Category Archives: Win7View

Notes on Windows 7, Win7 compatible software and hardware, reviews, tips and more.

Why Give PowerToys Admin Access?

I found myself looking at a suggestion from PowerToys on a test PC yesterday. It popped up when I opened Windows Terminal as Administrator, as per usual practice. It warned me that Fancy Zones and other PowerToys tools might not work properly unless I gave PowerToys admin access, too. Hence the question: Why Give PowerToys Admin Access?

Why Give PowerToys Admin Access?
Because other apps use it…

I turned to MS Learn. There I found an item entitled PowerToys running with administrator access. It pretty much explained everything. Here are the salient points from its second heading:

PowerToys only needs elevated administrator permission when interacting with other applications that are running in administrator mode. If those applications are in focus, PowerToys may not function unless it is elevated as well.

These are the two scenarios PowerToys will not work in:

  • Intercepting certain types of keyboard strokes
  • Resizing / moving windows

Seems pretty straightforward to me, and makes perfect sense. Here’s how to get to admin mode in PowerToys from its default “Running as user” mode.

Making the Switch: User to Admin

You must open PowerToys in admin mode to switch to admin mode. If PowerToys is running, right-click its taskbar icon and select exit to terminate its runtime instance. Next, right-click the PowerToys icon in the start menu, and select “Run as administrator.” In Settings, Administrator mode, move the “Always run as administrator” slider from off (as shown in the lead-in graphic) to On. That’s it!

Now, you can run some of your tools and programs in admin mode without warning messages from PowerToys (or concerns that its tools might not work as they’re supposed to). I like it, and I like ready access to simple, intelligible explanations as to why things must change to work properly.

One More Thing: v0.67.1 Is Out

As I write this item, MS has just released PowerToys update to v0.67.1. While you’re poking around inside Settings/General click the “Check for updates” button. If your PC isn’t yet caught up to this latest version, it’ll take care of it for you. Or, try this command

Winget upgrade Microsoft.PowerToys

if you prefer. Cheers!

 

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16 Month Pause Between Audio Updates

Whoa! I finally hit paydirt yesterday. I’ve been checking for updated drivers for my Realtek┬« Audio (UAD) device for some time now. As I’ve just calculated, there’s been a 16 month pause between audio updates on my production PC. Undoubtedly that’s because it’s an i7 Skylake (Intel Gen 6) CPU that made its debut in 2016. Could this be another sign that it’s time to retire this PC? Probably!

Why a 16 Month Pause Between Audio Updates?

Please look at the intro graphic. Because I just updated the ASRock Realktek audio driver yesterday, you can see two versions of the corresponding setup information (INF) file, hdxasrok.inf. Note the dates: the newer one reads 12/27/2022 while the older reads 8/3/2021. Do the math, and that’s 16 months plus over 3 weeks. Wow!

I’d been visiting the ASRock Support website and my favorite alternate driver source — namely station-drivers.com— for a long, long time before I finally struck gold. Before I dug into this ZIP file and realized it covered my audio chipset, the vast majority of recent updates were for Nahimic audio chips, not the plain-vanilla Realtek chips in my now-aging motherboard.

Frankly, I don’t know why it took so long to find a newer version. My best guess is that older motherboards (and chipsets) don’t get the same love and attention that newer ones do. I have to guess that’s because driver updates require time and effort to create, and older stuff is less likely to be in demand than newer stuff. The just the way of Windows-World: older hardware eventually gets no love at all. Mine is pushing that envelope, clearly.

Thanks Again, RAPR!

The Driver Store Explorer (aka RAPR.exe) once again comes in handy for inspecting driver status on my Windows 10 production PC. It’s the source of the screencap at the head of this story. It does a stellar job of showing Windows drivers, including their number and status on targeted PCs. This search proved an excellent stimulus for me to update RAPR itself, too. Thus, I’m now running v0.11.92 (uploaded to GitHub on 1/6/2023). Previously, I’d been running v0.10.58 (internal file date: 4/10/2020).

Thus, the need to upgrade one thing (the Realtek driver) also reminded me to upgrade another (RAPR). Now, I’ll need to distribute this around my entire PC fleet. Good stuff!

 

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SFF Upgrade Opportunities Maximize Value

Last October, I wrote a review of a tiny and terrific SFF PC entitled “P360 Ultra Is Beautiful Inside.” This morning, I’ve been thinking about that review while reading about best of breed small form-factor (SFF) PCs across a broad range of vendors. My conclusion: SFF upgrade opportunities maximize value in a chassis that’s easy to open, access and upgrade. Let me explain…

Buy Low-end So SFF Upgrade Opportunities Maximize Value

In the P360 Ultra, for those who aren’t disinclined to swap out parts, I suggest purchasing a model with the highest-end CPU one can afford (the CPU is not listed as a field-replaceable unit, or FRU — see Manual). Then, one can hold the initial cost down by purchasing minimal memory and storage, and swapping out components purchased separately.

Thus, for example, a minimally configured unit with i7-12700K CPU costs ~US$1,500, while one with an i9-12900 goes for US$1,675. This comes with built-in GPU, 8 GB RAM, and a 512 GB PCIe X4 SSD. Generally, you can purchase additional memory and storage for less than half what the vendor charges (e.g. Amazon sells compatible 2 x 32 GB memory modules for US$260-280, where Lenovo charges US$700). Similarly, you can purchase an excellent 2 TB top-of-the line SSD from Newegg for about US$229, where Lenovo charges US$30 more for a “high-performance” 1 TB SSD.

Things Get Dicier with Graphics Cards

The P360 Ultra uses a special, compact interface to host graphics cards such as the Nvidia T400 4 GB GDDR6, the Nvidia RTX A2000 12 GB GDDR6, and Nvidia RTX A5000 mobile 16GB GDDR6. You can buy the first two of these three on the open market (I can’t find the mobile version of the third for sale anywhere). Lenovo sells the T400 more cheaply than I can find it online, and you may be able to save a little on the A2000 on the open market.

All this said, buying down and self-upgrading remains a good way to buy into an SFF machine. You can decide how much oomph you want to add vs. how much you want to spend, and save vis-a-vis preinstalled prices. Think about it for upcoming desktop/workstation purchases, please.

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Thunderbolt Docks Add Helpful Future-Proofing

I’m thinking about what kinds of hardware experiments I’ve conducted over the past couple of years. Especially this year (2022). Along the way, I’ve learned that Thunderbolt docks add helpful future-proofing for home and office users. Let me explain…

How Thunderbolt Docks Add Helpful Future-Proofing

Right now, Lenovo offers what can only be called a “Best Buy” in the arena of Thunderbolt 4 docks. Or maybe a couple of them, as I’ll recount shortly. Called the Universal TB4 Dock, it currently retails for just under US$290. This is about US$110 cheaper than its nearest competitors (e.g. Belkin and CalDigit, among others).

On December 8, I also wrote here about the Lenovo P27-u20 monitor, which includes a built-in TB4 dock. At US$527, with a 4K monitor included in the mix, it too, qualifies as a “Best Buy” IMO.

There is one thing, though: to make proper use of TB4, you also need TB4 peripherals. They will be no more than two years old (TB4 made its debut in H2’2020). There’s a lot of expense involved in climbing this technology bump. But if you’ve got newer peripherals, a TB4 dock is a great way to mate them up to PCs and laptops back to 8th Gen Intel (and equivalent AMD) CPUs. I’ve done that, and it works great.

Try TB3 for a Lower-Budget Approach

For readers who want to extend the life of a Windows 11 capable PC or laptop, it may make sense to invest in Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) instead. Such docks cost as little as US$40 (e.g. Dell refurb), and are readily available new for around or just under US$100. If you’ve already bought into USB-C (3.1 or 3.2 capability) or TB3 peripherals, this is a less expensive way to dock up. Worth researching anyway: I see lots of attractive options at Amazon and other online outlets.

Thanks, Lenovo!

While I’ve got your eye, I’d like to thank the laptop and peripherals teams at Lenovo for their outstanding support. They’ve sent me half-a-dozen different laptops (and one great SFF workstation), multiple docks and the aforementioned monitor this year to review.

It’s been incredibly educational and lots of fun to put different TB4 scenarios together. This lets me understand and measure how they work, and how to make them work best. A special shout-out to Jeff Witt and Amanda Heater for their great help and quick assistance this year (and beforehand). Happy holidays to one and all.

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Turning Off Corel PSP Ads

I’d had enough, enough, enough. After seeing an advertisement from Corel for extensions to its PaintShop Pro (PSP) product yesterday, I searched online for “Turn off ads in Corel PaintShop Pro 2023.” Thankfully turning off Corel PSP ads is not only easy, there’s even an official vendor-sponsored knowledge base (KB) how-to article. Hooray!

The intro graphic shows the program’s default settings for what shows up as “Message Preferences” in the program’s Help menu. Notice that users get opted into “Keep me informed with the latest product related messages.” Notice further that update frequency for such notification is — I kid you not — daily (“Once a day”).

Unticking Boxes For Turning Off Corel PSP Ads

By no coincidence whatsoever, changing those two settings turns ads off completely. What a relief. Here’s what the same dialog box looks like when properly altered:

Turning Off Corel PSP Ads.ads-off

Ads turned off. Wish all such apps (and browsers) were this easy to manage!

Just to recap those changes, they require unchecking the “Keep me informed…” box. They also require changing the “Receive updates/offers…” setting to “Do not show…” Presto! No more advertisements or notifications from PaintShop Pro. What a relief!

The Politics of Dancing…

In its own small way, this little tweak shows the importance of understanding how the programs you install on your Windows PCs work. If you don’t like something about them, you will often be able to change their behavior to make irritants or unwanted communications mute or disappear. This small example from PSP serves as a pretty good and nearly self-explanatory example.

I upgrade my copy of the software every 12-18 months, so I don’t need to be reminded to buy into the latest version. I’m not doing more serious photo or image editing so I don’t really care about the many tools and add-ons for PSP that Corel and third parties offer.

I just wanted the ads to go away. So that’s what I made them do. I imagine (but will find out when installing the 2024 update next year) that this default will reappear thereafter. But now, I know how to subdue that beast should it rear its unwanted head once again. Cheers!

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Thunderbolt Monitor Makes Life Easy

OK, then. Lenovo sent me a terrific Thunderbolt 4 4K ThinkVision P27-u20 monitor. It actually showed up the day before Thanksgiving. It’s been sitting on my office floor since then, waiting patiently for me to get around to it. I’m working with the company to get a better sense of how Thunderbolt 4 works in an office environment. And indeed, now I can say from experience that a Thunderbolt monitor makes life easy for properly-equipped PCs and laptops.

Extremely narrow side and top bezels make for a compelling and nicely stackable monitor. [Click image for full-size view.]

Why Thunderbolt Monitor Makes Life Easy

Simple: plug it it, turn it on, set the device for dual displays and extend the desktop on a laptop. You can see how this looks in the Thunderbolt Control Center on the X12 Hybrid Tablet in the top graphic.

On the P360 Ultra, it fired up on its own when plugged into the front Thunderbolt 4 port. Colors are crisp, and the monitor appears to work as fast using TB4 as it does under either HDMI or DisplayPort. Better yet, the Thunderbolt-accessible ports on the monitor include TB4 in/out, 2xHDMI 2.0, DP 1.2, GbE (RJ-45), an audio mini-jack, and 2xUSB3.1 (1 USB-Type B, and USB-C is TB4 capable). It’s also got integrated speakers (3W each, so not really major, but adequate). It runs a 60Hz refresh rate with a response time of 4 -6 ms so it’s not really a gaming monitor by any stretch. That said, it’s nice for productivity and static creation work.

Resolution is nominal 4K (3840 x 2160), and it supports DCI-PC3 and Adobe RGB. It’s also DisplayHDR 400 certified (that means 10-bit color). See the product page for complete tech specs.

Built-in TB4 Hub Makes For a Killer Price

Yes, that’s right: the monitor includes an entirely capable, built-in Thunderbolt 4 hub as part of its equipage. Very cool, for a device with an MSRP of under US$550. Indeed, even the cheapest TB4 hubs, similarly equipped, cost over US$300 nowadays. It also includes a DP cable, a TB 4 cable, and a USB TypeB2A cable to hook an external USB 3.1 device up to its Type B port. Note: I just happened to hook the monitor up through a Lenovo TB4 Dock because I have one, but it will act as a dock by itself. That’s why two devices (dock and monitor) show up in the Thunderbolt Control Center up top.

To me, this functionality makes the price of the monitor easy to justify given that it comes ready to support Thunderbolt 4 based audio, video, networking and peripherals right out of the box. If you need another monitor and you can also benefit from TB4 connectivity and access, this could be too good to pass up.

Upon first exposure and short-term use, I’m wowed. I’ll follow up with more details after I’ve had a chance to spend some time with this puppy.

Notes Added December 7

A few more noteworthy things have occurred to me as I ponder this new peripheral and its inner workings. The USB C port delivers up to 100 W of power, so it should be able to handle most laptops without a separate AC connection for juice. The on-screen menus do take some fooling with to figure out. It is kind of heavy (28 lbs/12.7 Kg) but easy to assemble, move around and adjust. Here’s an interesting technical review from PC Magazine for your consideration, too.

 

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P16 Posts Mysterious Memory Training Message

OK: here’s a new one on me. This weekend, I updated the UEFI on the Lenovo P16 Mobile Workstation. Along that update path, the P16 posts mysterious memory training message. Something along the lines of “the screen will go dark for 2 minutes while the system performs memory training.” I’d not enountered this terminology before so I was taken aback. Turns out it’s a well-known thing, tho…

Learning Ensues When P16 Posts Mysterious Memory Training Message

Apparently memory training — or as Lenovo calls it in the P16 Maintenance manual: “memory retraining” — can happen after hardware changes or following UEFI updates. Online research eventually led me to a document that explained what’s going on. It’s called DDR4 SRAM: Initialization, Training and Calibration, and it’s darned informative. In fact, it’s worth a read-through for those interested in going beyond the basics I’ll present here.

For my purposes, it was enough to know the following:

1. Device or firmware changes can affect memory timing and performance
2. Training uses an iterative approach to altering timing values
3. It converges on settings that provide a workable trade-off between speed (faster performance) and stability (fault-free memory access)
4. If your motherboard uses JEDEC timings, training/retraining is not usually required (or performed)

In fact, it’s a lot like what I used to read at Tom’s Hardware about over-clocking PC memory back in the late 1990s. Start from a safe setting, increment and try. If it works, increment again. Repeat until a failure occurs. Back off to the preceding increment. Done!

Changes Sometime Cause (Re)Training

The bottom line is that what I was entirely normal. I’d either never seen or never noticed such warnings before, but they’re typical following hardware (usually RAM module swap-outs) or firmware (including UEFI) changes. Now I know. And it gave me a good excuse to download and read around the maintenance manual for the P16. That’s always fun, too.

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USB4 Delivers Consistent NVMe Performance

OK, then. I finally laid hands on my second USB4 NVMe SSD enclosure yesterday. I deliberately sought out the cheapest one I could find so I could compare it to a more expensive alternative already on hand. When I say that USB4 delivers consistent NVMe performance here’s what that means:

1. The same SSD, cable, and host PC are used for comparison. Both drives have the “cache tweak” applied (this Oct 14 post has deets). Same tests performed, too (CrystalDiskMark and a Macrium Reflect backup).
2. The only thing that changes is the enclosure itself.

In short, I wanted to see if spending more on hardware returned a noticeable performance advantage (I’ll talk more about this below). Long story short: it doesn’t seem to make much, if any, difference. Let me explain…

Why Say: USB4 Delivers Consistent NVMe Performance?

The lead-in graphic shows the results from the cheap enclosure on the left, and the more expensive one on the right. The average difference in CrystalDiskMark performance shows 2 wins for el cheapo, 5 wins for the higher priced item, and 1 tie. On first blush, that gives the more expensive device an advantage. So the next question is: how much advantage?

This is where a little delta analysis can help. I calculate that the average performance difference between devices varies from a high of 6.2% to a low of 0.03% (not including the tie). That said, the average performance difference across all cells is merely 1.54%. (Calculated by taking absolute value for each delta, then dividing by the number of cells.) That’s not much difference, especially given the prices of the two devices: $128.82 and $140.71. That delta is 8.4% (~5.5 times the average performance delta).

I will also argue that comparing CystalDiskMark results is interesting, but not much of a real-world metric. Thus, I’ll compare completion times for a Macrium Reflect image backup on the same PC, same OS image. The expensive device took 2:25, the cheap one 2:44. That’s an 11.5% difference, greater than the price delta but not amazingly so.

Deciding What’s Worthwhile

I can actually see some differences between the two enclosures I bought. One thing to ponder is that NVMe drives tend to heat up when run full out for any length of time (as when handling large data sets, making backups, and so forth). I’ve seen temps (as reported in CrystalDiskInfo, reading SMART data) go as high as 60┬░ C while M.2 SSDs are busy in these enclosures. At idle, they usually run at around 28┬░ C. The more expensive NVMe enclosures tend to offer more surface area to radiate heat while active, so that’s worth factoring into the analysis.

But here’s the deal: I can buy a decent USB3.1 NVMe enclosure for around US$33 right now. The cheapest USB4 NVMe enclosure I could find cost almost US$96 more. That’s a multiplier of just under 4X in price for a device that delivers less than 2X in improved performance. Let me also observe that there are several such enclosures that cost US$160 and up also on the market. I still have trouble justifying the added expense for everyday use, including backup.

There will be some high-end users — especially those working with huge datasets — who might be able to justify the incremental cost because of their workloads and the incremental value of higher throughput. But for most business users, especially SOHO types like me, the ouch factor exceeds the wow value too much to make it worthwhile. ‘Nuff said.

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HDDs Still Have Their Uses

Hmmmm. Just saw a fascinating story at Neowin.net. It provides links to some low-cost deals for hard disk drives (HDDs) that range in size from 3 to 14 TB, with prices from US$60 (3TB) to US$210 (14 TB). I’m not endorsing the brand (WD) or the deals (listed from Amazon and — in some instances — Newegg). But I am amazed at just how cheap conventional hard disks can be today. And because HDDs still have their uses — particularly for archiving and spare backups — buying may make sense.

Economics Also Verify That HDDs Still Have Their Uses

I’m struck by the contrast between HDD and NVMe prices, especially for 4 and 8 TB devices. Looking at Amazon, I see that 4TB NVMe drives go for US$460 and up, with most top-end devices just below or over US$600. When you can find them (not easy), 8TB devices cost from just under US$1,200 to around US$1,500 or so.

The comparison to HDD is pretty stark. The Neowin story cites prices of US$70 for 4, and US$130 for 8 TB. Do the math to figure out the ratios. The 4TB NVMes cost between 6.57 and 8.57 times as much as their HDD counterparts. 8TB models run between 9.23 and 11.53 times as much.

Of course, denser solid-state devices are much more expensive to make. Though higher-capacity HDDs have more platters, achieving denser storage doesn’t magnify costs anywhere near as much. In fact, the HDD cost increment for going from 8TB to 10TB is US$30, and from 8TB to 14TB US$80. That clearly shows the incremental cost of storage is much, much cheaper for HDDs than SSDs.

But given the mind-blowing costs for higher capacity NVMe devices, they’re not going to replace HDDs completely any time soon. They simply cost too much to justify wholesale switchovers. Nobody’s going to use HDDs for serious, real-time workloads any more. They have no place as system drives, either. But for other applications where high capacity trumps I/O performance, they still have a vital role to play. And that explains why I still have over 40TB of spinning storage myself, much of it idle as “backups for my backups.”

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ThinkPad Universal Thunderbolt4 Dock

It must be because I asked Lenovo for gear to test Thunderbolt4 and USB4. Last week another unexpected and unnanounced device showed up at the door. This time, it was a brand-new ThinkPad Universal Thunderbolt4 Dock. From what I’ve seen so far it has a lot going for it — especially price (relatively speaking, that is).

Why Is TB4/USB4 Gear So Costly?

Before I dig into the details on the mostly excellent ThinkPad Universal Thunderbolt4 dock, I must rant a bit. I’ve got 3 TB4 docks here at the house right now. The Lenovo unit is the cheapest by US$70-plus (that’s a good thing). But all of them cost over US$300, and two of them are at or over the US$400 mark. That stings!

I’ve been looking at a lot of NVMe enclosures that support USB4 lately, too (they work with TB4 controllers, BTW). These puppies cost even more. That means US$80 – 100 more than the cost of decent-to-high quality USB3.1 NVMe enclosures. I’m talking US$30-50 versus US$130-160. That’s a big difference!

One usually pays a premium to climb onto the bleeding edge of technology. And right now, TB4/USB4 is as fast as external devices get. Given a PC that supports these interfaces, I still don’t understand why climbing aboard this latest technology wave incurs such a hefty buy-in. Sigh.

More About ThinkPad Universal Thunderbolt4 Dock

Now that I’ve set the stage for describing and exploring this device, more of what I have to say should make sense. Indeed, this Lenovo dock is a relative bargain among all the TB4 docks I’ve tested so far. That is, with an MSRP of US$322, it costs US$77 less than the Belkin Pro Thunderbolt 4 dock. It enjoys the same price differential when compared to the CalDigit TS4 dock but that device keeps selling out, and is only immediately obtained on eBay for US$500-600!

Thus, the Lenovo Device has a definite price advantage in this very narrow product niche. See this Amazon Search for a fairly good list of the whole product range right now. From what I can tell, Lenovo offers the best price currently available for these kinds of devices.

Here’s a short list of ThinkPad Universal TB4 Dock features and functions (see product page for complete specs):

  • Handles up to 4 external monitors, up to 8K total resolution (1x8K display @ 30Hz or 4x4K display @ 60 Hz via 2xfull-size DP 1.4, 1xfull-size HDMI 2.1, 1xUSB-C)
  • 2 40Gbps Thunderbolt4 ports (one for computer in, one for other uses)
  • 4xUSB-A 3.1 ports and 1xUSB-C (may be used for video, as already indicated)
  • 135W external power brick, up to 100W available for charging
  • RJ-45 GbE (Intel I225-LMvP circuitry)
  • Audio mini-jack for headphones or external audio hookup
  • Universal computer lock port for attaching locked cable
  • Dimensions 220x80x30 mm (8.66×3.15×1.18″)

The Lenovo dock even downloads and handles its own Windows drivers with reasonable aplomb and dispatch. I found it loaded up its own USB Audio driver (under Sound, video and game controllers). It also updated the local Thunderbolt controller driver to a newer version after hook-up.

Stacking Up the Hubs

My testing so far puts all 3 docks — Lenovo, CalDigit, and Belkin — into the same overall performance range for USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 devices. That said, the CalDigit device offers 18 ports including GbE and 2.5 GbE RJ-45 networking hook-ups and SD flash device slots. If you can find one and need that extra functionality, that may make it worth the extra cost. Likewise, the Belkin device also supports a full-size SD slot and dual USB-A 2.0 slots, which may or may not make a different.

By comparison, I’d give the Lenovo device a “Best Buy” rating right now. If you don’t need SD support or lots of (different) USB-A ports, it can handle what you need. I have no difficulty using it as a docking station for a Lenovo X12 hybrid laptop with external mouse, keyboard, and two or three external storage devices. It also works well with HDMI or DP to drive an external Dell U2717 monitor.

 

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