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8 Is Enough: Putting Things In Perspective

Yesterday, I wrote about a reliability issue I was having with a PC running the Windows 8 Developer Preview. This article garnered a lot of feedback and a lot of tips from readers with suggestions about how to fix the issues. Thanks very much for that. I try not to ask for help too often, but when I do, you folks always show up and I really appreciate it.

I'll discuss that feedback in a moment. It did occur to me, and to a few readers as well, that yesterday's "8 is Enough" article was a bit far afield from my original point in writing the series. That is, I was hoping to write occasionally about the day to day experience of using Windows 8, even this early in the game, and see how it compared to Windows 7 and, over time, how the pre-release versions of the OS change.

But, Paul, you're thinking: Problems are part of the experience. They will be, yes. But it's a bit unfair to expect a Developer Preview to perform like a shipping OS. (Though, amazingly, in many ways it does.) What I'm doing is not something I recommend to others, power users or regular users alike, and focusing on this kind of thing now--especially with a system that's only supported by Vista-era drivers--isn't very productive.

Regardless, aside from the spontaneous rebooting, the experience so far has been excellent, and very reliable. Which I realize is like saying, aside from this horrible disease, my life is pretty good. I know. But it's too early to blame Windows 8 for my troubles. In fact, I'm pretty sure they're self-inflicted.

OK, let's see what I've found out about this little issue.

First of all, thanks again for all the great feedback. I'll try to respond personally to the email I've received, but there was a ton of it. And what it amounts to is some good Windows Troubleshooting 101.

First, the fix, at least as far as I can tell: A number of readers pointed out that the very latest versions of Intel's drivers are online and can be successfully used in place of the out-of-date, Vista-era drivers I was using previously. (In fact, generally, speaking, in cases where the PC you're using isn't officially supported by the latest Windows version, and even when it is, it makes sense to simply get the latest drivers from the manufacturers' web sites, since these drivers are always more up-to-date.) So in my case, what I was looking for was a pair of Intel AMT/HECI/LMS/SOL/ME drivers. Again, several readers provided direct links, and I was up and running, error-free, and with a clean Device Manager. Amazingly, these drivers didn't even require a reboot. But I rebooted just to be sure.

(I also reversed the power management change I had made previously to ensure that just installing the correct Intel drivers would work. You don't want too many variables in a test like this.)

Many people probably aren't even aware this exists, but in the case of Intel drivers, the chipset maker actually provides a handy auto-detect page that will can your machine and provide you with a list of out-of-date Intel drivers, along with download links to the latest version. A number of readers pointed me to this resource, called Intel Driver Update Utility. It didn't help with my particular issue, but it's good to know about in general. (And I was previously aware of the page and had tried it on this PC.)

Another frequently-cited tip: In cases of mysterious reboots and other issues, there's a useful hardware diagnostic tool called Memtest86+ that can discover whether your RAM, CPU, motherboard, and other hardware is faulty. Ideally, you run this test for an extended period, and it requires booting from a CD-ROM or other device.

For SSDs, you can and should also test whether the drive itself is working properly. Each SSD maker provides a utility for this purpose, so you'll need to check with the manufacturer. (Side note: In the case of my previous failed SSD, which set off this whole "8 Is Enough" episode, the OCZ utility can't even see the drive, no matter how its connected.) SSDs are not identical, so you really do want to use the right utility. But there are decent and useful third party utilities as well, including CrystalDiskInfo, which can tell you which SSD features are enabled on your particular disk.

A number of readers wrote in about my hibernation/power management comments, and my theory that hybrid sleep could be the cause of my reliability issues. I'm now pretty sure that's not the case, but it's possible that it appeared so because of the incorrect Intel drivers. But whatever: I reversed that change as noted above and it seems to be working.

Also, there's a common issue when clean installing a retail version of Windows on a PC where you check Device Manager and come up with one or more generic devices (PCI Simple Communications Controller and so on) and aren't sure where to turn for the driver. You should also try that Intel auto-update site first, but when that fails, there are some tools that will parse your hardware and help you find out exactly what's in the system.

The manual approach is to right-click on the device in question (in Device Manager), choose Properties, and then choose Details and then Hardware IDs under Property. Here, you'll see a pair of values, PCI\VEN and SUBSYS. Make a note of these and visit the site Enter the values in the Vendor and Device Search boxes and you'll find out exactly what the hardware device in question is. Then you can begin your search for the right drivers. (In my case, this site listed "Intel(R) Management Engine Interface (HECI)" as the hardware type.)

Or, you can use dedicated utilities like AIDA64 and HWiNFO64.

OK, so a lot of stuff here, all of which is general PC troubleshooting. What does this have to do with Windows 8?

On the one hand, not much. But unless something dramatic changes, and I don't think it will, this suggests to me that our troubleshooting skills are going to carry over nicely to the next Windows, regardless of the huge user experience changes. And that's good news, in a way. The goal here should be for these activities to be less necessary in Windows 8, and my recent experiences notwithstanding, I do believe that will be the case. But at least now I can get back to work and back to the original point of this series, which was to examine what it was like living daily with Windows 8.

Thanks again to everyone that wrote in to help. 

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