All posts by Ed Tittel

Full-time freelance writer, researcher and occasional expert witness, I specialize in Windows operating systems, information security, markup languages, and Web development tools and environments. I blog for numerous Websites, still write (or revise) the occasional book, and write lots of articles, white papers, tech briefs, and so forth.

Three-Key Method Enables Instant Screen Snip

I collect and treasure cool keyboard shortcuts. I just learned a fantastic one, from long-time TenForums Guru @Berton. He rightfully describes himself as a “Win10 User/Fixer.” If you press these three keys together: WinKey+Shift+S you’ll launch the newfangled Snip&Sketch screen capture tool built into Windows 10, ready to capture whatever you like. I say this three-key method enables instant screen snip because there’s no need to launch the app to start the capture process in motion.

Which Three-Key Method Enables Instant Screen Snip?

I have to laugh at myself about picking up this tip from a third party. When you launch Snip & Sketch manually, the default screen that shows up is depicted in the lead-in graphic. There’s the tip, right there! (See above.)

You can launch Snip & Sketch in a variety of other ways, including:

  • from the Search box (typing “Snip &” usually suffices)
  • using the Screen Snip button in Action Center
  • entering explorer ms-screenclip: in the Search or Run boxes, or at any command line interface

What Makes the Three-Key Method Attractive/Useful?

It’s fast, easy, and happens immediately following key sequence entry. Because of my writing work, especiallly on Windows 10 topics, I’m capturing screens all the time. Anything that makes this faster and easier is a good thing for me. Others who labor in similar ways — tech writing or documentation, blogging, articles, and so forth — should find this equally useful.

I’m also giving myself the Homer Simpson “Doh!” award for not attending to the default app window’s poignant and informative message. It reads “Press Windows logo key + Shift + S to snip what’s on your screen without starting Snip & Sketch.” If only I’d thought about this (or tried it out sooner) I could’ve been doing this long ago.

That’s life for me these days in Windows World. I may not be first across the finish line, but I still (mostly) get to where I need to go. Tortoises rock!


Two Commands Boot Into WinRE

I had the good fortune to provide copy edit and feedback to an MS person who works with Windows 10 recovery tools recently. From the blog post involved in our back-and-forth, I learned that two commands boot into WinRE (that is, the Windows Recovery Environment). Of course, a restart is required to make this happen. It’s not like Advanced Startup in Settings → Update & Security → Recovery → Advanced Startup. That is, you won’t immediately restart your PC as you do when clicking its “Restart now” button. I almost fell over when I tried that out for the first time!

Which Two Commands Boot Into WinRE?

One I already knew about, the other is a welcome and interesting surprise. The surprising one uses a special switch for the Windows RE configuration tool — namely REAgentC. Turns out there’s a special option named “boottore” that does the trick. If you parse the string properly, it’s self-advertising: “boottore” = “Boot to R(ecovery )Environment.” Thus, that complete command is:

reagentc /boottore

The second one is a special version of the good old, familiar shutdown command. It takes two parameters–namely:

  • /r Restarts the computer after shutdown
  • /o Goes to Advanced boot options menu and restarts device, then boots into WinRE

Thus, the complete command is:

shutdown /r /o

What’re These Commands Good For?

Good question. In this modern era, transfer of control to the Windows loader often occurs extremely fast. This means that it can be difficult to impossible to interrupt the initial bootstrap process to divert over to an alternate boot menu — such as WinRE, BIOS/UEFI, boot device menus, and so forth. These commands put you in control over what happens after your next boot in advance. This has become my preferred method, because of the degree of control and guaranteed results that occur.

Shoot! Give one or both of them a try. You might come to like one or the other of them, too! For best results, run them in an administrative command prompt window or PowerShell session.


MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update

There’s an interesting spin on Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool available on GitHub. It’s known as MediaCreationTool.bat, and basically it allows users to build an ISO (or a bootable USB device) for any version of Windows 10 from 1507 all the way up to 21H1. By saying “MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update” I’m informing readers an updated version now includes 19043 Builds (21H1).

If MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update, Then What?

I wrote about this tool last year for Win10.Guru where you’ll find background and info about the developer. This GitHub project throws up a menu (see center of Command Prompt window above) that lets users pick the version of Windows 10 for which they want to grab an image. As MCT has always done, it lets them apply an update to the current PC. More commonly, it also lets them create an ISO or build bootable USB media with the chosen image aboard.

A couple of steps are needed to make the batch file usable, however. First, it won’t run unless it gets a .bat extension. You can right-click the GitHub page, select “Save-as” and then make sure to pick “All files” from the File type option. Otherwise, it saves with a .txt extension which must be removed through a file rename operation. Either way, you’ll want to open the properties for this file in Explorer, then click the Unblock button to make sure the OS doesn’t prevent its execution.

Using the Batch File Is a Snap

Then, open an Administrator: Command Prompt window, navigate to the directory where the batch file resides, and run it. I right-click the file name in explorer and grab the name from the Properties window. Then I can simply paste the string into Command Prompt to avoid re-typing. It’s what produced the lead-in graphic for this story.

Because the batch file changes each time a new Windows version comes out, you should get in the habit of visiting the developer’s home page for the script to grab the latest version. From there, click the “Raw” button to open a Web page with the latest version inside.

MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update.homepage

Click the Raw button at upper right and web page with the script text inside will open. Then you can follow the preceding “Save” instructions for your very own copy.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

I’ve gotten in the habit of naming the file to include the version number for the most current one it supports. Thus, I named the most recent such file MediaCreationTool21H1.bat. Hope that makes sense. Enjoy! Good stuff.


When WU Repairs Fail Try UUPDump

I’ve got two test machines on the Beta Channel release right now. The older of the pair — a 2014 vintage Surface Pro 3 — is stuck on KB5000842 and keeps throwing install errors. Others reporting into the TenForums thread on this update have had success using the terrific UUPdump tool to build a customized image to install 19043.906. So that’s what I’m trying, too. In general, my strategy is “When WU repairs fail try UUPDump” next anyway. Glad to see others use that strategy, too.

When WU Repairs Fail Try UUPDump.WUerror

A couple of failures, including a complete WU reset, means it’s time to change update strategies.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Why Say: When WU Repairs Fail Try UUPDump?

The update installs fail each time with an error code of 0x800F081F. This is interesting, and a bit strange, because the error is often associated with the Windows Update Assistant nowhere present in this situation. It can also pop up when items are missing from the download packages that WU delivers to the desktop.

That latter reason explains why a switchover to UUPDump makes sense. It grabs the ISO-based image for the base OS version from MS servers  (19043 aka 21H1 in this case). Then, it uses DISM to apply all newer updates packages up to and including the problematic KB5000842 item that’s throwing the error here. It’s perfectly safe because it uses only Microsoft Servers as the source for its OS and update files.

Building the 19043.906 ISO File

Running UUPDump to build an ISO for a patched OS takes some time because of the many and various steps involved. For the SP3 PC, it took over an hour before it got stuck mounting the image for Build 19041.1. That’s when I realized it makes sense to run UUPdump batch files on the fastest PC around.

Thus, I ran the same job on my Lenovo X1 Extreme, with its 6-core i7-8850H CPU. Given more threads and a faster CPU and much faster Samsung OEM PCIe x3 SSDs, it ran noticeably faster, though the KB5000842 cab file update still took 5 minutes to complete (click “view image” inside the lead-in graphic for this story). The whole thing still took 35 minutes from start to finish.

And it went that fast only because we have fast (nominal GbE, actual 900 Mbps or so) Internet service here at Chez Tittel. What takes the real time, however, is bringing the windows image (.wim) file up from base level Build 19043.844 to the current/highest level Build 19043.906. This takes several steps, each one involving mounting the image, adding packages, the dismounting the image, and continuing forward. There’s some mucking around with a WinRE.wim file along the way, too.

Performing the In-Place Repair Install

This is the easy part: mount the image, run setup.exe and let the installer do its thing. This takes a while, too — considerably longer than applying the update would (checking the PC, agreeing to the EULA, checking for updates,  and so forth; then finally into OS installation). This entire process took another hour or so to complete. But here’s the end result, straight from winver.exe:

When WU Repairs Fail Try

All’s well that ends well: here’s Build info from the upgraded SP3, right where I want it to be

More About UUPDump

I’ve written about UUPDump for numerous other sites, including TechTarget and Win10.Guru, both for my Windows Enterprise Desktop blog. Here are some links, if you’d like to learn more:

  1. UUPDump Invaluable Resource (TechTarget)
  2. A Peek Inside UUPDump (Win10.Guru) includes a brief interview with its developer who goes by the handle “Whatever”
  3. UUPDump Outdoes Windows Update (Win10.Guru)



Build 21343 File Explorer Makeover

On March 24, MS released Build 21343 to Dev Channel Insiders. I immediately heard and saw that File Explorer shows a new look, with modern iconography and a clean, spare layout. But I really didn’t appreciate how attractive things were until I produced the screencap for the lead-in graphic.  While there’s no disputing Build 21343 File Explorer Makeover sounds nice, it’s amazing to experience first hand.

Indeed, Build 21343 File Explorer Makeover Is Real

The top-line toolbar gets a new set of icons that include new UI elements seen elsewhere. For example, the Settings icon at middle top is spiffed up. It now matches the one used in the Start Menu and elsewhere in Dev Channel and other Windows 10 versions. The default folders (formerly known as Libraries) get compelling new icons. Compare them to the folder icons from Build 19042.868 on my production PC. Note that the seldom-used 3D Objects folder — I’ve never used it once myself — also disappears from view.

Build 21343 File Explorer Makeover.oldfoldericons

The old Folder icons (shown preceding) seem flat, monochromatic, and boring compared to the new ones up top.
[Click item for full-sized view.]

Bigger, Bolder Icons Offer More Visual Impact

Even the Network view in File Explorer gets a more interesting and appealing look and feel, as the next screenshot shows quite nicely. Up until now I’d been inclined to take breathless hype surrounding the upcoming “Sun Valley” Windows 10 redesign with a grain or two of salt. Now, seeing the way that File Explorer pops with just a bit of that fairy dust applied, I’m rethinking my enthusiasm.

There may indeed be something interesting and — as Panos Panay put it for upcoming Windows 10 changes at the recent Ignite conference — “exciting” going on here. We still have no choice but to wait and see how future Dev Channel releases play this out. But I am now inclined to be more curious and to look forward more positively for what may be coming next. We’ll see!

Build 21343 File Explorer Makeover.networkicons

The New Network icons also offer more pop and pizazz.
[Click item for full-sized view.]


Lenovo Vantage Updates Take Patience

Here’s a sticky situation I’ve found myself in more than once. I’m reasonably fond of the Lenovo Vantage update tool, which handles BIOS, firmware, driver and ancillary software updates pretty well. Occasionally, two or more updates requiring a reboot appear together therein. That’s what happened today, as an Intel Manage-ment Engine (IME) firmware update and a BIOS update appeared in tandem. It’s also what reminded me that Lenovo Vantage updates take patience.

Why Say: Lenovo Vantage Updates Take Patience?

This doesn’t happen with Windows Update, but when you’re applying low-level updates to a system, items that require a reboot must be applied one at a time. I’ve learned this working with Vantage over the past few years. If a firmware update and a BIOS update show up on the same day, it’s best to download and install one by itself. Then, repeat for the second item.

What happens if you try to do more than one? When you attempt to install the second item with a reboot pending, installation fails because it is smart enough to recognize that two separate and distinct reboots are needed.

I don’t always remember this, so I got bitten today when Vantage finished the pre-reboot phase of the BIOS update and transitioned into the IME update. As soon as the IME update got going, it stopped itself and reported an error. Part of the text read “An installation failed to complete properly. Please reboot and try again.”

The Reboot’s the Thing

Of course, as soon as the reboot got through shutdown and into restart, the BIOS update ran to completion and the system rebooted again. After that reboot, I returned to Vantage to generate the lead-in graphic for this story that shows the IME firmware update still pending. As soon as I clicked install, I got an explicit reboot warning, to wit:

If I’d run the sequence IME first, BIOS second, I’d have seen this warning right away, and not been caught in an error. Sigh.

In general, it’s a good idea to make firmware and BIOS changes piecemeal anyway. You don’t want more than one thing at a time to blow up. That could complicate troubleshooting beyond belief. That’s NOT what anyone wants when making deep-level system changes.

Live and learn — or in my case, keep living and get an occasional reminder. Cheers!


Windows 10 Driver Go-To Tool DriverStore Explorer

I’ll confess. I’ve been a fan of lostindark’s DriverStore Explorer tool for a decade or more now. Aka RAPR.exe, this tool lays bare the complete contents of the Windows DriverStore for versions 7 and newer. It also makes it pretty easy to clean up old drivers, thanks to its “Select Old Driver(s)” (SOD) button. That what makes my main Windows 10 driver go-to tool DriverStore Explorer. Accept no substitutes!

Windows 10 Driver Go-To Tool DriverStore Explorer Shows ALL Drivers

If you look at the lead-in graphic for this story, you’ll see 8 copies of the same Intel Bluetooth driver installed on my Lenovo X1 Extreme (Gen 8) laptop.  Three older versions of the same driver are also present. When I click the SOD button, 6 copies of the 1/22/2021 driver get marked, along with all 3 2020 versions. When I then click the “Delete Driver(s)” button, and confirm that instruction, exactly 2 copies remain behind. Because they’re different sizes  — one is 2 MB, the other 6 MB — I conclude they’re different even though they share a common filename. All the rest of them (31 MB total) are gone.

Some Drivers Are Special Cases

Sometimes, when you use the SOD button, a selected driver won’t be deleted. Typically, that means the still-present item is in use, despite being older than something else also present in the DriverStore. You can force deletion on such items, but are risking system instability by doing so. I recommend against this unless you’re dead sure the newer driver will work correctly.

Even so, I typically recover anywhere from 50MB to several GB of disk space when I use RAPR to clean out my Windows 10 DriverStores. Nvidia graphics drivers are particularly big space consumers (and generally run from 900 MB to 1.1 or 1.2 GB in size). Cleaning up a half-dozen of these can recover some real space.

Try it for yourself. You can’t help but like it. Visit the GitHub page for more information and the most current download. As I write this story, that version is numbered v0.11.64.



USB Cables Make Amazing Differences

A couple of weeks ago, I read an online item bemoaning the variations in USB cables, especially those with USB-C connectors on one or both ends. This weekend, I experienced this phenom for myself. I also learned that the right USB cables make amazing differences in speed/throughput.

In the lead-in screenshots above, CrystalDiskMark speeds for the same device appear at left and right. To the left is the US$26 Fideco M.2 NVME External SSD Enclosure – USB 3.1. It’s linked to my Lenovo Yoga X390 through its USB 3.1 port using the vendor-supplied cable. Inside is the Sabrent 1TB Nano M.2 2242 SSD I’ve been writing about a lot lately. To the right everything is identical except I used a USB 3.1 Gen 2 cable. It’s rated at “up to 10 GBPS.”

No Lie: USB Cables Make Amazing Differences

Why on earth would the equipment vendor ship such a POS cable with an otherwise capable NVME enclosure? Speed results for the in-box cable (right) versus a US$7 cable purchased from Amazon differ starkly. For bulk transfers, the Amazon cable is 10 or more times faster. For 4K random reads and writes (bottom two rows), it’s between 6 and 7 times faster for queue depth = 32. That drops to 2 to 3 times faster for queue depth = 1.

Clearly, this is a red flag. It tells us that faster USB-C cables can speed peripheral I/O significantly. It also indicates that one should know what kinds of cables to buy. I got the speed-rated cables so I could see if they did make a difference. Little did I know I would actually benefit greatly from this experiment.

Wrinkles in the Plug-n-Play Experience

The question with USB-C cables is not “Will it work?” Rather, it should be “How fast does it go?” I’ve just learned that big differences sometimes present themselves. Testing your devices is the only way to confirm what kind of performance you’re getting. In my case, it quickly showed me that a high-speed USB-C cable is a worthwhile expense.

FWIW, this experiment also  explained some of the cost differential between the US$26 Fideco unit linked above and the US$45 Sabrent units I also own. The latter ships with USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cables that perform on par with the speed-rated cables I mentioned near the outset of this story. The NVME enclosures are more or less on par performance wise. That’s NOT true for the in-box USB-C cables, though. There indeed: you get what you pay for!


21H1 Attains Commercial Pre-Release Validation

A recent Windows IT Pro Blog post title reads “Windows 10, version 21H1 for commercial pre-release validation.” That means that users can update selected PCs to 21H1 using the enablement package to see what it’s like. The post raises interesting questions. “Do you want to see how quickly devices update from version 2004 or 20H2 to 21H1, and how little downtime is involved? Now you can!” And that dear readers is what 21H1 attains commercial pre-release validation means. Simply put: Check it out!

What If 21H1 Attains Commercial Pre-Release Validation?

The fine print reveals it’s still necessary that “select PCs” enroll in the Insider Preview program to partake of 21H1. Indeed, MS announced on February 17 the enablement package would go to Beta Channel Insiders. I’ve been running it on my Surface Pro 3 since then, to very good effect. The whole thing took under 5 minutes on that 2014-vintage PC (i7-4650U CPU, 8 GB RAM, Samsung 256 GB OEM mSATA SSD) from initial download, through installation, and back to the desktop. It ought to go faster on newer, more capable hardware.

Another Harbinger of GA

Of course, GA stands for “General Availability.” That’s when MS starts public release of a new Windows 10 version through official channels. If “commercial pre-release” is happening now, GA won’t be too far behind. This hasn’t always been part of the MS release sequence, but it is a definite signal that 21H1 is coming soon. In fact, I think it’s bound to appear within the next 30 days. I’m guessing Patch Tuesday, April 13 or somewhere thereabouts, is quite likely.

Typically, business users tend to follow one or two versions behind the leading edge. So perhaps this is really a signal they should be planning upgrades to 2004 (on the trailing edge) or 20H2 (on the leading one)? As with so much else on the Internet, things vary wildly from one organization to the next. I still keep seeing the screens at my optometrist’s office, with the Windows 7 lock screen on cheerful display…


A Tale of Two USB Ports

I’ve been troubleshooting a vexing M.2 2242 NVMe drive this week. If you look back over my recent writings here at, you’ll see this adventure has led me to some interesting places. Yesterday, it led me to recognize that not all USB-C ports are the same. I found myself confronting the profound difference that current-gen Thunderbolt support can make. Thus indeed, a tale of two USB ports follows.

Telling the Tale of Two USB Ports

On the one hand: a 2019-vintage Lenovo X390 Yoga. Its fastest USB port is described in its tech specs as “USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C / Intel Thunderbolt 3.” On the other hand: a 2021-vintage Lenovo X1 Nano. Its fastest USB port is described in its tech specs as “USB 4 Thunderbolt 4.” I must confess, I was curious about what differences might manifest between these two technology generations.

It made a significant difference. Thus the story’s lead-in graphic shows. CrystalDiskMark output from the Nano is on the left, the X390 on the right. It shows the speed-up varies somewhat. It is better than 2:1 on the big-transfer items (upper 2). But the more important random 4K reads/writes fill the bottom two rows. There,  we see 17-18% (read-write) for random with queue depth=1. That jumps to 42-50% with queue depth=32.

In practice, I believe it’s what allows the X1 Nano with an i5 processor to work much like my older i7-6700 on my desktop PC. It also makes the X1 Nano faster than the X390, despite an i7 on that older machine. I/O is indeed a  powerful performance factor.

Is USB 4 Thunderbolt 4 Worth Buying?

If you’re in the market for a new PC or laptop, you will get a performance boost from using the newer USB technology. If the ability to complete backups (and other big file transfers) twice as fast is worth something to you, factor that into the price differential. If better overall I/O performance of at least 18% in accessing peripheral storage has value, ditto.

Only you can decide if it’s worth the price differential. For me, the answer is “Heck yeah!” I’m not sure that means I’ll buy an X1 Nano. But I am sure it means my next laptop will have USB 4 Thunderbolt 4 ports.