Category Archives: Troubleshooting

Power Options VM Surprise

It’s been a painful last few days here in Windows World. I’ve been working on a loaner, locked-down machine in connection with a code analysis project. Because that code is protected and valuable intellectual property (IP), I’m able to access its GitHub repository only through a VM running on a hardened and isolated system. Essentially, I have to access the VM through a browser tab set up inside a VPN-accessible secure store. It hasn’t been going too well, either: each time I tried to use the VM and left the machine alone for a while, it would drop its connection. And then, to make things worse, I couldn’t get back in without asking an IT admin to reset the server side of the remote access environment. That’s where  an unwanted and unexepected Power Options VM surprise came into play.

What Is a Power Options VM Surprise?

If you look at the lead-in graphic, you’ll see that one change I make on my Windows PCs post-upgrade or install is to change the sleep interval to “Never.” The default is 30 minutes. Accessing the VM used a commercial VPN into a host server. Then, a remote access client (first RDP, then VNC) connected to the VM itself. For a long time, the firm’s IT guy kept fiddling with RDP settings and such. Eventually he switched to VNC for remote access, thinking it might be an RDP protocol issue at work (or not).

But the disconnect issues kept popping up, where the VM connection would drop when the machine was idle for 30 minutes or more. This finally caused him to investigate the Power Options, where it was immediately obvious the default “sleep after 30 minutes” was the culprit. Resetting the value to my usual preference — that is “Never” — has since fixed things, hopefully for good.

Troubleshooting 101: Don’t Overlook the Obvious

As an outsider with only a regular user account, it wasn’t up to me to mess with default settings on the locked-down machine furnished to me for this project. Ditto for default settings for the VM I was accessing to get into the target code base. But gosh: I have to believe we were looking for complex solutions to a seemingly complex problem. Instead, we should have been looking for simple solutions for a straightforward default settings check.

The moral of this story is not lost on me. I hope it will likewise inspire you to make a checklist when working with VMs, and to put “check default settings” (especially in Power Options) right near the head of that list. Sleep may “knit up the raveled sleeve of care,” as the Immortal Bard put it. But sleep causes all kinds of interesting problems for Windows PC — and now I know, for Windows VMs, too. Funny thing, I’ve learned to make this tweak because I use RDP extensively here at Chez Tittel to get from my production desktop to the 10-plus other PCs usually running around here. I shoulda known…

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Blinking Monitor Gets Easy Fix

When it comes to Windows, it’s always something. When I logged in this morning, it was my number two (right-hand) monitor, blinking on and off at about 3 second intervals. From long experience, I know the most likely cause for such misbehavior is the graphics driver. Thus, I immediately fire up the GeForce Experience app, see a new driver is available, download and install same. And that, dear Readers, is how my blinking monitor gets easy fix. If only all of my problems were so easily solved!

Driver Update Means Blinking Monitor
Gets Easy Fix

Graphics drivers are notoriously finicky beasts. They can cause all kinds of interesting problems, especially when new drivers cause hijinks on older graphics cards (or circuitry). My production desktop incorporates a GeForce GTX 1070, which is now about 5 years old. Because of the scarcity of newer generation (2xxx and 3xxx) GPUs right now — coin miners are snatching them up in droves — this model is still in extremely wide use. Hence, I’m inclined to trust new drivers. That’s because Nvidia would aggravate a sizable population if they let a substandard GTX 1070 driver out the door.

Luckily for me, my inclinations proved justified. After installing v466.47,  I see no further blinking from the right-hand monitor (#2 in the lead-in graphic). It’s nice when the most obvious fix turns out to be the only one that’s required. Again, I know from experience that troubleshooting issues further would get more interesting and probably end up costing money.

My next move would have been to swap the DisplayPort cables that tie monitors 1 and 2 to the GeForce card. If the blinking had switched positions, that would indicate a cable replacement. If not, card troubleshooting would begin in earnest. And with GPUs so expensive and hard to find right now, that could have been a real problem.

Sometimes, here in Windows-World, you get away with an occasionally easy fix for your problems. Today, I’m celebrating my simple and painless escape!

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Is Forcing Win10 Upgrades Good?

After my amazing experience in forcibly upgrading the Lenovo X12 hybrid tablet yesterday I’m pondering upgrade strategies. Indeed, 2004 and 20H2 Windows 10 PCs are in line for the 21H1 upgrade. But Microsoft’s criteria for offering that upgrade — and thus also, its timing — are unclear. Hence my question: “Is forcing Win10 upgrades good?” As is the case with most good questions, the answer starts with a predictable phrase: “That depends…”

Answering “Is Forcing Win10 Upgrades Good?”

I got to 21H1 on the X12 by downloading a self-installing upgrade file (.MSU) from a link at TenForums.com. Here’s what that info looks like on that page (links are not live, and you’ll soon understand why):

Is Forcing Win10 Upgrades Good? Catalog Links

These catalog downloads no longer show up when you search the catalog, but they’re still live.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Those links do work (I’ve checked) and they come from download.microsoft.com, which is indeed the Update Catalog’s home. But a search on KB5000736 comes up dry. So MS is not offering this enablement package directly from the catalog anymore. That does suggest that the answer to this article’s main question is “If it works, then it’s good; if not, then it’s not.”

Expect the Best, But Prepare for the Worst

Because MS isn’t providing the enablement package directly as a catalog download, that means MS wants you to wait for Windows Update to make the offer. If you choose (as I did) to skip the wait and grab the enablement package from an alternate source (ditto), you should follow the sub-title’s advice. That is, I’d recommend making an image backup before applying the MSU file. Then, if the upgrade fails, you can boot to repair/recovery media and replace the current, suspect image with a current, known good working replacement.

The ISO files for 21H1 are also available. The great appeal of the enablement package is that it’s blazing fast. If you do the ISO route, you’ll run setup.exe from its root folder and it will be a typical upgrade. The experience takes at least 15 minutes to complete, and leaves the Windows.old folder hierarchy around so you can roll back to 20H2 or 2004 as you might like. In that way, it may be “safer” than forcing the enablement package onto a PC. That’s because recovery from failure will be automatic, and you can even elect to roll back up to 10 days afterward if you decide you don’t like where 21H2 takes your PC.

Same Question, Different Answer

Another way to ponder the question “Is Forcing Win10 Upgrades Good?” is to try it, and see what happens. If it works, then yes. If it doesn’t, not only is the answer no, but your subsequent experience will depend on whether or not your pre-planning includes a recovery path. If it doesn’t the answer is “No, and it’s a PITA;” if it does, the answer is “No, but it didn’t take too long or hurt too much.”

And that, dear readers, is the way things sometimes go here in Windows World. it also explains why I still haven’t forced the enablement package onto my production PC just yet. I’m still thinking…

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SetupDiag Illuminates Updates Too

About three months ago I wrote about the Microsoft SetupDiag.exe tool. In that February 17 post, I explained how it provides info about upgrade errors and gotchas. Although the Microsoft Docs article doesn’t really say so, SetupDiag Illuminates Updates too. That is: you can use it to gather information and intelligence about update errors, failures, and so forth. Because those occur more frequently than upgrades, this capability is perhaps even more valuable.

If SetupDiag Illuminates Updates Too, Then What?

A failed Windows Upgrade leaves a copy of SetupDiag.exe behind, in the $Windows.~BT/Sources folder. Windows Update does no such thing. Thus, would-be investigators should bookmark this link, from whence the latest and greatest version may always be downloaded:

Download SetupDiag

Once you have this tool in hand, open an administrative Command Prompt or PowerShell session, then enter its full path specification. I found one in the Windows.old folder hierarchy on a recently-upgraded Dev Channel test PC, and it produced the following (partial) output:

SetupDiag Illuminates Updates Too.output-example

Run a local copy of the program if you’ve got one, though it’s best to download a current version instead.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Once SetupDiag runs through all of its log searches and processing rules, it will produce a report that provides the error code and error string (aka “bug check code” and “bug check string,” respectively). This is usually enough information to lead affected users to possible solutions. Just today, in fact, I read a story about update failures for the May 11 KB5003173 that used such data to diagnose possible issues with manual Microsoft Edge removals. It seems that leaving old directories behind will stymie the update. See this Windows Latest story for details.

The Consummation You Should Seek

Be it upgrade or update, you’ll eventually want SetupDiag to show you something like this to indicate a successful outcome:

Once you’ve finished troubleshooting, and fixed things, SetupDiag should tell you something like this.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Cheers!

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Resenting Mobile-Only Network UIs

In the process of troubleshooting the LAN here at the Tittel household recently, I replaced a Gen 1 Router/Switch/WAP device with its Gen 2 counterpart. Spectrum provides that equipment for something like $7 a month. I don’t resent that charge. But what has me considering a switch to my own equipment is resenting mobile-only network UIs now forced upon me.

What does that mean? It means I can’t log into the gateway’s TCP/IP address in a Web browser any more to access and manage setup and configuration. No! I must now use the MySpectrum app on a cellphone instead. That’s a problem for all kinds of reasons, some good ones, and some that may sound whiny. Apologies in advance.

Why I’m Resenting Mobile-Only Network UIs

Because I MUST run the device UI through a smartphone app, I’m limited to its tiny screen, virtual touch keyboard, and limited silicon. Basically, that means my 100 wpm typing speed on a keyboard falls off  a cliff when I switch to a screen-based layout. This gives my facility and productivity a massive knock, and earns my displeasure.

And alas, I’m no spring chicken anymore either. At 68, I am already in the habit of viewing web pages at 125% magnification to make things easier on my eyeballs. I’ve been known to bump that to 150% or higher when faced with lots of fine print. Forcing me onto a 750×1334 screen goes against my preferences, and hurts my eyes.

And then there are the UI exigencies that small screens dictate. I checked, and I have to work through 7 screens to reserve an IP address within the new app. It used to be a lot faster and easier under the old, Web-based UI. Sigh.

Now that my rant is ended, I’d like to remind Spectrum that good customer service is about providing accessible alternatives. C’mon guys: if a late middle-aged, early geriatric has mild usability issues, what about others with more severe access or vision impediments? Is a cellphone-only approach really workable for everybody?

Exploring Technology Alternatives

I won’t let this slow me down too much. First, I plan to see if I can get MySpectrum to run on my iPad. I do have a Bluetooth keyboard for that device, and can put it to work for configuration jobs. I also see that long-time high-value remote access app TeamViewer lets users run a cellphone app from a PC desktop. That’s not the usual path for remote access between such devices, but it might be just what I need.

Stay tuned. Once my current fit of pique subsides, I may find some kind of workable alternative or usage scenario. If I do, I’ll report back with more info.

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NirSoft BlueScreenView Worth Learning

Israeli developer Nir Sofer is the person behind the outstanding Windows utility site nirsoft.net. I’ll be describing his blue screen viewing tool in today’s item. And when I explain what makes NirSoft BlueScreenView worth learning, I mean it is something handy to have around for both Windows professionals and enthusiasts.

Why say this? Because, sooner or later, nearly every Windows PC experiences a crash. In older Windows versions, such a screen was invariably blue. That earned it the initialism BSOD, for “Blue Screen of Death.” In Windows 10, such screens sometimes come up in green instead and may be called GSODs for that reason. For a fascinating historical look at BSODs from the past, check out Mark Russinovich’s evil little BlueScreen Screen Saver. It not only simulates BSODs, it also simulates the data acquisition and reboot phases that follow immediately thereafter.  Says Russinovich “…its accuracy will fool even advanced NT developers” (it does not, however, look like a real Windows 10 BSOD or GSOD). Like I said: it’s evil.

Why Is NirSoft BlueScreenView Worth Learning?

Simply put, this nice little tool reads the dump files that Windows collects as it recovers from a serious error. It provides immediate insight into what blew up, and what other OS and application modules were involved.

You can provoke BSOD with an input string to an administrative command prompt, if you like. WARNING! This will immediately crash the PC into which it is entered. Close all apps, and save your work beforehand, to avoid unpleasant surprises.

That command string is:

taskkill /im svchost.exe /f

Svchost.exe is a critical Windows 10 process. It acts as a shell for loading services based around dynamic load library (DLL) files. Because DLLs are often shared, multiple processes will call on a single svchost.exe instance to access its DLL. By running this command you’re killing all svchost instances immediately. This renders Windows unable to run, so it crashes instead.

The flag in the resulting BSOD reads “CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED.” That brief phrase tells you that, except as a sure-fire way of provoking a BSOD, this is an extremely bad idea. But it’s a useful technique to cause a bluescreen, to show what NirSoft BlueScreenView can do.

NirSoft BlueScreenView Worth Learning.bsd-windows

Dump files in top pane, Dump trace in lower pane. This one shows the CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED error from the lead-in graphic.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Working Through BlueScreenView Output

As you examine the image above, you’ll see a dump file that starts with a date string (051021) and ends with the tell-tale file extension “.dmp”. It shows a time stamp, the bug check string, and a bug check code, followed by up to 4 parameters. It also shows which driver caused the crash: in this case, we killed the driver for the operating sytem kernel itself! (That’s noskrnl.exe plus a hex offset, as shown in column 9.)

Generally when I’m using this tool, I look first at Column 9 (caused by driver). That’s because the transitory blue screen window provides most of the preceding data. I usually care most about the bug check string and code because they make dandy lookup strings for guidance online. Column 9 points to the actual cause, and can be extremely informative.

Spend a little time with this tool, and use it to practice reading dump files. Trust me: it’ll come in handy someday. ‘Nuff said

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More Networking Trouble Manifests

Wouldn’t you know it? Today’s a busy day here at Chez Tittel. I’ve got multiple deliverables due, and it’s my son’s “A day” at school (8 classes, several of them challenging). “The Boss” needs her Internet access, too, for purposes both commercial and personal.  That’s no doubt why today, of all days, more networking trouble manifests here and now. For as long as two hours we had no access at all.

When More Networking Trouble Manifests, Then What?

Yesterday, I was inclined to blame my aging desktop when only its NIC stopped working. Today, we lost not just all of the wired connections, but wireless was popping in and out, too. Suddenly things were much clearer: the combination WAP/router from Spectrum was failing — or flailing — intermittently.

A quick call to tech support confirmed that (a) I have a first-gen WAP/router device for the company’s 1 Gbe service and (b) such behavior  happens often enough for team members to know about it. My friendly support guy “Jeff” suggested I drive over to the nearest Spectrum offices and trade in the current unit for a new one.

In the Land of the Blind…

Fortunately, the nearest such office is less than 15 minutes from the house. So I packed up the WAP/router, jumped in the car, drove over and swapped it for a replacement device. Surprise! It’s got a 2.5 GbE interface between cable modem and WAP/router, which I supposed is all to the good.

Even more fortunately, it proved to be (mostly) a matter of plug-and-play upon installing the new device. I did have to reboot the cable modem to get it to recognize and talk to the WAP/router (by getting its MAC address table updated, I assume). I will have to do some clean-up work (static IP assignments for my networked printers) later.

But for now, things are working more or less as they should be. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll stay that way. I’ve learned now that a failing switch can make NIC drivers go wonky, and have added to my store of troubleshooting lore and experience.

And that’s the way things go sometimes, here in Windows-World! Sigh.

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GbE Adapter Driver Goes MIA

I had an interesting if unwanted surprise waiting for me when I returned to my production PC after taking a break this morning. Instead of my usual Internet connection, I had zilch. Domain names weren’t resolving. Running IPCONFIG I saw an APIPA address (starts with 169.x.x.x). I knew this meant my NIC had lost its connection with the primary network router, from whence DNS, DHCP and Internet access come. Upon checking the driver in Device Manager, I saw these dreaded words “No drivers are installed for this device” (see above). Indeed when a GbE adapter driver goes MIA, there isn’t much you can do with that device until the driver gets fixed.

If GbE Adapter Driver Goes MIA, Then What?

Fortunately my Asrock Extreme 7+ has two GbE adapters: an Intel I211 and an Intel I219-V. It was the I219-V that dropped off the network. But when I plugged in the I211, it immediately resumed operation. My suspicion: driver corruption in the I219-V driver. So I visited the Intel download site and grabbed a copy of the 26_2.zip Intel Ethernet Adapter Complete Driver Pack.

But then, things got interesting. The same thing that happened with the I219-V started up with the I211. It wasn’t until I reinstalled a new driver from the Intel pack linked above that the I219-V returned to normal operation. I ran DISM /checkhealth with nothing found, but SFC /scannow did report making some repairs. Something odd has definitely hit my production networking facilities.

Bracing for the Inevitable…

I’ve been pondering a new desktop PC build for some time now. This rig is built around an Asrock Extreme7+ and an i7-6700 Skylake processor . Both made their debut in Autumn 2015 (the chip in September, the board in November). As I recall I built this system in the Spring of 2016. That’s now more than 5 years ago. I’m inclined to think this may be fate’s way of telling me it’s time to replace my desktop. Time to revisit and revise my build plans, and get on the stick.

Note Added May 7 (One Day Later)

Today, the whole network here at Chez Tittel blew up. Weird wireless and wired LAN behavior convinced me the Spectrum-supplied WAP/Router/switch device was losing … something. A quick trip to the Spectrum store and a device swap set things right. Read all about it here: More Network Trouble Manifests.

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Beware Potential Defender Engine 1.1.18100.5 Gotcha

Here’s an interesting item. Check your system/boot (usually C:) drive in Windows 10. If it’s filling up (or full), that may come from a (hopefully temporary) Windows Defender gotcha. The program starts creating loads of 2K binary files in the Scans/History/Store subfolder. Ghacks reports tens of thousands to nearly a million such files showing up on affected PCs. Normally, a healthy Defender installation has one or two files in this folder (shown in the lead-in graphic). That makes it easy to check if a system is subject to this potential Defender Engine 1.1.18100.5 gotcha.

How to Check For Potential Defender Engine 1.1.18100.5 Gotcha

The complete directory path to check is:
C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows Defender\Scans\History\Store
If  you see more than a handful of files there, you may be subject to the gotcha. It it’s chock-full of files and your C: drive is filling up, the gotcha is active! It’s OK to delete those files (Defender will make more), according to Brinkmann.

Brinkmann theorizes that the current Defender Engine version — namely 1.1.18100.5 — is responsible. He says MS is aware of the gotcha, and is planning a  fix with the next engine update. That new version should carry an ID of 1.1.18100.6, and be ready as soon as Thursday, May 6.

FWIW, I checked all of my Windows 10 PCs. While all of them are indeed running Engine version 1.1.18500.5, none of them is showing symptoms indicative of the gotcha. Clearly, it’s out there. But it’s not clear how widespread or active this gotcha may be. And it sounds like MS is already working on a fix that should do away with it completely.

At least, we don’t have to wait too long to find out if a fix is forthcoming. As I write this item, it could be just over 24 hours from release. For the record, Microsoft updates usually hit the Internet at 9:00 AM Pacific Time on release days. That’s about 26.5 hours from now.

Note Added May 5 Afternoon

A new engine build is already out,  and should download automatically to all Windows 10 PCs running Defender. I just found it already installed on my test PCs, to wit:

Potential Defender Engine 1.1.18100.5 Gotcha.new-engine

Note the new engine is out: 1.1.18100.6. Problem solved!

That was quick! Glad MS is on the ball today. Thanks to @WindowsInsider and the whole Windows Team.

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DevMgr Gets View Devices by Driver Option

Here’s something new and interesting. Dev Channel Insiders can see a new View menu option in Device manager. That’s right: with Build 21370, DevMgr gets View Devices by Driver option.

The menu element is shown in the lead-in graphic for this story, above. To the left, find a long version of that same screencap. It’s menu-free and shows just under half of the total listing that appears.

Please note: you can see all drivers listed using oemnnn.inf names. In fact, these are assigned as drivers get installed. To the right, you see the true driver name — e.g. netwbw02.inf for oem1.inf –which tells you it’s a Bluetooth networking driver of some kind.

This Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga has 119 drivers installed. That’s a pretty normal count for a Windows 10 PC.

As I look at my other Windows 10 PCs, I see driver counts as low as the low 80s to as high as the low 200s. Actually, that number depends on how many devices (both Microsoft and third-party) are installed in some specific Windows 10 image. Indeed, what’s present and accounted for is what shows up in such tools and their listings.

Is DevMgr Gets View Devices by Driver Option Good?

The purpose of the change, according to Sergey Tkachenko at WinAero.com, is to “make it easier to see what hardware is using which drivers.” I’ve grown fond of the GitHub project DriverStore Explorer (RAPR.exe) for that same purpose, but it is nice to get easy access to the OEM numbers associated with drivers as in this view. Any device name with a carat to its left (e.g. oem11.inf) is actually the root of a device tree. Expand same by clicking the carat and you see various PCIe, LPC and PMC controllers for which it is a parent.

This view is pretty handy for understanding how some hardware elements in a PC are related to others. In fact, this makes for an interesting, informative and useful addition to Device Manager. It’s rumored to be targeted for inclusion in the 21H2 “Sun Valley” release of Windows 10. That’s far enough out that it could easily change. Stay tuned, and i”ll keep you informed. DevMgr has always been a fave tool for me, so I’m more than just a little interested.

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