Modern Windows Service Tweaking Is Counterproductive

I’m a regular at ElevenForum.com and TenForums.com. I try to read all new threads there daily, but probably average two out of three over the long haul. This morning, I saw a post at ElevenForum entitled “Services to Disable Windows 11.” My immediate response was “Why bother?” These days, Windows is self-tuning and runs pretty lean — especially Windows 11. That’s why I assert “Modern Windows Service Tweaking Is Counterproductive.”

More on Why Modern Windows Service Tweaking Is Counterproductive

One especially interesting analysis in response to the original poster’s list of prospective services to disable is especially illuminating. It comes from long-time Guru-level user @Bree, who says:

If you open Resource Monitor, look at Services on the CPU tab and sort by Average CPU, then you’ll find that of your list SysMain has the highest CPU use – of less than 0.2%. In fact my total CPU use by all running services is just 2%.

The general point is that while it’s theoretically possible to trim down the default set of services and processes to lighten the Windows load, the gains are small. In addition, turning things off that Windows thinks should be turned on can occasionally cause stability problems (read the whole thread for more details).

The Black Viper Perspective on Tweaked Services

BlackViper.com has been active on the Internet recommending such tweaks since the days of Windows 95/98. The last set of such tweaks for Windows 10 on his site is for version 1803 (as in March, 2018, almost four years ago). There are no such tweaks for Windows 11, period. To me, this says even a long-time, professional-grade tweaker no longer finds it worthwhile or rewarding to do this kind of thing with modern Windows versions. I couldn’t agree more, and stick by my title for this piece! ‘Nuff said.

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When Security Stymies Update Remove and Reinstall

Here’s an interesting issue — and another reason why I’m abandoning Norton security after I get my new PC built. I just tried to update CrystalDiskInfo and I couldn’t make it work. Norton data protection prevented the installer from — of all things — deleting old .bmp files for icons and graphics, to replace them with new ones. Even after I turned everything in Norton off for which it provides controls, the &*%$$ program still got in the way. Then it occurred to me: when security stymies update remove and reinstall still works. So that’s what I did, and that’s how I got it to work. Sheesh!

When Security Stymies Update Remove and Reinstall for New Version

Because update operations wouldn’t proceed even after disabling the auto-protect, firewall, and AV functions (see lead-in graphic), I was faced with two alternatives. First, I could completely uninstall Norton and then update. Or second, I could uninstall the old CrystalDiskInfo version, and then cleanly install  the new one. Because it was so much less time and labor intensive to undertake the latter, that’s what I did.

But man! I *HATE* it when security software gets in the way of authorized, valid update behavior and I can’t make it stop. By itself, that’s enough to have pushed me to get rid of Norton. But I’d already planned to do that anyway. I still use the password manager (which is a pretty good one), but I have no use any longer for the rest of the suite.

It just goes to show you: when it comes to maintaining Windows PCs, there’s always something lurking in the background ready to strike. This time, I got stung just a little. But sometimes, workarounds are less obvious, or less easy to find and apply. This time, I got lucky…

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Laughing Off Black Friday Deals

Yes, I could have waited, as it turns out. I bought an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X from Amazon in September. I paid around US$394. Today, Black Friday prices are out and it’s on sole for US$341. Difference: US$53. All in all I could’ve saved around US$200 on my whole basket of parts. Not bad for a $1,200 buy. But laughing off Black Friday deals is part of making a buy decision. That said, there are some pretty good deals happening right now. If you  are in the market for PCs or parts, it’s the best time of the year to buy.

Spending Earlier Means Laughing Off Black Friday Deals Now

But it also means I should look around and see what kinds of deals I can find right now. I’ve been lusting for a Caldigit Element Thunderbolt 4 hub (4x Thunderbolt 4/4x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 60W charging). But as you might expect with leading/bleeding edge technology items, it’s still at its MSRP of US$250.

OTOH, SSDs and HDDs are indeed showing up at bargain prices. Thus, for example I see a Hynix 1 TB NVMe for US$130 and a Seagate 5TB 2.5″ HDD for US$124 (5400 RPM). IGN.com has a nifty story on Black Friday Deals that’s worth a look. You can expect other websites to offer Black Friday rundowns through the weekend. If you’re in the market — or just thinking about some tech buys — you won’t be sorry if you take some time to look around and see what kinds of deals you can find. Shop till you drop, dear Readers — this the season!

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ARM Windows 11 Ecosystem Should Explode Soon

When I reported last week that only Windows 11 would run x64 emulation on ARM processors, I didn’t realize that this space should indeed open up soon. According to Rich Woods at XDA-developers.com, (a) Qualcomm currently has  exclusive access to Windows for its SnapDragon chips, and (b) that exclusive arrangement will expire sometime “soon.” When that happens (no firm dates) the ARM Windows 11 ecosystem should explode with activity. At a minimum, it’s likely that ARM chip vendors Samsung and MediaTek will want to get in on this action. With ARM doors wide open, even Apple Mac silicon may be able to run Windows 11 more effectively…

What Does ARM Windows 11 Ecosystem Should Explode Mean?

Competition, in a word. Right now, ARM-based laptops remain pricey when it comes to price-performance comparisons with intel or AMD based hardware. I expect that more vendors entering this market will drive prices down. Hopefully, that means they’ll come down enough to make ARM-based computers an attractive proposition.

I’ve looked at acquiring such a unit for nearly three years now. I saw my first ARM laptop early on at the MVP Summit in 2018. But each time I’ve looked at what an ARM-based system cost, I’ve steered clear because the cost just didn’t work for me. I’m curious but when it comes to spending my own money, curiosity only goes so far. A 14″ Lenovo Flex 5G costs $1,400 at Verizon right now, with 256 GB SSD and 8 GB RAM. For the same money, same vendor, I can get a more powerful CPU, 16 GB RAM and at least 512 GB SSD with Intel i5 or AMD equivalent processor. It’s not a compelling proposition — yet.

What Else Needs to Happen?

Lower prices. Better CPU parity. Stronger Windows support. It will still be a while before ARM can give either intel or AMD a run for Windows mind- and marketshare. But that will be an interesting race to watch. Hopefully, we all wind up winners when it’s been run. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.

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Exploring Lenovo Yoga7i Loaner

I’ve got a new toy to play with here at Chez Tittel — a Yoga 7 14ITL5. My First Look at this unit appeared a couple of days ago, and includes detailed specs and other initial impressions. Since then, I’ve been exploring Lenovo Yoga7i loaner as my schedule has allowed and have uncovered some surprising and interesting information and capabilities. Let me tell you more…

What I’m Learning from Exploring Lenovo Yoga7i Loaner

I speculated that Windows 11 was applied as an upgrade as part of the “first boot” behavior on this laptop. I was wrong about that. The update history shows no upgrade, and there’s no Windows.old folder on the machine. You can see its disk map, courtesy of WizTree, in the lead-in graphic for the story. It grabbed all of my OneDrive stuff when it established my MSA user account, but it’s all Windows 11, all the way.

Obviously, interesting things are possible by way of Windows 11 OEM deployment. The OOB/first boot experience is different from anything I’ve seen in previous versions of Windows, from 10 back as far as you’d like to go. It looks like everything hinges on the Microsoft Account (MSA) that users supply for the initial login, which seems to conclude with a complete OS install and setup.

The disk footprint is reasonably modest. Discounting OneDrive, there’s about 55 GB worth of files on the Yoga 7’s C: drive. I just ran Disk Cleanup (admin) and was able to bring that down by 2.02 GB. Running DriverStore Explorer found about 32 MB worth of obsolete (probably duplicate) device drivers, too.

But it’s a completely native Windows 11 installation. Examining Apps & Features in settings, I see some stuff I neither want nor need, including Alexa, Disney+, McAfee LiveSafe, and Spotify. But as crapware goes, that’s a pretty light load. Kudos to Lenovo for not loading their image down with all kinds of useless cruft.

My verdict on this US$850-950 PC as configured: pretty good value for the price. I wouldn’t use this PC as a daily driver, but it is a nice casual computing platform. It runs reasonably well, and looks and behaves nicely, too. Good stuff!

 

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x64 ARM Emulation Only for Windows 11

Organizations and users pondering Windows 11 adoption just got another reason. In  a November 16 story, Windows maven Paul Thurrot reports an interesting development. He quotes a spokesperson: “Microsoft wants to share an update that x64 emulation for Windows is only generally available in Windows 11. For those interested in experiencing x64 emulation, a PC running Windows 11 on ARM is required.” That means: x64 ARM emulation only for Windows 11, not Windows 10.

Why Does x64 ARM Emulation Only for Windows 11 Matter?

x64 emulation supports modern applications/apps, of which many aren’t available in 32-bit form. According to at least one source, “x64 apps brought not only improved compatibility but significant performance uplifts as well” (WinAero). Even though Windows 10 Insider Previews announced x64 emulation in December, 2020, things have changed. MS amended that post to include this notice:

Updated 11/16/2021: x64 emulation for Windows is now generally available in Windows 11. For those interested in experiencing this, a PC running Windows 11 on Arm is required.

It’s not just for Insiders anymore. But it is just for those running  Windows 11.

That said, BusinessWire reported last month (October 13)  about ARM PC sales. Together, Qualcomm and MediaTek account for just over 20% of that market. Revenues are forecast at $949M for 2021. Thus, native Windows devices account for at most $190M of that total. Figuring a ballpark price of $2K per unit, that’s around 95K units. Compare that with the 300M or so units that firms like Statista show for the last four quarters (Q4’20 thru Q3’21). From that viewpoint, ARM PCs represent well under 1% marketshare.

Is This Big News, Then?

It is, and it isn’t. ARM PCs don’t represent a big chunk of the PC market right now. It is significant that MS delivers advanced features only in its current OS. IMO, the ARM portion of the PC market has noplace to go but up. Consider also that such processors totally rule smartphones, with annual unit volumes over 1B.

I think it’s significant MS decided to forgo x64 emulation on ARM in Windows 10. I think they’re betting on the impetus to “buy new” (and get the latest OS) for those considering future ARM PC purchases. Whether or not this accelerates the usual 18-24 month lag between a new Windows version and noticeable business OS migration efforts is anybody’s guess. Methinks it won’t make much, if any, difference.

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First Look: Yoga 7i Defines Windows 11 Ready

I have to laugh. After sending back the ThinkPad Carbon X1 Gen9 to Lenovo a couple of weeks ago, I asked for a “PC with Windows 11 on it.” What I got showed up via FedEx yesterday. After initial boot-up (which I didn’t check out thoroughly I blush to confess) the PC’s first act was to upgrade itself to Windows 11. I’m guessing that means it had Windows 10 installed, with an auto-task to perform the upgrade during initial boot-up. This nice little gunmetal grey Yoga 7i defines Windows 11 ready, I guess, because it showed itself more than capable of getting to Windows 11 literally out of the box. Sigh. That’s not quite what I expected, but it’ll have to do.

FWIW, the product pages for the unit still show it with Windows 10 installed. I’m guessing my friends on the Lenovo Reviews team added a first-boot script to fire off the upgrade as a concession to my request. Makes me chuckle, though…

If Yoga 7i Defines Windows 11 Ready, Then What?

It took almost half an hour for me to get past the install/upgrade processes the unit fired off on its own at first boot. Looks like all the device drivers got WU-based upgrades, too. Only then did I learn I was dealing with a copy of Windows 11 Home. Shorty after that, I learned that none of my volume license keys or WIMVP courtesy Visual Studio Subscription keys worked for a Pro upgrade.  Sigh: it’s always something, right?

I checked the speed on the USB-C ports and found that they are indeed UASP, with external NVMe devices clocking in at around 1 GBps as they should. I’m a little miffed that I can’t remote into the 7i to make screencaps and suchlike on my production desktop. I’ve asked Lenovo to send an upgrade key to make that happen.

The device has a bit of a weird configuration:

  • i5-1135G7 CPU (4 cores, 10nm, 2.4 GHz clock)
  • 12 GB RAM (I’m guessing 1x4GB + 1x8GB)
  • 0.5 TB Samsung OEM SSD
  • Iris Xe Graphics
  • 1920×1080 display (default to 150% magnification), 60Hz, touchscreen

But all, in all, it is a lightweight, reasonably fast and capable laptop. Looks like this configuration costs around $850 or so. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty good value for the money. I’ll have more to say after I’ve spent more time with the machine and understand its capabilities better. So far, so good, though…

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Estimating Windows 11 Restart Time

Because today is Patch Tuesday (November 9) I got several opportunities to see WU at work handling updates. Owing to across-the-board Cumulative Updates (CUs) today, that meant 1 production version, 1 Beta version and 2 Dev Channel versions. As you can see from the lead-in graphic, estimating Windows 11 restart time is now part of what WU offers. I thought this was pretty cool, until I realized all 4 PCs proffered the same estimate.

What Does Estimating Windows 11 Restart Time Tell You?

Just for grins, I timed a couple of my restarts to see how long they would actually take. I’m pleased to report that the MS/Win11 estimate is conservative. It took 1:25 to get to the desktop with GadgetPack running to show me a second hand on its clock widget on my X1 Extreme (i7-8850H CPU, 6 Cores). It took 2:35 to get to the same place on my X380 Yoga (i7-8650U CPU, 4 Cores).

That tells me that MS isn’t necessarily driving the estimate from observation of previous start times. Rather, it looks like a rough-and-ready interval that will not set user expectations overly high. Why do I say these things? Because the number was the same across a range of CPUs. And because the number was too high for all of them.

My gut feel is that if this estimate were data driven, it would be slightly high on some and slightly low on others. Because it was the same for all four PCs, and too pessimistic likewise, it strikes me as a “safe estimate” probably based on worst-case observations.

How Does 4 Minutes Strike YOU?

All this said, I think 4 minutes is neither a terrible number nor a glorious one. When I’ve really worked at getting start-up times to their barest minimums on Windows 10 (haven’t yet tried this on 11) I’ve seldom gotten below 1:30 or so. But I’ve read about others who’ve documented start times just under a minute (0:45 or higher).

This may be a fruitful topic for research and play. Now, I just need to find the necessary spare time…

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WU Reset Tool Works on Windows 11

I’ve been a member over at TenForums for almost 7 years now. In fact, I joined up on November 14, 2014 shortly after the first Technical Preview emerged. This weekend, I was relieved to discover that the batch file Shawn Brink created as a WU reset tool works on Windows 11, too. (The preceding link goes to a tutorial that provides a download and explains how to use it to reset Windows Update, or WU).

It’s a Relief that WU Reset Tool Works on Windows 11

My Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga test machine would start downloading updates from WU just fine. But part-way through the download process, progress would stop. Eventually, I would get an “Update failed…” error message, with a Retry button. After several tries, each with its own similar failure, I knew sterner measure were needed.

I actually keep the batch file from the afore-linked tutorial on my shared desktop in OneDrive. It’s called

Reset_Reregister_Windows_Update_Components.bat

and it does a thorough reset of the Windows Update environment. It begins by halting all update-related services, then it empties all folders where recently-downloaded update files reside, checks (and if necessary resets) various WU-related registry settings, then restarts those same services. A reboot follows next, after which one can try one’s luck with WU again.

So I ran the batch file in an administrative cmd prompt on the affected machine, let it do its thing, then restarted that PC. Presto! After restarting, my next update attempt succeeded. I wasn’t 100% sure it would work on Windows 11 because the tool was built for Windows 10. But to my great delight and relief, it set the Windows Update environment back to working order. And thus, I was able to catch that machine up with the current state of the Dev Channel.

Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I recommend the tool and its accompanying tutorial highly. Find it at TenForums as Reset Windows Update in Windows 10. Hopefully, Mr. Brink will soon do a run-through to create a Windows 11 specific version. Should that occur, I will add a link to that version here as well.

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Windows Web Experience Pack Mysteries

Recently, Microsoft Store has installed a new app on all of the Windows 11 machines I’ve checked. It’s named the Windows Web Experience Pack. It only has the name in the Description field, is categorized under “Utilties & tools,” and the support and website URLs on its store page link to Microsoft.com. So when, I say I’ve encountered some Windows Web Experience pack mysteries, I’m not kidding. In fact, it’s definitely more mysterious than not.

A List of Windows Web Experience Pack Mysteries

1. You can’t find this utility with a search. I tried.
2. Check out the whole Store page. There’s a Windows 10 logo in the Screenshots pane. System Requirements, however, specifically state “Window 11 version 22000.20 or higher.” WTF?
3. No description or working links for documentation. A search at docs.microsoft.com turns up zilch,  as well.
4. When you click on the “Open” link on the Store page, nothing happens. Nothing shows on the Processes or Details tabs in Task Manager either (at least, not as far as I can tell).
5. WinAero puts things best when it stays “Because there is no official word from Microsoft on what WWEP does, we can only speculate that this component is responsible for updating core web components in the OS used by Store apps.”

We know it’s something aimed at all Web browsers, because otherwise it would be Edge-focused and -specific. But beyond that we don’t much about it all. It’s a “mystery pack” much like the Recent Windows Feature Experience Pack and the Online Service Experience Pack introduced earlier this year.

One Mystery Resolved

Turns out you can also find the Web Experience Pack in Windows 10. Here’s a link to that Store page. Its system requirements are 2004/19041.0 or higher. Thus, it obviously originated with Windows 10. I think that explains the logo at the top of the Windows 11 version’s Store page. Somebody copied it over from the Windows 10 version and changed nothing except for the system requirements. Even the reviews for both versions include all the same stuff.

What About the Others?

Good question! I’ve got my curiosity up now, so I’ll keep digging around. But these “packs” seem extraordinarily opaque to those outside the inner circle of Windows architects and developers. This is definitely another case of “wait and see how it all turns out.” Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.

Note Added November 4

One of my WIMVP buddies — Shawn Keene — informed me that you can simply type “web” into the Run box (WinKey+R) and it will open File Explorer to that folder automagically. I tried it. Sure enough: it works. Use this as your shortcut for exploring. Thanks, Shawn.

 

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