Windows 8 install tips and tricks

Time has flown by, as it does tend to do when you are not paying attention!  One minute I’m in Fargo at the Technical Airlift, dropping a perfectly functioning laptop on a hard tile floor (yes, boy, that was fun!), and the next, it’s nearly Christmas and I’m loading Windows 8 on a even more perfectly functioning new laptop. It’s wrapped in bubble wrap to protect it from myself, just so ya know… ; )

When the Windows 8 previews and betas came out, I fully intended to install them on a virtual image or something, and get to know the new features.  So much for that!  The, ahem, fortunate timing of dropping a laptop and having my other functional Dell brick fail to boot led me to a just-in-time-for-Christmas new shiny laptop.  While my American friends were eating Thanksgiving turkey, I was doing some timely Black Friday shopping.  It seems Canadian retailers have adopted the sale weekend much to our price advantage!

I ordered another trusty Lenovo, my third one. Even though my first one died, I got a ton out of it and took it everywhere.  My last one - which I dropped - actually still kind of worked even after dropping it on a tile floor. Dented, yes, but busted, no!  I think I dented some internal things though as there were several issues with all the ports on one side not working all the time etc., and Black Friday came calling to rescue me from frustration.

This is an off-topic post - nothing to do with Dynamics GP this time around.  I’m behind in my blogging (again) and will get back to that shortly.  For now, I wanted to document some Windows 8 installation related things that may help someone.  I needed to search long and hard for some things and I’d like to save someone the trouble when they go to do what I’ve done.

The background

As I mention above, I bought a Lenovo, an X230 model specifically.  I bought it with a mid-range configuration but didn’t order it with a Solid State drive (SSD), as I planned on getting one far cheaper after the fact.  Every time I buy a new computer, the first thing I do is wipe it clean and do a clean O/S install.  This time, I was doing a clean install as well as swapping out the hard drive for an SSD.

I also bought it pre-loaded with Windows 8 Professional.  Everything here is related to the Pro version, so YMMV if you are not on Pro (although I think the steps below are generic enough to work for any edition).

These notes are not in any particular order, it’s not meant as a “how to” but rather a compilation of things that helped me.

My end goal was the following:

  • Install an SSD instead of the hard drive it came with
  • Keep the UEFI boot to take advantage of the secure boot functionality
  • Do a clean install, not a clone of the factory install

Lastly, I’m not a hardware person, so I may use the most technologically correct terminology in places… apologies for that!

Windows 8 product key

If Windows 8 is installed already by the OEM vendor, the product key should be embedded in the BIOS.  I didn’t need to worry about finding my key, getting the key, hacking a registry to get the key etc.  In previous iterations of Windows, there are usually some steps that require finding out the key for what is installed so you can use it again.  No need this time.  In fact, I still have no idea what my product key is, and the O/S is so new, Lenovo hasn’t gotten around to putting the stickers on the bottom of the laptops yet to show you the key.  I’ve installed Windows 8 twice now (I’ll explain why!), and it recognized that I had an OEM key in the BIOS and installed without any issue whatsoever.

Windows 8 drivers

This was the biggest and most pleasant surprise for me.  The first time I did a clean install was with my old Lenovo x61s and Windows XP.  Wow, the clean install instructions were convoluted.  There were at least 17 steps to install, 99% of it was the exact order and method to install the drivers you need. Pain in the ___.  I don’t remember how it worked with Windows 7, it certainly was simpler, but with Windows 8, nearly everything worked right off the bat.  I haven’t installed a single Lenovo driver, and have 3 devices that are “unknown” - but using my laptop I haven’t yet found what isn’t working and I’ve used everything I would use on a regular basis.  It might be a while before I find what those 3 devices are!

Now, this being said, not all of the Microsoft drivers are the best ones out there for your devices and hardware. I found one instance where I will have to find the Lenovo driver and it isn’t even for my laptop but for the docking station.  Audio doesn’t play when my X230 is docked, but it is a simple fix, according to many sources online.

Swapping hard drive for an SSD

There are several blogs and several forum posts about doing Windows 8 clean installs, and several about swapping an SSD for a regular hard drive.  I didn’t seem to find many articles or blogs that did both, they all seemed to do one thing or another or didn’t address the difficulties I had run into.  Also, many of them were using a clone approach which doesn’t seem to be recommended from what I have read, because of differences in the hardware types.  It sounds like you don’t want to clone a regular hard drive to copy that to an SSD as it won’t be installed optimized for an SSD.

Fortunately I didn’t find any issue or difficulty in doing this.  I did a full recovery backup of the factory install in case I needed to revert back to Win8 “original” - that’s always a safe recommendation.  After that, I literally took out the old hard drive *, installed the SSD, and with the next steps on the specifics to boot into Windows 8, that was it.  Not a single issue was SSD/hard drive change related.

* To be clear, there is a proper way to remove the hard drive which is basically:

  • Turn off the computer
  • Unplug the power supply
  • Take out the battery
  • Press the power key to drain any remaining power
  • Remove the hard drive (in my case, remove a couple of screws to access it).
  • Install the new hard drive/SSD
  • Put the battery back in and continue

Windows 8 media

This was the part that I found a challenge, specifically getting the media in the right format for UEFI.  First things first: apparently you can use any media including Windows 8 Upgrade media to do a clean install.  From everything I’ve read, you do not need a “full” copy for a clean install.  (Assuming you are eligible for the upgrade version).  If you have MSDN or TechNet subscriptions, you should be able to find what you need.  Since I wanted to upgrade my home computer too and I don’t currently have an MSDN subscription, so I took advantage of the upgrade offer for Windows 8 - $40.

Using the ugprade media method, here is the rough steps (because initially I was expecting that it was as simple as buy it and download it)..  It seems at first like you can’t just download the media but rest assured, you do in the end.  The website for the upgrade offer starts with having an upgrade advisor download.

  • It checks your hardware for issues with requirements, if any, so you know in advance.
  • Next, it asks you what you want to keep off of your computer.  I selected None since I didn’t intend to install immediately on this machine, I just needed the media.
  • Next is the ordering part and you get your product key (if you are actually upgrading… that key is what I’ll use for my home computer).
  • Finally it gets to the download part and the options are basically Install Now or Install by Creating Media.  I chose the latter.
  • The last step gives you an option of downloading an ISO or using a Flash Drive.

UEFI & BIOS settings

This specifically was the part where I got a little messed up and ended up installing twice, because I didn’t understand the whole UEFI thing initially. (Not that I’m an expert now…).  Initially I created a DVD ISO image using the download and then attempted to just hook up my DVD to my laptop and reboot.  With legacy boot, depending on your BIOS settings, this usually would recognize the DVD and prompt you to “press any key to boot from CD/DVD” or something like that.  This didn’t, it just kept stopped at a boot menu.  It recognized a DVD was attached with an ISO image, but the BIOS was set to UEFI secure boot and it’s incompatible with the DVD ISO method.  I changed my BIOS to “both” (Legacy/UEFI) and then it recognized the DVD and booted into Windows 8 setup and I was set.

However, when it was done, and I went into my BIOS to set it back to UEFI only, it would no longer boot because it was installed in Legacy mode.  So back to the drawing board.  To make a long story a little shorter, here is what worked and what didn’t for me:

  • DVDs are formatted in NTFS which isn’t compatible with UEFI (for booting at least…).  If you don’t care about UEFI and are happy with Legacy boot mode, you should be able to change your bios setting to Both or Legacy and allow it to act as normal like any older O/S ran.  The boot times for UEFI only vs Legacy seemed similar to me so I don’t think there is a big difference.
  • I would like to use UEFI secure boot, so I opted to re-install WIndows 8 again.  It requires boot media to be formatted Fat32.  I didn’t have a big enough USB flash drive so I ended up buying one, because I wasn’t able to format an external USB hard drive as Fat32.
  • Next, to make the flash drive bootable, basically you need to extract the ISO contents.  There are several tools out there, MagicISO lets you mount an ISO image like a hard drive, from which you could copy the contents to the Flash drive.  One common search result for this issue was to download the “Windows 7 USB Download Tool”.  I did that at first, but it formats the USB Flash drive as NTFS first and then extracts the ISO contents!  So, you can do that but then copy the contents off the flash drive, reformat as Fat32, then copy back.
  • Lastly, I still couldn’t boot from this Flash drive and the final thing missing was I cannot boot to this device with Secure Boot enabled in the BIOS.  Once I disabled Secure Boot, but still was in UEFI mode, once again I was successful getting to the Windows 8 install screens.

After installing, I re-enabled the Secure Boot option and I’m back in business.

I may have missed some small nuances here and there, but hopefully this covers the majority of it… going in circles around the UEFI thing took the most time. For a day or so it felt like all I kept doing was burning DVDS (thinking they didn’t burn properly), or copying files to/from Flash Drives to get this to work.  That was annoying so hopefully this helps someone just cut to the chase and quickly do a clean install.

The best part about going through all of this is you learn a little more and that’s never a bad thing.

Going the route of using an SSD is amazing.. it boots in 5 seconds or so, it’s unreal.  The “windows experience” disk data transfer rate went from a score of 5.9 to 8.1 or something like that… just no comparison to how fast an SSD runs vs. a regular hard drive.

I’ve had fun playing with windows 8 so far and hope to post again about a few tips and tricks I found as I’ve been working through things.

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