Every now and then, I like to drop in on the market share stats at NetMarketShare.com to see what’s up in the desktop world as monitored via that company’s observations of the Internet. When I checked this yesterday, I saw that for the first time in the three years or so since Windows 8 versions made their debut, that a single Windows 8 version (8.1) has surpassed the installed base for Windows XP, at 13.09 and 11.74 percent respectively.
On 8/25, the baseline for XP finally gave way to Windows 8.1
I’m not sure where Windows 10 figures into all of this, but with that OS in RTM status for a month now, and over 67 million installations leaked to Windows Central on 7/31, it still doesn’t show up on the NetMarketShare pie chart as a separate entry. The 8/26 readout shows Windows 10 at a mere 0.39% of respondents, so if all of the 67 million were on the Internet today, that puts the total PC population at 17 billion or thereabouts — a patently absurd figure, given that Internet World Stats puts the total number of Internet users worldwide at just over 3 billion.
It’s going to be interesting to watch Windows 10 emerge from the lowest ranks by market share, and begin to make its way up that ladder. I predict it will catch up with and pass Windows 8 versions much more quickly than they have come up that same path, but we’ll just have to wait and see how those numbers play out. I do have to question the leaked numbers reported in Windows Central, though, simply because the actual counts appear to be much lower as a fraction of the overall active user population measured through NetMarketShare. It’s also fascinating that the leading desktop, Windows 7, is now two full generations back from the current OS version, now out of mainstream support but with four-and-a-half years still to go on extended support (see the MS Lifecycle Fact Sheet for details).
In my recent efforts to upgrade and/or clean install Windows 10 on a whole passel of PCs lately — a topic to which all 6 of my previous blog posts here have been devoted, starting on 8/10 — I’ve been faced with checking device drivers for all of those machines post-install to see what’s what, and what’s either missing or out-of-date. In general, the news about Windows 10 and device drivers is very, very good. My small sample population includes 8 PCs, to wit:
1. Production PC: i7 2600K Sandy Bridge, GA Z77X-UD3H Mobo, 32 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys
2. Test desktop: i7 4770K Haswell, MSI Z87-G45 Mobo, 32 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys
3. Boss PC: i7 3630QM Ivy Bridge, Jetway JNF9G-QM77 Mobo, 16 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys
4. Dell Venue 11 Pro: i5-4210Y Haswell ULT, 8 GM RAM, LiteOn LJT-256L6G M.2 SSD boot/sys
5. Lenovo T520: i7 2640M Sandy Bridge, 4239CTO, 16 GB RAM, Plextor PX-256M5M SSD boot/sys
6. Lenovo X220 Tablet: i7 2640M Sandy Bridge, 4294CTO, 16 GB RAM, Plextor PX-256M5M SSD boot/sys
7. Surface Pro 3: i7-4560OU Haswell ULT, 8 GM RAM, Samsung MSMTE256 SSD boot/sys
8. Dell XPS-27 AIO: i7 4770S Haswell, 16 GB RAM, Samsung 840 EVO SSD boot/sys
A typical result after using DriverUpdate to update and/or check over Win10 drivers.
The same PC shows no out of date drivers in the other program, and the false positive shown is resistant to all update attempts.
I’ve been running systems 2 and 4 on Windows 10 since the Technical Previews available in October 2014. All systems are now running Windows 10 in at least one boot partition (Build 10240 on all machines except 2 and 4, which are running 10525 Pro and 10525 Enterprise, respectively). In my entire experience of running Windows 10 on these PCs, only 7 drivers have either not been recognized or out-of-date — that is, I’ve seen 2 question mark icons in Device Manager, and have successfully updated 5 other drivers as well, primarily for Nvidia related graphics and audio devices.
Having been contacted about three weeks ago by the folks at Slimware Utilities, I also used the upgrade to Windows 10 to compare the accuracy and efficacy of eSupport’s DriverAgent to Slimware’s DriverUpdate. Each of these two products now runs as a standalone PC program on a host system, and checks what it finds installed on each such system against its database to determine what’s out-of-date and in need of replacement. Both programs live up to their descriptions as providing (mostly) automated support for downloading and installing drivers, though I believe that Slimware DriverUpdate holds a slight edge over eSupport DriverAgent in its ability to manage the driver update process and to achieve the best overall results.
My basis for making this statement is as follows:
1. On the 8 machines aforementioned, DriverAgent was able to update all but two drivers (both related to the Intel Management Engine Interface and/or Active Management Technology), while DriverUpdate handled all drivers except one (the Serial Over LAN, or SOL, driver on the Dell VP11). However, in numerous cases (5 to be precise), DriverAgent’s automated install reported driver update failure, after which I used the downloaded files to extract those drivers and installed them manually using Device Manager myself. In every case where DriverUpdate completed the driver install process, it did so automatically with no manual intervention required on my part. I’m not sure if its SOL failure was a true failure, or if I lost patience after the 10 minutes the program ground away at attempted installation, and short-circuited that process (more on this in the final remarks below).
2. On 5 of the 8 machines, DriverAgent reports anywhere from 1 to 4 “false positives,” by which I mean it reports drivers as out-of-date and provides update files whose application (either automatic or manual) does NOT update the reported driver. DriverUpdate has yet to report a false positive in my repeated uses of that product (I’ve been using DriverAgent for 5 years or more, but am just getting to know DriverUpdate, so I’m not sure if this is a valid observation, or simply a function of a narrow observation period).
3. Both products come on a yearly license basis, and each one costs about $30 for a single PC license ($29.95 for DriverAgent, $29.97 for DriverUpdate). A single DriverAgent license is good for up to 10 PCs, while the license for DriverUpdate is limited to up to three PCs (I couldn’t find this on the pages at www.driverupdate.net, but got this info from marketing and tech support staff at Slimutilities). Volume licenses are available for each product, in varying number (I currently pay $65 a year for a 50 PC license for DriverAgent, and have been using a “loaner license” from Slimware provided for the purposes of testing and observation).
Given the licensing terms for the two products, people who manage drivers for more than three and up to ten PCs will be best-served by the DriverAgent product, simply because of its more liberal terms of coverage. Those looking for the best, most accurate driver management product between these two contenders will be best served by DriverUpdate, especially those with one to three PCs to manage. I found both of them entirely suitable for managing drivers on Windows 8.1 and 10 PCs, and have used DriverAgent since the Windows Vista days with Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 all with great satisfaction and success.
As for DriverUpdate, I have some nits to pick with the program, about which readers should be aware before plunking down any cash for the software:
1. When I first started testing DriverUpdate, after the program started up, it ran for some time (anywhere from just under two minutes on my faster PCs to as long as over four minutes on my slower ones) before providing any indication that it was working: no screen pop-up, no progress bar, nothing. I’d already suggested to Slimware that more activity feedback would be of interest to users (I had to launch Task Manager to see that the application was running and in fact doing something rather than hung). And in fact, their latest release (which I obtained by download on August 21, identified in file properties as version 126.96.36.199) does come up much faster (under a minute on all machines) but I’d still like to see an immediately “it’s working” pop-up as part of the program’s launch behavior.
2. When the installation processes get underway, items are tackled in the order listed (explained on the basis of driver dependencies among the items shown). It can take several minutes for certain individual items to work their way to completion. That said, DriverUpdate shows considerable facility in scripting third-party installers (like those from Intel, Synaptics, Nvidia, and so forth) to run under its control, and to result in successful driver installation. By contrast, though DriverAgent uses many of the same installers, its success rate was not as high (as indicated by my earlier mention of more manual follow-up required). I gave up on the SOL installer after 10 minutes of watching it grind away, and was able to manually install that driver in under 30 seconds (of course, I knew what I was looking for, where to find it, and how to install it, so that may be either unkind to Slimware or unfair to less experienced users).
3. Unlike DriverAgent, which always makes a complete list of devices and associated drivers on the PCs it scans readily available (and even provides pointers to alternative drivers for such devices, in many instances), DriverUpdate doesn’t appear to provide such information beyond a basic set of counts ((x) Out of date drivers, (y) Ignored driver updates, (z) Up to date drivers, (k) System drivers). Thus it doesn’t provide some of the clues to missing drivers that DriverAgent does, which repeats the Question mark and Warning flag icons also shown in Device driver in its listings to warn users about potential problem or missing drivers.
Ultimately, though, DriverUpdate appears to be a well-engineered program driven by a large and accurate database of hardware and vendor IDs (used to identify devices, according to technical staff I questioned on their methods) and inclusive of extensive input and feedback from a large and active user community that provides input and feedback on the program’s operation and the accuracy and validity of its results. It’s worth checking out and getting to know and a genuine alternative to my long-time stalware go-to DriverAgent tool as well.
[Note: Changes and corrections made late Monday afternoon, 8/24/15, after a phone call and e-mail from Slimutilities.]
Whew! I’m pleased and relieved to report that my big upgrade push is over now, with all 8 PCs successfully upgraded to Windows 10 in at least one boot-up partition (a couple of my test machines still boot 8.1 so I can continue to test in that environment for a while). I was concerned about losing access to my production PC so held that one until last, but it turned out to be totally ho-hum and routine, much like the upgrade I reported on yesterday for my wife’s mini-ITX PC.
A ho-hum, no fuss upgrade is a great way to conclude the upgrade-a-thon here at Chez Tittel.
Because of all the applications installed on my production machine, though, I’m still cleaning up some of the aftermath. Here’s what I’ve dealt with so far:
1. As with my other systems, I had to uninstall Start8, then install Start10 to maintain menu control and consistency. The program is totally worth the $5 it costs.
2. 8GadgetPack recognizes it’s been trampled by a new OS and automatically self-repairs after the first boot-up for Win10.
3. Upon launching Outlook for the first time after the upgrade, MS Office 2013 had to reinstall itself. Though I could receive Outlook messages immediately thereafter, I couldn’t send any outbound. A quick Google search informed me that running sfc /scannow would take care of that problem, and it did the trick.
4. The usual post-install cleanup, preceded by a full image backup, removed a 21 GB windows.old file from my system. CCleaner took care of all of this for me, much faster than the built-in Disk Cleanup program could have.
5. There have been several sizable update roll-ups for Windows 10 pushed out since the RTM was released at the end of July. Be sure to apply those updates to new systems sooner rather than later for much-needed stability and security improvements they deliver.
My next project will be to extract keys from the upgraded systems and perform selective clean installs. I can’t seem to find a /source (Windows image or running installation) that will work for DISM on my production PC and running dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth doesn’t conclude successfully on my production PC. At some point, I’m going to have to gird my loins and perform a clean install of the new OS on that PC, in search of a more perfect (or repairable) runtime image. Here’s what SIW Pro reports for Windows key information on my production PC (actual key values are blanked out for security reasons):
Resource Type Key Microsoft Windows NT CurrentVersion DefaultProductKey2 XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX Windows 10 Pro XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX Windows Default Product Key XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX Windows PID XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX Windows Product Key Windows 10 Pro x64 (Professional) XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX
As far as I can tell, there isn’t any carryover of Windows 8.1 keys into the upgrade environment inside the OS itself. Presumably, MS *is* tracking this information back at HQ when it grants the upgraded OS permission to proceed, based on reading the value of the key in the OS being upgraded. But this key data is much cleaner than what I found stored on Windows 8.1 PCs that had been upgraded from 7 to 8, from 8 to 8.1, and then had the subsequent Update (a pseudo-SP, if ever there was one) applied.
[Note added 1:27 PM 8/20/2015 CDT -06:00 UCT]Based on feedback from one reader of the preceding material, I must add a summary section that explains that my overall experiences with Windows 10 have been quite positive, starting all the way back with the first technical preview edition I installed last October or November, all the way through the present day. I installed at least one dozen different builds on two test machines — a high-end i7 desktop with 32 GB RAM and similar accoutrement, and an i5 convertible tablet with 8 GB RAM — and have now upgraded 8 different PCs (3 desktops, 4 laptops (of which, two conventional, and two tablet-based), and an all-in-one) from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. Though reading through my previous 7 blogs will cover the troubles I encountered along the way, at least some of them were of my own doing and by no means Microsoft’s fault in any way. Thanks to download tools, good advice, and great technical support along the way, I survived the process and managed to get all machines upgraded and working properly.
I think Windows 10 is a great OS, and offers the best device driver support I’ve ever seen from Microsoft for any OS. For the first time, ever, I came through a long series of upgrades and clean installs with less than a handful (3 to be exact) of device drivers that the OS didn’t recognize and install correctly on its own. On 7 of my 8 machines, in fact, DriverAgent and DriverUpdate found all drivers to be correct and up-to-date after Windows 10 took over those systems. I’ve NEVER had a post-install experience like that from MS ever, not even with Windows 8 or 8.1, both of which were already pretty good in that department.
Yesterday afternoon, I sat down in front of my wife’s PC — a mini-ITX box with a mobile Haswell i7, 16 GB RAM, … — and fired off my next-to-final Windows 10 upgrade. But first, I performed a series of preparatory tasks, in case that upgrade didn’t produce either an upgraded system, or a working system of any kind. I’ve seen things turn out both ways often enough that I’d rather take the time to cover myself against the latter possibility than have to fix the aftermath without benefit of a restorable backup, which is why these tasks fall under the heading of “CYA” (which can be politely decoded as “cover your assets”). Here’s that list:
1. Apply all pending Windows 8.1 updates, clean up unneeded trash and obsolete files on the hard disks, run CCleaner, inspect drives with WinDirStat, clean out the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download folder (where Windows Update keeps installed update files and folders), run sfc /scannow and dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth at the command line (nothing to repair found, thank goodness), and reboot.
2. Perform a System image backup using the facility built into the File History widget in Control Panel to an external USB attached drive (first, however, I had to disconnect the folders on that drive from the Pictures item in Libraries, because linking shares from such a drive into a Library disables its use for File History or backup purposes, as I discovered when researching why those tools refused to “see” that drive).
3. Use the “Create a recovery drive” in the Recovery widget in Control Panel to build a recovery drive for the target system on a UFD, to make sure it could be rebooted and repaired or restored even if the boot/sys drive were to go south — as it has done for me twice so far, out of the 7 PCs I’ve upgraded over the past 10 days or so.
All in all, those tasks took me the better part of 75 minutes to complete. Now comfortable that I could deal with any curveballs that the process might toss my way, I fired off the upgrade to Win10 through Windows Update. Recently, that machine has been popping up nag screens since our return from vacation on August 7 exhorting its users to install the upgrade, as shown in this screen capture from Reliability Monitor with its three warnings about “Failed Windows Update” for Upgrade to Windows 10 Pro yesterday, for example:
At least, Windows Update doesn’t force users to upgrade — it only nags them to do so!
I’m delighted to report that the upgrade worked as it should, and took less than 30 minutes to complete from start to finish. I confess to feeling a bit of anxiety as the install process approached the 25% mark at which both of my Lenovo laptops came up with badly damaged boot/sys drives, and a thrill of exhilaration as the process ticked past that milestone, and worked its way to a successful conclusion. Because I promised “the Boss” she wouldn’t notice much of a change from Win8.1 to Win10, I immediately installed Stardock’s Start10 menuing system after the upgrade was complete, and took another backup snapshot so as to be able to return to a post-install pristine state should that prove necessary. Next, a quick jump back into CCleaner recovered ~21 GB from the prior installation in the Windows.old and Windows.~BT folders. A quick scan with DriverAgent showed no unknown devices and all drivers on the PC up-to-date. “All in all, a highly successful and very clean upgrade,” I found myself thinking: “Woo hoo!”
About forty minutes later when the Boss sat down at her machine, she called me upstairs to ask why her browser didn’t come up with the usual defaults. She’s habituated to IE 11 and Win10 invokes Edge by default, and I hadn’t warned her about that. After promising to figure out how to change those defaults in Edge (I hadn’t bothered to learn that yet, but it’s as easy as clicking the ellipsis symbol at the far right, then digging into Settings), and installing a launch icon for IE on her task bar, she was up and running without too much indication that her desktop was running a new OS. And that, my readers and friends, is how an upgrade SHOULD be.
One more thing: I tried to remote into her machine this morning to check some stats and data there. I was unable to get in, because the upgrade didn’t include re-admitting the newly-hatched Win10 PC into the local Homegroup here at Chez Tittel. One quick password later, and all was once again good. I’ve noticed that various settings do not survive the upgrade, particularly when some kind of authentication is required to make them in the first place. There are always a few miscellaneous clean-up/restore operations like this that occur after an OS upgrade, so I’ll be keeping track in the days ahead to see what else pops up.
OK, I think I’ve got it figured out. If your PC started on Windows 7 and was then upgraded to Windows 8 (and 8.1 and the Update), it will probably be beneficial to take a step back (or forward) into a clean Windows 8.1 installation to properly prep your machine for the upgrade to Windows 10. I confirmed the following items for myself today on both of my remaining “problem PCs” (both were laptops that started out with Windows 7 pre-installed by Lenovo before they were shipped to me, and both had been upgraded to Windows 8 and 8.1 after that):
- Plucking keys from an existing 8.1 install provides the necessary permission to perform a clean install of the OS on the PC, even if that PC was only upgraded from its predecessor OS. The line labeled “Microsoft Windows NT Currentversion Win8” in SIW Pro turned out to be the key that worked for me for those machines, when I performed those installs (for each machine, it may actually have been the Windows 8 key that preceded the 8.1 and Update installs).
- Both had 128 GB OCZ SATA SDDs that had been the system and boot drive before I performed the clean install of 8.1, but I turned to a newer, faster, and bigger Plextor PX-256M5M mSATA for those duties on the clean re-install. [Note: those drives had already been installed on these PCs for some time, but I had never performed a clean install or cloned the original OCZ drives onto their Plextor companions.]
- The media builder for Windows 8.1 lives on a web page whose URL ends with “Windows-8/create-reset-refresh-media.” It worked like a charm, and enabled me to wipe the SSDs, and convert the old sys/boot drive to a data drive only, and create a default disk layout on the Plextor with a 300 MB Recovery partition at the head, followed by a 100 MB EFI System Partition, a 237.5 GB NTFS partition with the Boot, Page File, Crash Dump, and Primary Partition attributes. Windows 10 added a 460 MB Recovery Partition at the end of that structure during the upgrade install.
- After installing Windows 8.1, Windows Update asked me if I’d like to upgrade to Windows 10 immediately after the first login to the re-installed system. After I answered that query in the affirmative, I waited to see what would happen. At first, the PC sat and did nothing for a couple of minutes, but then it began downloading the files for the upgrade. Once that download was complete, it launched into the Windows 10 install process, and completed that installation. Gone was the delay for the 120 Updates that I’d found myself applying during my earlier rebuild attempts. Looks like Microsoft has made it possible to skip that busy work, but you must leave Windows Update alone and wait for the Win10 Upgrade download to complete. My earlier error, apparently, was to select the “Show other available upgrades” and wander away from the shortcut that MS makes available, if you have the patience to wait for it to get to work. Also gone were the earlier problems that caused the second boot in the upgrade install process to fail with a missing OS or unavailable boot drive error (the former bit me on the T520, while the latter gnawed my ankles on the X220 Tablet). It looks like the reformatting of the boot drive — or the selection of a different boot/sys device — forestalled that icky problem, which required wiping the affected boot/sys drive, and reapplying a system image, to correct.
I still had to rebuild my desktop environment to restore all of my applications and utilities to the Windows 10 environment. But it looks like I finally got the upgrade process to behave, essentially by figuring out how to go from a clean install of 8.1 directly into an upgrade to 10. Figuring things out took longer than anything else, and involved substantial trial and error on my part. Hopefully, my readers can benefit indirectly from the time and effort involved, and save themselves potential grief by avoiding the potential pitfalls that threatened to swallow me whole, and sucked substantial time and effort out of me before I tore myself loose. Live and learn, my friends, live and learn!
I’ve got two machines left to upgrade now, and then I’ll be done: my personal production desktop, and my wife’s everyday PC. If the straight-up upgrade fails, hers will be a piece of cake to rebuild after the clean-8.1 –> Win10 upgrade sequence I’ve described here is complete. Secunia PSI reports only 28 applications installed on that machine. Mine, however, is another beast entirely: Secunia PSI reports 87 applications installed, and I know I’ve got at 40 or more other tools on that machine that PSI doesn’t monitor at all. My disk layout appears to reflect a clean 8.1 install already in place, but with Windows, you never know what’s going to happen until you try, after which you can only hope you will interpret the results correctly. My total so far for Windows 10 clean installs is 6, all of which were totally successful; my total so far for Windows 10 upgrade installs is 9, of which 5 were failures and 4 successes (but 3 failures were on the same laptop that got me started on this whole adventure in the first place, the Lenovo X220 Tablet).
If you did a headcount of PCs here at Chez Tittel, you’d find only 8 of them. “So how is it that Ed has made 10 attempts?” you might be tempted to ask. The old saying: “If at first you don’t succeed,…” provides the answer, and also finally gives me some good advice to dispense for achieving a successful upgrade on one’s machines. At long last, a pattern has started to emerge, which suggests a time-consuming, but viable approach to getting problem machines to upgrade. The sanity of this approach remains open to question, but I have confirmed for myself that it works.
Here’s the deal: all of the machines on which I’ve had trouble performing an upgrade install have been upgraded from 7 to 8 and then from 8 to 10. My online reading and research shows me that the disk layout has changed over time, and that the recovery partition has added 150 MB (from 300 to 45o MB) as the OS has further matured. The only machines I’ve had problems with — and in each case, the symptoms have been the same, namely: the OS goes missing during the first reboot during the actual OS installation process (this is the second reboot in the overall sequence) at the 25% complete mark on the circular progress market — were those that did not get a clean install of Windows 8 after having been upgraded from Windows 7. All machines that came with Windows 8 pre-installed had no problems, and all machines that got clean installs of Windows 8 (and for the moment, that nomenclature encompasses both the original Windows 8 release and the 8.1 version that followed about a year later).
My advice in tackling the upgrade process therefore becomes: if your PC was upgraded from 7 to 8 and carries the old default disk layout with it(see the following figure for an example, taken from my wife’s PC which was upgraded from 7 to 8 a few years back) you would be well-advised to capture the OS key information, and then to perform a clean install of Windows 8.1 on that machine that includes wiping the drive and allowing the Windows 8.1 installer to create its normal default disk structure. You can wait to reinstall applications and so forth after applying all updates (120 as of my last count yesterday), and then performing the Windows 10 upgrade (use the Windows 10 Download Tool to avoid having to wait for an “upgrade slot” from Windows Update). This appears to work more or less flawlessly, so long as you’re willing to expend the time involved. In my case, this process takes about 4 hours per machine, but doesn’t require your undivided attention throughout (you can easily handle multiple systems at the same time, or also do other work while the PCs being upgraded grind through the many steps involved).
The layout that indicates a 7–>8 upgrade shows a 300 MB recovery partition at the head of the drive, and another 350 MB recovery partition at its tail.
The native Windows 10 layout starts with a 450 MB recovery partition, followed by a 100 MB EFI partition, and concludes with a “rest-of-drive” OS partition.
Assuming that you might want to follow my advice, here are some links to tools that will help you implement it:
1. Create installation media for Windows 8.1 (MS resource): use this if you don’t have a copy of Windows 8.1 to install at your immediate disposal.
2. Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder: the free version will do the job nicely to extract your Windows 8.1 key. Warning! Most anti-malware packages, including Windows Defender, will block this tool as a form of malware. You’ll need to create an exception to its normal detection and blockage to use this tool. Use this to extract your Windows 8.1 key so you can enter it following a clean (re)installation of Windows 8.1. [Note: I myself use Gabe Topala’s excellent SIW Pro tool to extract Windows OS and other keys from my systems, but that tool isn’t free; lots of other tools are available to grab and store Windows OS and other keys: if you already have one at your disposal you don’t need to grab Keyfinder to enact this step of the process, but enact it you must.]
3. Once you’ve got a clean Windows 8.1 install at your disposal, you must apply all updates to that image before you’ll be allowed to perform the Windows 10 upgrade. This is the most time consuming step of the process, and will take anywhere from half an hour and up, depending on the speed of your Internet connection.
4. Use the Windows 10 media creation tool available from the Download Windows 10 page (MS resource) to build yourself a Windows 10 UFD from which to run your upgrade install from a clean version of Windows 8.1 to Windows 10.
Here’s the real deal on deciding what to do for your systems: it all depends on what value you put on your own time. If your time is worth more than $50 an hour to you, then you’ll be better off buying a $200 license to Windows 10 Pro and doing a clean install with a brand-new valid key. If your time is worth less than that, you’ll be better off doing the clean-install of Windows 8.1 to upgrade to Windows 10. Even so, I’m still inclined to follow that up with key extraction, and a clean install of Windows 10 on upgraded systems, just to make doubly darn sure to avoid further repetition of that pesky “OS is missing” error message when the NEXT big upgrade comes along! OTOH, it may be worth working with low-level disk management tools (such as Paragon’s excellent Hard Disk Manager 15 Professional) to see if some low-level disk manipulation might make these shenanigans unnecessary. I’m going to ask them, and see what they have to say on this subject…
The question that entitles today’s blog post turns out to be more than fuel for idle speculation. I recently spent 9-plus hours trying to upgrade my Lenovo X220 Tablet from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. Just for the record, this notebook PC was purchased in February 2012, and is outfitted with an i7-2640M 2.8 GHz Sandy Bridge CPU, 16 GB RAM, and a 246 GB Plextor mSATA SSD and 128 GB OCZ Agility SSD. It came with Windows 7, which I immediately upgraded to the Windows 8 Technical Preview, this machine being one of the few available and affordable touchscreen tablet units on the market at the time with more than two simultaneous touchpoints. I bought it with 4 GB of RAM (2×2 GB SoDIMMs) which I later upgraded to 16 GB RAM (2×8 instead). I also plugged the mSATA drive into the PCI-e port inside the unit, which can accommodate either an SDD or a wireless WAN device. In the three-plus years I’ve owned it, it’s been a reliable workhorse though the display (12.5″ diagonal, 1366×768 resolution) is a bit smaller than I like it.
I signed the X220T up for the Windows 10 upgrade as soon as it became available. Earlier this week, upon my return from a family vacation, I started the process of upgrading my PCs from Windows 8.1 to 10. So far, this is the fourth machine I’ve taken through the installation process. Unfortunately for me, I encountered a particularly nasty install problem while trying to upgrade this machine from 8.1 to 10, using either the automated upgrade via Windows Update, or the Windows 10 bootable UFD that the Windows 10 Download Tool will build for you. Here’s a brief description of what happens, followed by my thinking on what’s causing the upgrade install to fail:
1. Either running setup.exe while booted into Windows 8.1, or booting up from the Windows 10 UFD, the upgrade goes all the way into the install process to the point where the PC gets into the Pre-installation environment (no longer running Windows 8.1, but before 10 is completely in control). For a nicely illustrated overview of this process, and related on-screen visuals, see the How-to-Geek’s “How to Install Windows 10 on Your PC.”
2. When the round progress indicator labeled “Installing Windows 10” gets to 25%, a second reboot occurs (the first one is to hand control over from the previously-running OS to the pre-installation, or PE, environment. On the X220T, instead of rebooting into the WinPE environment, I get an error message that tells me the boot/system drive is inaccessible, with error code 0xC000000F. Further research on that error code and some spelunking using the command shell in the Advanced Troubleshooting portion of the Repair side of the Windows 10 installer shows me that the primary boot/system partition has changed from “NTFS” to “RAW” (never a good sign), while the research shows that the 300 MB recovery partition originally created by Windows 8 is thoroughly munged.
3. I spent hours trying to fix the ondisk layout so that the upgrade install could proceed without success. No amount of diskpart activity, BCD reconstruction, and so forth produced a workable WinPE environment so that the upgrade could proceed. I even went so far as to spend 2.5 hours working with a Microsoft Support technician who remotely logged into that system and blew it up for me long-distance with exactly the same results as I had experienced on my own recognizance in two prior tries.
The default disk layout for Windows 10 now allocates 450 MB to the recovery partition, which leaves more room for image backup action.
In short, I’m confronted with some kind of ugly, time-consuming problem — most likely, a driver-level issue with the OCZ Agility 3 boot/system drive that was the focus of the upgrade install — that has so far made it impossible for me to take advantage of the free upgrade for that machine. Because my MSDN subscription gives me access to up to 5 Windows 10 Pro keys for testing and research purposes, I burned one of those keys to perform a clean install on this machine, which took all of 20 minutes to complete, though it put me in the position of having to reinstall all of my applications and so forth. This also gave the opportunity to switch the boot/sys drive over from the OCZ 128 GB SSD to the Plextor 256 GB SSD, where I noticed that the size of the recovery partition has gone up from 300 to 450 MB (a good thing, because Win 8.1 was unable to use its own built-in image backup utility that resides in the File History applet, because of a shortage of space in that partition through which to move files from the boot/system drive to the backup drive: the bigger partition in Windows 10 works just fine). Also, I went into the install from 8.1 where a decidedly cluttered-up DriverStore encompassed over 100 device drivers, to a post-install Windows 10 environment with only 13 drivers present. That’s the most amazing post-install change I’ve ever seen in all my years of running and installing Windows 10, and makes me believe that the latest desktop from Microsoft has been thoughtfully engineered to manage devices and drivers far more efficiently than earlier desktop OS versions (this also augurs well for Windows Server 2016, which likely shares this same approach to drivers and devices).
After a clean install of Windows 10, my X220T shows only 17 drivers present in the DriverStore, down from over 100 in Windows 8.1!
Eventually, I got through to a manager in the Microsoft Support organization last night, when we spoke at about 9 PM my time. After I explained my situation to him, he explained that while MS is offering a free upgrade from valid-key installations of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, that offer does not extend as far as providing a key for Windows 10 to those who are unable to get the upgrade installer to work all the way to completion. I understand Microsoft’s stance, and believe they don’t want to tie up their support techs verifying hosed installs to hand out keys to would-be Windows 10 users whose upgrade attempts result in failure, rather than success. It just goes to show you that there’s more than one way to read the phrase “free upgrade,” and in this case MS apparently means that “if you can get your PC through the upgrade install process, then your upgrade is free.” Alas, that’s probably not the same reading that Windows users are likely to want, where they’d like it to mean something more like “If you’re running Windows 7 or 8 on your PC, you can run Windows 10 on that PC for free.” MS emphasizes the means, while users are more likely to focus on the desired outcome.
In fact, my support contact emphasized that the “free upgrade” applies ONLY to the results of getting a PC through the upgrade install process with a successful outcome. Any clean installs, he averred, must come from a valid Windows 10 license and key obtained through any of the legitimate means available to buyers — retail license purchase, volume licensing agreements, and so forth — where a new license is obtained at some cost to its user (or the organization that employs her or him). I didn’t discuss OEM licenses with this person, but the cheapest deal available right now for Windows 10 Pro is a $140 OEM license that’s intended for use on a home-brew or custom-built computer. I’m going to test his further assertion that an upgrade key cannot be used for a clean install over the weekend on my son’s Dell XPS27 PC by extracting its key data, creating an image backup of that PC, and then using the Windows 10 UFD to run a clean install with that key. We’ll see if it works or not: stay tuned for those results.
In complete and stark contrast to my experience with the Surface Pro 3, the upgrade from Windows 8.1 to 10 on my son’s Dell XPS27 went without a single hitch or hiccup. I turned the upgrade via Windows Update loose on that machine when we left to go out to eat last night, and when I got home from dinner, provided account and password to login to Windows 10. It was just that easy, and worked like a charm.
The Win10 Download Utility allows the impatient to upgrade sooner than MS may be willing to grant access via Windows Update.
Here’s what else I had to do to get the system completely up to snuff following that upgrade install:
1. Uninstall Start8 and install Start10: Start8 sorta kinda worked in Windows 10, but didn’t permit elements to be pinned to the Taskbar, or provide all of its other usual features and functions. Start10 works like a charm with Windows 10 (I still like it better than the built-in Start menu that comes with the base OS; at $5 a copy, it remains part of my standard Win10 set-up collection).
2. Install IntelRST.exe to get Rapid Storage Technology working: this software doesn’t transition when upgrading from one version of Windows to another, so must be re-installed after an upgrade like this one.
3. Before I installed IntelRST, I compared the driver count in DriverStore Explorer from Win 8.1 before the upgrade install to the driver count in the same program after Win10 was up and running. The base-level install increased the driver count from 45 to 47, both of which were older versions of Nvidia audio drivers. A simple delete of the drivers with lower version numbers, and the count was back to 45. And indeed the Intel driver count skyrocketed after installing IntelRST on that machine (but again, was easy to clean up).
4. As always, I had to clean up the leftovers from the upgrade (Windows.old; 20.7 GB), which worked like a charm using CCleaner.
I must say, after my experiences with the Surface Pro 3 earlier this week, I’m glad to see an upgrade go this smoothly. Along the way to targeting this machine for my second and successful Windows 10 upgrade install, I also learned (or revisited) a few other interesting things:
1. My “pre-upgrade/clean install” ritual for new Windows versions always includes the following elements: (a) apply all pending upgrades from Windows Update; (b) update drivers with DriverAgent, and clean up drivers with DriverStore Explorer (aka rapr.exe); (c) update applications based on a scan from Secunia PSI; (d) make a complete image backup, using either the image backup from File History or Acronis True Image; (e) create a fresh bootable recovery UFD from which to boot and install said backup, should that prove necessary. I’ve already had multiple occasions to take advantage of (d) and (e) when, as sometimes happens, an installation goes wonky.
2. If you build a UFD using the Windows 10 download tool from Microsoft, you can run Setup.exe from inside Windows 8.1 to start the install process, but the info on the installer screens is kinda sketchy. For example, immediately after showing a “Decide what to keep” screen on my Lenovo X220 Tablet, the installer jumps into grabbing updates and checking install-worthiness. Only then does it report that it will “Keep personal files and apps” a phrase that’s open to interpretation because apps can mean Modern UI apps only, or all applications already installed on the PC (an upgrade install, in other words). After reading and re-reading the language on the afore-linked download too page, I decided to go ahead and try (the page says “the media creation tool won’t work for an upgrade” with Enterprise editions of Windows, but that implies that it should work with Home and Pro editions). Although the words “Upgrade install” never appear in any of the installer panes that you can peruse and parse on-screen while that program is running, when you finally get far enough along — past the first reboot, that is — a screen labeled “Upgrading Windows” finally appears. So yes, Virginia, you can use the download tool to perform an upgrade install, if you like.
3. If you start a Windows 10 upgrade but can’t bring the step following the first reboot to completion, you will find a folder named $Windows.~BT on your boot/system drive. The leading dollar sign means it’s a hidden file, and won’t show up in Explorer, unless you’ve instructed it to “Show hidden files.” CCleaner does not recognize and clean up this directory, but the “Clean up system files” option in Explorer will get rid of it for you. Otherwise, you can manually reset file attributes to turn off “Read-only” status, and delete it directly yourself (it took me two tries to get the attribute reset to take, and for manual deletion to work). This latter approach goes faster than working within the Disk Cleanup utility, so it’s the one I usually take.
4. Having signed up all of my various Windows 8.1 PCs for Windows 10 upgrades, I find myself wondering how MS decides when to grant access to the software through Windows Update. I signed up 6 machines at around the same time but so far, only 2 of them have been granted permission to install the upgrade through that vehicle. What’s up with that? At this point, I’m almost ready to conclude that manual control over the upgrade process via the download tool is preferable.
I’m only about 1/3 of the way done with my various machines, so there will be plenty more to learn, and to write about here, as I chew my way through these various challenges. Stay tuned for more news from the trenches, please!
Drat! I wrote too soon, or too optimistically, in yesterday’s blog post about the contortions necessary to bring my Surface Pro 3 into “Windows 10 land.” After getting more or less everything working from the factory reset followed by the Windows 10 upgrade, my SSD disappeared from Windows’ ken after adding support for older .NET versions (2.x and 3.x) as required to run the Windows DriverStore Explorer (aka rapr.exe). What followed next was a comedy of errors in figuring out how to boot from a recovery UFD (don’t turn off BitLocker encryption, but do turn off TPM, and make sure either the dock or the built-in USB ports are enabled for booting) which included finding the recovery keys for BitLocker for that failed Surface install (use the MS FAQ page for a link to a login to grab any such keys you might need, unless you’re managing them on your own domain controller, in which case you don’t need me to tell you how to do that).
After all kinds of further contortions — and a fair amount of salty language — I realized my only out was to perform a clean install of Windows 10 on the damaged system, which further necessitated burning one of my 5 MSDN Windows 10 Pro keys so as to be able to get the unit up and running. For a future blog post, I’ll describe what’s involved in capturing the upgrade key from the backup image of the initial installation that remains at my disposal. This should let me recapture and re-use the key that Windows granted for the initial and apparently successful upgrade install that went down in flames mid-afternoon yesterday. To make a long and probably unbearably tedious story short, I didn’t finish rebuilding the system until about 11:20 last night, but I did take a couple of hours off to help the Boss cook dinner and consume the fruits of our labors during that period, too.
Here’s what I learned in setting that system back to rights after the dread “boot drive inaccessible” blue screen bit me on the hindquarters:
1. The resulting install still got all the drivers right at the end of the process. However, investigation with DriverStore Explorer after that install was done resulted in my removal of over 100 duplicate or obsolete drivers from the driver store, including more than 60 copies of various Intel ATA/ATAPI drivers, more than 20 Intel USB drivers, and a variety of other miscellaneous but unnecessary elements therein. Total space recovered as a result was more than 4 GB. Given the high number of Intel drivers involved, I’m inclined to blame the IntelRST.exe program rather than the OS install for that portion of the excess. I’ll experiment on future installs to confirm or disprove this hypothesis.
2. For the first time I can recall, the startup repair function in the repair installation fork of the Windows Install UFD (and DVD) functionality failed to find and/or fix the missing boot drive when run, once I puzzled my way into making that happen. This led to an attempt to reset the initial installation and ultimately to a clean install of Windows 10 using the aforementioned MSDN key.
3. Because part of my recovery efforts included a (failed) reset of the initial OS install, followed by a clean install of a brand-spanking new OS that didn’t involve rebuilding the SSD partitions and their contents from scratch, I found myself with two Windows.old files after all was said and done (Windows.old was 19.5 GB, and Windows.old.000 was 17.5 GB). For some reason or another CCleaner didn’t detect and thus couldn’t clean up those folders, so I turned to WinDirStat instead, which got rid of Windows.old.000 for me, and used Disk Cleanup for Windows.old — WinDirStat balked at getting rid of WinSXS in that folder, so I had no choice but to turn to the built-in utility — to reclaim that wasted drive space (I made three backups along the way to finishing the system rebuild, so can dig into those folders should I need to do so).
4. Final size of my on-disk OS partition including all applications I like or need to use was 33.3 GB, around 40 GB smaller than where I started before driver cleanup and removal of the Windows.old folders.
The final size of the Boot/Sys drive is a svelte 33.3 GB; note the yellow warning symbol that denotes BitLocker is turned off.
5. Because of publication requirements, I have to shoot screencaps against an all-white background. Interestingly Personalization no longer offers plain white as a solid color option in Windows 10. To produce an all-white background, I had to provide an image (I captured a big chunk of a window background, saved it as a PNG file, then chose the “Picture” option and browsed to that image, to produce the desired results).
6. It took me a while to figure this out, but I finally determined that the unlock icon on the boot drive originates from turning BitLocker off during the install process. Once the encryption is turned back on the yellow warning symbol affixed to the drive icon goes away.
Concluding Unscientific PostScript: In commenting on yesterday’s post, Stu Sjouwerman described his recent Dell desktop Windows 10 install experience as resembling a “dog’s breakfast.” Upon further reflection on the Surface issues that popped up, I’m feeling a bit less enthusiastic about the process myself. However, I still have 6 more machines to upgrade, so I’ll have plenty of further grist for this mill in the posts here still to come.
In case you’ve been wondering, I’ve been on vacation since my last post went up on July 27. Though I had a great trip to Germany with my family, I ended up skipping blithely past the Windows 10 RTM date, and am just now catching up on production PC updates to Build 10240. My first candidate is a Surface Pro 3, and I found myself in an interesting Catch-22 situation on that machine: thanks to some uncaught and apparently incompatible recent driver update, the PC won’t restart without a “Process has pages locked in memory” blue screen. That’s all well and good, except that it renders the upgrade process on that machine inoperable, because of the hiccup that occurs when it tries to restart to install the new OS, after downloading all the files and performing various prep activities.
I found myself chatting online with the Surface Support team at MS this morning, looking for a Windows 10 key to permit me to perform a manual clean install of the new OS instead of trying to troubleshoot and fix the old one. That ain’t happening, according to my support contact, but at his urging I did perform a factory reset of the ailing machine — it took me two tries to get it to work, and even after the aforementioned restart hiccup as that process got underway, it did run to completion. Next, I had to apply all 122 of the updates pending on Windows 8.1 since the version on my boot/system disk recovery partition was written, last of which was the upgrade to Windows 10. In fact, the option to upgrade to Windows 10 appeared as soon as Windows Update opened on the running and reset image — however, once selected, all of the preceding upgrades still had to be applied before it got that far.
This process took some time to complete — about 3.5 hours all told, and over 10 GB of downloads overall — but the end result was what I wanted: a running licensed version of Windows 10 on my Surface Pro 3. Now, all I need to do is reinstall all of my applications and I’ll be back in business. No wonder I can’t help but see Windows (in all its forms and glorious manifestations) as a continuing guarantee for lifetime employment for those brave and interested enough to figure out its many quirks and foibles.
After all is said and done, here’s what the Surface shows for its new OS in the System widget.
In future blog posts for some time to come, I’ll be documenting my upgrade adventures on other Windows 8.1 machines here at Chez Tittel. Stay tuned!
[Note: Update added late afternoon, 8/10…]
MS wins big points for me for getting ALL the drivers right following the Win10 install on the Surface. DriverAgent reported all drivers up-to-date upon my initial post-install, post-app-update scan. Also, I learned that the excellent tool, Ninite, grabs the latest and greatest versions of the programs it’s instructed to install (not the versions that existed at the time the config file is built, as I’d feared might be the case). So far, I’m pretty pleased with the way things are going on the Surface Pro 3!