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First Windows 11 Hardware Refresh

OK, then. I’m getting ready to upgrade one of my two remaining desktops to make it meet Windows 11 hardware requirements.  This is my first Windows 11 hardware refresh, so I want to get things right. The irony of the situation is that this PC is already running Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 22000.132. That’s not supposed to continue, as and when an RTM version hits the Internet. I’m trying to get out in front of those changes…

Where My First Windows 11 Hardware Refresh Begins

Given what’s in this still-capable Windows 10 (and 11) PC, it’s been around for a while. Here are its key components:
1. Intel i7-4770K (4th generation/Haswell) CPU
2. 32 GB DDR3 RAM
3. Asrock Z97 Killer Motherboard
4. Samsung OEM 512GB NVMe PCIe x3 boot/system SSD
5. Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti
That CPU dates back to 2013, but I believe I built this system in 2014, and later upgraded its graphics card. It is getting kind of long in the tooth, but I’m keeping many parts for the refresh build.

What Goes, What Stays?

Of the four numbered items above, 1-4 are going, Because of the current market situation for GPUs, it’s not smart for me to lay out over US$1K for a new one right now. Here’s the other stuff I bought to put inside that machine (I’m keeping the case, the PSU, all the peripherals, and some of its existing drives, as well):
1. AMD Ryzen 7 5800X CPU (8 core/16 thread)
2. G.Skill 64 GB DDR4-2666 (2×32 GB modules)
3. CoolerMaster Hyper 212 RGB closed-loop liquid CPU cooler
4. Asrock B550 Extreme4 AM4 Motherboard
5. Sabrent Rocket Q NVMe PCIe x4 SSD 2TB

Open Questions for the Build

This will be my first time to put together a PC that aims to comply with Windows 11 requirements. I’m curious to see if those will be met by default, or if I’ll have to fiddle the BIOS to get Secure Boot and TPM 2.0 emulation working. Whatever happens, count on me to keep you posted right here. The target schedule for the project is Saturday, August 21. I’m going to take a back seat, and let my 17-year-old son Gregory take the old stuff out, and put the new stuff in. Wish us luck!

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Pondering Windows 11 Hardware Requirements

The Windows user community is abuzz with reactions and concerns about what it takes, PC-wise, to upgrade to Windows 11. This has many people — myself included — pondering Windows 11 hardware requirements.  For the record, Microsoft Docs states those things clearly on the Windows 11 requirements page. (Indeed, the bulleted list below is cut’n’pasted from that source) :

    • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with two or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or system on a chip (SoC).
    • RAM: 4 gigabytes (GB) or greater.
    • Storage: 64 GB* or greater available storage is required to install Windows 11.
      • Additional storage space might be required to download updates and enable specific features.
    • Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later, with a WDDM 2.0 driver.
    • System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable.
    • TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0.
    • Display: High definition (720p) display, 9″ or greater monitor, 8 bits per color channel.
    • Internet connection: Internet connectivity is necessary to perform updates, and to download and use some features.
      • Windows 11 Home edition requires an Internet connection and a Microsoft Account to complete device setup on first use.

Pondering Windows 11 Hardware Requirements Leads to Upgrade Plans

Of the 10 systems currently on the premises here at Chez Tittel, only 3 of them fail to meet the afore-stated stipulations. Those 3 systems are:

1. My production desktop PC, whose i7-6700 misses the CPU cut-off by one Intel generation. It also lacks TPM 2.0.
2. My son’s desktop PC, whose i7-4770K (built in 2014) is pretty long in the tooth. It’s overdue for an upgrade anyway. It too, lacks TPM 2.0 support.
3. My 2014 Surface Pro 3 sports another 4th-gen Intel processor, an i7-4650U. No TPM 2.0 here, either.

I will upgrade both desktops (systems #1 and #2 above). The parts for #2 arrived this weekend and I’ll be upgrading that system sometime this week. It’s going to be a Ryzen 5800X. Its B550 mobo offers TPM 2.0 emulation as part of a broad range of capabilities. I plan to upgrade my production desktop next month, or the month after, to be ready for an October Windows 11 production release date.

Keeping an Eye on Windows 10

Usually when a new OS version comes out, I abandon the previous one completely and move wholesale to the new version. I won’t be able to do that with the Surface Pro 3 (#3 above) so I’ll keep it running Windows 10 as long as it can.

EOL for Windows 10 is October 2025, so that’s going to be a while yet. In fact, if all goes to plan I may be retiring that year myself assuming my son also manages to graduate from college in 4 years. (Alas, that’s not always a safe assumption: both of my step-kids took 5 or more years to earn their bachelor’s degrees, and my sister’s 2 are on the same course. I’m resigned to the notion that it may take him 5 years to finish a bachelor’s, because that’s become such a norm.)

Why I’m Basically OK with MS Requirements

I’m not as bent out of shape by Microsoft’s requirements cut-offs as many people seem to be. I understand one must draw the line somewhere, and that hardware-level security has made dramatic strides in the past half-decade. I’m assuming that’s why MS drew the line at 8th generation Intel (Coffee Lake) CPUs and AMD and ARM processors of similar vintage.

These cut-offs take us back to 2017, nearly 5 years back from the upcoming Windows 11 release date (more or less expected for October). Because TPM (via emulation) is part and parcel of all such systems, by and large, it’s not really an additional hurdle unless users bought older motherboards for newer processors in the 2017-2018 timeframe.

For some fascinating viewpoints and issues on this topic, check out the ElevenForum thread “Update on Windows 11 minimum requirements.” As I write about this conversation, it already boasts numerous items (including my own at #212). There are sure to be many, many more before all is said and done. That said, it’s worth a read-through. Lots of good opinions and ideas, pro and con, and good reflection of the state of the user community.

 

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MS Makes LTSC Sole Windows Server Release Channel

When you think about it, here’s a sensible move. Windows Server is the kind of platform that organizations want to stand up, get right, and leave alone. There’s little need for personalization, and it doesn’t need desktop tweaks. In fact, Server is really a background thing. It  holds up the “you ask, I answer” side of client/server. architecture. Then, too, MS put containers and microservices under the Azure umbrella. That’s why, I think, that MS makes LTSC sole Windows Server Release channel.

Why MS Makes LTSC Sole Windows Server Release Channel

A July 26 Microsoft Docs item spells things out. It’s entitled Windows Server release information. This quote explains things (emphasis mine):

The Semi-Annual Channel in previous versions of Windows Server focused on containers and microservices, and that innovation will continue with Azure Stack HCI. With the Long-Term Servicing Channel, a new major version of Windows Server is released every 2-3 years. Users are entitled to 5 years of mainstream support and 5 years of extended support. This channel provides systems with a long servicing option and functional stability, and can be installed with Server Core or Server with Desktop Experience installation options. The Long-Term Servicing Channel will continue to receive security and non-security updates, but it will not receive the new features and functionality.

Organizations can migrate if and when compelling new features emerge. It’s arguable this change makes a virtue of necessity. Why say that? Most organizations upgrade servers no more often than once every 2-3 years (or longer) anyway.

On balance, I think this is a good move. For developers, it means building, testing and maintaining fewer releases . That is good news for everybody. Developers can build more cool new stuff. Admins face less busy work. This means shorter, simpler scheduled updates. And because updates often happen over long weekends, it means more holiday time with family and friends. That’s a real win-win!

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Odd Win10 News and Interests Issues

I’ve been noticing some odd and unusual behaviors from the now widely-available News and Interests taskbar item lately. Other sources have been reporting something similar (Windows Latest, OnMSFT, etc.) as well. For some, it has included “blurry text” for N&I on the taskbar. That is not anything I’ve seen on any of my 10 Windows 10 PCs. But it seems certain that odd Win10 News and interests issues are rampant right now.

What Kinds of Odd Win10 News and Interests Issues?

The weirdest thing I’ve seen appears to indicate synch or dynamic update issues. I’ll often look at N&I on my production desktop and see a different weather icon and  temp than in an RDP window on the other display. Just now, for example, I saw partly sunny and 87F on my left-hand monitor, and sunny and 88F on its right-hand counterpart. I’ve seen the N&I info show up when RDP-ing into other PCs with information that is hours old or from the previous day.

Is this a problem? No, not really. It’s more of a curiosity. It also has me wondering about how MS manages communications between the notification text and the back-end servers that feed it information. Methinks it’s likely there’s some rough spots in the polling or interval handling for refreshes involved.

That said, MS is reported to be aware of these issues and working on fixes. Other sources assert that N&I went out the door lacking polish and may not be completely “cooked” yet. My own experience is not that negative. However, it is easy to observe that some aspects of N&I don’t work as smoothly or seamlessly as they could. I’m sure this will be the focus for ongoing updates, refinements and enhancements in upcoming updates ahead. I look forward to its continuing elaboration and evolution. Stay tuned!

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Patch Tuesday Updates Include 3 Critical TCP/IP Fixes

Although I think MS calls it Update Tuesday now, Patch Tuesday is the second Tuesday of each month. It’s the usual time when MS releases monthly updates, including security patches and fixes. This latest batch, released yesterday, includes some important stuff. These Patch Tuesday Updates include 3 critical TCP/IP fixes, according to BleepingComputer among other sources. They join MS In urging organizations to update them sooner rather than later.

Patch Tuesday Updates Include 3 Critical TCP/IP Fixes: Relevant CVEs

These vulnerabilities affect all Windows client and server versions starting at Windows 7/Server 2008 and up to present-day, current versions. The relevant CVEs are: CVE-2021-24074, CVE-2021-24094, and CVE-2021-24086. Each one may be exploited remotely. Two of them could lead to remote code execution (RCE) attacks. The third offers a means to crash an exposed Windows PC, offering a potential denial-of-service attack vector.

All three show February 9 release dates, which also makes them zero-day exploits as well. They also pose low attack complexity, which makes them easy for malefactors to foist. All require no privileges to launch which only increases their danger levels.

Who’s Covered By Patch Tuesday Updates?

Only older versions of Windows client and server OSes need to download and install their corresponding  Monthly Security Rollups (Server 2008, Server 2012, Server 2012 R2, Windows 7 SP1). Check the afore-linked Security Bulletins (shown above as CVE links) for Microsoft Catalog download links. Other client and server versions can get their updates through normal channels, including Windows Update.

Don’t delay, dear readers. These updates are better installed than not, especially for any Windows PCs directly exposed to the Internet.

 

 

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Understanding What 2004 Broad Deployment Means

On February 3, an interesting note appeared in the latest Windows 10 Status bulletin. To truly make sense of its import requires understanding what 2004 broad deployment means. Here’s a key snippet:

Current status as of February 3, 2021
Windows 10, version 2004 is designated for broad deployment. The recommended servicing status is Semi-Annual Channel.

Again: Understanding What 2004 Broad Deployment Means

The phrase “broad deployment” is addressed in code in the phrase “servicing status is Semi-Annual Channel.” I’d translate it as “ready for nearly everybody and anybody .” Microsoft displays a more specific view of this in a DOCs article. It’s entitled Assign devices to servicing channels for Windows 10 update. In fact, that article supplies the table shown as the lead-in graphic above.

Another quote that heads the foregoing table is pretty explicit about who should get which release channel:

The Semi-Annual Channel is the default servicing channel for all Windows 10 devices except those with the LTSB edition installed

What does this mean? It means anybody who depends on Windows 10 should run the Semi-Annual Channel release.  To be more specific, that means users at work, at home and at school. Thus,  if you’re not an insider or using an LTSB license, you should be running Windows 10 2004 . That’s the May 2020 release, currently at build 19041.xxx.

2 Releases Back Reflects Conventional Wisdom

For the longest time, businesses have long followed a pattern of hanging one or two releases back from the leading edge. This goes as far back as I can remember taking Windows seriously. More explicitly, I’d call it “the Windows 3.1/Windows for Workgroups era” (1992-1993).

On the ground, most businesses I visit run 1909 or 2004 these days. With 1909 not coming up on EOL until May 2022, this info from Microsoft is interesting.  Between the lines, read it as a gentle nudge to businesses to start thinking about an upgrade. For sure, that’s sooner than they’d upgrade, if impending EOL were the driving force.

For ordinary users I also read this as sage advice for those who don’t work at Windows leading or bleeding edge. For leading edge, think current release (20H2). That makes the bleeding edge Insider Previews (21H1 and beyond).

Could It Be a Wake-Up for True Laggards?

The true laggards, of course, are those running 1904 or some earlier Windows release. This includes my optometrist, who  I noticed is still on Windows 7 when I had my eyes checked two weeks back. Thus, if you’re not close to the Semi-Annual Channel level on your Windows desktops, it’s time to start planning that transition. I think MS has just given fair warning!

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Lenovo X220 Tablet Hits IME Wall

I knew it was coming, but not when. I’ve already retired my Lenovo T520 laptop. I bought them together, so my X220 tablet has the same CPU — an i7-2640M Sandy Bridge– and  a 6 Series/C200 Series chipset. In the wake of the latest Dev Channel (Fast Ring) 21286 Build, this machine is now throwing  Intel Management Engine errors. As the lead-in screencap shows it tells me “ME is in Recovery State.” Then, it hangs until I hit the proverbial “Any Key.” When I say the Lenovo X220 Tablet hits IME wall, I’m really saying it’s too old for the installer. Simply put, Windows 10 apparently doesn’t know what to do with this old hardware any more.

If Lenovo X220 Tablet Hits IME Wall, Then What?

I can keep this machine going for a while yet, but I can tell its days are numbered. Upon investigation, its most current IME drivers and software date to the Windows 8.0 and 8.1 era. And then, there’s this cheery warning on the drivers and software download page for the X220 Tablet:

Key phrases in the warning are “no longer being actively supported” and “available ‘as-is'”. Translation: PC is old, and you’re on your own. [Click image for full-sized view.]

I found some fascinating discussion from others who’ve had this problem with this PC and others of its vintage. The most interesting item is at Bill Morrow’s Thinkpads.com forum. It prescribes a firmware hack as the best fix, which more or less turns off the Intel Management Engine (more recently renamed to Active Management Technology, or AMT).

To use this approach, I would have to buy a cheap (under US$20) EEPROM burner. Then I’d need to hack the bits for the BIOS myself  (through a Python program named ME_CLEANER).

I’m still chewing on whether or not I really want to do this. I will keep it running as it stands as long as I can, I think. I’ll pass it along to my old buddy Ken Starks at Reglue.org when I can’t upgrade Windows 10 on it anymore. Even with this glitch, by pushing the “Any Key” after each reboot during the Windows 10 install process, I got this machine upgraded to Build 21286. For the time being, I’ll just keep on keeping on until I have to do something else. Stay tuned!

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Early One Outlook Screencap Eases Concerns

Following quickly in the wake of news of Microsoft’s Project Monarch, (reported here on Monday), a screencap from an actual user allays some of my fears. Notice the left-hand column in the lead-in screecap for this story. It shows the Archive folder amongst the other Outlook folders present. I take that to mean there is a way to integrate an archive with live, web-based messages in the cloud. Thus, an early One Outlook screencap eases concerns about business use.

Why Early One Outlook Screencap Eases Concerns

The name for the app is currently “One Outlook.” This speaks directly to Microsoft’s desire to assemble all Outlook clients in a single code base. Obviously, they’ve thought about the importance of archives in the Outlook environment. In fact, I’m relieved it shows up in such early intimations of where the app is headed.

My old friend and former Novell colleague, John King, responded to my previous post. He proposed the notion that an archive might  be uploaded to the cloud to remain accessible. I’m not certain. I could see it either way, given that I’m sure I’m not the only person with a 10+GB Outlook archive.pst. Millions of 10GB uploads may be more of a storage load than Azure wants to handle. It may make more sense to build plumbing into the app to access a local archive.

Those details, however, are a long way from being settled. According to OnMSFT.com, which reported on this phenom and the screencap, One Outlook is unlikely to appear until 2022. Right now, they say, it’s only available to “brave dogfooders” with in-house, internal Microsoft accounts.

Give Me Preview Access, Please

As the app evolves and develops, I sincerely hope that MS will provide more brave dogfooders outside the company with early access. In fact, I’d like to nominate myself among the ranks of “early outside adopters.” I’ll use it on a test machine, for sure, but it could help me further ease my concerns, as I explore its capabilities. For something this central to how I work and live, I hope that’s not too much to ask. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you informed.

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Dell 7080 Micro Performance Amazes

Well, shut the front door, please! Just for grins I started running some of my desultory benchmarks and speed tests on the Dell Micro 7080 I just bought to replace the old mini-ITX box. When you see the numbers and screencaps I’ll be sharing in the following ‘graphs, you’ll understand why my title for this item is “Dell 7080 Micro Performance Amazes.”

Why say: Dell 7080 Micro Performance Amazes?

The numbers do not lie. They’re all pretty incredible, too. Here are some start/boot numbers, with the 7080 left and the (much more expensive) P-5550 numbers right:

Table 1: Shutdown, cold Boot, Restart Times
Description Action 7080 Micro P-5550
 Desktop to machine off  Shutdown  7.92 sec  13.02 sec
 Turned off to desktop  Cold boot  10.46 sec  16.01 sec
Desktop to desktop   Restart 21.26 sec  30.01 sec 

Across the board, then, the $1,200 7080 Micro is significantly faster than the $4K-plus Precision 5550 Workstation. Of course, this takes no account of the more expensive unit’s Radeon Pro GPU. The 7080 Micro simply relies on its built-in Intel UHD Graphics 630 circuitry to render bits on its Dell 2717D UltraSharp monitor, and does so reasonably well. But this comparison is unfair to the P-5550 because UHD 630 is not like a dedicated GPU, especially a professional-grade one like the P-5550’s Nvidia Quadro T2000.

But Wait, There’s More…

The CrystalDiskMark results are also mostly faster than those from the P-5550. The lead-in screenshot shows the 7080 Micro’s CDM results. Compare those for the P-5550 and you get the following, where I’ve bolded the best times in each category so you can see that the 7080 Micro beats the P-5550 in 6 out of 8 categories.

Table 2: CrystalDiskMark Comparisons
CDM Label Action 7080 Micro P-5550
 SEQ1M/Q8T1 Read 3364.8 3373.64
   Write  2790.49 2334.67 
 SEQ1M/Q1T1  Read  2147.04 1716.39 
   Write 2800.90   2056.88
 RND4K/Q32T16  Read  1972.38  630.64
   Write  2152.12  358.26
 RND4K/Q1T1  Read  60.54  41.21
   Write  108.21  119.34

I’m particularly impressed with the 4K Random write numbers with queue depth of 32 and thread count of 16, at which the 7080 Micro kills the P-5550 (read is more than 3 times faster; write is more than 6 times faster). With a queue depth and thread counts of 1 each, it’s a split decision: the 7080 Micro is almost 50% faster at reads, and the P-5550 is about 10% faster at writes. Even when the P-5550 comes out ahead it’s by less than 10% in both cases. To me, that puts the 7080 Micro way, way ahead of the P-5550, especially considering the price differential.

Am I happy with my 7080 Micro purchase? So far, heck yes! More to come as I have more time to do benchmarking. This week is jammed up, but maybe Thanksgiving week I’ll find more time. Stay tuned.

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