on this particular unused device — that is, I can install it, but the install doesn’t seem to “take”).

7Zip Comes to a Partial, but Much-Appreciated Rescue

Along the way, I also learned an extremely valuable driver update technique. Entirely by accident (I picked the wrong right-button menu entry when opening¬† a file) I discovered that 7Zip will open executable files and extract all their embedded contents where you tell it to put them. Because many driver updates come in installable packages (some of whose contents you may not want or be unable to install on your machine, as for example when seeking to apply a custom update for motherboard x against a completely different model y from a different manufacturer) this turns out to be a great way to grab the .inf, .cat, and .dll files that so often make up the actual drivers themselves, without having to work through an installer that might also want to load your machine down with unwanted management and supporting utilities along the way. The most extreme case of this comes from some Marvell disk controllers, which insist upon installing an outdated version of Apache server as part of their management infrastructure when run as-is. I don’t want or need that stuff (as I suspect many others also do not) but until I found this technique to get to the good stuff without also taking on (and then later manually deleting) unwanted elements, I never found an expeditious way to deal with this common driver issue. Even Legroom Software’s Universal Extractor (which has in the past proved incredibly useful in doing the same kind of thing) isn’t as quick or easy to use as 7Zip for this particular application. At the same time, 7Zip has shown itself able to unpack every .exe driver installer I’ve thrown at it, while Universal Extractor fails to do that job on about half of those same files nowadays.

The Real Value of the Windows 8 recimg Command

On December 7, 2012, I wrote a blog post here entitled “Create Your Own Refresh Image for Windows 8,” which explains how to use this command-line utility to capture a Windows image (.wim) file that the refresh command can later use as a “restore point” (or should that be “refresh point?”) in the future. I now understand that the real value of this approach is its ability to preserve all the drivers on a PC as well as the apps installed following system installation. One interesting side effect of my manual refresh of the system is that now that I’ve done this, the recimg command is working (I had been working under the impression that the EFI partition on its system disk was preventing recimg from working, but it’s running on that system as I write these words) to capture my cleaned-up image for me. Should I need to refresh my PC again in the future, I no longer have to go back to ground zero! Now, if I could only figure out what screwed up in my¬†original install in the first place… Sigh. Windows!

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