OK, so I’m going to be co-authoring the next edition of Windows … in Depth with long-time Windows stalwart Brian Knittel, and I’m literally “gearing up” for that project (the next edition, predictably enough, will be entitled Windows 8 in Depth). I thought readers might be interested in reading about what I’m building and buying so as to be able to install, use, and document the ins and outs of this fascinating new Windows iteration.
I’m acquiring parts for a desktop unit, and have already placed an order with Lenovo for two notebook PCs. These are the X220 Tablet model (with a rotating hinge on the screen half to let it function either as a conventional notebook, or a tablet-only PC) and the more powerful ThinkPad T520notebook with touchscreen display. I outfitted both of these units with i7 2640m quad core processors, Bluetooth, and (for the T520) an HD (1920×1080) display, but otherwise chose not to add too much by way of bigger or faster drives, more memory, and so forth. Even so, these two units set me back about $2,800 despite a generous “friends and family” discount courtesy of Kris Fair of Lenovo PR. According to my go-to guy for touch technology, Geoff Walker (see my recent posts “Buying a Touchscreen for Windows 8” Episode 1 and Episode 2 to learn more about him and his recommendations) these two devices offer the best portable PC Windows 8 experience currently available on the open market (though I read Paul Thurrott’s recent article “Of MacBook Airs, Ultrabooks, and Windows 8” with both anticipation and frustration this morning).
T520 on the left, X220 Tablet on the right
On the desktop side, I’m going to cannibalize a LOT of parts to put that system together in the interests of economy. This includes an Antec 900 case, a ThermalTake 750W power supply, 16 GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, and various hard disks, an optical drive, and so forth. Here’s what I’m buying to put the rest of that system together, along with the 21.5″ pro-cap 20-touchpoint prototype display that 3M has graciously agreed to loan me:
- ASUS P8Z68-V PRO/Gen3 motherboard for Socket 1155 ($205)
- Intel Core i7 2600K Sandy Bridge processor ($330)
- OCZ 120GB VTX3MI Solid State hard disk ($240)
- MSI 560GTX Nvidia graphics card ($300)
That puts my out-of-pocket for the new system at $1,075 all told, and at $4K for total book-related equipment outlays. If I add up all the costs for the whole desktop system (including the $1,400 for the 3M monitor) it comes out somewhere between $2,800 and $3,000 altogether. That’s a pretty high-dollar PC these days! And at about $6,000 for 3 machines, that’s a pretty high per-PC average cost, too. But that’s what it takes to jump on the ragged, bleeding edge of PC technology these days…
What these expenditures should permit me to do, however, is to get a very good sense of how Windows 8 behaves in the PC realm from desktop to notebook to tablet PC. I’m still chewing on how to score an ARM device with Windows 8 so as to learn more about Windows on ARM (WOA) as well. In the next week to 10 days, this stuff will start arriving at my doorstep, whereupon I can proceed to “get busy!” — just in time for the Windows 8 customer preview’s release on February 29.
[Concluding note: notebook PCs for sale! With the two new Lenovo units coming, I’ll have 7 notebooks at the house, which is about 3 more than I need. I’ve got a very nice and gently used Dell M11x-R3 with an i7-2617M CPU (quad core), 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HD, and WiMAX that I’ll sell for $750 OBO that’s still under warranty. I’ve also got an HP dv6t with an i7 720QM (quad core), 4 GB RAM, 500 GB HD, fingerprint reader, and so forth, that I’ll part with for $600 OBO that’s just out of warranty but in absolute tip-top shape. Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested. Thanks! In case you’re wondering about the third laptop, I’m planning to give that Dell D620 unit away.]
You’ve gotta love Paul Thurrott and his Supersite for Windows. In a recent blog (Valentine’s Day 2012, same title as the quote in my blog lead for today) he articulates clearly some very interesting thoughts about Windows on ARM, aka WOA, not just in terms of what it could mean, but also in terms of where it comes from. And he does so with great humor and even a bit of old-fashioned story-telling.
To really get the point of WOA (and his blog) it helps to remember that part of Windows that goes all the way back to the original NT release in 1992 (called Windows NT 3.1 to synch up with the “other Windows” that prevailed at the time). It’s called the HAL, which stands for Hardware Abstraction Layer, and is best understood as a sort of CPU über-driver (or as a CPU-family-specific “operating system driver,” if you will). In fact, HAL lives on quite happily in the latest Windows versions, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 (and even in Windows 8).
In his post, Thurrott reminds us that when the HAL was introduced in its earliest days, Intel and AMD did not completely rule the PC landscape with their x86 (Intel) and x64 (AMD) architectures. So, Windows NT was built to run on other CPUs as well, including PowerPC, the DEC Alpha, and MIPS processors (anybody remember those?) through custom-building HALs for each one. Later on, the same technique was also put to work for Intel’s Itanium processor as well.
Well guess what? The same technology — and the same hard work to build a new HAL — makes it doable to bring the ARM processor into the Windows fold. But Microsoft has gotten smart about the needs of mobile processors for small, power-efficient code and has further decided NOT to bring x86/x64 support into its Windows on ARM (WOA) implementation. Yeah, sure, this will cause heartburn for those who think they want to run standard Windows apps on ARM-based devices, but this is one can of worms that Microsoft has decided not to open in WOA container. Metro-style apps only for WOA, so as to be sure to sip power, work well with touch GUIs, and leave lots of legacy problems and heartaches behind (especially where security is concerned).
Thurrott makes the point that “what’s old is new again” (a proverb, not a quote from his story) thanks to this built-in facility that dates back to the first NT release. I agree wholeheartedly, and wonder what kinds of interesting capabilities lie ahead thanks to this WOA design.
Looks like we’ve got some interesting security updates coming tomorrow in Windows Update. The Security Bulletin Advance Notification for February 2012 lists 9 different bulletins for the upcoming release. Four of them are critical, and three of them involve various Windows versions from XP through Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 (one more involves the .NET Framework and Silverlight), and all of these involve remote code execution.
Each of the five remaining bulletin items is rated “Important” and involves either “remote code execution” (3) or “elevation of privilege” (2). In addition to current Windows versions (3), Microsoft Office (2)and Server applications (1) are affected. Every single update is labeled either “Requires restart” (4) or “May require restart” (5) so some deployment analysis and planning will be required to slipstream these updates into your normal handling processes.
The other shoe will drop tomorrow, when we find out exactly what kinds of threats are being addressed or mitigated, and what kinds of urgency enterprises are likely to feel in the face of the latest crop of update releases. It used to be that 9 for patch Tuesday was a big deal, but it’s becoming increasing commonplace to have half-a-dozen or more patched delivered “on-cycle” (2nd and 4thTuesday of each month) with the occasional truly urgent package delivered whenever it can be rushed out the door.
I knew something interesting was up when I saw a blog post from Adrian Kingsley-Hughes this morning entitled “Microsoft gets it right with Windows 8 on ARM, and why Apple should be worried.” I must also hasten to add that I’ve just been hired on as one of two authors for the upcoming Que book Windows 8 in Depth (due out at the same time as the new OS itself, probably sometime around the end of October 2012), so I’ve been getting increasingly interested in the whole “mobile side” of Windows 8 anyway.
Between yesterday’s Building Windows 8 blog post “Building Windows for the ARM processor architecture,” and Kingsley-Hughes’ ZDNet blog post this morning, my life and this particular job have just gotten a lot more tricksome. Although I’m still very much in “Huh?” mode — which is to say, still trying to figure out what’s been said, what’s going on, and how to understand these things properly — it is already obvious to me that Windows on Arm (aka WOA, which I choose to pronounce like the command you’d give to a horse: “Whoa!”) is going to mean major changes for Windows 8 but also major changes for the mobile device landscape in general, particularly iOS and Android.
Part of the appeal for this new Windows OS model is that you can use and work on at least some of the same data and applications on a mobile device, including a smartphone or low-end tablet device (like the iPad, with all due respect for its considerable good looks and capabilities) as well as any more conventional convertible tablets, notebooks, or desktop computers that might be running that same OS. Although Sinofsky himself writes that “WOA is new member of the Windows family, much like Windows Server, Windows Embedded, or Windows Phone” and that “…WOA builds on the foundation of Windows, has a very high degree of commonality and very significant shared code with Windows 8, and will be developed for, sold, and supported as part of the largest computing ecosystem in the world” I’m still not completely sure about what all of this really means.
That’s where Kingsley-Hughes’ blog post sheds some interesting light on the whole situation, after he got a sneak preview of WOA running on an ARM-based device in somebody’s test lab somewhere far, far away. He does a nice job of summarizing the high points of the BW8 blog post referenced a couple of paragraphs back. Interestingly the conventional Win8 and the WOA8 (if I can coin some version-based references here) have quite a bit in common, including UI look and feel (for Metro and even those parts of desktop that ARM will support), timing, MS Office support (at least, for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote). The differences are also pretty telling, but are all strongly motivated by the limitations of ARM-based platforms, which are usually smaller, less memory-rich, and with fewer CPU cycles to burn: no virtualization or emulation, no support for native x86/x64 applications, and no software-only distribution (you must buy a device with WOA pre-installed is what I believe this means). Other key points: WOA PCs will use different labeling and branding to “avoid customer confusion” and WOA devices should feel more like consumer electronics rather than full-blown, traditional PCs.
So far, so good. When Kingsley-Hughes got to see a WOA device somebody else was driving, and he wasn’t allowed to take any photos or capture any screenshots, so obviously this stuff remains pretty loosey-goosey. But if this information is all correct, it’s not unreasonable to expect a WOA preview to get unleashed along with the consumer preview release scheduled for Leap-Day (February 29th) this year. He also saw MS Office 15 apps running on this WOA device, and reports that “…the ARM versions of Office appear to offer all the features of their desktop counterparts…” and that “they’re highly customized for touch.”
The notion that Windows remains solidly Windows, even on an ARM platform, is what drives Kingsley-Hughes to forecast potential worries for Apple (and if he’s right, I think they extend to Google and Android as well). Where Apple has maintained a deliberate separation between MacOS on stationary PCs and notebooks, and iOS on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch devices, it looks like Microsoft is going to do its best to deliver a completely consistent (if not application- and legacy-functionality complete) version of Windows across all platforms on which it runs. Quite rightly, I think he sees this as a potentially revolutionary move, one that has the potential to shake up the current order of things, and revamp the computing spectrum from mobile devices all the way to server clusters. Should be interesting to watch this unfold!
As I dig further into the touch requirements for Windows 8, I’m learning more and more about touch technologies along the way. Alas, I’m also learning how very few of the currently available touchscreens meet Windows 8’s touch requirements for a minimum of 5 simultaneous touch points (to support all those cool touch gestures we’ve come to know and love from smartphones and the iPad).
I found the whole thing confusing and frustrating enough — a sensation my Mom used to call “confrusticating” — that I turned to my colleagues at the Internet Press Guild for some help and guidance. HDTV expert Alfred Poor was kind enough to share a contact with me to somebody who specializes in touch technologies and has been designing and consulting in this area since the late 1980s when he got involved with an early and very popular ruggedized PC platform for military and emergency services use. I’m talking about Geoff Walker, of Walker Mobile at www.walkermobile.com. He’s a long-time expert and full-time consultant and writer on mobile computing with a particular emphasis on touch technologies. Check out his Website, where you’ll find a wealth of valuable and informative materials on touch technologies of all kinds. Geoff has also been a guest editor on Touch Technology for Information Display magazine since 2007 (where a search on his name produces over 500 hits), and has contributed numerous stories on touch to other industry publications as well.
In a lengthy email reply to my request for guidance on touch technologies in the Windows 8 framework, Geoff identified no fewer than 14 different touch technologies that are currently available in some commercial form or fashion in the form of touch displays. Fortunately, he also identified those three technologies that he indicated were “…highly likely to meet the [Windows 8 Touch Logo] spec[ification].” These are as follows (please note that this post was edited heavily on 2/9/2012, the day after its original posting to incorporate extensive feedback that Geoff very kindly provided to me):
1. Projected Capacitive (aka “pro-cap” or “P-cap”): This is the type of touchscreen that is used on the iPhone (a type that uses two electrodes with a two-layer sensor). It’s both sensitive and accurate, but also a fairly costly technology (though devices of over 100″ are now available using this technology, they are fabulously expensive and most emphatically NOT consumer- or even casual business-class devices). There are a fair number of pro-cap displays available that work with Windows 7 right now, but the vendors typically don’t document the number of touch points they support in their technical specifications (Geoff points out that this is not a good sign, and indicates many OEM vendor’s somewhat lackadaisical attitudes toward touch technologies).
This hasn’t really been an issue until Windows 8 requirements came out; before that multi-touch simply meant “two or more simultaneous touch points” to all parties. But in phone calls to vendors like Planar, ELO, Acer, HP, and others who make pro-cap touchscreen displays, I’m learning that most of them currently support only two or three simultaneous touch points, somewhat short of the 5 that the Windows 8 Touch Logo requirements mandate (see pp. 25-35 of the “Windows 8 Device Requirements” download PDF). Still other makers, most notably Perceptive Pixel and 3M, do support 10 or more touch points already, and provide ample touch specification details for those devices, but they are much more expensive than run-of-the-mill touch screens. Most vendors have pro-cap systems under development to meet the Window 8 Touch Logo requirements and should have systems ready to meet those requirement by the time the OS goes into general availability (probably in October 2012, according to any number of rumors from usually informed sources). Pro-cap is likely to be quite important for tablets and convertible notebook PCs with touchscreens, because it is the most widely used technology for touch in portable and mobile devices; it is a mainstream technology for displays from 2-17″ in size (but again, primarily for devices that use only touch, or can convert to exclusive touch use; source: Geoff Walker).
2. Camera-based Optical(aka “optical touch”) uses two or more CMOS infrared cameras placed atop a display, pointed across the display surface. These detect and position the presence of a touch on the screen using mathematical triangulation techniques and backlighting to create shadows when a finger or stylus makes a touch at some particular on-screen location. Perforce the use of cameras makes this type of touch technology somewhat bulkier than those like pro-cap that rely the display itself to sense touch. Most such systems in use today have two to four cameras to support two or more touch points (though more than two is a challenge for today’s prevailing implementations, according to Geoff, though a new generation of six-camera systems is presently in development, with more touch points to match). Ongoing development should enable this technology to meet Windows 8 Touch Logo requirements when the OS becomes generally available late this year. Today, optical touch represents the most mainstream technology for stationary touch displays from 17-30″ in size (source: Geoff Walker). The very large SMART 800-series whiteboards use four integrated cameras to capture and analyze their user’s writing and drawing, for example, for a large-format application of camera-based optical.
3. Vision-based optical (like the Microsoft Surface product introduced in 2007) which uses infrared detection of diffused surface illumination on a touch panel through a camera that captures an image of the entire screen in use, then subjects what it “sees” to various forms of image and gesture analysis to determine what kinds of touches are occurring. Early versions of this technology require a camera with a vantage point of the entire screen, and will usually be mounted below or above the display to capture that data (and explains what makes it different from camera-based touch, which uses cameras mounted around the edges of the display itself). Modern versions use in-cell optical sensors (up to 2 million of them, says Geoff, in some implementations) instead of a camera, or multiple wide-view cameras integrated into display backlights. This technology is expensive and is primarily used on large displays of 30″ or bigger . Today, vision-based touch is an emerging technology, rather than a mainstream one, and is not likely to impact typical end-user desktops or mobile devices even for Windows 8 (except for conference room or very large-format displays). SMART’s touch tables use vision-based touch, and Geoff says “SMART has probably sold more vision-based touch than any other company in the world because of this application.”
Interestingly, the vendors I contacted about their touch displays — for both camera-based and pro-cap touch technologies — indicated that their current Windows 7 touch displays work with the developer preview version of Windows 8, at least to some extent. They also indicated that so far, the gestures that the OS itself supports don’t require more than two touch points, and that no applications that require more have yet appeared. Geoff comments on this observation as follows:
Yes and no. (1) Win7 limits its built-in gestures to two points, but Win7 also includes a well-developed gesture-processing library that an application can call to decipher gestures using any number of touches up to about 50 or so. The limitation is that these gestures can only be used within a custom application – you can’t apply them on the desktop or to off-the-shelf Win7 commercial applications. (2) There ARE applications already available that use more than two points. The two best-known categories are 3D CAD applications, which use three or four points to control movement in three planes, and two-player games such as air hockey that use two points for each player. If a touchscreen supports it, the “air hockey” game that’s included in the Win7 TouchPack can be played with four touch points. That’s something you should try once you get a good 10+ touch pro-cap monitor. You’ll find that the game itself is too slow and laggy to be that much fun, but it DOES work on Win7 with four touch points.
Obviously, I have to believe this is going to change with the upcoming “customer preview” (aka “customer beta”) release schedule for later this month (February 2012). It will be interesting to see if the OS itself will introduce gestures that involve three or more touch points at that time, and even more interesting to see how developers make use of more complex multi-touch gestures in their tools and applications. But for now, this represents uncharted territory where guesses and suppositions are the only forms of data available about how multi-touch will play out in the Windows 8 environment.
So where does this leave developers who want to create a multi-touch experience, or early adopters who want to realize such an experience? For the time being, it looks like some will choose to purchase — and settle for — devices with two touch points to get started on development, testing, and pilot studies, understanding that a new generation of 5-point touch devices will soon become available, necessitating purchase of more hardware sometime soon in the future. And, some will decide to shoulder the costs, and pay bigger bucks to get more capable touchscreens right away. Sigh: kind of a Hobson’s choice, but that’s life on the bleeding edge of technology!
OK, so I’m getting onboard for an upcoming “day and date” book on Windows 8 (this means we have to have the book finished far enough in advance of the ship date for Windows 8 that it can be sent to bookstores to arrive in time to be stocked and waiting the day the OS goes into general availability, or GA status). That means I’m starting to dig down into the tools and technology so my co-author and I can get our systems and our acts together to exercise and document its functionality while waiting pensively for the release of the “consumer preview” or “beta release” of Windows 8 that’s due out later this month.
This means I’ve ordered a new-generation Intel-based system (with SLAT and UEFI) to host the new OS, and am looking at my options for touchscreens to enable the touch-based Metro interface to do its thing properly on my test machines. I’m also reaching out to various PC manufacturers to lay hands on their all-in-one (touch-based) systems, because I’m learning that the aftermarket for touchscreen monitors starts pretty expensive ($340 -$620 for a 15″ touchscreen monitor, $508-697 for 17″, $549-980 for 19″, and so forth) and is full of “interesting deals” such as an Acer 23″ HD resolution touchscreen for only $329.
A great place to check out what’s available (and the number and range of offerings have exploded since the last time I checked on this in December, 2011, so the market’s obviously getting ready for Windows 8 ) is at Newegg, where they actually have a product category called “Touchscreen monitors.” Here, you can filter those monitors by size (under 15″ (3 total), 15-17″ (55 total), 19-24″ (29), 26-42″ (8), and over 42″ (1)), price, manufacturer, and even by type: 5-wire resistive, AccuTouch, Acoustic Pulse, Capacitive, CarrolTouch, and IntelliTouch [see Note 3 at the end of this blog posting for comments on this terminology; taken straight from the Newegg touch monitors listings, it includes numerous trade names and isn’t really descriptive of the touch technology landscape. This will be my one and only use of these terms].
At this point, I can see I will have lots of options from which to choose. I now understand I need to learn more about the types of touch technology and how best to integrate touch into a desktop system for easy access and use. I’ll keep you posted as I zero in on some good choices and let you know about such deals as I can find. I can’t be the only person who needs to figure this stuff out! I’m also casting about for hardware recommendations and war stories in making touchscreen monitors work with Windows 8, so please let me know if you know of or have any to share!
New Material Added on 2/9/2012
Since this blog originally posted on 2/6/2012, I have been in repeated contact with Geoff Walker, of Walker Mobile at www.walkermobile.com. He’s a long-time expert and full-time consultant and writer on mobile computing with a particular emphasis on touch technologies. Check out his Website, where you’ll find a wealth of valuable and informative materials on touch technologies of all kinds. Geoff has also been a guest editor on Touch Technology for Information Display magazine since 2007 (where a search on his name produces over 500 hits), and has contributed numerous stories on touch to other industry publications as well. Geoff has very kindly provided copious feedback for both Episodes 1 and 2 of this blog posting, and I will now recast his remarks here in somewhat abbreviated form, in the form of a series of numbered Notes to follow. They are primarily quoted verbatim or merely shortened in the interests of brevity; where I provide pricing or other information, it’s in square brackets to identify my presence, not Geoff’s.
Note 1: The best touch monitor in the world today comes from Perceptive Pixel: though expensive, it’s without question the very best [$6,000.00!]. The next best is from 3M [around $1,400.00]. The touch performance is phenomenal, as good as Perceptive Pixel, just smaller with a few more limitations. It’s not as expensive as the Perceptive Pixel, but it’s not cheap.
Note 2: In the Newegg listing, the Acer T231 bmid is a typical consumer-level Win7 touch monitor. It uses camera-based optical touch (2 cameras) from Quanta. It’s limited to two not-very-robust touches (in other words, it barely works on Win7, much less Win8 – read my article on optical touch and you’ll get some hints of why that is). But it’s still a very valid test platform, since almost all of the consumer multi-touch monitors sold for the past two years have used a similar touch system, and all those owners will want to know what to expect when upgrading to Win8. Note that there is NO information whatsoever in the Acer specs about touch! That’s a big red flag, indicating that touch is not something that Acer (or any of the PC OEMs) really cares that much about. Compare Acer’s lack of touch specs with the touch specs of the other monitors I’ve mentioned so far – big difference! The HP L2105tm and the Viewsonic VX2258wm are basically the same as the Acer – all of their touchscreens are camera-based optical from either Quanta or NextWindow.
Note that what I’m saying is that there are NO monitors in the Newegg list that are capable of meeting the Win8 5-touch specification because doing that requires either (a) projected capacitive, which is too expensive for a consumer monitor today, or (b) improved camera-based optical (with at least six cameras), which won’t be ready for another six months or so. [The emphasis on NO in the preceding text is Geoff’s.]
Note 3: [About these terms “…5-wire resistive, AccuTouch, Acoustic Pulse, Capacitive, CarrolTouch, and IntelliTouch” (these appear in my original blog, and came straight from the Touchscreen Types category on the Newegg Touchscreen Monitors page).] I strongly recommend that you stop using the Elo brand names for generic touch technologies. It’s confusing to everyone and does nobody any good. Even Elo would like to get rid of them, but it’s very hard to change that kind of thing once you start. Use only the generic technology names, and use them consistently. [Will do, Geoff, and thanks for pointing this out! Fortunately, that was already the case by the time I got to Episode 2.]
Trends don’t always translate into facts, as a quick glance at this “Desktop Top Operating System Share Trend” graph for March 2011 through January 2012 illustrates.
I must confess that I (and numerous other pundits and online panjandrums) interpreted this graph to mean that Windows 7 would surpass XP last month, but that’s not how it turned out. Instead of each line following its long-established trend, numbers for XP actually jumped a little in the period from December 2011 to January 2012, from 46.52% to 47.19%, while the numbers for Windows 7 dipped slightly from 36.99% to 36.40% in the same period. Go figure!
Thanks to the editors at Tom’s Hardware for bringing this to my attention, in their February 2, 2012, story entitled “Report: Windows XP is Still The Dominant OS.” They speculate — and I agree — that still-lagging economies (especially in Europe, sorely best by the Greek debt crisis and the Euro melt-down) can easily account for the recent stall in the XP-to-Windows-7 cut-over that’s been chugging along for the past two years or better. Likewise, they observe that the pending release of Windows 8 in the third or fourth quarter of 2012 will further complicate matters, and should probably cause the trend lines for both of those OSes to decline further and faster.
One thing’s for sure: it’s still impossible to write off Windows XP, and it’s still around in huge and substantial numbers. With the “absolute retirement date” of this venerable OS slated for April 2014, it’s amazing it’s been able to cling to life and major market share for such a long, long, long time!
About the “latest version” of the Intel Chipset Software
Intel proffers a Web page entitled “Do I need to upgrade to the latest version” under the general head of Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility. This page suggests an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to updating the Intel chipset software and its associated collection of drivers. Here’s what that information says, verbatim:
Intel® Chipset Software Installation Utility
Do I need to upgrade to the latest version?
Upgrade to the latest version if you are experiencing an issue listed under Issues Resolved in the latest release notes. The latest version of the Intel® Chipset Software Installation Utility and the release notes are available in Download Center.If you upgrade to the latest version, follow the have-disk installation instructions. The utility cannot install using setup.exe if another version is already installed on your system.
Finding the “latest version” of the Intel Chipset Software
In the Intel Download Center, specify the selections “Chipsets” (Product Family), “Chipset Software” (Product Line), and “Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility” (Product Name) on the initial Find Downloads by product name window that appears. This produces a Find downloads by categorywindow where you can specify your operating system (Windows 7 (32-bit) in my case) and Download Type (I picked “Utilities, Tools, and Examples” because that’s what provides the INF update utility that automatically updates Windows drivers for those willing to bypass the preceding instruction to “follow the have-disk installation instructions” (the chipset driver itself isn’t accessible through Device Manager in any case).
This is where things start getting interesting. Intel’s label for “Latest” driver applies to the file they’ve updated most recently NOT to the file with the highest version number (which actually indicates the most current driver). Here’s a screen shot that illustrates this potential point of confusion very nicely:
Notice that the utility with the higher-numbered version (220.127.116.112 versus 18.104.22.1680) also has the more current date (8/27/2011 versus 4/21/2011). It’s essential to pay close attention to all of this information if you want to override the recommendations of the Intel Driver Update Utility, and choose the right version to download and install on your PC.
[Note in response to reader comment: You MUST identify the chipset in your PC and search on that particular chipset model to find the drivers and installation software that match it. I don’t mean to suggest that the version numbers mentioned in this or the previous posting are prescriptive for all PCs and all readers. Rather, they were meant only as illustrations of the various version numbers that I encountered for the various chipsets on different PCs. Thus, for example the X38 chipset on my production PC gets version 22.214.171.1242 mentioned elsewhere in this post. OTOH, my D620 Latitude notebook has a Mobile Intel 945 Express chipset and gets version 126.96.36.1999 instead. As they say on the Internet, YMMV, so be sure to grab only what’s relevant for your particular chipsets.]
An interesting rumor popped up on SlashGear this morning, in an article from Chris Davies entitled “Windows 8 on ARM stable release in February tip developers.” It seems that despite earlier issues with the stability of the developer preview for Windows 8 on ARM CPUs, another, much more stable release of Windows 8 will be released in February — again for developers — to coincide with the “customer preview” release of Windows 8 for x86 CPUs that heralds another milestone in the march to RTM (release to manufacturing) and GA (general availability).
Citing sources from CNET, Davies said “…there’s no obvious reason that [an] ARM-vesion of Windows 8 … should be ‘staggered’ from the traditional x86 build.” Furthermore, the same sources opined that “…ARM alternatives to Intel and AMD based Windows 8 machines could ‘undercut them by hundreds of dollars…'” Given the popularity of chips from Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, among others (these two companies showed Windows 8 prototypes at this year’s CES), for smartphones, this could be a huge coup for Microsoft in finally making a dent in that non-PC marketplace.
Should be very interesting to see how all this plays out. Stay tuned!
The Intel Driver Update Utility(IDUU) is a handy-dandy software tool that depends on a “Systems Requirements Lab” active widget from Husdawg to scan PCs for Intel components, and to report on their current update status. It’s pretty useful, and has become part of my normal maintenance routine for checking driver status on the PCs I manage. I also use DriverAgent (though other tools like RadarSync, Driver Detective, Drive Guide, and so forth also do pretty much the same thing) but I’ve observed that Intel is often better at keeping up with its own drivers than third parties, so I’ve come to depend on IDUU to help me keep my Intel drivers as current as can be.
But recently, I noticed something subtle about the language that the IDUU uses to report on drivers it finds, that in turn led me to realize that Intel apparently doesn’t care if a driver is the most current in every case. Rather, it appears to care only that some drivers are “valid,” even when newer drivers may be available. Notice this report block on the Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility:
Now, compare this to the language used for the built-in Realtek RTL8013EL Ethernet GbE adapter on that same motherboard:
In the chipset case, the version is valid, but in the Ethernet adapter’s case the driver is current. “Hmm…” I wondered, “Is there a difference between valid and current?”
The answer turns out to be “Yes.” By researching the most current Series 3 Chipset Driver through a manual search on Intel’s Download pages, I was able to determine that the highest numbered version available was 188.8.131.522. My machine was happily running version 184.108.40.2066 instead. A quick download and install took care of that issue as the preceding chipset screen capture now attests, but this leaves me wondering why the IDUU doesn’t tell its users that a more current version is available. My best guess is that it waits until some critical feature gets introduced in a newer update, and only then instructs its users to update their drivers. That would be a reasonable approach to driver updates where “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” often prevails as a guiding principle. I can only imagine that’s why Intel also labels the 220.127.116.112 version as valid, even though it’s also the most current as well.
But if, like me, you want at least some machines to always be running the absolute latest and greatest Intel drivers, if only for test purposes, it’s good to know that when you see “valid” in this tool you should probably go looking for something more current, just in case it’s out there for downloading.