Category Archives: Tips, Tricks and Tweaks

Want to know how to make the most out of your Windows 7 system?
Here we share the things we have learned for what to do (and what not to do) to make Windows 7 perform at its best.

MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update

There’s an interesting spin on Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool available on GitHub. It’s known as MediaCreationTool.bat, and basically it allows users to build an ISO (or a bootable USB device) for any version of Windows 10 from 1507 all the way up to 21H1. By saying “MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update” I’m informing readers an updated version now includes 19043 Builds (21H1).

If MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update, Then What?

I wrote about this tool last year for Win10.Guru where you’ll find background and info about the developer. This GitHub project throws up a menu (see center of Command Prompt window above) that lets users pick the version of Windows 10 for which they want to grab an image. As MCT has always done, it lets them apply an update to the current PC. More commonly, it also lets them create an ISO or build bootable USB media with the chosen image aboard.

A couple of steps are needed to make the batch file usable, however. First, it won’t run unless it gets a .bat extension. You can right-click the GitHub page, select “Save-as” and then make sure to pick “All files” from the File type option. Otherwise, it saves with a .txt extension which must be removed through a file rename operation. Either way, you’ll want to open the properties for this file in Explorer, then click the Unblock button to make sure the OS doesn’t prevent its execution.

Using the Batch File Is a Snap

Then, open an Administrator: Command Prompt window, navigate to the directory where the batch file resides, and run it. I right-click the file name in explorer and grab the name from the Properties window. Then I can simply paste the string into Command Prompt to avoid re-typing. It’s what produced the lead-in graphic for this story.

Because the batch file changes each time a new Windows version comes out, you should get in the habit of visiting the developer’s home page for the script to grab the latest version. From there, click the “Raw” button to open a Web page with the latest version inside.

MediaCreationTool.bat Gets 21H1 Update.homepage

Click the Raw button at upper right and web page with the script text inside will open. Then you can follow the preceding “Save” instructions for your very own copy.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

I’ve gotten in the habit of naming the file to include the version number for the most current one it supports. Thus, I named the most recent such file MediaCreationTool21H1.bat. Hope that makes sense. Enjoy! Good stuff.

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When WU Repairs Fail Try UUPDump

I’ve got two test machines on the Beta Channel release right now. The older of the pair — a 2014 vintage Surface Pro 3 — is stuck on KB5000842 and keeps throwing install errors. Others reporting into the TenForums thread on this update have had success using the terrific UUPdump tool to build a customized image to install 19043.906. So that’s what I’m trying, too. In general, my strategy is “When WU repairs fail try UUPDump” next anyway. Glad to see others use that strategy, too.

When WU Repairs Fail Try UUPDump.WUerror

A couple of failures, including a complete WU reset, means it’s time to change update strategies.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Why Say: When WU Repairs Fail Try UUPDump?

The update installs fail each time with an error code of 0x800F081F. This is interesting, and a bit strange, because the error is often associated with the Windows Update Assistant nowhere present in this situation. It can also pop up when items are missing from the download packages that WU delivers to the desktop.

That latter reason explains why a switchover to UUPDump makes sense. It grabs the ISO-based image for the base OS version from MS servers  (19043 aka 21H1 in this case). Then, it uses DISM to apply all newer updates packages up to and including the problematic KB5000842 item that’s throwing the error here. It’s perfectly safe because it uses only Microsoft Servers as the source for its OS and update files.

Building the 19043.906 ISO File

Running UUPDump to build an ISO for a patched OS takes some time because of the many and various steps involved. For the SP3 PC, it took over an hour before it got stuck mounting the image for Build 19041.1. That’s when I realized it makes sense to run UUPdump batch files on the fastest PC around.

Thus, I ran the same job on my Lenovo X1 Extreme, with its 6-core i7-8850H CPU. Given more threads and a faster CPU and much faster Samsung OEM PCIe x3 SSDs, it ran noticeably faster, though the KB5000842 cab file update still took 5 minutes to complete (click “view image” inside the lead-in graphic for this story). The whole thing still took 35 minutes from start to finish.

And it went that fast only because we have fast (nominal GbE, actual 900 Mbps or so) Internet service here at Chez Tittel. What takes the real time, however, is bringing the windows image (.wim) file up from base level Build 19043.844 to the current/highest level Build 19043.906. This takes several steps, each one involving mounting the image, adding packages, the dismounting the image, and continuing forward. There’s some mucking around with a WinRE.wim file along the way, too.

Performing the In-Place Repair Install

This is the easy part: mount the image, run setup.exe and let the installer do its thing. This takes a while, too — considerably longer than applying the update would (checking the PC, agreeing to the EULA, checking for updates,  and so forth; then finally into OS installation). This entire process took another hour or so to complete. But here’s the end result, straight from winver.exe:

When WU Repairs Fail Try UUPDump.final

All’s well that ends well: here’s Build info from the upgraded SP3, right where I want it to be

More About UUPDump

I’ve written about UUPDump for numerous other sites, including TechTarget and Win10.Guru, both for my Windows Enterprise Desktop blog. Here are some links, if you’d like to learn more:

  1. UUPDump Invaluable Resource (TechTarget)
  2. A Peek Inside UUPDump (Win10.Guru) includes a brief interview with its developer who goes by the handle “Whatever”
  3. UUPDump Outdoes Windows Update (Win10.Guru)

Cheers!

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Lenovo Vantage Updates Take Patience

Here’s a sticky situation I’ve found myself in more than once. I’m reasonably fond of the Lenovo Vantage update tool, which handles BIOS, firmware, driver and ancillary software updates pretty well. Occasionally, two or more updates requiring a reboot appear together therein. That’s what happened today, as an Intel Manage-ment Engine (IME) firmware update and a BIOS update appeared in tandem. It’s also what reminded me that Lenovo Vantage updates take patience.

Why Say: Lenovo Vantage Updates Take Patience?

This doesn’t happen with Windows Update, but when you’re applying low-level updates to a system, items that require a reboot must be applied one at a time. I’ve learned this working with Vantage over the past few years. If a firmware update and a BIOS update show up on the same day, it’s best to download and install one by itself. Then, repeat for the second item.

What happens if you try to do more than one? When you attempt to install the second item with a reboot pending, installation fails because it is smart enough to recognize that two separate and distinct reboots are needed.

I don’t always remember this, so I got bitten today when Vantage finished the pre-reboot phase of the BIOS update and transitioned into the IME update. As soon as the IME update got going, it stopped itself and reported an error. Part of the text read “An installation failed to complete properly. Please reboot and try again.”

The Reboot’s the Thing

Of course, as soon as the reboot got through shutdown and into restart, the BIOS update ran to completion and the system rebooted again. After that reboot, I returned to Vantage to generate the lead-in graphic for this story that shows the IME firmware update still pending. As soon as I clicked install, I got an explicit reboot warning, to wit:

If I’d run the sequence IME first, BIOS second, I’d have seen this warning right away, and not been caught in an error. Sigh.

In general, it’s a good idea to make firmware and BIOS changes piecemeal anyway. You don’t want more than one thing at a time to blow up. That could complicate troubleshooting beyond belief. That’s NOT what anyone wants when making deep-level system changes.

Live and learn — or in my case, keep living and get an occasional reminder. Cheers!

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Windows 10 Driver Go-To Tool DriverStore Explorer

I’ll confess. I’ve been a fan of lostindark’s DriverStore Explorer tool for a decade or more now. Aka RAPR.exe, this tool lays bare the complete contents of the Windows DriverStore for versions 7 and newer. It also makes it pretty easy to clean up old drivers, thanks to its “Select Old Driver(s)” (SOD) button. That what makes my main Windows 10 driver go-to tool DriverStore Explorer. Accept no substitutes!

Windows 10 Driver Go-To Tool DriverStore Explorer Shows ALL Drivers

If you look at the lead-in graphic for this story, you’ll see 8 copies of the same Intel Bluetooth driver installed on my Lenovo X1 Extreme (Gen 8) laptop.  Three older versions of the same driver are also present. When I click the SOD button, 6 copies of the 1/22/2021 driver get marked, along with all 3 2020 versions. When I then click the “Delete Driver(s)” button, and confirm that instruction, exactly 2 copies remain behind. Because they’re different sizes  — one is 2 MB, the other 6 MB — I conclude they’re different even though they share a common filename. All the rest of them (31 MB total) are gone.

Some Drivers Are Special Cases

Sometimes, when you use the SOD button, a selected driver won’t be deleted. Typically, that means the still-present item is in use, despite being older than something else also present in the DriverStore. You can force deletion on such items, but are risking system instability by doing so. I recommend against this unless you’re dead sure the newer driver will work correctly.

Even so, I typically recover anywhere from 50MB to several GB of disk space when I use RAPR to clean out my Windows 10 DriverStores. Nvidia graphics drivers are particularly big space consumers (and generally run from 900 MB to 1.1 or 1.2 GB in size). Cleaning up a half-dozen of these can recover some real space.

Try it for yourself. You can’t help but like it. Visit the GitHub page for more information and the most current download. As I write this story, that version is numbered v0.11.64.

 

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USB Cables Make Amazing Differences

A couple of weeks ago, I read an online item bemoaning the variations in USB cables, especially those with USB-C connectors on one or both ends. This weekend, I experienced this phenom for myself. I also learned that the right USB cables make amazing differences in speed/throughput.

In the lead-in screenshots above, CrystalDiskMark speeds for the same device appear at left and right. To the left is the US$26 Fideco M.2 NVME External SSD Enclosure – USB 3.1. It’s linked to my Lenovo Yoga X390 through its USB 3.1 port using the vendor-supplied cable. Inside is the Sabrent 1TB Nano M.2 2242 SSD I’ve been writing about a lot lately. To the right everything is identical except I used a USB 3.1 Gen 2 cable. It’s rated at “up to 10 GBPS.”

No Lie: USB Cables Make Amazing Differences

Why on earth would the equipment vendor ship such a POS cable with an otherwise capable NVME enclosure? Speed results for the in-box cable (right) versus a US$7 cable purchased from Amazon differ starkly. For bulk transfers, the Amazon cable is 10 or more times faster. For 4K random reads and writes (bottom two rows), it’s between 6 and 7 times faster for queue depth = 32. That drops to 2 to 3 times faster for queue depth = 1.

Clearly, this is a red flag. It tells us that faster USB-C cables can speed peripheral I/O significantly. It also indicates that one should know what kinds of cables to buy. I got the speed-rated cables so I could see if they did make a difference. Little did I know I would actually benefit greatly from this experiment.

Wrinkles in the Plug-n-Play Experience

The question with USB-C cables is not “Will it work?” Rather, it should be “How fast does it go?” I’ve just learned that big differences sometimes present themselves. Testing your devices is the only way to confirm what kind of performance you’re getting. In my case, it quickly showed me that a high-speed USB-C cable is a worthwhile expense.

FWIW, this experiment also  explained some of the cost differential between the US$26 Fideco unit linked above and the US$45 Sabrent units I also own. The latter ships with USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cables that perform on par with the speed-rated cables I mentioned near the outset of this story. The NVME enclosures are more or less on par performance wise. That’s NOT true for the in-box USB-C cables, though. There indeed: you get what you pay for!

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A Tale of Two USB Ports

I’ve been troubleshooting a vexing M.2 2242 NVMe drive this week. If you look back over my recent writings here at edtittel.com, you’ll see this adventure has led me to some interesting places. Yesterday, it led me to recognize that not all USB-C ports are the same. I found myself confronting the profound difference that current-gen Thunderbolt support can make. Thus indeed, a tale of two USB ports follows.

Telling the Tale of Two USB Ports

On the one hand: a 2019-vintage Lenovo X390 Yoga. Its fastest USB port is described in its tech specs as “USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C / Intel Thunderbolt 3.” On the other hand: a 2021-vintage Lenovo X1 Nano. Its fastest USB port is described in its tech specs as “USB 4 Thunderbolt 4.” I must confess, I was curious about what differences might manifest between these two technology generations.

It made a significant difference. Thus the story’s lead-in graphic shows. CrystalDiskMark output from the Nano is on the left, the X390 on the right. It shows the speed-up varies somewhat. It is better than 2:1 on the big-transfer items (upper 2). But the more important random 4K reads/writes fill the bottom two rows. There,  we see 17-18% (read-write) for random with queue depth=1. That jumps to 42-50% with queue depth=32.

In practice, I believe it’s what allows the X1 Nano with an i5 processor to work much like my older i7-6700 on my desktop PC. It also makes the X1 Nano faster than the X390, despite an i7 on that older machine. I/O is indeed a  powerful performance factor.

Is USB 4 Thunderbolt 4 Worth Buying?

If you’re in the market for a new PC or laptop, you will get a performance boost from using the newer USB technology. If the ability to complete backups (and other big file transfers) twice as fast is worth something to you, factor that into the price differential. If better overall I/O performance of at least 18% in accessing peripheral storage has value, ditto.

Only you can decide if it’s worth the price differential. For me, the answer is “Heck yeah!” I’m not sure that means I’ll buy an X1 Nano. But I am sure it means my next laptop will have USB 4 Thunderbolt 4 ports.

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Zen and the Art of USB Troubleshooting

Back in the 1970s, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance made its debut. I was a year out of college, working in a somewhat technical job as an audio engineer at the Library of Congress. I devoured that book and many of its thoughts have stayed with me over the intervening years. None has stuck better than his discussion of the scientific method (that link goes to a reprint of that section). It always struck me afterward that when somebody wants to get serious about troubleshooting, it’s time to invoke the awesome majesty of “the formal scientific method.” That’s why I call this blog post, with tongue in cheek: “Zen and the Art of USB Troubleshooting.”

What Good is Zen and the Art of USB Troubleshooting?

Early in the cited section on the scientific method, Pirsig makes two great observations. First he says “Actually, I’ve never seen a cycle-maintenance problem complex enough really to require full-scale formal scientific method.” Second, he compares that method to “an enormous juggernaut, a huge bulldozer — slow, tedious, lumbering, laborious, but invincible.” As I’ve been troubleshooting a vexing issue with a recently-acquired Sabrent Nano 1 TB M.2 2242 NVMe SSD lately, I’ve had reason to revisit and ponder Pirsig’s thinking and  problem-solving toolset.

Here’s the Deal

Here’s the combination of the four-plus ingredients that go into my problem set:

  1. A Sabrent NVMe SSD enclosure, model EC-NMVE
  2. The Sabrent 1 TB Nano SSD, model SB-1342-1TB; for comparison I also have an M.2 ADATA XPG 256GB 2280 NVMe
  3. The USB-C  cable (with USB 3.1 female to USB-C male adapter) that Sabrent shipped with the enclosure
  4. The USB port on Windows PC into which I plug enclosure (1) using cable (3)

The only time I have problems with the enclosure is when the Sabrent Nano device is plugged in. It works reliably and constantly if I use the enclosure, its cable and the ADATA SSD. When the Nano is plugged in, however, the device goes offline if I leave it plugged in overnight. When I come into my office, the controller light on the enclosure is blinking constantly. At other times, and at irregular intervals, the device goes offline while it’s idle.

I take the constant blinking to mean the USB controller in the PC is trying — and failing — to handshake with the drive controller in the enclosure. If I unplug the device (either end) and plug it back it, it resumes working.

The scientific method tells me that you must vary only one item in a collection of possible causes for trouble at a time to determine which item is the actual cause. The only collection of the items listed in 1-4 above that causes a fault occurs when the Sabrent Nano is present. Therefore, the Sabrent Nano is the faulting item.

Filing a Tech Support Case

I’m going to use this article as the documentation for a tech support filing, and re-open my trouble ticket with Sabrent. I believe I have shown that the Nano is not working as it should be, and that it faults regularly. I am hopeful Sabrent will agree with my analysis, and send me a replacement SSD. I’ll keep you posted, and share their response(s) here. Stay tuned.

[Note Added 3/17 Afternoon]

Sabrent simply asked for a copy of the invoice (easy to retrieve from my Amazon order history) and the ship-to information. Let’s see how long it takes for a replacement to get here. Interesting, and satisfying, so far!

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Interesting Partial 21H1 Component Store Cleanup

I’m running the Beta Channel Insider Preview on my Surface Pro 3. I just bumped it to Build 19043.899 thanks to KB5000842. Out of curiosity, I then ran the DISM commands to analyze and clean up the component store as shown in the lead-in graphic for this story. A final analyze shows interesting partial 21H1 component store cleanup occurred. Let me explain…

What Does Interesting Partial 21H1 Component Store Cleanup Mean?

If you take a look at some detail from the lead-in graphic then check the screencap below, you’ll see they show 7 reclaimable packages before clean-up. After cleanup, 2 reclaimable packages still remain behind.

Notice that 2 reclaimable packages persist, event after running the cleanup option.

Reclaimable packages persist after dism cleanup for one of two reasons AFAIK:
1. At some point, the user ran the /resetbase parameter in an earlier dism cleanup.
2. Something odd or interesting is going on in the component store, and dism can’t clean up one or more packages (in this case, two).

I don’t use /resetbase on test machines as a matter of principle. So something interesting and odd is going on here.

Another Try Produces No Change

Having seen this before on other Insider Previews (and production Windows 10 versions), I had an inkling of what would happen. I repeated the cleanup and got the same results: 2 reclaimable packages still show. In my experience, this means they’re “stuck” in the component store. What I don’t know is if taking the image offline and trying again would make any difference. What I do know is that this won’t change until Microsoft finalizes the 21H1 release for general availability (or issues a specifically targeted fix).

Trading on my connections with the Insider Team at MS, I’ll be letting them know about this curious phenomenon. We’ll see if anything changes as a result. My best guess is that this gets a cleanup as part of the final release work sometime in the next 2-3 weeks. That said, only time will tell. Stay tuned!

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Fixing Non-responsive Taskbar Icons

Last December, I wrote an article here that described an easy fix for an unresponsive Start Menu. The trick on my affected PCs was to go into Task Manager, right-click Windows Explorer, and select “Restart.” Over the past week the same thing is affecting Task Bar icons for open and pinned applications. It came in the wake of the occasionally wonky preview version of the upcoming March CU. That is, I’m inclined to name KB4601382 as an “update of interest” in this case. Fortunately, the same fix works.

Fixing Non-responsive Taskbar Icons

How can you tell when this problem manifests? Easy! You click on an icon in the taskbar and nothing happens. I show a portion of my taskbar icons in the lead-in graphic, by way of illustration.

I actually show the taskbar at the foot of both of my monitors. Sometimes, when one quits working, the other keeps going. Then I click that one instead. If neither works, the fix goes in. I’ve never had it fail.

As with my earlier report of Start Menu issues, I’m inclined to see some interaction between Stardock Software’s Start10 and the Explorer-based start menu and associated UI elements. Those include the taskbar icons and the notification area as well. Something wonky is happening, but is also easily fixed. I’ve reported this to Stardock and MS and am hopeful that, as before, a fix trickles into one or the other of those environments.

Seems Like a Limited Issue

I don’t see other reports of this phenomenon in the Start10 forums at Stardock. There’s plenty of discussion on the general phenomenon (Google search: “taskbar icons nonresponsive”). But all are unanimous in what to do: Restart Windows Explorer. Not much other cussin’ and discussin’ involved. Nice to know I’ve got the right fix, even if I don’t know the cause unequivocally and unambiguously. Sigh.

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Mild Microsoft Update Health Tools Mystery

An interesting item is bubbling up in user forums  lately. Lots of Windows 10 PCs — including some of mine — have seen a new-ish, intriguingly named application show up. This story’s lead-in graphic shows it in second place. In fact, I’d say we’re facing a mild Microsoft Update Health Tools mystery. Typical questions include “What is it for?” and “When is it used?”

Cracking a Mild Microsoft Update Health Tools Mystery

A Microsoft Docs “Questions” item links the utility with update KB4023057 .  A corresponding support page mentions all Windows 10 versions, including 20H2. (It’s dated October 2020.) I’ve seen posts at answers.microsoft.com as far back as August 2020. It, too, references that same KB article.

That article says the update delivers “reliability improvements to Windows Update Service components.” It also says it:

includes files and resources that address issues that affect update processes in Windows 10 that may prevent important Windows updates from being installed. These improvements help make sure that updates are installed seamlessly on your device, and they help improve the reliability and security of devices that are running Windows 10.

Some Interesting Notes about KB4023057

There are 5 bulleted items (and a sub-note) the Support Note. All make fascinating reading. I reproduce them verbatim. (For brevity, I prune “This update may” or “This update will” ):

  • …  request your device to stay awake longer to enable installation of updates.

    Note The installation will respect any user-configured sleep configurations and also your “active hours” when you use your device the most.

  • … try to reset network settings if problems are detected, and it will clean up registry keys that may be preventing updates from being installed successfully.
  • … repair disabled or corrupted Windows operating system components that determine the applicability of updates to your version of Windows 10.
  • … compress files in your user profile directory to help free up enough disk space to install important updates.
  • … reset the Windows Update database to repair the problems that could prevent updates from installing successfully. Therefore, you may see that your Windows Update history was cleared.

Invitation to Conspiracy Thinking?

Go back, and read the forum traffic. Or, search Google for “Microsoft Update Health Utility.” Sadly, it reveals suspicion among community members. Indeed, some fear it helps MS forcibly update older Windows installs. In fact, MS does this already. Others don’t trust MS update orchestration. They’d rather control updates themselves. Still others worry about unwanted side effects or unusable PCs after forced updates.

Gosh! While these things are possible, I see nothing untoward at work here . Instead, I see MS staging repair tools in advance for update issues on Windows 10 PCs should they manifest. Aside from lacking user controls, I see them no differently than built-in update troubleshooters. In fact, I’m a devoted user of Shawn Brink’s Reset Windows Update tutorial and its accompanying batch file. It’s gotten me past 95% of all WU problems I’ve seen. That’s why I’ll gladly keep using it.

No Cause for Alarm

As far as I can tell, there’s not much to see here. Admittedly, Update Health Tools is a small surprise. But its Support Note offers good explanations. Thus, I’m OK with this tool. Nor should you worry, either. Rather, it looks like good software engineering.

Better yet, the Update Health Tools can handle update issues on their own, sans user input or guidance. That sounds like a blessing, even if in disguise. And FWIW, it’s missing  from Insider Preview releases. That tells me it aims squarely at production PCs outside IT umbrellas. That means mostly home and small business users. Thus, it should benefit those who need it most.

I’m coming out in favor of the Update Health Tools. I hope we’ll learn more about them from Microsoft soon. In the meantime, if you don’t like the tool, you can choose to uninstall it. I’m leaving it alone myself. If I’m right about it, it may come in handy someday.

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