Tip of the day – Windows Update fixes for 7 and 8.1

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Back in the good old days (aka a few years ago) Windows Update tended to be something that just… worked. You’d take a fresh Windows install, pop it through the update process and after a bit of chugging you’d get a fully patched OS.

Recently Microsoft seem to have made a bit of a mess of things and I’ve spent far too much time forcing recalcitrant machines to do what should be a simple task.

Hopefully once the cumulative updates start rolling everything into the monthly patch cycle this post may become irrelevant. Until then here’s the quick way to persuading a Windows 7 / 8.1 machine through the Update process…

High CPU hotfix

Install this one first if you’re faced with a particularly out-of-date installation otherwise you’ll be stuck for days “searching for updates” while your CPU goes crazy (100% utilisation) for very little return…

Windows 7 https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/kb/3102810
Windows 8 https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/kb/3102812

Windows Update Agent

Next install this to update your updating software in order to download new updates (!)

https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/kb/949104

Reset Windows Update Agent script

Sometimes Windows Update still won’t work in spite of the patches above so run this script from TechNet to reset the Windows Update subsystem in case something has gone awry

https://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/scriptcenter/Reset-Windows-Update-Agent-d824badc

Round trip limit exceeded

Despite all of the above Windows Update can still fail because of a hard-coded limit in how it talks to WSUS (this only applies to managed Windows desktops rather than home users). In which case you need to take advice from this song…


“you can get it if you really want but you must try, try and try, try and try… you’ll succeed at last”

Basically just keep clicking the retry button until WSUS gets through enough trips to serve you all the updates Windows needs.

Ref: http://trentent.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/wsus-clients-fail-with-warning-exceeded.html
Ref: https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/sus/2008/09/18/wsus-clients-fail-with-warning-syncserverupdatesinternal-failed-0x80244010/

You may also be able to speed things up by cleaning up your WSUS server, which can be aided via this very useful script

https://community.spiceworks.com/how_to/103094-automate-wsus-cleanup

or this one…

https://community.spiceworks.com/scripts/show/2998-adamj-clean-wsus

Now that’s sorted you can make yourself a cup of tea and wait for that progress bar to crawl across the screen! Will be interesting to see how the cumulative update process goes but if it means an easier way of rolling an out-of-date machine up with one single download then it’ll have some benefits for convenience albeit at the expense of granular control… swings and roundabouts I guess…

image credit Christiaan Colen
https://www.flickr.com/photos/132889348@N07/20013670043

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Intel Compute Stick – digital signage… on a stick

compute-stick-shadowNot sure I’ll get any awards for originality of this headline but in this case the product name really does do what it says on the tin.

I first head of the Compute Stick at the BETT show back when it was a vapourware product so was interested to try one out when they got out to the wider market. Even more so with the fairly low price point that’s currently sitting under the £100 mark courtesy of Amazon.

The reviews don’t lie, but fear not

When I initially read the reviews of the product the signs didn’t sound good, in fact the headline from Gizmodo is pretty damning. Fortunately the last line about really liking kiosk LCD signage is my use-case down to a tee… so we carry on 🙂

For reference and to save taking loads of identical photos here’s the reviews I’m referencing:

http://gizmodo.com/intel-compute-stick-review-don-t-buy-it-1699377058
http://www.techradar.com/reviews/pc-mac/intel-compute-stick-1292183/review

Why buy a Compute Stick?

Until now we’ve either been using recycled PCs that we’ve removed from active service and by combining bits of them together (plus some £20 graphics cards) created something powerful enough to run HD signage effectively.

That’s worked OK until we’ve got to some more recent installs where there’s nowhere to hide an ungainly desktop PC. For those we’ve been getting nettop-esque players that come in around the £300 mark. The Compute Stick comes in around 1/3 the price in comparison and is even easier to mount due to its diminutive size. 

Getting started

Although the Compute Stick comes with a bundled copy of Windows 8.1 with Bing we decided to wipe and reload our own Enterprise license to allow us to join the device to our domain. Some forum posts suggested varying levels of success but in all cases so far a full wipe and reload (from USB media) has been successful.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same about a Windows 10 upgrade though, which got a bit messy on the sole machine we tried before being formatted back to Windows 8.1. The 32GB eMMC storage device isn’t the quickest in the world so large upgrades like this take some time to complete, which makes it a bit galling when they fail right at the end! It seems Intel may start shipping the Compute Stick with Windows 10 as standard soon though.

Tip: before you start I’d advise jumping to the BIOS and enable “Performance” mode.

The Stick hasn’t got a great deal of power behind it anyway so throttling it down further won’t do any favours.

Connectivity

As touched on in the reviews above you only get one USB port to play with so a hub is essential for configuring the Compute Stick. Once you’re done it’s trivial to remote control it via VNC or similar remote access products, which is fine for this particular use case.

One thing to get out the way before you consider one of these devices though… Wi-Fi is awful. No other way of saying it, range is poor, signal drops were common and the Wi-Fi chip seems to somehow slow down the device as well. Seems we’re not alone in experiencing the issue so it looks like a hardware or driver fault https://communities.intel.com/thread/72826?start=15&tstart=0

In a way the Wi-Fi issues don’t matter as we run all our signage players wired anyway. A suitable USB Ethernet dongle was soon purchased; we went for this Startech adapter, which works a treat and has been solid in our testing thus far. It’s also the same size as the Compute Stick and makes a neat combo when held together with a suitably sized cable tie.

http://www.startech.com/uk/Networking-IO/usb-network-adapters/USB-2-to-Gigabit-Ethernet-NIC-Network-Adapter~USB21000S2

Conclusion

All in all it’s safe to say the Compute Stick is far from perfect; it’s Intel’s first go at a new platform and I’m sure the next revision will smooth out a lot of the rough edges we’ve seen in this model. With new Cherry Trail powered devices just around the corner there’s no doubt the platform will get a bit of a performance boost too.

Ref: http://www.stickpcstore.com/blog/intel-atom-cherry-trail-x5-z8500-124092015/

There’s already some interesting hardware appearing but not shipping just yet so keep your eyes peeled. If the MagicStick lives up to its claims it should be a rather impressive device…

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/magicstick-most-powerful-pc-stick-8gb-ram
http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/2/9244031/asus-vivostick-windows-10-announced

In the meantime if you need a cheap Windows-based signage solution keep an eye out for offers as retailers clear out this generation of Intel sticks.

Recovering from a failed Windows 8.1 update

hp 8.1Today I had a little challenge to repair a friend’s laptop where Windows had got stuck into an infinite loading \ reboot loop. Typically it decided to do it just as the user had some important end-of-course documents to complete so needed a quick turnaround. With a couple of hours to spare waiting for the World Cup games to start I gave it a shot.

The laptop itself was pretty new, an HP Pavillion 14 “Sleekbook” – upon firing it up the HP branded loading screen spinner gave it away as Windows 8.x

The startup process didn’t last long before it rebooted but there was just enough time to spot an error message along the lines of “attempting to recover previous installation” before it fell over.

Gut instinct suspected a failed 8.1 update as the error message seemed to suggest it was trying to roll back to a previous OS rather than your average Windows Update. With that in mind I wanted to get into some sort of recovery environment…

“Joys” of UEFI

At this point I soon remembered that the old-school F8 Safe Mode methods are pretty useless on UEFI \ Windows 8 so needed to look elsewhere for diagnostics.

None of the classic keystrokes (F2, Delete)  seemed to do anything so quickly hunted down the HP service manual which tells me Esc is now the magic key. Hit that then F11 to get to Recovery to get into the Windows Recovery Environment.

I didn’t want to do anything drastic with the machine (i.e. the usual MS advice to Reset \ Refresh) so went in with the idea to use the Advanced Tools to dig a bit deeper. However before I got that far I noticed something rather odd…

boot another

I was pretty certain the owner of the laptop wouldn’t have installed a dual boot system and after clicking the option above I got some evidence to back up my initial corrupted update theory. A list of three operating systems appeared:

  • Windows Setup
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8

The Windows 8 option appeared with the usual logo but the other two looked generic. With that in mind I tried booting the Windows 8 option but that failed in the same style as what I first saw. Went back in again and tried the Windows 8.1 option instead, to my surprise the system got a bit further and started running a chkdsk.

That took quite a while as the laptop is an odd mismatch of a (fast) i5 CPU with a (painfully slow) HDD but eventually got to a Windows GUI where it started rolling back \ restoring the previous version of the OS. Once that process completed I was back into a working Windows 8.0 environment with a message stating that the 8.1 update had failed and that the previous install had been restored.

I suspect the laptop may have either ran out of battery or been turned off during the 8.1 update, somehow leaving the boot loader a bit confused about which OS to load and resulting in the infinite reboot.

We’re not out the woods yet

I wanted to give the laptop back completely sorted so ran the 8.1 update myself, only to find it refused to install from the Windows Store with this very helpful error…

something“Something happened” – maybe aliens…

Fortunately someone on TechNet has already found a more sensible explanation and suggested clearing out the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution folder, which worked a treat.

Once the HDD had slowwwwwllly chugged its way through the install I was left with a clean 8.1 Update 1 install. Jumping back into the Recovery Environment then “use another operating system” option had gone, confirming everything had been cleaned up.

All that was left was to sort out some working AV protection (usual expired trialware) and the laptop was ready to go back home to its happy owner 🙂