Now that the holidays are behind us, and the New Year is unrolling before is, it’s time for that annual technology extravaganza known as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), still one of the biggest and most wide-ranging of all the big technology conferences that take over Las Vegas from time to time. While the official show dates run from January 6 -9 (Tuesday through Friday), the announcements and press releases started flowing yesterday and are already kicking up into high gear.
As usual, the hype gets hoppin’ even before CES gets officially underway.
So far, only a smattering of announcements of interest to Windows professionals have appeared, but some of them are pretty interesting indeed:
1. On Sunday, Nvidia announced its latest system-on-a-chip (SOC) offering, the Tegra X1, which CEO Jen-Hsun Huang presented as a “mobile superchip.” It incorporates an 8-core CPU along with a 256-core GPU, and delivers a combined 1 Teraflop of computing power to small, hand-held devices. At a minimum, this could mean highly fluid and realistic animation, video, and gaming on next-gen tablets and smartphones.
2. Lenovo announced a reworked ThinkPad series, with a new ultraslim X1 Carbon model, plus X250, T450, and T550 models, all aimed at business and enterprise users. These will make use of 5th-gen Intel processors from the higher-powered U (ultra-low voltage) series (PDF document), which deliver significantly more power (and heat) that the so-called Core M processors in the same family. They’re also offering a set of nesting, electrically interconnected mobile extenders for notebooks and laptops called the ThinkPad Stack that includes a power module, Bluetooth speaker set-up, a 1 GB external USB 3 drive, and a WAP to share a 4G phone connection via Wi-Fi.
3. Cloud extensions into/out of all kinds of devices are showing up at CES, including a firmware update to give the Netgear R7000 router the ability to provide remote access to network users when outside the broadcast range of the device, including file and photo sharing and backup. Likewise, Seagate is showing off network storage devices that support remote backup over the Internet (which the company calls “Personal Cloud”).
4. The Internet of Things is going to gain a lot of occupants with all kinds of attached devices on their way, from thermostats to home and office controls, smart appliances in many shapes and sizes, and all manner of health, fitness, and exercise applications as well.
And this is just the beginning of what promises to be an onslaught of interesting concepts and tantalizing technologies. While not all of them will eventually emerge as successful commercial products, it’s always fascinating to see what the industry can dream up and try to sell. As more such things pop up, I’ll add to this posting, instead of posting multiple times about the same show. That leaves room for more real Windows Enterprise posts on this week’s blog roster. Cheers!
[Added 1/6/15 2:30 PM
Check out the TechRadar CES 2015 pages for the best ongoing coverage of the show I’ve seen so far. The IoT trend continues unabated, and there’s been a plethora of extremely thin-and-light Windows tablets and ultrabooks from the likes of Asus (whose Transformer series will soon sport i5 and i7 5th generation processors of the ultralow voltage variety, whose model numbers start with “U”; current models are the lowest voltage “M” models whose designators start with “Y”), Toshiba (which has some very interesting items on offer), and even Dell, which hit the stage with a remodeled XPS 13 that looks pretty sweet.]
Two persistent myths that attach to SSDs running under “modern” Windows OSes (version 7 and higher) are as follows:
(a) defragging such disks is a bad idea
(b) Windows doesn’t defrag such disks by default, provided that it recognizes them properly.
Visiting the Windows 8 Forums this morning I saw a tantalizing post from regular (but anonymous) contributor “A Guy,” entitled Does Windows defragment your SSD? This, in turn, led to a nice article by Scott Hanselman that addresses the subject in some detail. This screen shot, from my own Windows 8.1 Update 3 system reveals that the Optimize Drives utility in Windows 8.1 does indeed perform *periodic* defrags of SSDs when (as is the case on my system) restore points are enabled for those drives:
Hanselman cites “the Windows storage team” to affirm that volsnap copy requires optimization to keep the number of file fragments on an SSD below the allowable maximum.
Volsnap is shorthand for the Volume Shadow Copy operation used to capture a snapshot of the drive to be used as a restore point, which then becomes available to the System Restore operation to roll the drive back in time to when the snapshot was taken. During this operation the file system follows metadata used to link file fragments together to “stitch them up” into a single logical extent that comprises all the individual physical file extents of which they’re made. If the number of fragments exceeds a critical maximum value, the file system can’t keep up with the fragments any more (and file copy or access operations can fail). This can’t be allowed to happen so Windows schedules optimization on SSDs by default on the same day every month, starting from the day that the OS is installed (or if System Restore has been turned off for a drive, on the day that it gets turned back on).
That’s why as you can see in the preceding screencap that Optimize Drives does indeed report a “Last run” date for SSDs that have System Restore turned on. And despite the advice of many “Optimize SSD” guides available on the Web to turn off System Restore for such drives, Hanselman cites some good evidence from an unimpeachable source — the guys responsible for making Windows filesystems behave properly on all available storage devices, including SSDs — that this is probably not a good idea from both a performance and reliability standpoint. Hanselman’s summary is worth quoting in this context: “…Windows is not foolishly or blindly running a defrag on your SSD every night, and no, Windows defrag isn’t shortening the life of your SSD unnecessarily.” Furthermore “Yes, your SSD’s file system sometimes needs a kind of defragmentation and that’s handled by Windows, monthly by default, when appropriate.”
Very interesting and informative!
Those using Windows 8.1, or who wish to install the latest version of the OS, should be pleased to learn that MSDN’s latest version of that OS in ISO form has been synched up to the November update roll-up. At one time, this was to be known as “Windows 8.1 Update 3” but the version is labeled “Windows 8.1 with Update” on its MSDN download page. Nevertheless, this provides admins and enthusiasts with a good way to grab a fairly current OS snapshot for installation or repair that doesn’t require subsequent installation of beaucoups patches and fixes before the resulting image is completely up-to-date.
Careful examination of downloads provided shows that only “Volume License” (VL) versions of Win8.1 Pro are available here.
The release date on these ISOs is 12/15/2014, which means they became available about two weeks ago. But since I just learned about them today, I thought I would share this pointer with you. An MSDN subscription is required to download these ISOs, and to obtain the keys necessary to activate resulting installations. As the subscription purchase page at VisualStudio.com illustrates, such a purchase can be expensive. However, deals from third-party resellers are available (I got mine from Software Wholesale International, and bought a three-year subscription from them for about half of what MS charges; I’m on my second renewal with them, in fact).
Ever since the original Surface and Surface Pro models were introduced, users have been able to refresh their installations or reinstall the OS using the device’s recovery image, which is stored by default as a separate partition on its primary (SSD) drive. This enables easy repair or recovery for any Surface that can still access that drive without having to locate and use a matching external recovery disk. Nevertheless, MS recommends that users or admins create such a drive using the “Create a recovery drive” facility provided as part of the Windows 8/8.1 runtime environment (and carried forward in the Windows 10 Technical Preview, as a similar desktop search on my test installations just verified). Here’s what the Disk Management utility on my SP3 shows after running that utility on a UFD of suitable size (that utility says it should be “8 GB or greater” but MS recommends 16 GB or greater on its “Download a recovery image for your Surface” page for SP3 models).
Although MS recommends 16 GB for the UFD to hold the recovery partition, actual space consumed is under 6 GB using the local recovery utility, and .
Last week, MS made download images available for all of its Surface Models (RT and Pro models in the 1, 2, and 3 series) at the afore-linked download page, to address those situations where recovery may be needed and the primary drive on the Surface in question may not be available (and no external recovery drive has been created in advance). The process requires Surface owners to enter a valid serial number for each such download, but can be conducted and completed on another PC — I did it on my primary production desktop last night, for example — including the creation of the recovery drive on a UFD of suitable size once that download is complete. It comes in the form of a ZIP file that is 6.18 GB in size and 6.24 GB when its contents are extracted and copied to a target drive.
Warning: this tool only enables restoration or recovery of a “factory-fresh” Windows image. That means you’ll lose all of the applications you’ve installed since firing up your Surface for the first time. That’s why I prefer the Slimware Utilities RecImgManager utility: it captures a current snapshot for the “Refresh your system” operation that includes all the elements you’ve added to (or tweaked within) your system. Using this tool is a two-step operation, though: you’ll still have to run the basic refresh or recovery operation through Windows 8 or 8.1 using the recovery drive described here, then install RecImgManager and refresh to that image. This latter item must come from an external USB drive, alas, which necessitates working in the Surface Pro dock or using a USB 3 hub to accommodate both the recovery UFD and the drive with the RecImgManager refresh image, to get all the way back to where you want to be. But this “two-step” is still faster than installing a typical collection of applications on most workaday machines, though — Secunia PSI counts 52 on my Surface Pro 3, including a MS Office, a typical collection of third-party Web browsers, plus miscellaneous tools and utilities. In my experience bringing back the runtime environment takes longer to install than the underlying OS, usually by a significant margin.
This is the third in a series of pre-holiday posts this week to highlight some small but potent high-tech devices, suitable for IT pros and enthusiasts alike, be they for yourself or somebody else on your Christmas list who fits that designation. Today’s item of interest goes a bit bigger than the previous entry, and advises readers that older PCs (especially notebooks or laptops, not tablets) with Secure Digital (SD) ports can now accommodate 128 GB of storage in that form factor as well. These are noticeably cheaper than their micro SD counterparts — about half the cost, in fact — and generally fall in a price range from $40 or thereabouts for slower models to $70 or less for faster ones. All the big names in flash memory, and lots of lesser lights as well, come into this mix as this Google search will happily demonstrate.
Here’s a PNY model I picked up from Newegg for about $64 that does the job quite nicely
Even more recently 256 GB models have become available, but these are considerably more expensive, with a much wider range of prices. The cheapest I can find is a PNY model from the same series as the 128 GB model shown above, starting at about $110, climbing quickly into the $200 range for models from Kingston and Lexar, and above $300 for models from most other makers (e.g. SanDisk, Delkin, and a 1000X model from Lexar).
Either way, 128 or 256 GB of reasonably fast (about on par with a 5,400 RPM hard disk if CrystalDiskMark results are any guide to performance) can provide a considerable storage boost to notebooks or laptops, especially those (like two of mine) that have only 120ish GB of SSD storage installed as their primary drives. For the 128 GB models, this is significantly cheaper than buying a 256 or 512 GB 2.5″ SSD, and a lot easier to install. But for those to whom a 256 GB bump seems warranted, I’d recommend migrating from an older, smaller SSD to a new and bigger one instead of plunking down the cash for a 256 GB SD card. With el-cheapo 250ish GB SSDs readily available for around $100, and higher performing models in the $130 range, this makes a lot more sense, as this Newegg search demonstrates.
This week, in anticipation of next week’s big holiday, I’m ruminating on little devices suitable for hi-tech stocking stuffers. Today’s item of interest is a 128 GB SDXC memory card, which provides a nice storage boost to any smartphone or tablet capable of accommodating that much storage in such a small package. I’m still amazed and bemused that the miracle of miniaturization enables such a huge volume of storage to be crammed into a device smaller than most of my fingernails in surface area. 128 GB models started to become available on the market in early 2014 with the introduction of a SanDisk model. As I write this blog post, Google Shopping shows me models available from at least half-a-dozen vendors, also including Lexar, PNY, Kingston, OV Micro, and others, in a price range from $100 to $130 or thereabouts.
More storage on a tiny chip than in typical first-generation SSDs, but nowhere near as fast.
If you have a tablet or smartphone with an SDXC slot, or somebody else on your Christmas shopping list has one, this kind of thing makes a great gift. While substantial as stocking stuffers go, even with the typical micro SD-to-standard SD adapter that comes with many micro SDXC cards, it fits quite nicely into a stocking-shaped enclosure as well. At $100 to $130 it ain’t exactly cheap, but you or your lucky recipient will no doubt appreciate the thought that went into its selection, as well as the added capacity it affords. For smaller Android tablets (16 GB or less of built-in storage), this can add life to those devices, as well as additional breathing room.
There is one important caveat that comes with any memory card, however. While these devices may offer substantial added storage, they are not anywhere near as fast as an SSD of any kind (even of the eMMC variety). The SanDisk SSD depicted above posts the following results on my Surface Pro 3 using CrystalDiskMark 3.0:
An SDXC card runs like a run-of-the-mill USB 3 UFD, NOT like an SSD
You can indeed use such a card to extend storage on a tablet or smartphone. But you wouldn’t want to relocate your paging file there on a Windows device, or use it for anything else where snappy storage response makes a noticeable difference.
What with Christmas less than two weeks away, and the upcoming end-of-year break not far behind, I thought I’d lighten up this week with a series of carefully chosen stocking stuffers for high-tech types. If you’re in a giving mood, you can hand these things out at low expense; if you need some more entries for your Christmas list, you can pick up some affordable ideas that won’t break your benefactors’ banks.
I’ll open with the Atom series of USB 3 Flash Drives from Mushkin. They’re so small that when plugged into a USB port, you can leave them there on a tablet or notebook PC without impeding entry into or exit from a carrying case or sleeve. Capacities range from 8 GB all the way to 64 GB, and they’re reasonably fast (if not on par with top-end UFDs with SSD controllers like Mushkin’s Ventura Ultra line, or even their mid-range Ventura Pro and Ventura Plus lines) and extremely affordable. At Newegg, for example, prices run like this (rounded up to the next dollar): 8 GB/$8, 16GB/$13, 32GB/$15, and 64GB/$25. To my way of thinking, this makes the 32GB version an unbeatable price/capacity tradeoff winner.
With the cap off and plugged-in, the Atom sticks out less than 0.25″ (6mm) from the port it inhabits.
I own this drive in 8 and 32 GB sizes, and regularly use the smaller one as a bootable UFD for installing various Windows versions (most recently, Build 9879 of the Windows 10 Technical Preview). I’ve used it on various Dell and Lenovo notebook PCs to good effect, and on the Fujitsu Q704, Surface Pro 3, and Dell Venue Pro 11 tablets likewise. You can leave it in all the time, and it never gets in the way when packing it into a Targus notebook carrier or tablet sleeve. And the price is definitely right, too. The only downside is these puppies are so small, it would be easy to lose one (but I haven’t had that problem yet, so you or those who get one from you may be able to escape that fate as well).
Since 2011, I’ve blogged at least half a dozen times about various utilities from Nir Sofer, an apparently hyperactive developer with a penchant for building terrific Windows utilities of all kinds. He updates them quite frequently, too: I get at least one dozen notices a month about changes to one or more of his 100-plus tools of all shapes and sizes. If you’d like to try out the whole collection, there’s an easy way to glom onto it, too:
If you grab NirLauncher, you automatically grab the latest versions of all NirSoft utilities in one go.
The control center for NirLauncher is a simple set of buttons that group these tools by category, then list the items associated with each category, according to the title bar headers at the top of each listing. The collection is big enough that it takes a little time to get to know and use, but is well worth digging into. Some of my personal favorites include BlueScreenView, DevManView, DriverView, ProduKey, ShellExView, and USBDeview, but there are many more gems in this collection worth learning about. Here’s a snippet from the System Utilities list:
Grab this free utility from the NirLauncher product page (~20 MB) and check it out for yourself. I’m running it right now on a Windows 10 installation, but I’ve used these tools on Windows XP through 8.1 also, all to good effect.
Thanks to a recent post to the Windows For Your Business blog entitled “MDOP 2014 R2 Now Available,” I’m happy to relay that message to my readership, and to those interested in Microsoft’s excellent collection of virtualization tools. In particular, the Application Virtualization (App-V) and User Experience Virtualization (UE-V) elements have come in for some major changes, particularly in simplifying application and settings virtualizations, in creating groups of virtualized applications that load in concert, and in smoothing out the deployment of Virtualized Office installations. In short, there’s a lot to like about this latest MDOP iteration. Be sure to check it out!
Here’s a tile-based diagram of the various MDOP components, courtesy of the MDOP page on TechNet:
Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (MED-V): enterprise solution for desktop virtualization, based on creating, delivering, and managing corporate virtual PC images for Windows-based desktops.
Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management (AGPM): a system for comprehensive change control, offline editing, and role-based delegation for Group Policy Objects (GPOs).
Microsoft BitLocker Administration and Monitoring (MBAM): enterprise management for BitLocker and BitLocker to Go, including deployment, key recovery, centralized compliance monitoring and reporting, for provisioning and supporting encrypted drives.
Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT): Provides a set of administrative tools for desktop repair planning and service delivery, including components for analyzing crashes, diagnostic and recovery tools, plus local and remote computer recovery facilities.
Who qualifies for MDOP use? Technically, it requires licensing through Microsoft’s Software Assurance program, but it is also available to those with a Premium level MSDN subscription, or who are still hanging on to the vestiges of a TechNet Subscription. It’s definitely worth investigating and getting to know for mid-sized and larger operations that must support Windows desktops for their user base or clientele. If you’re new to MDOP, you might want to start out at the MDOP home page in the Enterprise Products and Technologies silo on the MS Website; otherwise, feel free to dig into any or all of the afore-linked TechNet resources instead.
Those who’ve been through Windows previews in the past have learned to approach their test setups with a certain amount of caution, if not downright trepidation. That’s because MS has traditionally blocked the simple upgrade path from technical previews/betas to final releases, as denoted by the version that gets released to OEMs for installation and delivery after the GA date, and to MSDN and other online release repositories for licensed customers around 30 days prior to general availability. Though there are usually registry hacks promoted to permit upgrades to occur unofficially, the lack of an official path means that tech support can’t help with problems that occasionally occur when trying to upgrade outside the official upgrade source OSes.
In what looks to be an interesting and positive departure from this tradition (which applied to Windows 7 and 8 versions, and even Vista) WinBeta reported a Twitter exchange on this subject between Gabe Aul, an active and outward facing member of the Operating Systems Group at Microsoft (and something of a recent Windows 10 spokesperson for the company). Brevity being a key characteristic of Twitter, I can easily reproduce that exchange right here to report that an upgrade path may be supported when Windows 10 moves to RTM later in 2015:
MS intends to provide an upgrade path from the Technical Previews to the RTM version: will that actually happen? Hope so!
Aul is pretty careful with his language, but it’s clear that this is something MS will try to include amidst the many other new features and changes that Windows 10 will bring to the embattled desktop OS side of “Windows world” next year. It should be interesting to see if this comes to pass, and convenient for those who’d like to keep their test installations up and running after the preview phase ends, and the latest and greatest Windows desktop OS becomes officially available.