Category Archives: Device drivers

Flaky Video Driver Forces Fix Revisits

My production desktop’s dual monitor setup gets a little wonky from time to time. For some odd reason, the right-hand (primary) monitor will start blinking on and off. It’s annoying, but not overwhelming. When it happens, an apparently flaky video driver forces fix revisits. Basically, I keep trying stuff until something works. By no coincidence, that’s a decent operational definition for troubleshooting.

Items Checked When Flaky Video Driver Forces Fix Revisits

It usually goes something like this:

1. Use the Winkey-Ctrl-Shift-B key combo to reset the graphics driver. It does work, sometimes…
2. Check GeForce Experience to see if a newer driver is available; if so, install it.
3. If using the Nvidia gaming driver, switch to Studio driver, or vice-versa.
4. Uninstall, then reinstall the Nvidia driver. I also recommend using the freeware DDU tool to remove all traces of the old before installing the new.
5. Visit the Nvidia Driver Downloads page, and start trying older drivers, going back one version at a time… The recent entries in that list for my GeForce RTX 3070 Ti appear as the lead-in graphic for this story.

Today’s Fix Occurred Mid-way in Sequence

I got to Step 4 today before the blinking stopped. That’s a bit further than I usually have to go, but that’s Windows for you. I’m just glad I can concentrate on what’s showing on both displays, rather than how one or the other is (mis)behaving.

Some Windows errors or gotchas can be set aside and ignored for a while. Others — especially when they interfere with normal system operation — demand immediate attention. While today’s gotcha was one of the latter, it was familiar. Thus, I knew what to do, and how to do it, with minimum need for diagnosis and root cause analysis.

I just marched through the foregoing list and found my solution in under 10 minutes. I can only wish that all problems were so easily fixed. And that’s the way things are unfolding today, here in Windows World. Stay tuned: there’ll be more!

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Weird Full-Screen RDP Effect

I still use Windows 10 on my production desktop, but I run half-a-dozen instances of Windows 11 right now. Lately, I’ve noticed that with screen size expanded to fit the left-hand monitor — but not maximized — I get a weird full-screen RDP effect. I lose the start menu at the bottom of the screen. As I said: weird!

What Is the Weird Full-Screen RDP Effect?

The lead-in graphic for this story shows what I’m talking about from the Start Menu perspective. Up top, we see a Windows 10 Start Menu that surprisingly shows up at the bottom of a “full-screen” Windows 11 RDP window. When I hit the maximize  button at upper right, the lower (and normal) Windows 11 start menu appears. (Note: I selected “left” alignment in the Task Manager options to make it show up there for purposes of comparison and contrast).

Needless to say, when I don’t notice this and click on the full-screen Windows 10 menu, it doesn’t do anything to the Windows 11 RDP window above. This is disconcerting, to say the least. At worst, I start thinking I’ve got problems and start unnecessary troubleshooting actions. Sigh.

Why/How Did This Weirdness Present?

For some reason, this happened to me the last time I updated the Nvidia driver on my production PC. It’s now running version 516.93, installed last week. After the install completed, all the open windows moved to the right-hand (primary) monitor. That’s normal. But what’s different is that maximized RDP windows changed “auto-magically” to full-screen (but not maximized) layouts. That led me to the source of confusion when I dragged those full-screen windows to the secondary (left-hand) monitor.

Again: Weird! But by looking very closely at what I was seeing, I eventually figured out what was going on. Now I make sure to click the maximize button when using RDP. That way, I see the maximized RDP session controls at the top of the screen (see below) and know that the start menu at bottom is the start menu I want to work within that window.

Weird Full-Screen RDP Effect.controls

And that, dear readers, is how things sometimes go in Windows-world. As JRRT put it “All that glitters is not gold; not all those who wander are lost.” I wandered a bit, but ultimately figured out what was weird and why.

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A-Volute Software Component Mystery Solved

Oho! Yesterday was Patch Tuesday for July. Thus, I’ve been working through my stable of PCs, applying updates as I can. On my Ryzen 5800X Windows 11 desktop, I noticed something new and mysterious. Its MUC (Microsoft Update Catalog) entry provides the lead-in graphic for this story. Upon conducting research, this A-Volute software component mystery solved itself immediately.

How Is A-Volute Software Component Mystery Solved?

As with most such things, a quick trip to Google helps point me in the right direction. It turns out that A-Volute provides drivers for the Asrock B550’s audio circuitry. This also includes support for an Nh3 Audio Effects Component. It pops up under Software Components in Device Manager:

A-Volute Software Component Mystery Solved.dev-mgr-props

Googling online points me to a Realtek-related (Nahimic) audio driver, with matching entry in DevMgr. [Click for full-size view.]

I first found a credible mention of this at TenForums.  It appears in a thread on which I myself have been active. ( It’s entitled “Latest Realtek HD Audio Driver.”) Next, I find an entry named “A-Volute Nh3 Audio Effects Component” inside Device Manager. Presto! That convinces me the mystery is no longer unsolved.

I like to run things down when something new shows up amidst Patch Tuesday updates. It came along for the ride because MS  provides drivers as well as OS and other related updates. In most corporate or production IT environments, this doesn’t happen. Why not? Because untested drivers pose too many potential problems to simply let them through on their own.

Deconstructing Windows Mysteries

In general, when something new or unexpected shows up in Windows, it’s worth the effort to identify it. In most cases, it will be benign — as it was with this item. But sometimes, the mystery might deepen. Or it might even point to something malicious or malign. That’s when remediation comes into play. I’m happy that wasn’t needed this time. I’ll still keep my eye on new stuff going forward, though. One never knows when something wicked might this way come.

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Windows 11 Clean Install Overlooks Certain Drivers

OK, then: here’s a “new-ish” behavior in Windows 11 that I don’t love. Once upon a time, you could use the update function in Device Manager to search the Internet for device drivers. No longer: if a driver is absent, the “Update driver” function can’t find anything to use. That explains why Windows 11 clean install overlooks certain drivers. If they’re not in the driver store built into the ISO image, they’re simply unavailable.

If Windows 11 Clean Install Overlooks Certain Drivers, Then What?

Take my recently clean installed Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga. I happened to notice a half-dozen items under “Other Devices” in Device Manager yesterday. “Hmmm” I thought to myself. “Looks like the installer didn’t find some drivers while bringing the machine up.” Too true, as it turns out!

Fortunately, none of what was missing was essential to the laptop’s operation. Thus, that meant identifying the missing drivers, then finding and installing them. At first look, I saw 7 such devices. A quick hop to the Lenovo Vantage app (the company’s maintenance-update platform, which generally works OK or better) took care of three of them.

On a whim, I looked up LifeWire‘s story on the best free driver updaters (Tim Fisher updated it on April 4, 2022). It gives Driver Booster 9 Free the best rating (but the free version only updates 15 drivers, then requires users to pay ~US$23 to get a paid-up, for-a-fee version). It found 24 (!) drivers in need of update, so I concentrated on updating those that showed up with a “Driver Missing” label in that program’s output. Once identified, I knew I could handle the others on my own.

Back in  the High Life Again . . .

Indeed, the free version of the program did the trick for me. You can see in the lead-in graphic from Driver Store Explorer (aka RAPR.exe) that I was able to update 7 drivers (they show outdated versions). Add in another 7 new drivers added to go from “missing” to “found” and my system is now fully up-to-date, with no remaining “Other” device entries. No Device Manager items with the yellow exclamation point, either.

The gurus at TenForums and ElevenForum generally recommend against driver scan/update tools. I generally concur. But this was a big enough kerfluffle that I was grateful for some automated search-and-update help.

I guess that means I’m willing to make an exception when the “don’t check the Internet for available drives” behavior in Windows 11 prevents the installer from providing a full slate of items. I understand why MS did this (to prevent driver changes from adversely affecting naive users). But as I said in my lead ‘graph: I’m not in love with this design decision and its impact on clean install completeness.

That’s life, here in Windows-World. I can live with it, and fix it myself, when I must. So that’s what I did. And now the clean install machine is nearly production-ready. Just a few more apps and applications to go!

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NonCNVi M.2 Wi-Fi Device Delivers LAN Access

It’s always the little things that jump up to bite you (or me, anyway). In today’s case, it was my blithe assumption that Intel Integrated Connectivity (aka CNVi) wouldn’t prevent the AX201NGW M.2 Wi-Fi card from working on my AMD B550/Ryzen 3 5800X build. Yeah, right! But when I replaced it with a no-name (REKONG) Media Tech MT7921K module (depicted in the lead-in graphic), Device Manager picked up that non-Intel hardware immediately. After a bit of driver fiddling, this US$29 (tax included) nonCNVi M.2 Wi-Fi Device delivers LAN access as it should. It does have interesting limitations, though . . .

Fiddling Means NonCNVi M.2 Wi-Fi Device Delivers LAN Access

At first, after plugging in the device, I saw only non-working BlueTooth and Network Adapter devices in Device Manager. This informed me that Windows couldn’t find the required drivers on its own. But a quick search on “Windows 11 drivers for MT7921K” quickly turned up what I needed. They’re available from Lenovo, as it turns out, with a separate .exe for each of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

As the owner/operator of half-a-dozen (or more) Lenovo laptops, I’m quite familiar with their self-installing drivers. After downloading and installing them, here’s what I see in Device Manager:

NonCNVi M.2 Wi-Fi Device Delivers LAN Access.DevMgr

With the right drivers installed, the BT components and the Wi-Fi interface all show up. Good!

Just a Few More Things

Wi-Fi behavior on desktops can be interesting. The interface has a tendency to turn itself off upon reboot, I’ve learned. I’m also trying to figure out why I can access the LAN (via the nearby Asus AX6000 router), but I can’t yet get Internet access through this interface. I have a wired GbE connection that works fine, but had hoped to switch over to wireless. So now, I’m researching those two issues in hopes of finding solutions soon.

A little more time put intro troubleshooting the M.2 Wi-Fi card tells me lots of interesting stuff:

  • The lack of an external antenna means the device doesn’t see that many wi-fi interfaces as it scans the airwaves. Thus, for example, it doesn’t see the Spectrum-supplied router in my bedroom closet (all of my laptops in the same office see it quite well).
  • The fastest throughput I can get on the device is between 250 and 300 Mbps (observed through a connection to Fast.com).
  • The 2.4 and 5 MHz connections to the “office router” are flaky in interesting ways: sometimes, I can access one or the other to get on the LAN, but don’t get Internet access. At other times one channel or the other will be inaccessible. Again, I attribute this to lack of an external antenna. My son has a PCIe 802.11ax adapter card with triple external antennae in his bedroom, and he gets up to 900 Mbps from the bedroom closet router, and up to 500 Mbps from my office router.

No External Antenna Is NOT a Plus

I’m increasingly inclined to observe that an M.2 Wi-Fi card makes sense only where close proximity to a WAP is available. It’s probably not a good idea for machines that do lots of heavy upload/download stuff, either. That’s kind of what I wanted to learn more about, so I’m not disappointed by this experience. I feel like I understand the capabilities and limitations of these devices much better now. I will keep my GbE wired connection going forward, too: the M.2-based Wi-Fi is not fast enough for my needs. If I’m ever *forced* to go wireless, I now understand that a PCIe device is my fastest option.

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Windows Memory Integrity Now Covers Device Drivers

With the latest versions of Windows 10 and 11, Windows Security gains driver level protection. I’m talking about Build 19044.1586 or higher for Windows 10. Also, 22000.593 or higher for production 11, and 22581.200 or higher for Dev Channel Insider Previews. Looks like those still running Beta (22000.588, or higher) are also covered. Go into Microsoft Security, under the left-panel Device security heading. Drill into Core isolation details, then turn on Memory integrity (see lead-in graphic). Do all those things, and Windows memory integrity now covers device drivers. I’ll explain. . .

What Windows Memory Integrity Now Covers Device Drivers Means

With Core Isolation turned on (requires Hyper-V and VM support turned on in UEFI or BIOS), you can visit the MS Support Core isolation page to learn more. It also provides detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to turn this feature on (note: a restart is required).

Here’s a brief summary:

1. Memory integrity, aka Hypervisor-protected Code Integrity (HVCI), enables low-level Windows security and protects against driver hijack attacks.

2. Memory integrity creates an isolated environment (e.g. a sandbox) using hardware virtualization.

3. Programs must pass code to memory integrity inside the sandbox for verification. It only runs if the memory integrity check confirms code safety. MS asserts “Typically, this happens very quickly.”

Essentially, memory integrity/core isolation puts security inside a more secure area. There it can better protect itself from attack, while prevents drivers (and the runtime environments they serve) from malicious code and instructions.

What Can Go Wrong?

If any suspect drivers  are already present on a target system, you can’t turn memory integrity on. Instead you’ll get an error message something like this:

Note: the name of the driver appears in the warning. Thus, you can use a tool like RAPR.exe to excise it from your system. Be sure to find and be ready to install a safe replacement because that may render the affected device inaccessible and/or unusable.

Should you attempt to install a suspect or known malicious driver after turning this security feature on, Windows will refuse. It will provide a similar error message to report that the driver is blocked because it might install malware or otherwise compromise your PC.

That’s good: because that means driver protection is working as intended. Cheers!

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GPU Driver Update Fixes Flickering Solitaire

I cheerfully confess: I start most working days off with a rousing round of Microsoft Solitaire. When the game pane started flickering this morning, I asked myself “Time for a new Nvidia driver?” Sure enough, a new one issued on March 22 (yesterday). And, as usual, that GPU driver update fixes flickering Solitaire as desired.

Keep Calm and Carry On: GPU Driver Update Fixes Flickering Solitaire

I upgraded the Game Ready Driver to yesterday’s version 512.15 using GeForce Experience. The whole process took under 10 minutes. No reboot was required. Interestingly, Reliability Monitor collected no errors nor warnings while the monitor was flaking out on me, either.

It’s a good thing that the symptoms are both obvious, and easily diagnosed. And FWIW, a keyboard GPU restart (CTRL+WinKey+ Shift+B) didn’t fix things. That’s why I was hopeful that a driver update would make it all better. Luckily for me, that turned out well.

What If a New Driver Flops?

Things rapidly get more interesting if a new GPU driver fails to fix monitor flicker. First and foremost, I’d check cables next, starting (in this case) with the DisplayPort cables that stretch from the Gigabyte RTX 3070 Ti GPU adapter to the affected Dell 2717D. If a cable swap didn’t fix things, I’d try rolling back two driver versions or more (for Nvidia GPUs, that means using its manual driver search facility). If no joy after two or three older driver attempts, I’d next run monitor and GPU diagnostics.

Most of the time, it’s the driver. If it’s not the driver, it’s usually the cable. If I have to get down to diagnostics (usually available from GPU and monitor makers), things can quickly get expensive. Glad to have avoided such issues this time around.

But, here in Windows-World, it’s always something, right?

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Overcoming Obsolete AMD UEFI Limitations

In yesterday’s blog post I provided an overview of the build process for a new AMD 5800X based PC. That started with putting the physical pieces together (covered therein). It continued with getting Windows 11 installed on the box. That’s today’s subject and it involved overcoming obsolete AMD UEFI limitations. Let me explain . . . and then share some other interesting observations about the state of current PC art.

What Overcoming Obsolete AMD UEFI Limitations Means

When I started up the AMD build for the first time, I had my Ventoy drive plugged in. The then-present UEFI was smart enough to recognize that my SSD was unformatted and hence, unbootable. Pretty cool. Even better, it was smart enough to recognize that the Ventoy drive was bootable — so it passed boot control to that device.

I had a fresh new Windows 11 image on that drive, and started the install process right away. But after getting past the “enter product key” hurdle (I grabbed one, courtesy of my WIMVP Visual Studio subscription) came the WTF moment. The installer informed me that the PC did not meet Windows 11 hardware requirements. I knew it should (and would, eventually) but I had to figure out what was up.

To Get to 11, I First Had to Get to 10

The same Ventoy drive also included a fresh Windows 10 ISO as well. So I selected that as my install source and went through a hurry-up install of the older OS. It went FAST: took less than 10 minutes, in fact. Then I grabbed the PC Health Check to determine where my problem lay. The then-current UEFI did not support TPM in firmware (aka fTPM). No TPM, no Windows 11.

Thus, I checked the support page for the Asrock B550 Extreme4 motherboard, BIOS (UEFI) page. The latest version is numbered 2.10, dated August 6, 2021, and its first description element reads “Support Microsoft Windows 11” (See lead-in graphic). So I quickly re-learned how to use the Asrock Flash utility, downloaded and installed the new version, and rebooted my PC. This time, the fTPM capability showed up under the Security settings for the UEFI. I was set!

All’s Well on the Second Try

Sure enough, the Windows 11 installer raised no objections to the upgrade process. Here again, the install was fast, and completed in less than 20 minutes. As an aside, I had no issues with drivers on either the Windows 10 or 11 installs, though I do have an unresolved “PCI Encryption/Decryption Controller” entry in Device Manager I still need to clean up. Based on many, many prior PC builds a single dangling reference ain’t at all bad. Looks like a new February 2022 version of the AMD Chipset drivers should take care of it, too.

{Note added 5 mins later: And yes, installing those drivers did indeed clear this entry in Device Manager. All fixed!]

I used the Windows 11 product key to activate the OS after the install was complete. I’d never activated the Windows 10 having chosen the re-installing option to bypass that check when bringing up the PC for the first time. I’m still in the process of cleaning and finishing up the new Windows 11 install on this PC. That will probably stretch out over the rest of this week, given other work commitments. But so far, now that I’m past the UEFI hurdles, the new PC has shown itself to be fast, smart and capable.

Next month, I’ll start the process of shifting over from my current production PC to make this build my new production PC. But I have a bunch of other “real work” to do first. Stay tuned: I’ll keep reporting on this process. In fact, I’ll explain what I had to do to RDP into this new PC in  tomorrow’s post.

For now, here’s the info on this new PC that shows up under my MSA. As you can see I named it RyzenOfc. (It’s got a Ryzen CPU and it’s in my home office, so why not?)

Overcoming Obsolete AMD UEFI Limitations.account-info

Interesting how Windows 11 shows up with a 10-based version number. The build suffix gives it away though…

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Monitor 2 Blink Mode Gets Easy Fix

Talk about great timing. I just finished a marathon work engagement on Thursday, and was playing catchup yesterday. As I was beavering away at a mountain of email and phone calls, I noticed my right-hand monitor acting up. It started going into what I call “blink mode.” That means it would go black every 30-60 seconds, after which it would return to what looked like normal operation. As you can see from the lead-in screencap, the right hand monitor is labeled “2.” Fortunately, monitor 2 blink mode gets easy fix (this time, anyway).

Here’s How Monitor 2 Blink Mode Gets Easy Fix

From long experience I know that when Windows monitors/displays start acting up, there are two common causes. Most common is a misbehaving graphics driver. Second most common is some kind of hardware fault, out of which the cable running from PC to display is most likely.

“Hmmmmm” I found myself thinking “Didn’t I ignore a recent Nvidia Studio Driver update because I was too busy to mess with it?” And indeed, when I ran GeForce Experience, it updated itself right away. Next thing I noticed was a new release of the aforementioned driver (Version 511.65) was out with a February 1 release date.

Consequently, I grabbed and installed that driver right away. Luckily for me, it fixed the problem. The monitor hasn’t blinked once since the update (at least, not that I noticed). It’s a good thing that the obvious fix sometimes works. It’s a better thing that it worked this time. Better still, this problem didn’t manifest until AFTER my recent work marathon ended. It would have been problematic troubleshooting an issue in the middle of a deposition, with the clock ticking away.

What If The Driver Update Didn’t Fix the Problem?

I keep cable spares around as a matter of routine. Thus, my next attempt would have been to swap out the DisplayPort cable from monitor to GPU. If that hadn’t worked, I would have swapped the monitor from one of my test PCs (I have a spare, but I’m using it to check dual-screen behavior on Windows 11 Dev Channel). I’m pretty sure the GPU is OK, because Monitor 1 has remained rock steady throughout this situation. That said, I could always switch the second monitor to HDMI, on the chance that the GPU port itself was having issues.

That’s the way things go here in Windows World. I’m glad the simplest, most obvious fix did the trick. You would be too, if it happened to you.

 

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Windows 11 Sports Slow NVMe Driver?

Here’s an interesting thread emerging from the Windows press. A growing number of outlets are reporting that Microsoft’s own NVMe drivers run slower than their Win10 counterparts on identical (and other hardware). If Windows 11 sports slow NVMe driver, what can users do? Not much, it turns out, unless they can run a third-party driver instead (e.g. Samsung NVMe Controller). For good coverage on this topic, see Taras Buria’s recent WinAero story “Windows 11 apparently slows down NVMe SSDs.” It cites a range of interesting and informative original sources.

If Windows 11 Sports Slow NVMe Driver, Then What?

What appears to be affected is the OS boot/system drive (usually C:, where Windows itself resides). Some independent tests show that other non-OS partitions don’t suffer performance degradation. But OS partitions could suffer from reductions in random read/write speeds of 50% or worse. For grins I compared CrystalDiskMark stats from my 11th gen Lenovo X12 Hybrid Tablet running Windows 11 to my 6th gen home-brew Z170-based desktop. The former has a WD SN530 1 TB SSD, while the latter has a Samsung 950 1 TB SSD.

As you can see in the lead-in graphic, the newer Windows 11 unit is a bit slower on most readings than the older Windows 10 PC. Indeed QD32 random reads  are about 1/3 slower. That said, random writes of the same ilk go the other way (but with a less-than-7% delta). For random reads/writes with QD1, 11 edges 10 on writes by just over 9%, and vice-versa for reads by just over 15%. Kind of a wash, if you ask me.

What This Means for Upgrade Plans

MS has acknowledged that the issue is known to them and that they’re working on a fix, ETA unknown. Some reports aver that this phenomenon justifies postponing upgrades until a fix is in. My own experience with Windows 11 has been uniformly positive so far, NVMe performance observations notwithstanding. I’d recommend rethinking upgrades on PCs with heavy I/O workloads (e.g. CAD, AI, data analysis, and so forth). But for routine personal or productivity computing, it doesn’t really seem to make a noticeable difference.

I’ll be watching this issue as it unfolds. Count on me to let you know when this situation changes. Given the importance of NVMe to modern computing workloads, lots of people will no doubt follow this carefully and closely.

Note Added December 10: KB5007262 Fixes Issue, But…

KB5007262 should be installed as part of the upcoming December 14 updates for production Windows 11. It came out for Beta/Dev Channel users in November (ditto for production versions, as a Preview Update on November 23). Indeed, it seems to fix the performance issues. According to this WinAero story, the MS bugfix info for the KB5007262 announcement includes the following text:

“Addresses an issue that affects the performance of all disks (NVMe, SSD, hardisk) on Windows 11 by performing unnecessary actions each time a write operation occurs. This issue occurs only when the NTFS USN journal is enabled. Note, the USN journal is always enabled on the C: disk.”

And indeed, on my X1 Extreme laptop (8th gen i7, Samsung OEM 512GB NVMe SSD, 32 GB RAM) speeds are where experience teaches me they should be. According to the afore-linked story, this fix applies to all versions of Windows 11 except Dev Channel. As far as I can tell, that version remains subject to the slow-down. I’m looking for some additional word from MS on this topic. Hopefully, they’ll fix it there soon, too. Stay tuned!

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