Category Archives: Troubleshooting

UFD Failure Presents Strange Symptoms

I had one of my 16 GB Mushkin Atom USB Flash Drives (UFDs) fail on me this weekend. Alas, it happened in the middle of a boot-into-restore operation on my Lenovo X220 Tablet.  Because I didn’t think I’d built Rescue Media, I stuck the UFD into the machine while that process was underway. After the restore ended,  because that very same UFD failure presents strange symptoms I blamed Reflect. Wrong!

When UFD Failure Presents Strange Symptoms, Then What?

As is my usual practice when a device presents odd behaviors or symptoms, I go into diagnostics mode. When I dug into the drive using MiniTool Partition Magic (MTPW), I could see 5 NTFS partitions on that device. Each was a miniscule 3.8 MB in size. But no set of contortions would return that device to operation. Diskpart didn’t do it at the command line, nor was MTPW able to return it to working order. When I inserted it into Disk Management, I got the ultimate judgement on its condition shown in this story’s lead-in graphic: “Bad Disk.” That seemed to sum things up pretty nicely.

This is the second UFD I’ve had fail on me in the past 5 years or so. I just counted 28 of them here in my office, in sizes ranging from 8 GB to 128 GB. I use them all the time. The smaller ones are usually bootable with OS images, rescue media, or repair tools. The larger ones act primarily as portable storage for project work when I go on the road. And apparently, they do fail from time to time.

Macrium Reflect Forum Sets Things Straight

I hope I can be forgiven for initially wanting to blame Reflect for trashing the UFD. It did go south on me in the middle of a Macrium operation, after all. Then, I learned more about how Rescue Media works, courtesy of MR forum regulars “Froggie” and “jphughan.” Now, I am inclined to agree with their analysis that the UFD’s failure was coincidental.

Let me explain: it seems that when invoked using the “boot to restore” operation, jphughan told me “the WIM file inside the Rescue Media cached build folder — but that is a folder on (by default) your C partition.”  Given that member jphughan has 8.5K posts on the forums and has reached “Macrium Evangelist” level, I’m inclined to believe he knows what he’s talking about.

And in fact, I saw my system go into Recovery from the usual boot drive (a Plextor SSD) on that PC. Turns out that there’s a sub-older inside C:\Boot that’s named Macrium. It in turn has folders for the drivers it needs, various Windows 10 Assessment and Deployment Kit elements (aka WA10Files) folder, where the all-important boot.wim file for the WinRE version that Macrium uses to boot its Rescue Media resides.

Given that the UFD doesn’t function properly, but the system not only booted and ran its restore, this is the only way to explain how that process occurred. Thus, I concur with my informants from the Macrium Forums that (a) restore ran from the C: drive and (b) the UFD was either dead or died somewhere during the reboot process that proceeded just fine without its help or involvement.

Just goes to show that coincidence is a powerful force, but one that can be reasoned past when needs must.


Relearning X220 Tablet Macrium Restore Takes Time

I spent most of yesterday afternoon, and  a fair chunk of the evening, working on an article about repairing damaged, unresponsive or misbehaving MS Office installs. Naturally, I used a test machine for this project. Thus, I could do potentially horrible things to one machine, while writing about them on another. I backed up the old (2012) Lenovo X220 Tablet using Macrium Reflect before starting. That meant I could later restore my pristine OS and Office environment once playtime ended. This morning, I realized relearning X220 Tablet Macrium Restore takes time. Over an hour, in fact, when all was said and done.

Why Relearning X220 Tablet Macrium Restore Takes Time

Two reasons. First, the X220 Tablet is old enough that 300 Mbps is as fast as it can transfer data disk-to-disk. This is true, even when both disks are SSDs. One’s a Plextor mSATA 256GB PX6 SSD, the other is an ancient OCZ Vertex-3 128 GB SSD. The backup only took 8 minutes to lay down. But because a reboot required booting into WindowsPE, then into Macrium’s runtime, then restoring said backup, that part took over 30 minutes to complete.

The second reason falls rather more under the heading of “operator error,” subclass “I didn’t know Reflect could do that!” Let me explain. When I went to run the restore this time, Reflect asked me if I wanted to boot right into its bootable recovery media, ready to run the restore I’d just requested.

Silly me: I said “Yes!” That meant I needed to add the Macrium Recovery entry to my boot menu, build a Macrium Recovery partition, and wait for all that processing to finish before the machine could reboot and run the restore. That took another 15-20 minutes.

Good News, Bad News

I didn’t understand that Reflect would do this on my boot/system disk. The lead-in graphic for this story shows that my C drive layout now sports an 837MB Recovery Partition at the end of the sequence. Thus, the reboot worked after I removed the 8 GB UFD I’d inserted into the X220 Tablet, thinking I needed to build external WinRE media. The restore proceeded to a successful finish after that. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, the software ate my 8GB Mushkin UFD. It now shows up in diskmgmt.msc as “No media” with 0 Bytes capacity. When I tried to reformat it on another PC, I got an error message saying the UFD malfunctioned and could not be mounted. I’ll be sharing this experience on the Macrium forums, but I’m surprised that the program was allowed to (apparently) eat my flash drive. It won’t respond to low-level format commands at the command line, either. (Diskpart reports “an I/O device error.” I think this one is beyond repair.) Weird.

It’s no great loss (the device cost under US$10). But it still shouldn’t happen. I hope to follow up when I learn more. Stay tuned!


Using Windows 10 Generic Keys

Sometimes, a Windows 10 PC requires a clean install. It might be because of disk failure or corruption, malware infestation, or any of a host of other good reasons. As long as Microsoft’s Activation servers (or your own KMS) recognize that PC, you needn’t worry about finding or obtaining a valid OS key. Instead, if prompted to supply a key during the install process, you can furnish a published generic key for your chosen Windows version. Using Windows 10 generic keys is perfectly OK, as long as MS already knows you have a valid license.

When Using Windows 10 Generic Keys, Use These!

You can find generic Windows 10 keys in many places with a simple search. I like the list at TenForums, because it’s simple and comprehensive. It also comes in the context of a peachy list of tutorials that explain how and when to use keys correctly. The lead-in graphic for this story is a snippet from its generic key table. That tutorial is named List of Generic Product Keys to Install Windows 10 Editions. Worth bookmarking, it tells you (or points you at) nearly everything you need to know about working with generic keys.

Note: KMS stands for Key Management Server, a Windows Server role that plays out in many enterprise or campus environments. That’s because those kinds of outfits usually work from volume licenses for Windows, and manage their own Windows keys for themselves. None of the Home editions have generic KMS keys because Home is not covered under volume Windows 10 license agreements.

What if a Generic Key Has No Valid Matching License?

You can use a generic key to install Windows even if there’s no matching license in the Microsoft Validation servers. But that installation will not activate unless you provide a valid key within 30 days of the installation date. After that, the product works only with limited features and personalization. It also warns you you’re in violation of license terms, which leaves you liable for unlicensed use of software. Those can result in potential fines and penalties if you’re found guilty of license fraud or misuse. Trust me: you don’t want to go there!



Exorcizing Zombie Adobe Flash Player Elements

Some Windows 10 users may see a Flash Info logo show up on their desktops. Don’t worry: that’s Adobe’s way of telling you the Flash Player remains active on your PC, and needs to be removed.  I wrote about Flash end-of-life (EOL) and removal techniques on December 29. That story reported the EOL date falling at year’s end. Apparently not everybody has worked through its various uninstall possibilities yet, either.  The TenForums thread “Strange Logo on Desktop” turns out to be an admonition from Adobe to make Flash Player go away. Alas, the process doesn’t work 100%. Thus, I’ll explain how one goes about exorcizing zombie Adobe Flash Player elements.

Exorcizing Zombie Adobe Flash Player Elements.flash-info-logo

Here’s what the Flash Info log looks like: a faded Flash logo with the “i” (information) element superimposed.

Several Flash Player Uninstall Options Available

Flash shows up in lots of places, apparently. Likewise, uninstalling it requires a variety of removal techniques.  Adobe’s warning for its Flash Player Uninstaller hints at this. It reads: “These instructions are NOT applicable to Flash Player included with Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer on Windows 8 and later or with Google Chrome…” It advises those users to check out the Flash Player Help page for disabling same.

There’s also an uninstaller available via the Microsoft Update Catalog. Counter-intuitively KB4577586 is named “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player.” When downloading this item, be sure to grab the one that matches your current Windows version. Note: apparently, there is no such update for Windows 10 Version 20H2.

If Adobe Flash Player shows up in Programs and Features, you can use its built-in uninstall functions to get rid of it. Or you could turn to a third-party product like Revo Uninstaller to do the job instead.

Exorcizing Zombie Adobe Flash Player Elements May Require Manual Efforts

After running the afore-linked KB4577586, the original poster for the TenForums thread that prompted this story reports that the icon remained on his desktop. On top of everything else on screen, it wouldn’t get out of his way. Should that happen, one can remove the Macromed folder and its contents from these two parent folders:

1. C:\Windows\System32
2. C:\Windows\SysWOW64

Savvy readers will recognize that these folders are where Windows keeps 32-bit elements, tools and utilities for use on 32- and 64-bit systems, respectively. You may need to run a special-purpose delete utility to remove these folders or you can boot into command line recovery mode and delete them that way. Your choice. Either way, that should result in exorcizing zombie Adobe Flash elements that may still be hanging around your system. Et voila!


Restoring Missing 21292 N&I Taskbar Item

Here’s an interesting learning adventure. Upon introducing Windows 10 Build 21286, MS also introduced a News and Interests (N&I) taskbar item. I covered this topic on January 8. But after upgrading my Lenovo X220 Tablet to a newer Dev Channel release, N&I disappeared. Remembering a related story, I followed its activation advice. And that, dear readers, is how I found myself restoring missing 21292 N&I taskbar item a few minutes ago. Here’s the deal…

Going About Restoring Missing 21292 N&I Taskbar Item

Restoring or activating N&I requires the third-party ViVe tool. Helpfully, it can enable or disable Windows 10 A/B and hidden features. Download ViVe from Github, where the latest release is v0.2.1. For myself, I just observed that v0.2.0 also works. That’s because  I just used it successfully on my X220T, not yet realizing a newer release is available.

After you download the ZIP file, extract it into a folder. Next, run an administrative cmd or PowerShell session from that folder. Then, execute the following sequence of commands:

vivetool addconfig 29947361 2
vivetool addconfig 27833282 2
vivetool addconfig 27368843 2
vivetool addconfig 28247353 2
vivetool addconfig 27371092 2
vivetool addconfig 27371152 2
vivetool addconfig 30803283 2
vivetool addconfig 30213886 2

Note: If using PowerShell, prepend the string “.\” before each command or it won’t work.

Cut’n’paste these commands into the window. Please execute each one individually. Next, you’ll need to restart your PC. Voila! The N&I item reappears in the Taskbar. At least, it did on my X220T PC.

8 Commands Too Much? Try Some Batch Files

OTOH, if you prefer, WinAero offers a ZIP file in its story. It  activates all necessary settings from one batch file, and deactivates them from another.

And remember, N&I only appears in Build 21286 or higher-numbered Dev Channel Insider Preview releases at the moment.

More About the ViVe Developers

Note: the authors of ViVe are Rafael Rivera and somebody named Lucas/thebookisclosed/albacore. Both are active Windows developers and toolsmiths. Rivera is also an occasional contributor to (which is where I first came across him and his work). The other person is also the author of the excellent Managed Disk Cleanup utility, also available on GitHub.


MTPW Data Recovery Works Eventually

This is not a dig at the Data Recovery Tool in  MiniTool Partition Wizard (MTPW). When I entitled this item MTPW Data Recovery works eventually, I only meant to observe that it takes FOREVER to recover the contents of a damaged or corrupted drive.

I just learned this the hard way, when something corrupted both drives in my Wavlink ST334U dual drive dock. One of the two drives involved was a Toshiba 8TB unit with approximately 4 TB worth of production PC backups. Thus, I really wanted to recover some — but not all, at north of 100GB per image — of those files. The lead-in screencap for this story shows Data Recovery scanning to recover the contents of the other drive. It’s a mostly disposable 500GB unit that incorporates two Samsung EVO m.2 SSDs into a pseudo-array on a Syba SATA adapter card. Note that it plans to take 4:25 to recover 207.17 GB in 4119 files.

How Long, When MTPW Data Recovery Works Eventually?

Hmmm. Let’s see 4:25 for 207 GB means 19.787 times longer to recover 4 TB. That’s roughly 89.4 hours. Which in turn is 3 days, 17 hours, and 24 minutes. Of course, that’s way too freaking long for most ordinary people to wait for the whole thing to complete. Especially me.

Turns out that you can manipulate the left-hand menu in MTPW Data Recovery, and instruct it to recover only the files you tell it to by clicking checkboxes. And, as it turns out, by expanding listing items with a plus sign (“+”) to their left. Eventually, you get a map of what the recovery utility finds on the drive, and can pick what you like.

In my case, I liked the following:

1. About 1.5 TB worth of the most recent backups
2. About 2.5 GB worth of legal work archives
3. About 124 GB worth of info snapshotted from a now-retired E: drive

Thus, of the 4-plus TB worth of holdings on that 8 TB drive, I decided to recover under 1.7 TB. How long did this take? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 hours. Long enough that, when I copied the recovered files from the 4 TB HGST drive I pressed into service to receive them back to their original home, that process took 2:43:00.

What About the Other Drive?

I let Data Recovery scan for about an hour, then checked over the drive’s contents. It’s always been a scratch drive, so I was able to confirm there was nothing on that drive I couldn’t live without. So, I quit out of Data Recovery and MTPW. Next, I opened Disk Management, where the drive showed up as RAW at full capacity with an E: letter assignment. I changed it back to its original M: assignment to produce this screencap:

With the right drive letter in place, I can recreate the drive.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Next, I right-clicked on its box, and then selected “Format” from the pop-up menu. I named it Syba.5 (Syba dual SSD adapter with 0.5 TB of storage space, give or take). The formatting operation took a surprisingly long time to finish (almost a minute) with the following result:

Even on a Quick Format, it took almost a minute for this drive to format.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

OK, then. I guess I’m back in business. Now if I can only figure out what went wrong in the first place, so I don’t do this to myself again. Sigh.


Restore Point Failure Forces Strategy Change

I run Macrium Reflect backup on my production desktop every morning at 9 AM. Hearing the big Toshiba 8TB drive chunking away reminds me it’s got things covered. I should’ve turned to that backup image immediately after a driver install yesterday. A new Realtek Universal Audio Driver (UAD) was expected out of that update. But I wound up with a Realtek HD Audio driver instead. Because I decided to try a restore point made just before that driver install, I bought trouble as well. And that’s why I say: Restore Point failure forces strategy change. Let me explain…

How Restore Point Failure Forces Strategy Change

Silly me. I should know better. I rely on Macrium to provide a failsafe against glitches. This includes self-inflicted wounds, like ignoring Device Manager’s warning that it couldn’t find a replacement UAD driver in the version v6.0.9045.1 pointer I picked up yesterday. Though it came from my own TenForums Realtek UAD thread, and a usually impeccable source, it didn’t work the way it should have.

Having been down the road of attempting a UAD update and winding up with an HD Audio drivers instead, I already knew the easiest way out of this spot was to roll back and start over. My mistake — which I will never repeat again — was to use a questionable but more recent Restore Point, rather than a known, good working Macrium backup image (an .mrimg file). When it failed, I found myself turning to that .mrimg file anyway.

When Failure Takes Longer Than Success…

The truly galling part of this misadventure is that it took 40 minutes for the Restore Point to fail and return control of the PC into my hands. It took just over 10 minutes to restore Macrium’s image backup file and for me to get restarted on the failed Realtek driver update (not to mention the Windows Update items for Patch Tuesday as well).

Ultimately, I did find a v6.0.9079.1 UAD driver at Station Drivers that did work as expected later. It was the easy part of the post Restore Point cleanup efforts, some of which are still underway. Ironically my big, honkin’ 8TB backup drive and the little 500GB SSD parked next to it in myWavlink dual SATA drive caddy both got hosed in the Restore Point’s wake. I’m using the Data Recovery feature in MiniTool Partition Wizard v12.3 to recover the 8TB drive’s contents now. This task has already taken 14 hrs and is 22% complete. When it’s done, the 500GB drive recovery should go MUCH faster.

What’s Next?

When the cleanup is done, I’ll be turning off restore point capture on my C: drive. I’ll also purge all the storage space that restore points currently consume (1.7 GB according to the WizTree graphic at  the head of this story). I figure if I don’t have any more restore points around to “try it and see what happens” with, I’ll be unable to repeat this recent debacle.

For the record, the item that caused the restore operation to fail was a Dropbox file. It’s ironic that something deliberately mirrored between cloud and desktop could cause such an operation to crash. Another copy is still in the cloud, safe and ready to mirror back locally when needed. Sigh.


Failing Drives Need Copy First and Foremost

I’m a long-time member and supporter at (joined November 14 2014). Just recently I saw a thread where a member reported issues with an apparently failing hard disk drive (HDD). Immediately, he and other responders started chewing on how to diagnose and possibly fix the HDD. “NO!” I remember thinking as I started reading the back-n-forth. “Failing drives need copy first and foremost,” I went on, “so progressive failures won’t cause more data loss.”

Why Do Failing Drives Need Copy First and Foremost?

If an HDD is starting to fail, there’s usually a cascade involved. First, one or two small failures, followed by increasing frequency and severity of failures. After that: complete drive failure. Once you have a clue that a drive is starting to fail — and SMART monitors like HD Sentinel or CrystalDiskInfo will clue you in quickly — the next step in troubleshooting is: Make a snapshot!

When trouble rears its head, the temptation to start diagnosing and attempting fixes can be nearly overwhelming. But in this particular case — a possibly failing HDD — such diagnosis and fix activities can severely exercise the disk. If it is failing, that could either make existing data losses worse, or cause data losses that haven’t yet occurred.

How to Get That Snapshot

I’d try a disk image using something like Macrium Reflect Free. If the disk is seriously corrupted, however, it might not work. In that case, use File Explorer or copy commands at the command line/in PowerShell to copy anything and everything you can see.

On the other hand, if you have a reasonably current backup of the failing drive — and you should — you can copy only items dated since the backup was made. Once you’ve captured what you can, you won’t experience further data loss as you pursue various troubleshooting strategies. Now that you’ve done due diligence for data protection, go for it!

When in Doubt, Replace the Disk

In my experience over 36 years of working with personal computers, I’ve had half-a-dozen hard disks fail on me. (I bought my first PC in 1984: a Macintosh 512K, aka “Fat Mac.”) As disks start to fail, they become increasingly unreliable and problematic. I’ve always replaced them as soon as diagnosis pointed out unquestionable failure signs or symptoms. I learned the hard way to backup, too: I lost the better part of a book manuscript in the late 80s when an external (and expensive!) 300MB SCSI hard disk experienced a head crash. Please: learn from my bad experiences. Don’t wait to have your own. Take my word for it: you won’t like them, not one little bit.