Category Archives: Windows 11

Intel Unison Brings Windows 11 iPhone Link

Well, well. well. This may just be the “killer app” that induces more users to upgrade to Windows 11. Thanks to fellow WIMVP @_sumitdhiman and Windows Central, I learned yesterday that an exciting new Intel app was out and available through this Windows Store link. It showed me that Intel Unison brings Windows 11 iPhone link previously missing from that lineup. Then, I spent most of the afternoon learning my way around this new tool.

Unlike the Microsoft Phone Link app, which works only for Android devices, Intel Unison serves Android, iPhone and iPad devices. As a long-time iPhone user, this “missing link” has vexed me on and off for years. No longer!

What Intel Unison Brings Windows 11 iPhone Link Means

First, some limitations. Intel says Unison is “currently only available on eligible Intel Evo designs” running Windows 11. I found the Windows 11 requirement valid. Indeed, trying to download Unison on Windows 10 produces an error message. It reads: “The version of Windows on your PC doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for this product.” That said, I was able to run Unison even on non-Evo 8th Gen Intel  CPUs (and a Ryzen 7 PC as well).

That said, the app works only when the device is accessed directly. In fact, it quits as soon as an RDP (or other remote client session — e.g. TeamViewer) is established. Remote access breaks things enough that I had to “forget” the target iPhone device. Then, I re-established the Bluetooth-based link between PC and phone.

Likewise, the link also collapsed when I used a USB-to-Lightning cable to establish a direct link between the same PC and phone pair. Alas, that means you can’t currently use the targeted PC to charge the iPhone and link to it simultaneously — at least as far as I could tell. That’s also a potential issue…

Unison does work well when these limitations are scrupulously observed. Note to Intel: it would be helpful if the PC-to-iPhone connection could persist into an RDP session from the standpoint of remote manageability, support, and troubleshooting. I also urge Intel to support USB links between PC and iPhone to allow ongoing interaction and charging.

Exploring the Unison UI and Capabilities

If you look at the headline graphic, it shows the “Messages” interface. You can see I was able to send a text message to my son directly from my PC keyboard. As somebody who dislikes typing on the iPhone this is a terrific boon. It’s also convenient as well.

The other options at left in that image include (in order of appearance):

  • iPhone: shows the device to which Unison is connected.
  • File transfer: supports a mechanism to copy files to and from the connected device. Works with drag and drop.
  • Gallery: provides access to the iPhone’s photo folders. Intel says “Experience your phone gallery on your big screen.”
  • Calls: enables the PC user to make and break phone calls on the PC via the connected device.
  • Notifications: shows iPhone notifications through the Unison UI.
  • Settings: controls Unison App settings and appearance.
  • Downloads: shows the contents of "%userprofile%\Downloads\Intel Unison" folder (?Intel downloads for the app?).

I’m still figuring my way around this app, and learning its ins and outs. But because it supplies a long-missing and useful set of functions to tie Windows and iPhone together, I’m already glad to have it. And indeed, there will be some users for whom this app tips the balance more heavily toward Windows 11. All I can say is: Good!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

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.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Visual Studio Build Tools 2017 Mystery Masticated

This was a weird one. The lead-in graphic shows that although I plainly installed version 15.9.51 of the Visual Studio Tools 2017, it reports in as version 15.8.9. No amount of uninstall/reinstall (aka R&R for “remove & replace”) made any difference. I finally solved my Visual Studio Build Tools 2017 mystery by installing the latest version of Visual Studio Enterprise. (That came free, thanks to my WIMVP privileges and its attendant VS subscription.)

Workaround Solves Visual Studio Build Tools 2017 Mystery

Take another look at the lead-in screencap. It shows me uninstalling version 15.8.9 using Winget. Then I force-install version 15.9.51 explicitly. But even so, Winget list still reports version 15.8.9 as clear and present. Sigh.

Thus, I resorted to a total workaround. Because I have access to a VS subscription — thanks to my 2022 WIMVP status (I’ll be finding out next week if it gets extended for 2023) — I installed a full-blown VS version. This was enough to kill the VS.2017.BuildTools update messages in Winget (at least, after I uninstalled same).

What Gives?

Because I can’t find any definitive explanation, I can only speculate. I’m guessing it’s either (a) a  mistaken version tag  for what is really version 15.9.51 or (b) a unreported install failure that leaves the Build Tools at version 15.8.9. Whatever that case might be, I switched from the free version to the for-a-fee version. That made my apparent problems disappear. I’m grateful!

Sometimes, solving Windows problems requires resorting to creative workarounds. I would definitely include today’s odd situation, and its equally odd solution, in that category.

Happy New Year 2023 to one and all. May the coming year bring you joy, prosperity, good health and plenty of interesting Windows issues to solve (or read about here). Best wishes!

 

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Remote Wi-Fi Driver Update Magic

I remember the networking wars of the late 1980s. That was when Token Ring, ARCnet, LocalTalk and other physical media vied with Ethernet for market- and mindshare. Indeed, I’ve worked with versions of Ethernet all the way back to 10Base2 and 10Base5. Thus, I successfully upgraded the Wi-Fi drivers on my 2018 vintage Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme (running Windows 11) with bemusement and appreciation minutes ago. Based on how earlier Windows versions worked, there was surely some remote Wi-Fi driver update magic involved.

The lead-in graphic is the Intel installer pane that announces a successful Wi-Fi driver install. What’s interesting about this? It’s inside a Wi-Fi based RDP session. I’m working on my production PC via Remote Desktop Connection to the X1 Extreme. It restored itself automatically once the driver install finished. It came back up, even though the connection dropped as that update occurred. No working driver means no Wi-Fi during the switchover from old to new.

What Makes Remote Wi-Fi Driver Update Magic Happen?

Good question! RDP apparently recognizes enough about the dropped session to bring it back to life. And FWIW, that occurs during the first “retry” — by default, RDP attempts resuscitation up to 5 times — without undue muss or fuss.

What makes this noteworthy? I can remember that even Windows 7 could not restore RDP sessions dropped during driver updates. Windows 8 (and 8.1) were hit or miss. It’s only since Windows 10 came along in 2015 (General Availability: 7/29/2015) that this capability has been both mainstream and dependable.

Once upon a time, Wi-Fi driver updates meant the end of open RDP sessions. Recovery was impossible: the only way back in was to fire Remote Desktop Connection up, and start afresh. It’s a small thing, really, but one I’ve learned to appreciate in modern Windows versions.

Thanks IEEE!

Modern Wi-Fi testifies to robust and practiced driver design. Indeed, it keeps working in the face of many predictable difficulties. Replacing drivers is a case in point, but Wi-Fi just keeps on chugging along. And that’s despite various source of interference, occasional hiccups with power, wireless gateways, and more. Having followed the technology as it’s grown and sped up I’m grateful it works well.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Windows 10 OCD Update Stymied

OK then: this morning I decided to check updates on my Windows 10 production desktop. Despite my December 19 contrary prediction, I found over 10 items that needed updates. But I saw my tendency to Windows 10 OCD update stymied by prior experience. Let me explain, first and foremost, that this means I updated what was either necessary or easy. I left the other stuff alone. Deets follow.

How Was Windows 10 OCD Update Stymied?

The list of items in need of update fell into two broad categories:

1. Items with automatic, built-in or easy update capabilities. These included: SUMO, Notepad++ and VS BuildTools (winget handled these automatically). Others included: Audacity, CPU-Z, GPU-Z, Intel ProSet and Zoom (these either include built-in updates, offer direct update links, or are easy to find online — e.g. ProSet).

2. Items I’ve learned not to mess with unnecessarily. These appear in the lead-in graphic above. SUMo likes to point me at versions of ASRock utilities (e.g. APP Shop) that don’t work with my 2016 vintage motherboard. Nitro Pro gets updated all the time, but the maker sends update notifications only when relevant security fixes are added. That’s not the case for going from version 13.67.0.45 to 12.709.2.40.

This gives me a nice delineation between what I can or must update, and what I can safely skip. Should some security issue pop up for Asrock App Shop, I’ll simply uninstall it: I don’t use it much anyway. And if a security fix comes along for Nitro Pro, the maker will notify me to upgrade and send a link.

Case Closed? OCD No More…

I wish I could claim that will never happen to me again. I have fallen prey to “It must be perfect” in the past. It could happen again in the future. I am hopeful that I can now tell the difference between what’s good enough and the perfect. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

11 Great Windows 11 Tools

Saw an interesting story at Neowin.net this morning. It’s entitled “Top 11 apps every Windows 11 user should have.” I’m not so sure I agree with various selections — though I do use Start11 on some of my PCs — but I do like the concept. So I used Task Manager’s app history function to view top tools I use frequently. These 11 great Windows 11 tools may not fit “every user,” but I bet many admins and power users will like ’em. For simplicity, I list them in alphabetical order. I also separate built-ins from third-party items.

The List: 11 Great Windows 11 Tools

A couple of initial disclaimers: I’m not talking about everyday apps or applications. I’m talking tools I use to access, find, identify, diagnose, capture and manipulate, or fix and clean up stuff. Items marked with an asterisk cost money; unmarked items are free. The apparently odd numbering reflects alph order split across categories. Sigh.

The Top 11

Built-ins/Native Apps & Applications

3. Notepad/Notepad++: I use the MS built-in text editor for most stuff, but when I want syntax checking and/or line numbers I use the ++ version instead. Both are great.
5. Photos: the built-in Windows app for managing images is what I use to review and perform simple operations on screencaps. These are often essential when writing about or reporting on Windows issues (for Feedback Hub).
6. Snipping Tool: the built-in Windows screen capture tool now includes video recording in some Dev Channel versions. I use it every day to document what I see in my Windows environments.
10. Windows Explorer: I especially like current Insider versions which give this tool tabbed operation. Has to be the MS app I use most frequently and assiduously.
11. Windows Terminal/PowerShell: I can no longer function as a Windows Insider without repeat, daily access to the command line. The Windows Terminal with PowerShell (current version 7.3.1) is my favorite way to start rooting round at the command line.

Third-Party Apps & Applications

1. (Search) Everything: My go-to file finder, this tool is faster, more reliable, and tweaks easier than built-in Windows Search function.
2. Macrium Reflect*: Though I seek a replacement for the free version (EOL on 12/31/2023), it remains my fave backup and restore tool, with super-fast imaging abilities.
4. PatchMyPC: a great, if limited, PC application update tool. It automates updates for everything it recognizes. That’s why I like it.
7. SUMo: KC Software’s excellent Software Update Monitor catches most Windows applications. I sometimes quibble with its findings.I don’t use its auto-update (found only in the for-a-fee version) but it’s a great scanning tool.
8. UnCleaner: Although not updated since 2012, Josh Cell’s UnCleaner still cleans up stuff that other cleanup tools miss. I don’t use it every day, but do use it weekly.
9. Windows Gadgets: Helmut Buhler revisits and recreates this Vista-based environment for modern Windows versions (8GadgetPack). Still my favorite always-visible health indicators.

The Next 5 After That

1. Advanced IP Scanner: my favorite LAN address scanner. It tells me lots, and lets me access more tools and tests than similar tools. Use it regularly for RDP and Printer issues.
2. DriverStore Explorer: A GitHub project,it lists all DriverStore items. Makes it easy to update and/or purge old/obsolete entries.
3. MiniTool Partition Wizard: an excellent tool to manage storage devices and partitions. The fee version adds useful data recovery.
4. PowerToys: This MS GitHub project keeps adding great, free tools to Windows. Hats off to Clint Rutkas and his team, and  volunteers who add “sweat equity” and IP to this project.
5. Remote Desktop Connection/Remote Desktop: (application and app respectively) let me work on LAN PCs from a single desktop.

What Now?

Check those tools out, if not already using them. Each comes with my strong personal recommendation. In fact, I use them all regularly and sometimes obsessively. Thus, trying them out could be a good thing. After you visit one or more of them, I hope you’ll agree!

If you know of others, please post a comment and share them with me here. Remember: cool tools rule!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

2022 Post Holiday Refurb Deals

I’ll admit this up front: I’m a big ThinkPad fan. That’s why I use the Lenovo Outlet for illustrations and examples in this story. That said, there are all kinds of 2022 post holiday refurb deals on PCs, laptops, and more right now. Dell, HP, Microsoft, Acer and most other name brands make corporate leasing deals with big outfits. Often, this involves hundreds to thousands of PCs and laptops. Sooner or later, those machines come back to their makers. Then,  they get cleaned up, refreshed and put up for resale via company outlets. That’s what I’m talking about here.

Shopping for 2022 Post Holiday Refurb Deals

The lead-in graphic represents  a search at the Lenovo Outlet for laptops with i9 or i7 CPUs, listed most expensive first. These are pretty high end machines, in fact. Most are discounted 40-50% off original selling prices, and seriously equipped. They’re still not cheap, but they are eminently work-ready.

I favor mobile workstation models because they include multiple NVMe slots and user-replaceable/upgradable SO-DIMM memory slots. More ports and power, too.

You can “buy down” such machines and then add RAM and/or NVMe storage yourself, to bring prices down a little more still

Note: the average cost savings for RAM and NVMe from buying and installing your own parts is at least 25%, sometimes more. That usually means you can afford more capacity and higher performance if you can handle the DIY part. Personally, I love that kind of stuff…

Stretching Holiday Bucks a Bit Further

This is a good time of year to shop the outlets, because many of them are trying to clear out inventory to close out the sales year. Thus, for example, the prices at the Lenovo Outlet are all knocked down from their usual discounts by 9 to 40% or so.

These machines are great for office or mobile work scenarios, and also as takeaways for family members off at school. My son is using a 2019 vintage Lenovo ThinkPad X390 Yoga as his mobile deck, with a full-powered high end desktop back in his dorm room. The Yoga includes a 4-core/8-thread i7 (9th generation), 16 GB RAM and a 1 TB NVMe SSD. It does the job nicely for his notetaking and mobile communications. Purchased refurb in 2020, it cost just under US$1000. That was about half its original cost.

Lots of other deals like that are available in the wild right now. If you (or a family member) need a laptop, this is a great time to go looking around. Here are some links to help you get started:

Lenovo Outlet
Microsoft Certified Refurbished
HP Business Outlet
Dell Refurbished & Overstock Laptops, etc.
Acer Official Recertifed

If I haven’t hit your favorite laptop or PC vendor, use their name to search for “<name> refurbished outlet.” This should take you where you want to go. Happy hunting!

Hint: When buying anything refurb, there’s no point in purchasing anything except for devices that meet the Windows 11 computer requirements. Older stuff may be cheap, but that’s not a good idea.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Fixing WADK Upgrade Error 2008

Sometimes, strange things happen when using Winget (the built-in package manager in PowerShell). This morning, I got hit with an error when attempting to upgrade the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (aka WADK). This meant fixing WADK upgrade error 2008. Fortunately, I found a helpful GitHub post that explained how to overcome this issue.

Note: the lead-in graphic shows Winget commands to compare local ADK versions (in the list and show sub-commands) to the most current known ADK package (in the search sub-command).

Steps Toward Fixing WADK Upgrade Error 2008

Turns out the tried-and-true technique for fixing the upgrade error works here, too. First: uninstall the current version. Then, download and re-install that version (see this MS Learn article for that link). After that, all should work as it’s supposed to.

What’s interesting is the size and complexity of this environment. The adksetup.exe file is under 2MB in size, but it’s just a bootstrap loader. It brings in and sets up nearly 2GB of tools and supporting infrastructure. It also takes a while (about 5 minutes going and coming) to remove, then replace, that environment.

Once I worked through the maneuver, WADK no longer showed up in Winget. Nor did error 2008 recur, obviously.

When In Doubt, Remove/Replace Works Well

I’ve learned that when Winget gets wonky, there may be reasons connected to the runtime infrastructure at work in your Windows image. Often, the easiest way to clean that up is to remove the troubled package, reboot, then reinstall. This has bailed me out of difficulties on several occasions. That includes this morning’s encounter with the WADK.

If it works for me, it could work for you, too. As long as you have a fresh backup and can easily restore same, why not? I was covered today by my scheduled 9AM image, so I gave it a shot. It worked!

Going On (Brief) Hiatus

Let me take this opportunity to wish one and all the best possible end-of-year holiday. I’ll be silent here until Monday, December 26, as I take a break to spend time with family and friends. For those who celebrate the holiday: Merry Christmas! Otherwise, enjoy the break.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

SSDs Versus HDDs Revisited

I just saw some pretty amazing sales prices on external 2TB SSDs at Neowin. I’m talking something in the neighborhood of US$120 -140 for something rated at 800 – 1,000 MBps. This has me thinking about SSDs versus HDDs revisited. Why? Because over the past 6 years, I’ve been moving steadily away from HDDs to increasingly fast and affordable SSDs. These prices kind of put a cap on the whole phenom, IMO.

SSDs Versus HDDs Revisited: Late 2022

I realized the value of compact, portable 2.5″ external drives in the first decade of this millenium, when laptops really took over business computing. I carried my first luggables far back as 1988. But compact, usable external storage for field use really didn’t catch on until small, USB-attached drives became practical in the wake of USB 2.0’s introduction in 2000.

Right now, I’ve still got 4 2.0 TB USB 3 HDDs (which I hardly use anymore: Seagate Firecudas purchased in 2016/2017). I’ve also got 2 5.0 TB Seagate BarraCudas purchased in 2018/2019. Those I still use. But the fact is, those drives all cost me more when I bought them than what you’ll pay for a 2TB Crucial X8 NVMe SSD on sale right now (pictured above). That shows the immense increase in storage density, and decrease in power needed to drive such storage in the recent past.

What Now, Storage Wise?

I’m getting ready to gift off all of my older 2 TB 2.5″ drives to the nice folks at Goodwill (my old friend, Ken Starks, has retired and shut down ReGlue.org). Except for very big 3.5″ drives (12 TB+) I don’t plan on buying any more HDDs, ever.

In fact, I’ve already moved onto NVMe-based USB drives, with USB 3.1/3.2 as my baseline, and USB4/ThunderBolt4 as my “stretch target.” The latter are still kinda expensive. I think it’s more than the current performance bump is worth, but that will change substantially in the next 12-18 months.

For the Record: The Speed Hierarchy

The following data is enough to convince me that portable USB-based NVMe storage is the right way to go nowadays. How ’bout you?

Type     Drive              Fastest R/W
HDD      FireCuda 2TB       ~61/71    MBps
HDD      BarraCuda 5TB     ~137/131   MBps
mSATA    Samsung 1TB       ~455/400   MBps
NVMe-3   Samsung 950 1TB   ~1060/1040 MBps
NVMe-4   Sabrent R4 1 TB   ~2820/1290 MBps

I just took all these measurements using CrystalDiskMark’s highest large-block read/write values (version 8.0.4.0). I know where I want to be on this performance ladder, especially for image backups (one of my primary reasons for using and carrying portable storage on the road). Again: how ’bout you?

Notes on the Test Rig

I ran the external drives via a Lenovo ThinkPad Universal Dock Pro (TB4-capable) through a TB4 connection into a Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Hybrid Tablet. FWIW, the NVMe-4 results are the best I’ve ever seen from an external drive. Nifty!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Observing EoY Windows Updates

I remember the old Morton salt motto: “When it rains, it pours.” Aside from providing an apt description for today’s weather in Central Texas, it also describes my reaction when running winget this morning. I find myself observing EoY Windows Updates (that’s short for “End of Year”). I’m thinking: lots of software makers are pushing updates now so they can take a holiday break, too.

Mucho Activity While Observing EoY Windows Updates

As you can see in the lead-in graphic — PowerShell snapshot — winget found 10 items in need of upgrade this morning. KC Software’s Software Update Monitor (SUMo) found an additional 10 over and above that number. Items included Zoom, CPU-Z, Ring Central, GeForce Experience, FileZilla, SnagIt, MTPW and more. Wow! Last week was dead quiet by comparison.

Then, I decide to check on other PCs here in the office, beyond my production desktop (i7 Skylake running Windows 10 current version). I don’t see as much activity there, but do find some:

Device                     OS     #Updates
----------------------   ------   --------
P16 Mobile Workstation   Win11P       0
ThinkPad X380 Yoga       Win11D       2
Surface Pro 3            Win10RP      3
ThinkPad X12 Hybrid      Win11D       0
ThinkPad X1 Extreme      Win11P
----------------------   -------   -------
P=Production; D=DevChannel, RP=Release Preview

Upon considering this data, I have to change my initial supposition. While it’s probably true that software makers are pushing a last round of updates out to Windows users, looks like it’s not coming in a total rush this morning. Because I updated all of those other machines Wed-Fri last week, I can say it’s been coming for a while now. Looks like I didn’t get around to my production PC until later, rather than sooner.

More Data Delivers More Insight

This just goes to show that a larger sample size is helpful in making observations about updates more informed and cogent. It’s probably a good idea to schedule one more update cycle before the holidays (if you haven’t done so already). After that, it should be safe to wait until January 3 — or later — to make a next check.

My gut feel is not much will be happening, update-wise, for the rest of the next couple of weeks. I guess that means the EoY break is at hand. Enjoy!

Note: I will be blogging through Wednesday, December 21. I’m off then, but I’ll resume on December 26. Happy Holidays to one and all.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin