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Posted on December 23rd, 2013 by Steve Cassidy

Stupid Windows 8.1 tricks (or how not to upgrade your PC’s hard disk)

Business laptops 428There has been a bit of a burst of action lately with engineer’s utility updates. No, come back! This is important.

You may think that “engineers” are a vanishing species and it’s all about just unwrapping the latest Chromebook, which will immediately solve every computing problem you ever had, but it’s not: despite the dire forecasts of the death of the PC, other forces are at work, including both the growing demand for data storage and the relentless pace of hardware improvements.

I really like the first-generation hybrid laptop drives: the 750GB Seagate with a reasonable amount of flash as cache for the spinning disk, for instance, does a stunning job of extending the battery life of my superannuated Dell Vostro 1510 laptop.

The next generation is even more interesting: two completely separate physical drives inside a single 2.5 inch form factor, neither of them especially small in gigabytes, makes a hugely persuasive upgrade for laptops with build dates way back in the noughties.

Looking at screws on the bottom of their laptop is considered to be as safe as riding up the inside of a cement mixer in a rainstorm, on a penny-farthing.

But that kind of upgrade is viewed as voodoo by many. Looking at screws on the bottom of their laptop is considered to be as safe as riding up the inside of a cement mixer in a rainstorm, on a penny-farthing. Then they see just how many boxed-set episodes of “Breaking Bad” can be carried around in iTunes on my Dell, and they start badgering away: “how did you get all that room?”

The missing link that makes upgrades possible is disk-imaging software. There are several makers, but I tend to fiddle about with the Paragon Software suite when I have to do some imaging.

The idea of a disk-imaging tool is that it grabs every last bit left on the old disk and deposits it wholesale on the new one. Sometimes this involves some intermediate storage like an external USB drive or a network server; other times all you need is to pop the lid on the box and make use of the almost always unused extra SATA connectors on the motherboard.

I was intrigued to see that every disk-imaging company issued new versions of their software in this field as soon as Windows 8.1 appeared: of course every new version brings with it improvements that may as a side-effect chop off some previously vital dependancy, and with the huge improvements common to Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2 I was expecting to see some handsome increases in speed or the range of networked NAS boxes the utilties could use.

Instead, I ran into a bit of a speed-bump. After finding that a 500GB drive used to build Windows 8.1 on a recycled Vista machine might, possibly, have one or two boringly electrical issues (translation: it would only boot if given a sharp tap at just the right moment, and could take 20 minutes to shut down), I grabbed Paragon’s Hard Disk Manager 14 suite and even went so far as to take the 3-machine “family pack” option.

Migrating from the wobbly 500GB drive to a much nicer 160GB 10,000rpm Raptor drive looked to be easy as pie; the basic 8.1 C drive being copied in well under 3 minutes on the Dell Precision T5500 I was using as a project machine in this case. Whip out the offending drive, substitute the Raptor on the primary boot SATA connection and… watch it sit there perpetually rebooting.

What I had missed, so that you don’t, was the critical change to the Shutdown menu in Windows 8.1. After Paragon had copied the drive contents from junk drive to Raptor, I had to shut the machine down to complete the swap: and at that moment, the only indication of impending doom was that the pop-up menu said “update and shutdown”, not “shutdown”.

paragoonThis meant that as Paragon was reading the blocks of the source disk, Windows was making an invisible and unstoppable background download of a system update. While the source disk contained all the files required to apply the updates at the next restart, the target disk didn’t. Boot from the target disk and the update kicks off, but never completes, since it is missing some files which landed on the disk after the low-level copier swept over it like a searchlight across the flank of a tanker.

Infinite reboot cycle was the outcome. To fix this I had to put the whole machine out in the car-port so the flakey source disk didn’t stop, let the updates finish, reboot another couple of times to ensure no more updates were due, unplug the LAN lead… and then finally run the disk copier.

Now, to my mind this calls into considerable question the assertion made by Paragon that this latest version “supports Windows 8.1″. In fairness, it is certainly reprehensible that updates can arrive from Microsoft in complete sets which a well-recognised and long-standing utility can then blow apart; but on the other hand it’s not difficult for Paragon to put up a dialog saying, “oh, you have updates in progress. Please reboot to apply them and then we can get to work”. Or maybe it is difficult, since across all the 2013 wave of updates, Microsoft has decided that background works-in-progress of all kinds (updates, role additions, network operations) do not show any progress information to the user.

Unlike a lot of nerds, I am keen to use Windows 8.1, because the various improvements – especially the full-fat no-limits Hyper-V role – are fantastically useful. However, it is clearly going to take some time for the market to catch up to all the implications of what is a radically new way of thinking.

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Posted in: Hardware, Windows 8


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9 Responses to “ Stupid Windows 8.1 tricks (or how not to upgrade your PC’s hard disk) ”

  1. Chris Says:
    December 26th, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I’d say Windows is equally to blame for getting stuck in a boot cycle when some of it’s update files are missing. Surely a rollback should be possible.

  2. Eric O'Malley Says:
    December 27th, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Not a Windows issue happens with every disk imaging tools,

    As for Windows updating again that is not Microsoft’s problem it is end user mistake so common like killing the on/off button because your in a rush to get to the local shop to fill your fridge with alcohol instead of just letting the computer shutdown in due course,

    I come across this every day where people have unexpectedly shut there computer down without first checking their Windows has finished updating, closing applications or checking that their anti-virus updates and install has completed my dad’s mates is notorious for its.

    Then I get the dreaded call for help I can’t start my computer or I’ve got a message missing files can’t open my family tree program you get the picture.

    What I do even with a simple backup I check their no update, install, configuration is going on then disconnect my internet connect stop any virus scan then carry out my backup then reconnect the internet and update etc.

    Disk imaging should only be complete after disconnecting internet unless it is to a cloud services there is no good reason to stay connected to outside world for such operations especially if hard drive failure is occurring.

    This should also be the case when suspected computer problem with Trojans as well.

  3. John Cardin Says:
    January 3rd, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    This is an old Microsoft problem, such a simple issue that its almost crimimal for them not to fix, it should have addressed years ago and could happen to anyone who is not actively interested in tech, my son’s laptop was made into a brick because an update was in progress when his battery failed while shutting down, note he used the “Microsoft recommended” option of automatically installing updates. I dont have Macs but I have not heard of similar issues with IoS. Shame on Microsoft.

  4. BrianT Says:
    January 6th, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    “Windows was making an invisible and unstoppable background download of a system update”

    No it wasn’t.

    Competent users never get this because they set Windows Update to let the master of the machine choose which updates to make when. Unwanted updates are stopped before they even start.

    People who don’t do this have paid for a machine and abdicated ownership to Microsoft.

  5. Steve Cassidy Says:
    January 7th, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    Panto season still, Brian? This is Windows 8.1, which takes quite aa different view of the update process. Windows 7 acts as you describe; though competent users learn that manual download preferences often act as a hiding place for rootkit infections, since rootkits often turn off updates, too.

  6. Dex Says:
    January 15th, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I can say that had I seen the updates notification when I shut down the machine I would have stopped my image process right there. Finished the updates, and not complained that this is an image or Microsoft issue. 8.1 may take a different view of the update process but in the end they don’t take responsibility for updating YOUR computer. And, removing the network cable to prevent this does nothing as this was an INSTALL of the update not a DOWNLOAD. The imaging company or Microsoft, as much as the haters of MS would like, can’t be expected to build in a solution for something that can be so easily resolved by common sense.

  7. Katsu999 Says:
    January 21st, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Lucky you didn’t run into the nasty UEFI problem of the motherboard refusing to boot from an ‘illegal’ drive.

  8. mardukes Says:
    January 28th, 2014 at 12:06 am

    I don’t know what UEFI is, but why did this ever work? Why didn’t Windows invalidate the license upon seeing a different drive?

  9. pwhitsa Says:
    January 29th, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    Windows registers the motherboard SN NOT the drive.
    UEFI is the solution for the new fastboot laptops and pcs.
    It gives you access to the boot menu etc.
    The newest pcs are so fast you cant react quick enough at boot time to hit F9.


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