Category Archives: Recent Activity

New NVMe System Delivers Formidable Punch

The electrician visited our house early today to fix some switches. He also helped us find a GFI plug we didn’t know we had (duh!). He had to turn off power at the breaker box momentarily, so all the PCs went down. I took that opportunity to pop the case on the new Ryzen 5800X build. I moved the NVMe SSD from the M.2.2 slot to the M.2.1 slot. That’s when I learned this new NVMe system delivers formidable punch power, I/O-wise. Let me explain.

If New NVMe System Delivers Formidable Punch, How So?

We’re talking about the transition from PCIe x3 to x4, along with a new generation of SSD controller technology here. The lead graphic shows CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4 results from my 2016 vintage i7-6700 system left and the 2021 vintage Ryzen 5800X system right. The underlying NVMe drives are Samsung 950 PRO 512GB left, and Sabrent Rocket Q 2TB right. The speed increase ranges from 1876.41 vs. 3444.19 (upper left), or 1.83x, to 124.9 vs. 226.81 (lower right), or 1.75x. The biggest differences occur in the upper right cell, and the one beneath it. Those ratios are 2.13 and 2.12, respectively.

Thus we’re talking about a speed boost ratio for I/O in the neighborhood of 7/4 at the slowest and 15/7 at the fastest. In roundish numbers, say 2:1. That’s pretty decent. I daresay it’s a big enough difference to be noticeable. I can tell the difference in ways that range from working with the filesystem, to performing backups, to running applications, and more.

Where Value Sits…

I’m still learning how the new system works, and what it can really do. I just ran WhyNotWin11 on the PC and it doesn’t have TPM turned on. I just checked the Asrock website. Happily it provides instructions on how to turn on fTPM in BIOS for that motherboard. It’s a single, simple option, so I’ll take care of it the next time I reboot. Then, the system should be ready for Windows 11.

Switching the NVMe from the M.2.2 slot to the M.2.1 slot delivered the promised speed increase. It also made the 2 previously blocked SATA devices on that machine visible. So far, it’s been a peach to work with. The speed and capabilities of this current-gen Ryzen processor definitely impress. I am indeed inclined to think the upgrade was worth the cost. I’m still waiting for Nvidia 3070 cards to come down in price before endowing that PC with more graphics oomph, though.

Stay tuned. I’ll report in on system temps and stuff, and take a few pics of the build later this week. Should be fun!

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USB Flash Drive Follies 4th vs 11th Gen

Just yesterday I got videotaped for an upcoming session at SpiceWorld 2021 Virtual. One of the subjects I covered for HPE covered “the aging of technology” and what that does to IT efficiency, security and resiliency. That got me to thinking. “How has USB fared as faster busses, faster connections, and faster media have evolved over the past while?” I decided to conduct some USB flash drive follies 4th vs 11th gen systems to see what changed.

What’s Up With USB Flash Drive Follies 4th vs 11th Gen?

It turned into a tale of two drives, two systems, and three means of attachment. These were as follows:

Drive 1. Sabrent mSATA SSD enclosure with Samsung 950 EVO mSATA 500GB SSD USB 3
Drive 2: Fideco NVMe SSD enclosure with Sabrent Nano NVMe 1TB SSD USB 3.1
System 1: 2014 Vintage Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (i7-4650U, 8 GB RAM, USB 3)
System 2: 2021 Vintage Lenovo ThinkPad X12 (i7-1180G7, 16 GB RAM, USB 3.2/Thunderbolt 3)

The three means of attachment were USB 3, USB 3.1 (both using Type A connectors) and USB 3.2 using USB-C.

Technology Trumps Bus Speed

First things, first. There’s simply no comparison between mSATA and NVMe devices. It’s an order of magnitude from the older mSATA SSD technology to the newer NVMe. That tells me — and it should tell you — it’s simply not worth buying mSATA devices anymore. If you’ve still got them (I’ve got half-a-dozen) you can still use them.

The aging effect shows very strongly in the mSATA results. They stay pretty much the same across both systems and across all USB connection types (3.0, 3.1, and 3.2). That’s because the mSATA enclosure is either 3.0 or 3.1 (I just checked: it’s 3.0).

Things get more interesting with the NVMe devices. They run at about half-speed when there’s no UASP support on the PC (as with the Surface Pro). Amusingly, I got the same results from my Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock with a USB 3.1 cable plugged into the NVMe enclosure. But when I used a USB-C cable directly into a USB-C port on the ThinkPad X12 I got big-block read/write speeds of ~1050 MBps read/~1004 MBps write from the NVMe flash device. Compare that to ~455 read/~457 write through the Thunderbolt dock for the same device.

Very interesting! This tells me that USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 or better drive enclosures, coupled with PCIe x3 or better NVMe SSDs in those enclosures deliver the fastest external drive storage I can use today (on my newer systems with USB-C, of course). And it looks like the performance boost from using the fastest possible port and connection is also very much worth it. Good to know!

This just makes me more interesting in acquiring a Thunderbolt 4 dock to see if it can extend that performance to secondary ports (right now, I get best speed only from USB-C ports on the X12, of which there are only 2).

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Win11 Firmware Update Causes Momentary Hiccups

Back on August 9, I reported on some issues with the Lenovo firmware update tool, fwdetectcmd1911.ex, on my Windows 11 test PCs. I’ve given myself a quick self-help tutorial on the oustanding, highly-recommended UWP preview version of the Windows Debugger. It’s known as WinDbg Preview. It’s easily available from the Microsoft Store. And, unlike the old command line WinDbg, this version’s surprisingly easy to use. It’s what let me determine that Lenovo’s Win11 Firmware update causes momentary hiccups on my system. Why? Because the updater fails when it looks for Thunderbolt hardware and finds none.

When Win11 Firmware Update Causes Momentary Hiccups, No Worries!

I’d been wondering if this was a serious problem. But a quick investigation shows that this condition throws an unhandled exception. In the Stack pane at lower left, a lengthy string labeled KERNELBASEUnhandledExceptionfilter appears right near the top of the error stack. That’s what tells me, along with the key value shown in the Command pane above, that missing Thunderbolt is my culprit. I guess I need to hook up a dock and try again so I can get past this recurring error.

Win11 Firmware Update Causes Momentary Hiccups.lenovo-firmware-updater-error

Note the bottom error in the Command pane, and the second-from-top info in the Stack pane. Both tell a story of a crash when looking for absent Thunderbolt devices.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

I also plan to drop this info onto the Lenovo Forums so their engineers can get the word this is happening. I would imagine it will be pretty easy for them to skip over the Thunderbolt update if no Thunderbolt hardware is present, rather than throwing an unhandled exception. Time will, of course, tell if my imagining is mere fantasy or founded in fact.

All this said, I’m glad of a couple of things:
1. I’m glad that the recurring firmware update failures are an error in the updater and not indicative of a genuine system issue
2. I’m glad that I got a good excuse to try our the new WinDbg tool. It’s ever so much easier and fun to use than the old one.

And that’s the way things go here in Windows-World, with a smile and nod from yours truly today!

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WinKey+P Powers Display Projection

Sometimes, it isn’t until things go terribly wrong that one appreciates the power of simple syntax. Check out this TenForums post, which explores the impact of the WinKey+P gone wrong: Win p key  pressed. Because WinKey+P powers display projection, a user’s nephew’s wrong menu choice made him think he’d lost access to 2 of his 3 displays in a multi-monitor configuration. Not so!

WinKey+P Powers Display Projection — Usually Into a Menu

Normally, when you strike Winkey+P on a Windows 10 or 11 PC, you’ll get a pop-up menu like the one shown in the lead-in graphic. It highlights the current setting — Extend in my case, because I have my desktop extended over a pair of Dell 2717 monitors. Overall, it offers these four settings:

  • PC Screen only: (tantamount to striking WinKey+P once)
  • Duplicate: copies primary monitor to all other monitors (select by striking WinKey+P twice)
  • Extend: extend the desktop across all available monitors (select by pressing WinKey+P three times)
  • Second screen only: use only Display #2 for graphical output (select by pressing WinKey+P four times)

Our hapless user’s nephew struck WinKey+P once, which apparently forced his PC into “PC Screen only” mode. On my PC, however, I got the menu shown above, and was easily able to move among the selections using my mouse.

When Key Combos Go Wrong, Try More!

Interestingly, advice on TenForums about what to do in this situation is spot on. It reads “Did you try pressing ‘WinKey+P’ again? Sometimes a key acts like an ‘on off’ switch.” In this case, our user wanted to press WinKey+P 3 times to get to the extend option through the keyboard. There’s no discussion of using the menu instead, which I find infinitely preferable.

For some odd reason I’m reminded of one of William Blake’s epigrams from his Proverbs of Heaven and Hell:

The fool who persists in his folly soon becomes wise.

This turns out to be good, if oblique, advice when dealing with unwanted WinKey key combinations. As for myself: I’d have looked it up online, and found all the insight I ever could have wanted, and more.

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Discretionary New Intel 30.0.100.9805 Graphics Driver

This morning, I learned about a DCH graphics driver from Intel, which adds Windows 11 support. This is the discretionary new Intel 30.0.100.9805 graphics driver. It’s shown in the driver properties for the UHD 620 integrated graphics on my Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga in the lead-in graphic. This driver installed quickly and easily on that test PC, albeit with a self-inflicted gotcha. Let me explain…

Why Say: Discretionary New Intel 30.0.100.9805 Graphics Driver?

Normally, graphics and other key Intel drivers come either through Windows Update or from the Intel Driver & Support Assistant (DSA). This time, things are a little different. I imagine it’s because this driver specifically targets Windows 11 (though it also works on Windows 10) that Intel hasn’t yet targeted it within DSA. Instead one must visit the Intel Graphics – Windows DCH Drivers page. There one must select the 30.0.100.9805 (Latest) version, and download either an .exe or .zip based installer. Here’s what it looks like online:

Discretionary New Intel 30.0.100.9805 Graphics Driver.download

The download page offers .exe and .zip options.
[Click on image for full-sized view.]

Who Should Grab This Update?

All Intel CPUs 6th generation (Skylake) or newer are on Intel’s “covered platform list” for this upgrade. It works on Windows 10 releases 1809 through 21H1, and on Windows 11. Laptop and tablet users should be aware that OEMs sometimes offer customized Intel graphics drivers through their own update channels. By switching to this Intel update, you forgo those customizations. Some contortions — such as uninstalling the Intel drivers and software — may be required if you want to switch back to OEM drivers later on.

The gotcha I encountered in installing this driver is mostly self-inflicted, but worth reporting anyway. I started the install process through an RDP session from my production desktop. About half-way into the install, the process hung and didn’t advance further. When I ended the RDP session, and logged into the X380 Yoga locally, it picked back up and ran to completion. Sometimes, driver install MUST run locally to work properly. Apparently, this Intel driver requires a local session to run all the way through. By comparison, I did use DSA to update the PC’s LAN and Bluetooth drivers via RDP just before starting the display adapter update for the UHD 620 without issues.

And indeed, that’s the way things went today, here in Windows-World. Cheers!

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Start11 Beta Arrives With Certain Complications

OK, then. Here’s a phenomenon that may interest some readers not at all, though I confess myself fascinated. When I first started using Windows 8 in February 2012, the new Start menu totally baffled me. With major deadlines close and breathing down my neck, I bought a copy of Stardock Software’s Start8 Start Menu replacement package so I could skip the learning curve and get stuff done. Since then, I’ve cheerfully paid the US$4-5 per PC that Start8 and later, Start10, licenses cost. I was immensely tickled this morning to find out that Start11 Beta arrives with certain complications in its wake. Let me explain…

What Start11 Beta Arrives With Certain Complications Means

I have licenses for Start10 on two of my three Win11 test machines. For the record, Start10 works fine on Windows 11 PCs, but it lacks native smarts and features. A for-a-fee beta version is available as of August 10. Like Start10, it goes for US$4.99. I find it a little odd to be asked to PAY to play where Beta  software is involved…

But for those with Start10 licenses, one can also pay to upgrade the software to that version and get updates as the product evolves. I qualified for a discounted (US$3.99) update price, so I ponied up and downloaded the installer file, named Start11-fs-setup_sd.exe.

Then the fun began. Because Start10 was already running, the installer informed me I had to close that program and uninstall it before I could install Start11. I killed all the Start10 related entries on the Processes tab in Task Manager.

But that proved insufficient: in fact, the Start10 service process would persistently keep restarting seconds after I killed it. So I opened the Details tab, and killed the Start10x64.exe process along with a few other hangers-on. Only then did the uninstall complete successfully, after which it informed me I had to reboot my PC to complete that process. After a restart, I was able to get Start 11 up and running.

First Impressions of Start11

I understand how the native Start Menu works in Windows 10 and 11 now, so it doesn’t bother me as it once did immediately following Windows 8’s debut. I’ll be up front and say I’m not sure Start11 is something that everybody — or even most people — need when running Windows 11. That said, as an old familiar tool for me, I immediately felt comfortable with its workings and capabilities. These include:

1. An option to shift the Start Menu button and program icons back to the left-hand side of the display.
2. Indirect access (one click to the native Start Menu through a Windows Menu button in the Start11 menu).
3. More sophisticated controls over Start Menu appearance, such as icon settings (size, background, columnar layouts), menu font controls, menu transparency controls, and customization options).
4. Right-click on Start button can be set to produce Win+X menu

Is Start11 a piece of essential Windows 11 software? Probably not. Is it nice to have? I think so, but others may disagree. I’m glad it’s cheap, but I found the install process far from smooth and well-engineered. But then, it IS a beta version. I’m guessing that will change as Start11 and the OS to which it’s matched both evolve into their production versions.

Start11 Beta Arrives With Certain Complications.about

The About screen shows Version number 0.5: a clear indication of a beta version. Hoping install will improve as the program evolves.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

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Windows 10 Build 19043.1165 Install Button

Here’s an interesting departure from the usual. Today, August 10, is Patch Tuesday. That means it’s the second Tuesday of the month, and normally when Microsoft pushes updates out on its normal monthly cycle. But when I checked for updates, after they downloaded, the process paused. As you can see in the lead-in graphic, I had to push a Windows 10 Build 19043.1165 install button to make the install continue. What’s up with that?

When Is a Windows 10 Build 19043.1165 Install Button Typical?

Normally, one doesn’t see such things unless there’s some kind of preview element in the update mix (and rarely, if ever, does that hit as part of Patch Tuesday offers). That said, there is a KB5003791 Enablement Package update out today to take 2004, 20H1 or 21H1 to 19044 (21H2) build levels. Perhaps the button shows up because of that item? Interestingly, it was not offered to my PC (nor should it have been, as it is an Insider Preview element).

Even more interesting, I saw the update process cycle around for the KB5005033 item on my production desktop PC. That is, it counted up to 100%, stayed there for a while, then dropped back into the 60s and counted back up to 100% a second time before showing the usual “Restart now” button upon completion. That’s not exactly unheard of, but it is a little unusual. Thus, Patch Tuesday brings me a little unexpected excitement today.

Here’s what came through today, as part of the update package:
1. KB5005417 .NET Core 3.1.18 Security Update
2. Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool KB890930
3. KB6005033 Cumulative Update for 19043.1165
I don’t see anything in there that would normally induce the “Install now” button to appear. But as the lead-in graphic shows, I got one anyway.

And that’s the way things go here in Windows-World sometimes. Go figure! I’m clueless…

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New Antimalware Exe Causes Regular Win11 APPCRASH

In watching a new Windows OS, I tend to check in on Reliability Monitor regularly to look for errors. After my intense efforts to get my Windows 11 PCs upgraded to Defender’s latest Antimalware engine recently, I have to laugh. My Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga in the Beta Channel has thrown 14 critical events since its July 29 upgrade. Half of those events originated from the Antimalware Service Executable, version 4.18.2107.4. Hence my assertion: New Antimalware Exe Causes Regular Win11 APPCRASH.

I have to chuckle, because getting to this version also fixed a documented problem with Windows 11. It did prevent the “Automatic sample submisssion” from resetting to off after each reboot. But apparently, something else in that executable is itself problematic. Such gotchas are pretty normal for Insider Preview code. I imagine MS is working hard to fix it, too.

New Antimalware Exe Causes Regular Win11 APPCRASH: What of It?

Looking at all 14 “Critical Events” in Relimon since July 29, 3 come from Lenovo Firmware Update checks (fwdetectcmd1911.exe). All the rest — including the 7 from the antimalware engine — come from Windows internal components and elements. To me this is just the normal working out of a new OS release as it morphs from Insider Preview to nearly production-ready status. In other words, it simply shows that the development process is proceeding as it usually does.

Over time, the frequency of such errors will drop off. As Insider Preview users report specific items, MS dev teams will investigate. They’ll invariably fix those in need of fixing (as I expect will happen with this MsMpEng.exe issue). When only a few random or minor issues remain unsolved, the developers will start moving more aggressively to create production target builds for Windows 11. That’s usually when it would show up as a Release Preview channel item, and would signal that production release is immanent.

This time around, we already know MS will move heaven and earth to get Windows 11 ready by late October. That’s as far as they can push things, and still have PCs or devices with Windows 11 pre-installed ready for the holiday shopping season. Stay tuned, and we’ll see how it all unfolds.

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Remote Desktop App Holds Cloud PC Keys

OK, then. I’ve finally had a chance to read and learn a bit more about Microsoft’s Cloud PC offering. Indeed, it’s now finally available for subscription and use. I did not luck out and land a free trial (the offer was swamped beyond capacity within minutes of opening). Over at ZDNet, however, Ed Bott ponied up for a subscription. He reports on his experiences working with the Windows 365 Service, built around Cloud PC. His “Hands-on” story appeared yesterday and includes lots of useful info. Not least amongst its nuggets of wisdom and observation is the notion that the Remote Desktop App holds Cloud PC keys.

Why Say: Remote Desktop App Holds Cloud PC Keys?

Bott describes the “Open in Browser” button for Cloud PC as  “the simplest way to begin working with” its capabilities. His story shows useful screenshots and example. In fact, it’s well worth reading from end to end.

In that story, Bott further opines as follows:

“The browser is fine for casual connections, but you’ll have a better experience using Microsoft’s Remote Desktop client, which is available for download from a separate page on the Windows 365 dashboard. Apps are available for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.”

I wrote a story for ComputerWorld earlier this year called “Windows 10’s Remote Desktop options explained.” Its conclusion starts with the heading “The future of Remote Desktop.” In that section I put forward the guess that “URDC [the store app for Remote Desktop depicted as the lead graphic here] and MSRDC [an enterprise version of the same tool] will become much more important and capable clients than they are right now.” I also expressed the idea that this might spell the waning days for the old Remote Desktop application (mstsc.exe). I believe Mr. Bott’s story just proved me right, to my great relief.

What Remote Desktop Brings to Cloud PC

In short, it makes interacting with Cloud PC just like any other remote PC session. It permits full-screen (and even all displays in multi-monitor set-ups) operation and works just like desktop access over the network. Of course, that’s what it is, so this is no surprise.

What is surprising is what Bott report about Cloud PC performance. Not much lag, with only “momentary display glitches” for graphics-heavy apps, and “general productivity apps like Office perform just fine.” His only compatibility issue came when trying to connect to a Gmail account with Cloud PC (the server didn’t accept Outlook authentication dialog boxes, but Bott did access the account using the built-in Mail app and via MS Edge).

Bott’s economic analysis of Cloud PC is also interesting. At a minimum of US$20 per month (single vCPU, 2 GB RAM, 64 GB storage) — useful for what he describes as “only the most lightweight tasks” — it offers no significant value-add for home or small business users. For larger businesses, though, I think he observes correctly that the simplicity of Cloud PC (operable from any Internet-attached device including PCs, tablets and smartphones) could appeal to and might even cost less than deploying a managed and secured company-owned PC to employees at home (and other remote locations). It also lets remote users work from familiar local platforms already to hand and might even boost productivity.

So far, I very much like what I’m seeing and reading about Cloud PC. But that’s not the same as trying it out for oneself.

From Reading About to Hands-On

Next, my goal is to figure out how to get involved with Cloud PC myself. I’ve already floated the question with the Windows Insider MVP program if they can’t make  such subscriptions available as part of the award benefit.

But just because I think they should, doesn’t mean they will. In that case, I’ll have to carefully examine the family exchequer to see if it can float the $492 a 1-year subscription for a suitably equipped Cloud PC would cost. By hook or by crook, though, I want in! Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted…

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Updates Require Balancing OCD Against Time

I can’t help it. Tinkering with my PCs gives me great joy. I also love to check up on them at regular intervals. I work to keep the OS, drivers, apps and programs current and correct. But I learned long ago that it takes time — often, too much time — to attain absolute perfection. Or perhaps I should say “total update coverage” instead? Indeed, updates require balancing OCD against time. One must know when to quit or give up looking for elusive elements. Thereby hangs today’s tale…

If Updates Require Balancing OCD Against Time, How Much Is Too Much?

I use a couple of good tools to help me track non-OS updates for programs. The Store does a good job of keeping up with most apps. WU does well enough by me with the OS. For drivers, I rely on reading TenForums and ElevenForum to keep up. I also hasten to add that Windows 10/11 both do a good job of handling drivers on their own. That means I concentrate on Nvidia GPU drivers, output from the Intel Driver & Support utility, news about Samsung NVMe drivers, Realtek UAD audio drivers, and — occasionally — Thunderbolt drivers. The rest of them take pretty good care of themselves, though I do rely  on DriverStore Explorer to keep an eye on them, and to purge duplicates and oldies from time to time.

I use the free and excellent PatchMyPC Home updater to handle all the updates it can find. (It provides this story’s lead graphic, in fact.) Why? Because it is set up to silently install updates without requiring human intervention and action. I like that. But I also use the free version of KC Softwares’ Software Update Monitor (aka SUMo) because it finds more apps and programs than PatchMyPC does. That said, I wouldn’t recommend paying for its commercial version because their behind-the-scenes engineering for downloading updates is hit or miss. And the misses happen too frequently for me to want to pay US$30 per PC to grouse about them further. If SUMo finds a program that needs updating, you need to get and apply the update yourself.

Where to Draw the (Update Search) Line

In working with these tools, I’ve learned to spend no more than 10 minutes trying to get any individual item updated. Sometimes, SUMo reports updates available that I just can’t find. For example, SUMo has had me chase DolbyDAX2DesktopUI versions on multiple occasions that I can find nowhere online (though items that present themselves as valid links do pop up they lead only to the Dolby.com homepage).

After one or two revolutions when going around in circles, I’ve learned to give up. I also don’t worry about minor version discrepancies, especially when I know PatchMyPC will catch up to SUMo soon. Case in point: I just updated one of my Lenovo X380 Yoga ThinkPads. PatchMyPC took CrystalDiskInfo to version 8.12.4.0 only for SUMo to tell me I needed to upgrade it to 8.12.5.0. I know if I wait a while, PatchMyPC will get me there without me having to visit CrystalDewWorld, and then download and run the installer myself. So, that’s where I draw the line to avoid too much lost time. You can, of course, draw lines as you see fit.

According to eminent anthropologist Gregory Bateson, the 18th century British poet and artist William Blake said “Wise men see outlines and therefore they draw them.” Blake also said: “Mad men see outlines and therefore they draw them.” Wise or mad, I think drawing lines is an important part of managing how one spends time and effort. Don’t you?

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