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Does Win10 Have to Be This Hard? Sometimes, Yes!


I got the word pretty early yesterday that Insider Preview Build 17672 was out. It couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes between Dona Sarkar’s tweet announcing its availability and my starting installation on my three test machines. “Great!” I thought to myself “I should be able to knock this off before I’m back from lunch.” For one of my machines, that prediction proved entirely accurate. For the other two … not so much. Let me explain.

Does Win10 Have to Be This Hard.17672

On two of three test machines, this window was a loooong time coming.

The “Good” PC Goes Pretty Quick

Though it’s not often the case, yesterday my good PC was the Surface Pro 3. This machine has an Intel i7 4650U CPU (Haswell), 8 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, and not a whole lot more going on. I ran the upgrade through Windows Update, and it completed in just under an hour. That’s pretty typical for many Insider Preview upgrades, though some go faster, and many go more slowly.

The last two Insider Previews have gone more on the slow side than the fast, much as you’d expect for something this early in the release cycle. The latest line of Insider Previews only started to diverge from the current branch release (Version 1803, Builds in the 171xx range) around the end of April, so there will be many more before the next feature upgrade goes live this Autumn/Fall. So far, I’ve had no trouble with any recent Insider Preview upgrades on the Surface Pro 3. I hasten to add “Knock on wood!”

The “Bad” PCs Go Alarmingly Slow

The next of the other two PCs to complete the upgrade to 17672 was my Dell XPS 2720 All-in-One (AIO). This is another Haswell machine with the following specs: Intel i7 4770S, 16 GB RAM, 256 GB SSD (Samsung EVO 840), plus various other drives. As an AIO, this PC is halfway between a laptop and a desktop PC, with many of the disadvantages of both, and few of the advantages of either. Nevertheless it’s been a solid performer up to this last upgrade. I can’t recall having had any Insider Preview problems with this machine since MS figured out how to accommodate its Killer Wireless-N 1202 network adapter in mid-2016 or thereabouts. But the upgrade failed mysteriously right at the end of the first attempt during the blue screen “Applying updates” phase about two reboots into the process. Something odd and hardware related happened, because I heard it make a noise (a high-pitched screech) I’ve never heard from it in the 4 or 5 years I’ve owned it. Then, I had to manually force a reboot by holding down the power button for 5 seconds, after which it rolled back to the preceding build.

Fortunately, my second attempt at the upgrade succeeded. But after losing about 90 minutes to the first attempt, the second one took over two hours to complete. It sat at 90% “Preparing to install” for quite some time (as many others have reported for the past three Insider Preview releases). But then finally, it finished up and powered all the way through to the Out-of-Box-Experience (OOBE, wherein the PC boots into a Windows-like state and says “Hi! We’re getting a few things ready…”). I just discovered that the PC is having some networking difficulties when I tried to remote in to look up its specifications. The virtual Ethernet adapter is showing up with an APIPA network address (169.254.33.70) and I wasn’t able to use the machine name in Remote Desktop Connection utility to remote into this PC. Both of these things speak to name resolution problems of the kind caused when a DHCP server can’t be found. I was able to remote into the PC using its IP address, so the problem isn’t as severe as a total network breakdown or failure. But it’s serious enough for me to want to spend some time on the Feedback Hub reporting what I’m seeing. Weird!

I went through four attempts on the third PC before I finally found it running the 17672 upgrade first thing this morning, about 19 hours after I started down the upgrade path. This is another Dell PC, a (mostly) very nice Venue Pro 11 7130 hybrid tablet. It’s somewhat underpowered compared to my other two test machines: it’s got an Intel Haswell i5 4210Y CPU, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB Lite-on SSD. My second attempt to perform a normal upgrade failed with a Windows error code (of the form 0x8xxxxxxx). Next, I ran the built-in Update troubleshooter. It reset the various related services and reported rebuilding the update database. But a third attempt failed shortly thereafter (apparently, the installation files were still present, because the preparing and downloading phases zipped by extremely quickly) with a different error code.

At that point, I called Kari. He talked me through the process of using UUPdump to grab the installer files from the Windows Update servers, and then using the UUP2ISO program to convert them into a Windows 10 ISO I could use to upgrade (or, if necessary, clean-install) from a local set of files. While all this was going on I let the upgrade process try again on its own. By this time, it was 5:15 PM Central Daylight time (-6:00 UCT) and my family and I went out for dinner, as we sometimes do on Wednesday evenings. By the time we got home, I was too trashed to continue on with the Venue Pro, so I let it keep running overnight.

When I sat down at my desk this morning at about 6:30 AM, I logged into the machine and got the OOBE message. The fourth and final upgrade finally went through while we were all safely tucked into our beds. Total time that I spent working with or watching this particular upgrade probably totals under 5 hours, but total elapsed time was right about 19 hours by the time I got to the Windows desktop and confirmed that 17672.1000 was indeed running on the Venue Pro.

What a ride this upgrade turned out to be, but with a (mostly) happy ending. I still have to troubleshoot the networking issues on the XPS 2720, but both of the other PCs seem to be working perfectly and normally. I’ll be reporting on my experiences up the Windows Insider Yammer forums, and I’ll also be providing details of the networking issues from the XPS 2720 on that machine via the Feedback Hub.

Hence the Question: Does It Have to Be This Hard?

I’m afraid that it *does* have to be this hard. That’s what beta programs like Insider Preview are for: to help shake out the gotchas, slowdowns, and device driver issues that can play hob with modern complex hardware. It’s easy to forget that MS is providing advance access to new features and functions in exchange for feedback. That means taking the feedback delivery side of things seriously, especially when things go wrong or get wonky, as they did for two of my test machines. If you don’t want to put up with this kind of stuff, it’s perfectly valid to stick to the Current Branch, Current Branch for Business, or even the Long-Term Servicing Channel (as the former LTSB is now known). That’s not to say this kind of thing never happens with those releases, either — but I speak from experience with over 100 Insider Preview Builds for Windows 10, and all 6 current branch feature upgrades for that same OS, when I say it doesn’t happen as often or as crazily for production code as it sometimes does for Insider Previews. Especially during the earlier parts of the release cycle. As I mentioned at the outset of this blog post, that’s right where we are for Redstone 5 right now. And THAT, dear readers, is why the answer to the question is “Yes.”

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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2 Responses “Does Win10 Have to Be This Hard? Sometimes, Yes!”

  1. CountMike
    May 17, 2018 at 23:01

    Well Ed, it may have to be harder than regular builds, a lot of untried features and experimenting going on. But…. there’s also matter of HW. Seems that computers (PCs) with common, off the shelf components fare best, those fancy-shmancy brand mane desktops, laptops and AiOs always have “something special” in them and nobody can keep full account of them. BIOS and drivers may have some unexpected functions and manufacturers are pretty lax with drivers even for regular versions.
    I have been an insider ever since first W10 and had update problems only couple or 3 times when I had to update by using .ISO, either home made or downloaded. I write that off on account of my “ordinary” HW and no fooling around with update and security settings. That’s on 2 desktop PCs and both update regularly without some bad drama.
    During every update I follow what’s happening and I think I know why it’s so slow on some HW. Computer resources are used very inefficiently, During most of the process starting from very beginning, CPU, RAM and disk system show very little load. I mean, I have 8 cores and 16 thread processor, 16 GB of fast RAM and super fast M.2 SSD and during most time only one thread, small percentage of RAM and even less % of disk are used but at one stage, usually at about 80 – 90% disk usage runs at close of 100% and that’s part when some slow poke, laptop HDDs with 5400rpm must choke quite a bit.
    Download is also uneven and is done at several stages. At first stage “preparing to install”, it does a small DL making $WINDOWS.~BT folder. When that finishes real download starts placing files into C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download folder and who knows where else but that’s the one that fills up most. Once downloaded, UUP starts to assemble the rest into own folder with some stupid name like be180b8bbb40d246604a08e9a6997d8c (that’s where UUP to ISO finds them) to make .iso from. Than relatively slow process of backing up what needs to be backed up in windows.old folder straining slow HDDs to max but fast SSDs almost don’t even notice using only few % of it’s resources. That slows down fast and slow disks alike, another inefficient process. In mean time, it also contacts server few times, downloading some more stuff and interrupting the process and slowing everything down.
    From than on (Restart now), process is continues like updating from ISO and it’s files itself, changes and writes necessary system files having to carefully sift thru installed programs, APPs and drivers loading disk to practically it’s maximum which again incredibly slows down process on slow HDDs. Even that part is interrupted by some more downloading. At that time I can’t tell exactly how much is downloaded but by following router activity I can tell that a lot of that is going on.
    Final stage is fastest part of whole process but also a part when new build is usually rejected.
    So yes, update is very complicated process, clean install takes just a fraction of time and resources. Before UUP all used to be much simpler, skipping whole first part of process,
    This is just a rough description of update process, I shudder when thinking what may be happening in detail, no wonder things can go wrong in a jiffy.

    • May 17, 2018 at 23:55

      Too true, too true, Mike — all of it. Thanks for sharing your lengthy and illuminating remarks with me and the audience. And FWIW, I agree that a major point driving Insider Preview is to get the software “in the wild” where it will encounter some (but by no means all) of the strange and wonderful hardware in use by so many people. I’m pretty sure my problems were device/driver related, simply because that’s where MOST problems with the install process come from.
      Thanks again for sharing your insights. They’re much-appreciated!
      –Ed–

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