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.

21364 Update Woes Continue

OK, then: i’ve recently reported a documented issue with KB5001030. It’s a CU Preview for .NET 3.5 and 4.8 and has been documented in the 21364 release announcement as a “known issue.” But now, a new cumulative update KB5003397 — a so-called “do-nothing update” which “does not include anything new and is designed to test our servicing pipeline” is out. However, my 21364 update woes continue because now I can’t install either one of these new updates. Sigh.

Nothing happens, in fact, when I try to update my Lenovo X220 Tablet. As the lead-in graphic above shows, it hangs while downloading at 0% completion. Running the update troubleshooter or even the TenForums Update Reset Batch Script doesn’t help either. Thus I say: my Dev Channel machines are stuck, going nowhere fast!

What Does 21364 Update Woes Continue Mean?

It means I can’t update either of my Dev Channel Insider Preview test machines successfully right now. I also think it means that I’m waiting on the next Feature Upgrade (a new version, in other words) to get things moving again. It’s a little hard to tell.

My gut feeling is the update pipeline is currently blocked for Dev Channel images (on my two test machines, at least). Usually, when things go sideways with Insider Preview updates I can figure out some way to get around the roadblock, though.

Later on today, or perhaps tomorrow, I’ll visit UUPdump.ml and see if they’ve got a 21364 image that can slipstream in those two troublesome updates. If so, I’ll build an ISO and use it to perform an in-place repair upgrade as a workaround. Right now, I’m increasingly convinced it might be my only way around this roadblock.

Stay tuned! I’ll report back and let you know if that works. It’s possible that working offline on the image might get around whatever is interfering online (it often does). We’ll see…

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Compact Mode Great New Explorer Control

If you’re using an Insider Preview at Build 21377 or higher, you have access to a nice new view tool in File Explorer. It reduces the spacing between entries in File Explorer views, so you can see more in the display area. The more expanded view is now the default, to make it easier for touch access and control. But if you’re like me, you’re mostly still using a mouse and keyboard. In my book, that makes compact mode great new explorer control for most of my usage scenarios. The item is checked and outlined in red in the lead-in graphic for this story (above).

Why Say: Turning on Compact Mode Great New Explorer Control?

Open up the control panel utility named File Explorer Options, click the View tab, then scroll down until you can see the Navigation Pane folder. The Use compact mode checkbox appears 5 lines above. If you open both Explorer and this utility at the same time, you can see for yourself how it affects the various File Explorer views (icon based by size, Tiles, List, Content and Details).

Open a View, click the checkbox by Use compact mode, then watch how it affects File Explorer. Uncheck the box to see what wider spacing means in each view.  To my untutored by experienced eye, it looks like I can see about twice as many entries in compact mode as opposed to regular mode. My strong preference is for compact mode, and it’s something I set on all new Insider Preview installations.

Not at Issue in 20H2 or 21H1, Earlier Builds

This new spaced-out version of File Explorer only affects Dev Channel builds at present. You won’t see a “Use Compact Mode” option in those older incarnations of Windows 10. Thus, there’s no call to mess with a default that’s not there, either. For those of you not using Insider Previews, then, file this for possible future reference. Cheers!

 

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News & Interests Gets General Dev Channel Release

Just over a week ago, I wrote a post here bemoaning my Dev Channel test PCs’ lack of the News & Interests notification bar feature. It has been in A/B test mode — that is, available to some but not all Dev Channel PCs — for months. It’s a gamble of sorts whether one gets such features or not, and explains that post’s title: Losing Win10 A/B Testing Wagers. But with the release of Build 21359, News & Interests gets general Dev Channel release. My two Lenovo ThinkPad test machines — the X380 Yoga and the X220 Tablet — now sport this new feature, fully-realized.

When News & Interests Gets General Dev Channel Release, Contortions Follow

The first I noticed after rebooting into 21359 was that N&I (my shorthand for News & Interests) was still MIA. A quick check on the Windows Insider MVP Yammer community told me two things:

  1. I was not alone in this experience
  2. Another reboot would put N&I in its rightful place

This worked perfectly on my X220 Tablet where I’d left hidden feature tweaking alone. My X380 was another story…

ViVeTool Rears Its Vexing Head

I’m not the world’s most patient guy. When I learn about A/B feature testing in Windows 10 and I’m not on the receiving side, I’ve been known to turn to hacking tools to turn them on anyway. One such item, named ViVeTool, comes from developer Albacore aka thebookisclosed whose work I’ve been following for years. Here’s how he describes this offering “ViVeTool is … a straightforward tool for power users which want to use the new APIs instantly … to interact with Windows 10’s A/B feature mechanism.” In other words, it lets you turn on what might be turned off in your image, or vice-versa.

I’d done that on the X380 Yoga some while back. But this tweaked N&I did not work properly on that machine. “Hmmm” I wondered “could ViveTool be responsible?” It seems to have been. Once I enabled, then disabled the ViveTool settings for N&I, then rebooted again, it worked perfectly on the X380 Yoga, too.

Tweaking Requires Self-Cleanup

I’ve learned a lesson from this. From now on, if I want to mess with the base test image for Windows 10 that MS gives me, I’m doing it in a VM. I can use snapshotting mechanisms to roll back tweaks quickly and easily. I feel lucky that do/redo with ViveTool in 21359 set things back to rights so that N&I could work as designed. Otherwise, I’d have been forced to clean install that build to heal my own self-inflicted wounds.

If you want to play or tweak, I recommend you do so in a safe and pseudo-sandboxed way. That’s my approach from now on. It comes with the ability to fool around as one likes, without having to live permanently with the results afterward. Please learn from my mis-steps and do likewise!

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New 21359 Power Option Restarts Apps

Just yesterday, a new Dev Channel Build arrived for Insiders. Among the many items mentioned in the 21359 announcement comes an interesting new Restart item in Start → Power. Shown boxed in red in the lead-in graphic here, it reads “Restart apps after signing in.” This new 21359 Power option restarts apps after it restarts the OS, to put things back as they were.

Why New 21359 Power Option Restarts Apps?

This has sometimes happened in earlier Insider Previews, but not at the user’s behest. One can one suppose that enough users provided feedback that this feature might be nice. But it’s definitely something that users will want to choose (or not) as circumstances dictate.

Thus, for example, when I’m troubleshooting or getting ready to install new hardware or a new app, I’d much prefer to restart without all the “stuff” currently occupying my desktop. OTOH, if I’m restarting after an update or to incorporate a new driver, I’d just as soon go back to whatever I was doing beforehand.

This new option lets users pick a restart scenario. The old, plain Restart brings no apps back. The new “Restart apps after signing in” restores current desktop state. Both have their uses, so I must approve and endorse this change.

NOTE: New Setting Is a Toggle

One more thing: this new item is actually a toggle. If you choose it and use it, the checkbox remains on. Thus, if you don’t want to use it the next time you restart, you must uncheck the item to go back to the prior status quo. Don’t forget! Especially if you don’t want this setting to become your default Restart behavior.

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20H2 Builds Bring Windows Tools Folder

Fascinating. Thanks to a recent item from Sergey Tkachenko at WinAero.com, I’ve just learned that 20H2 builds bring Windows Tools folder into the Windows 10 mix. It’s depicted in the lead-in graphic for this story. Not coincidentally, it also happens to show a pretty stunning assemblage of modern, fluent icons, too.

If 20H2 Builds Bring Windows Tools Folder, What Goes Missing?

In this case, however, when Microsoft giveth, it also taketh away. Users who go looking for a number of long-standing, familiar folders in 20H2 will find them MIA. The Windows Tools Folder has supplanted all of them. Here’s a list of those gone but not forgotten folders (in bold text), with their subsidiary contents:

Windows Accessories
  Character Map
  Internet Explorer
  Math Input Panel
  Notepad
  Paint
  Print 3D
  Quick Assist
  Remote Desktop Connection
  Snipping Tool
  Steps Recorder
  Windows Fax and Scan
  WordPad
Windows System
  Command Prompt
  Control Panel
  File Explorer
  Run
  Task Manager
  This PC
  Windows Administrative Tools
Windows Administrative Tools
  Component Services
  Computer Management
  Defragment and Optimize Drives
  Disk Cleanup
  Event Viewer
  iSCSI Initiator
  Local Security Policy
  ODBC Data Sources (32-bit)
  ODBC Data Sources (64-bit)
  Performance Monitor
  Print Management
  Recovery Drive
  Registry Editor
  Resource Monitor
  Services
  System Configuration
  System Information
  Task Scheduler
  Windows Defender Firewall ...
  Windows Memory Diagnostic
Windows PowerShell
  Windows PowerShell
  Windows PowerShell (x86)
  Windows PowerShell ISE
  Windows PowerShell ISE (x86)

Wow! That’s a LOT of stuff. And for a long time, some Windows users have depended on these folder names to navigate to specific content items they cover. No longer! Starting with 20H2, it’s out with those older folders and in with Windows Tools. WinAero also offers a story on how to navigate to these nearly-departed folders if you’d like a quick refresher: How to Find the Windows Accessories folder.

Getting to Windows Tools in 20H2

As is so often the case in Windows, there are many ways to get to a named item through the menus. You can simply type “Windows Tools” into the Start Menu Search box. Or you can find “Windows Tools” in Control Panel. Once accessed in Explorer, it’s also readily found in Recent Files under the Quick Access item.

It’s the wave of the future. If you’ve got access to a Dev Channel (20H2) build, it’s probably worth exploring. And indeed, I like the way it brings all those things together inside a single folder. Good stuff!

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Store Gets Snipping Tools With Build 21354

Here’s an interesting tidbit to ponder. The Insider Dev Channel 21354 announcement included the information shown in this story’s lead-in graphic. To recap: it says that Snipping Tool and Snip & Sketch have been packaged together. Going forward, they will now get updates through the MS Store. Hence my title: Store Gets Snipping Tools with Build 31354.

Sure enough: I visited the Store on one of my Dev Channel test PCs after the upgrade. As you can see in the preceding image, Snip & Sketch now appears there. (If you check update history in the Store, you’ll see it’s getting updates via the Store now, too.)

If Store Gets Snipping Tools with Build 21354, Where’s the Other One?

There’s a teeny-tiny little gotcha in this change worth noting.  It appears in italics in the snippet from the 21354 Announcement up above. Because it’s partially obscured, I repeat that text here:

Insiders who previously did not have Snip & Sketch installed will see Snipping Tool removed after updating to this build and will have to  go and install Snip & Sketch from the Store to get it back.

Because the two tools are now conjoined and Snipping Tool is not listed independently, you MUST grab and install Snip & Sketch to continue using either or both of them. This applies universally, but only affects users who hadn’t already installed Snip & Sketch.

As a determined and far-ranging Insider I installed Snip & Sketch as soon as it was made public in October 2018. Thus, a word of warning. Those who reach for Snipping Tool out of habit and haven’t yet installed Snip & Sketch must now do so, to keep Snipping Tool available. Of course, this applies to Dev Channel builds only.

I’d long thought MS would simply retire Snipping Tool and forcibly move users to Snip & Sketch. Looks like they’ve decided to keep them both alive, but to maintain them through Snip & Sketch in the Windows Store. That’s what makes this interesting and intriguing. Check it out!

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Dell BIOS Update Covers Many Sins

I’ve got a pretty new Dell OptiPlex 7080 Micro SFF PC here at the house. Today, I went through the first BIOS upgrade since I first obtained that machine. When I opine that a Dell BIOS update covers many sins, I mean there was a lot more going on and involved than I expected. The so-called BIOS update was, in fact, 5 updates rolled into one update package. I used the Dell Command | Update utility to handle this, and am climbing its learning curve as well.

How I Learned That Dell BIOS Update Covers Many Sins

At first, because the utility also found a couple of other items to update, I couldn’t get the Command | Update utility to work. Then it dawned on me: perhaps the BIOS update needs to be run by itself? Indeed, that proved to be the ticket to eventual success. It also showed me 5 separate items being updated as the so-called “BIOS Update” was applied:

  1. BIOS
  2. USB-C firmware
  3. Intel Management Engine (IME) firmware
  4. Primary BIOS EC (Embedded Controller) update
  5. Backup BIOS EC update

Thus, where I’d been thinking this was a straight-up, in-and-out BIOS update, it was actually a whole bunch of chained updates that included other device controllers, IME, and embedded controllers. Not having a lot of experience in dealing with such updates from Dell lately, this came as a surprise.

All’s Well That Ends That Way

But once I put my thinking cap on, it became obvious that BIOS updates — which invariably require a restart to be applied, and another to take effect — are best handled separately from other updates. That seems to reflect recent experience with Lenovo updates too, now that I think upon the subject.

In fact, I wrote about a similar situation on March 24 in a post entitled Lenovo Vantage Updates Take Patience. Maybe I should try that thinking cap more often: it seems to work reasonably well!

 

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Losing Win10 A/B Testing Wagers

I don’t know why this keeps happening to me. But it seems like whenever I learn that MS is A/B testing a new feature or function in an Insider Preview build, my test machines miss out. I don’t know how MS selects who gets and who misses such options, but I do hate losing Win10 A/B testing wagers. Case in point: the recent News & Interests notification area item.

What Is A/B Testing Anyway?

A/B testing started as a way to check web page designs. In that world, half of visitors see one version of a page, and half see the other. The developers analyze how the versions do, and pick the one that does the best.

In general, A/B testing means that half of a population get to see and interact with a feature, while the other half do not. That said, workarounds may be possible. Thus, for example, WinAero provided enable/disable batch files to turn the feature on and off in Builds 21286 (Dev Channel) early in January.

I just noticed that after the latest upgrade to build 21354, News & Interests no longer appears in my notification area. Indeed, the WinAero method still works to turn it off or on, but my plaint is that I keep coming up on the “have-not” side of such A/B tests, be that either A or B.

What Losing Win10 A/B Testing Wagers Means

To me, not getting to see or interact with an A/B feature means missing out on something new and potentially interesting or valuable. In the case of News & Interests, it means a minor inconvenience to be sure. Even so, I’d prefer to have the opportunity to interact with and provide feedback on new features to better do my job as a Windows Insider.

If I could ask the Insider Team for a favor, I’d ask them to build an “opt-in” apparatus when A/B features come out. Rather that purely random selection of who gets and who misses the A/B feature, it would be nice to have some way to request a download or a pre-update opt-in.

Why do I ask for this? Because invariably all of my test machines and VMs are denied A/B features when I come up a loser. I would like to test everything I can, especially new features, if not on all machines, then at least some of them. Is that too much to ask?

[Note on lead-in graphic for this story: I cheerfully confess I grabbed and cropped a screencap from Thurrott.com about this feature from a January 6 story. I can’t make a working copy of this details pane on my blocked-out test machines. Thanks, Paul!]

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SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete

I’ve been mucking around with SSDs quite a bit lately. Yesterday, that had me rooting around for a utility I could use to tell me more about all of my many SSDs. When I found a utility named SSD-Z (think of Frank Delattre’s outstanding CPU-Z) I was sure I had struck gold. Alas, it’s not quite at the same level as Delattre’s tool, even though it is pretty interesting.

SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete.vertex4Why Say: SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete?

The tool did a great job of telling me more about my older SSDs, If you look at the preceding screenshot, it’s pretty effusive and complete about my nominal 250 GB OCZ-Vertex4 SSD. But if you look at the next screenshot, it’s mostly mum about my no-longer-new-but-still-capable Samsung 950. This runs on my daily driver and is now 6 years old, and still gets the job done.

SSD-Z Is Interesting But Incomplete.sam950

Not much detail here.

What’s remarkable is how little information appears. There’s no data about flash technology, cells, controller, NAND or speed info. TRIM is supported, despite a counter-protestation. Sigh. I’m disappointed.

Upon further investigation, I see the developer hasn’t updated the tool since 2016 (not too much later than I bought the Samsung 950). I guess this is a tougher problem than one might think, at first. I’m sorry to say that SSD-Z doesn’t pass muster, though it does provide a good model of what might be possible, given enough SSD data from the community.

Vendor Tools Might Be More Informative

In looking at an Enterprise Storage Forum story from 2019, I see that vendor tools are most likely to provide details about controller, flash technologies, and so forth.  Samsung, Intel, OCZ, Crucial, and Kingston come in for specific mention. And indeed, Samsung Magician tells me more about all of my Samsung SSDs — even OEM models — than does SSD-Z. The same is true for other vendor-specific tools, when one has drives from those vendors to check into.

Gosh! I’d love to see SSD-Z deliver on its implicit promises. We could all use a utility like that, right? The TechPowerUp contributor behind this tantalizing item, Aezay, has not posted there since 2018. If he’s out there and paying attention, I’d be happy to co-drive a crowdfunding effort to do this tool right, and help the whole community. This leads me to echo the excellent Pink Floyd lyric: “Is there anybody out there?” And that’s the way things go sometimes, here in Windows-World.

Stay tuned: if anything interesting turns up, I’ll report back. Yowza!

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New Device May Require Second Reboot

In installing the Kioxia (Toshiba) M.2 SSD late last week, I was reminded of something interesting. Hence this article title: new device may require second reboot. In my rush to set up and learn more about the drive, I was initially surprised to find it absent when I first ran Disk Management (diskmgmt.msc) to get that process going. Then it hit me: maybe it’s not showing up in UEFI.

But to access UEFI, another reboot was required. And by the time i did that, sure enough the device appeared in the list of drives present in the 7080. However, I had to reboot a second time to see the UEFi/BIOS settings and that produced the results I was after.

Why New Device May Require Second Reboot

Sure enough, when I rebooted a third time to get into Windows, the drive appeared in the Disk Management utility. I was able to choose GPT disk layout, and to format the drive as a single contiguous volume named Tosh1TB. It shows up as “Disk 1” in the lead-in graphic for this story, in fact.

What sometimes makes a second boot necessary is the way that UEFI/BIOS supports device enumeration. On many laptops, certain changes to the hardware — especially RAM changes — automatically trigger a trip into the BIOS interface upon the next reboot. This gives admins a chance to make and review config changes before booting back into the OS.

Adding the Kioxia (Toshiba) 1 TB SSD didn’t trigger the UEFI on its own. But when I rebooted and forced a trip into that environment, the Toshiba device (identified as such in BIOS, not as Kioxia) appeared along with the primary SSD. The second trip was enough to see the device recognized in BIOS/UEFI. In turn this made it accessible to Windows when I returned to that environment. That’s how I was able to choose GPT layout, format the drive, and give it the name that appears in the screenshot above. Case closed!

Don’t Panic: Boot Again

If you find yourself in similar straits sometime, try another reboot (or two, actually). That will probably get the device recognized and make it available to Windows. Only if this fails should further troubleshooting be needed.  In that case, I’d start looking into possible SATA lane conflicts next.

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