Windows Enterprise Desktop

November 17, 2017  12:05 PM

Realtek HD Audio Driver Tips

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Device Manager, Troubleshooting, Windows 10

I have to laugh at myself. I just troubleshot an issue with the latest version of the Realtek HD Audio drivers to learn I’d shot myself in the foot. Let me explain, and provide some Realtek HD Audio Driver tips along the way. I visit the Drivers and Hardware forum at TenForums regularly, as a source for posts to this blog. Today, I saw that its Realtek sticky thread points to a newer driver version than I currently had installed. But in using the Microsoft Update Catalog link, I inadvertently downloaded the wrong file. Here’s what I saw on offer online:

Realtek HD Audio Driver Tips

Three different sets of versions of the files appear. The version I should’ve grabbed is in yellow.
[Click image to see full-sized view, please.]

Simply put, I grabbed the wrong version of the driver files. I needed the 64bit version (the biggest file: 131.0 MB for Fall Creators Update). I grabbed the 80.8 MB version and didn’t realize it. Finally, I grasped that the error message I got when trying to force install the 32-bit driver told me I was in the wrong, albeit unknowingly. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, though. That’s because working through the process refreshed my memory about a number of useful tips and tricks for dealing with drivers. Because these tips apply reasonably well to any drivers you might fetch from the Microsoft Update Catalog, I recite them here.

A Select List of Realtek HD Audio Driver Tips

[1] The Latest Realtek High Definition Audio Codecs sticky thread at TenForums remains your best source for these drivers.

[2] TenForums has a peachy tutorial named “How to Install a CAB File in Windows 10.” If you don’t already know this, it guides you through the process.

[3] If you’re tempted to force-install a Windows Driver in Device Manager/Update Drivers, pause to investigate before forcing anything. I was clued in that something was wrong for several reasons. First, the browse function came back and said I had the latest and bestest driver already installed. Second, the force function warned me that the driver I pointed at was incompatible with my hardware. That’s Microsoft’s way of telling you trouble may follow soon.

[4] I realized my error when I went back to look at the CAB file I’d downloaded.  It was less than 100 MB in size, when I knew I wanted the biggest one for my 64bit setup. Note to Microsoft: why not label downloads explicitly as 32- or 64-bit?

[5] Remember you can use Driver Store Explorer (aka RAPR.exe) to check the true name of the .inf file you want to replace when updating. It told me I had the right driver file in the 32-bit directory. I correctly concluded something fishy because Device Manager didn’t like it. That’s how I figured out that the HDXRT4.INF file wasn’t the version of that file that I needed.

Problem Recognized Means Problem Solved

Sure enough, as soon as I removed the original download and replaced it with the correct version, Device Manager was able to find and install the proper driver, no forcing needed. That reminds me, and should remind you, that when the square peg won’t slide into the round hole, the proper response is to stop and think rather than to reach for a bigger hammer. Please keep that in your list of Realtek HD Audio Driver Tips, and general driver update knowledge, somewhere near the top!  ‘Nuff said.

November 15, 2017  11:14 AM

Win10 Full Flash Update

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Deployment, Windows 10

Since Version 1607, Windows Server has included support for an image format named FFU. Short for Full Flash Update, this format lays down a runtime image on a physical drive. FFU support comes to Windows 10 as of Version 1709. It can create runnable Windows and recovery images, and a complete system partition scheme in one go. Designed for speed (it proves itself fast in practice) and supports larger files than Windows Image format (aka WIM). This is fully documented at Microsoft’s Hardware Dev Center where two articles specifically target FFU. The first is Windows Full Flash Update (FFU) images, the second WIM vs. VHD vs. FFU: comparing image file formats. Win10 Full Flash Update offers some nice advantages, which I will recite shortly.

Digging into Win10 Full Flash Update

A quick visit to the second cited article above reveals FFU’s key characteristics. It is the fastest tool for capturing and deploying Windows on the factory floor (it’s aimed at OEMs). It is sector-based and uses the highly compact Xpress-Huffman compression algorithm. FFU captures a complete set of drive information including partition data. When FFUtool is used to apply an image, it starts by cleaning the entire drive. When deploying from a source image, the target drive must be the same size as the original (source) drive, or larger. DISM works with FFU images, so they may be mounted for manipulation, then modified, then dismounted to deploy updates and changes. FFU also includes a catalog and hash table to validate signatures upfront before flashing gets underway. A hash table is generated during the capture process, then validated when the image gets applied (neither WIM nor VHD support this added reliability check).

You can use FFU with Windows 10 right now through the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) command-line utility. Recent ad-hoc tests using DISM and WIM versus DISM and FFU shows off FFU’s speed advantage. On a pair of test technician machines, the speed difference was better than 50% for each one when comparing the time it takes to apply a WIM image as compared to its FFU counterpart (same OS, same modifications, same everything). FFU is good stuff, and worth getting to know for those in the image deployment game.

See the FFU image format article at the MS Hardware Dev Center for depictions of FFU V1 and V2 disk layout schemes. The second version supports multiple data stores so it can accommodate multiple, unrelated images in a single file.

November 13, 2017  11:43 AM

New Win10 Means New MCT

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10, windows installer

Here’s a potential gotcha I’ve seen popping up with some frequency online lately. When Microsoft releases a new Windows version, a new version of Media Creation Tool come out, too. Alas, the MCT is always named MediaCreationTool.exe. That filename can’t tell what version of Windows 10 MCT supports unless you do some poking around. But whatever MCT version you’ve got, it will always and only download the Windows version to which it’s tied. In the simplest terms, an old MCT grabs an old version of Windows. That’s not always what you want, so it’s smart to check the MCT version before you use it to download and install Win10.

If New Win10 Means New MCT, How to Tell What You’ve Got

There at least two ways to tell which version of the MCT you’ve got. The quick, dirty and less reliable way is to open File Explorer and look at the file date. If it’s older than the current version of Windows 10 (or the version you want), don’t use it. Jump to the Download Windows 10 page, where you’ll click the “Download tool now” button to grab the latest and greatest MCT instead.

A more reliable way to check the Windows version tied to an MCT file is by examining the Details pane in its file Properties window. Here’s a look at two versions of this file from my Downloads directory to illustrate:

New Win10 Means New MCT

Spring Creators Update (1703/15063) left, Fall Creators Update (1709/16299) right.

Of course, identifying what’s what requires having a clue about Windows version and build numbers. You can get those basics from Microsoft’s Windows 10 release info page. In fact, that page tells us what we need to know about the two foregoing MCT versions shown. The current version of Windows 10 is 1709 and is build 16299; the previous version is 1703 and is build 15063. That’s how we know the MCT on the right is the most current version and the one to its left its predecessor. And of course, the file dates tell the same story, too.

Using MCT for Older Win10 Versions … NOT!

The safest way to use MCT for the current version is to visit the Win10 download page. There, grab a fresh copy just before you use it. For older Win10 versions, you’re better off finding an ISO file of the right vintage and building your own installable media. If you must, you could root around in your file system or backups to find a corresponding MCT. Frankly, I think that’s more trouble than it’s worth…

November 10, 2017  3:17 PM

Fall Creators Update Finds Surface Pen

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
location, touch, Windows 10

Here’s a nifty new feature for the latest version of Windows 10. The Fall Creators Update, aka Version 1709, now includes a “Where’s my pen?” entry in Settings → Update & Security → Find my device. If you turn this feature on, Windows will use Bluetooth to position your pen on Bing Maps and show you where it last reported in. Hopefully, this will help you run the device down. Ironically, I used my own pen to click the various interface settings to set this up! Even so, the Fall Creators Update finds Surface Pen feature is truly nice-to-have.

Fall Creators Update Finds Surface Pen

Now that my Surface Pro 3 is upgraded, it too can find my pen.

Exactly How Fall Creators Update Finds Surface Pen

The secret to making this work is to toggle the Find my device setting (which is set to ON by default). This provides an option labeled “Save my device’s location periodically” which should also be turned on. Then, you can use it to record your pen’s location via Bluetooth from time to time (because Windows 10 does not natively support GPS). Once this is working, you need only click the link at bottom that says “Go here to track it. ” Presto! Bing maps pops up with your pen’s most recent location highlighted.

Fall Creators Update Finds Surface Pen

Surprise! My pen is at home, where my Surface Pro lives, too.

This is a handy feature, and will probably help the absent-minded. Such folks, including me, are quite likely to need an answer to the question “Where’s my pen?” at least occasionally.

[Note: here’s a shout-out to Mauro Huculak at Windows Central, whose 11/7/17 article “How to find your Surface Pen in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update” brought this new feature to my attention. Thanks!]

November 8, 2017  4:32 PM

Win10 Desktop Marketshare Nov17

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Windows 10

Every now and then, I like to take a look at Windows 10’s so-called “Desktop Marketshare.” This means turning to a variety of sites that track such things. My go-to sites are NetMarketShare,, and Statcounter. In checking out Win10 desktop marketshare Nov17, I noticed some potent differences across these sources. Let’s look at some numbers, OK?

What’s Up with Win10 Desktop Marketshare Nov17?

Yesterday, November 6, I visited all three of those sites. There, I  checked numbers for Windows 10, especially as compared to Windows 7. Here’s what I found, in brief tabular form:

Comparing Win10 Marketshare, Nov17
Site Windows 7 Windows 10
NetMarketShare 46.63% 29.26% 48.03% 43.23%
Statcounter 42.67% 40.95%

I’ve heard plenty of folks call the Netmarketshare numbers into question. I read that they report only on sites that use their visit counting tools or belong to their site network. But I also notice that the numbers for Windows 7 are clustered much closer together (maximum difference 5.36%). By stark contrast, the Windows 10 numbers are more scattered (maximum difference 16.97%). Thus, I can’t help but take issue with Netmarketshare’s Windows 10 share estimate, for being too low with respect to the other two reporting sites.

I am indeed inclined to believe that around 4 of every 10 Windows desktops that access the Internet run Windows 10. This applies especially in the USA, as evidenced by the .gov site. (It’s most likely to attract its visits from within the USA.) But I’m curious to understand other components of the difference. Looks like Netmarketshare sees a lot more XP, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 that the other two sites do. And for sure, plenty of die-hards do still run older Windows versions.

But, FWIW, I’ll put my credence into Statcounter and Over the past couple of years their reporting has tracked my own personal observations more closely than NetMarketShare has. And what I see coming is visualized best at Statcounter, where the upward curve for Windows 10 and the downward curve for Windows 7 look likely to intersect very soon. If not this month (Nov17) then next month for sure (Dec17). Stay tuned!

November 6, 2017  3:28 PM

Bogus Win10 Printer Update Alerts

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Device drivers, Windows 10

If you’re running the latest Win10 version (Fall Creators Update Version 1709) and automate Update retrieval, you may be offered bogus printer drivers. Tools like the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, aka MDT, or even the Windows Update MiniTool, aka WUMT, show Windows 10 images needing print drivers. At the same time, plain-vanilla Windows Update shows no such lack. That makes me label these items as bogus Win10 printer update alerts.

What Do Bogus Win10 Printer Update Alerts Look Like?

The following screen shot from WUMT appeared on one of my test machines this morning. I also observed those drivers failed to install. This TenForums thread applies: “Can’t get rid of Printer-6/21/2006 12:00:00 AM 10.0.15063.0 update.” That’s where I learned that what WUMT showed me also shows up in MDT for others. I expect that means it’ll show up in System Center Configuration Manager, the Windows ADK, SmartDeploy, ENGL Imaging Toolkit, and so forth. It seems to apply only to packages with automated Windows Update checks.

Bogus Win10 Printer Update Alerts

Closer investigation reveals the Print to PDF driver first, aand the XPS print driver second.

As it happens, neither of those print drivers is essential to proper print output anyway. The first one comes into play for the “Print to PDF option” in Office components and other applications. The second driver is an extension of the GDI-based Version 3 printer driver. It goes back to the pre-Vista Windows era (and is seldom used today).  Thus, you can cheerfully ignore these offerings in most situations.

That’s why I elected to hide both drivers inside the WUMT interface. Because the program was happy to do just that, I won’t be bothered with this particular driver offer again. YMMV, depending on which deployment tool you’re using for Windows 10. According to one poster to the afore-cited TenForums thread, enabling continuation on error for updates in MDT allows deployment to proceed. It slows things down a bit, though, so consider yourself warned.

November 3, 2017  12:48 PM

Fixing Black Win10 Desktop

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
background, Personalization, Windows 10

For some so-far undetermined reason, I’ll occasionally log into Windows 10 and find myself staring at a black desktop. Because I shoot LOTS of screen captures for articles, books, and whatnot, I usually set my background to all white. So when my background goes dark, I need a quick fix to turn the lights back on, so to speak. It turns out that fixing black Win10 desktop is pretty easy, if you use the Personalization tool. Simply right-click any unoccupied area of the desktop and you get a pop-up men that includes Personalize amidst its entries.

The option of interest shows up at the bottom of the menu.

How-to: Fixing Black Win10 Desktop

Once you click the Personalize entry on that menu, you’ll find yourself in Settings –> Personalization. Normally, when my desktop goes black, that means that Background remains set to Solid Color with a checkmark on the black box.

Getting back to white requires clicking Custom color, then moving the slider all the way to the right to turn black into white. That’s all there is to it for me. This is a big improvement over earlier Win10 versions (and Windows 8) which didn’t offer white as a custom color option. I actually had to capture a white field in a graphics editor, then save it as a file I could designate as my background. This is much easier and faster, too. Should you ever find yourself in this boat, now you know how to fix black Win10 desktop, too!

November 1, 2017  4:06 PM

Bad RAM Nixes 1709 Upgrade

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Troubleshooting, Windows 10

On October 23, just over a week ago I wrote that my 1709 upgrades to Windows 10 had gone mostly trouble-free. Alas, I was gilding the lily where one of my 1703 upgrades was concerned. At the time I wrote the post, the machine was in its final reboot phase just before handing off control to the new OS. That phase took about a week to complete successfully, as it turns out, and involved considerable research and what-if repair attempts to resolve. Everything I tried failed, until I discovered the cause almost by accident. As it turns out, bad RAM nixes 1709 upgrade completion. It also throws different errors on multiple failures, which makes diagnosis difficult.

When Bad RAM Nixes 1709 Upgrade, Then What?

On Monday, 10/30, I ran the hardware diagnostics from Lenovo Companion on the problem laptop. A Lenovo X220 Tablet, it has been (mostly) a rock-solid, trouble-free machine. The “Quick Random Pattern Test” for memory failed on that PC as soon as the test started. Reasoning that one of the SO-DIMMs might have failed, I popped the first one that came to hand (a Patriot 8 GB PC3-12800 module) and tried again. As luck would have it, the memory test went on to complete successfully using the sole remaining 8 GB module.

Bad RAM Nixes 1709 Upgrade

Alas, this is not what I saw from Lenovo Companion until after removing the failed/failing RAM module. I got the red X of failure instead.

Guessing that memory problems during the install could have caused my strange symptoms, I ran the Windows 10 Update Assistant one more time. And indeed, this time the OS installed successfully. My best guess is that the Windows Installer only attempted to access memory addresses above the 8192 GB high watermark for the first SO-DIMM during the final phase of installation. And it was only when the system tried to use the second SO-DIMM that things got wonky. Now that I’ve removed the apparently failing module, all is working properly on that PC. I’ve ordered a replacement from Newegg ($62.99 + $0.99 shipping) and will return to 16 GB operation as soon as it shows up at my front door. Case closed!

October 30, 2017  2:19 PM

Turn Off IE Edge Ad

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Group Policy, Windows 10

In the latest Creators Update Releases (Versions 1703 and 1709) when opening Internet Explorer (IE), the program opens a second tab to tout the Edge browser. It makes a not-so-subtle advertisement but also sets the focus on that tab. When I open IE, it’s because I want to use IE. So of course, I want to turn off IE Edge ad as soon as I see it. This turns out to require one simple Group Policy edit.

How-to: Turn Off IE Edge Ad

Indeed, there’s a Group Policy tweak that does this very thing. Fire up the Group Policy editor to make this tweak. I usually either type “Group Policy” into the Cortana search box, or simply go for gpedit.msc directly. Once you’re in the program, the navigation sequence is:

User Configuration
-->Administrative Templates
  -->Windows Components
    -->Internet Explorer
      -->Internet Settings
        -->Advanced Settings

The Browsing setting is named “Hide the button (next to the New Tab button) that opens Microsoft Edge.” This must be set to “Enabled” to turn off the extra tab, as shown here:

Turn Off IE Edge Ad

A single setting targets and turns off the annoying Edge tab.

And What About the Newsfeed Page for New Tabs?

Yes, there’s a fix for that, too. It’s in IE Settings. Click the settings icon at Far right, then Internet Options, then click the Tabs button. In the Tabbed Browsing Settings window, find the “When a new tab is opened, open:” pick list. Select something other than the default “The new tab page with my news feed” to make an alternate selection. I usually go with “Your first home page” so I can jump right into Google search. You can do as you please here, as long as you pick one of the supported selections. For the record, this also includes “The new tab page” and “A blank page” as well. ‘Nuff said!

Note: Thanks to John Savill at Windows ITPro for the April 20, 2017 tip entitled “Remove Edge tab in Internet Explorer” that alerted me to the Group Policy tweak featured here.

October 27, 2017  4:20 PM

Fixing Win10 Volsnap.sys Issues

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel
Troubleshooting, Windows 10

For Build 17017 of the Insider Preview at least, and possibly for other recent Win10 builds or releases, a runtime error involving volsnap.sys may appear. These days, such errors are called “GSODs” because the screen that reports the problem is green. But I see reports of similar issues all the way back to Windows 7 days (when the error was called a BSOD, for “Blue Screen of Death”). Thanks to some nice detective work from Scot Hanselman, though, I knew just what to do when my Dell Venue Pro 11 hybrid PC fell prey to this problem. And as it turns out, Fixing Win10 Volsnap.sys issues is pretty simple, as long as you’ve got the right ingredients.

Fixing Win10 Volsnap.sys Issues

On the GSOD, an unhappy face emoticon sez the OS knows something ain’t right…

Ingredients for Fixing Win10 Volsnap.sys Issues

You need two things to address this problem. First, you need a known good working copy of volsnap.sys. I grabbed mine from one of my production PCs running the latest 1709 release. For the record, it lives in the %windir%\System32\Drivers folder. Second, you need a bootable Windows 10 installation or repair disk. I used the 1709 Windows 10 installer I built last week with the Microsoft Media Creation Tool (click “Download tool now” on the Download Windows 10 page).

Fixing Win10 Volsnap.sys Issues at the Command Line

The problem with replacing OS runtime files is that the OS that’s running, for all kinds of good reasons, won’t let you replace them while it’s running. You must instead boot to the install or repair media and make the replacement at the command line prompt therein. Because I used an MCT-based UFD, I booted to that drive, let the auto-start feature fire up the installer, then elected to repair an existing installation on the second screen in the sequence. From there, I took the Troubleshoot option, then opened the command prompt where I was quickly able to make the switch. To make my job as easy as possible (and following Scott’s suggestion from the afore-cited blog) I had already copied the known good working volsnap.sys to the root of the UFD from whence I’d just booted.

Here’s the sequence of commands I used to get myself going:

  1. diskpart
    rem this opens the disk partition utility so you can identify installed disks
  2. list volumes
    rem shows you the letters associated with disks on your PC
    rem for this example C: is my OS disk, E: is the UFD I need to copy from
  3. cd <s>:\Windows\System32\Drivers
    rem navigate to the proper directory for file replacement
    rem <s> is the drive letter for your actual OS drive
  4. ren volsnap.sys volsnap.bak
    rem keeps the old, broken version around under a different name
  5. copy e:\volsnap.sys volsnap.sys
    rem copies the known good working copy into the proper directory

After you copy the good copy into the right directory, you can exit Command Prompt and restart your PC. When it resumes operations, any problems resulting from the damaged or buggy copy of volsnap.sys should be fixed. In my case, I immediately upgraded to Build 17025 on the affected PC. So far, no similar reports of volsnap.sys issues are reported for this more recent OS version.

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