Windows 10 Readiness: issues and upgrades

Ed-Aldrich-MVP-Monday-Windows

One of the perks of working for a technology company like 1E is having a lot of really smart co-workers. Like engineers of all persuasions everywhere, they do not like having a problem without an answer. They dig and dig until the truth is revealed!

Occasionally, however, the answer evades them despite their best effort. Here at 1E, this will occasionally prompt an internal email thread on the topic to our TECHIES alias where all sorts of interesting discussion can then ensue.

I recently saw one such conversation appear from one of our engineers in London. Andy Mayo uncovered this very interesting scenario while playing around with Windows 10 installations. I’ve recapped his thread (with permission, of course!), including some added details on the subject relating to Direct Access issues from one of our Expert Services engineers, Jim Bezdan. Now, a disclaimer right up front: at the end of this post, there is not an answer! Andy is like a dog on a bone, and still chipping away at this issue. I share this now with the aim of informing and educating others who may be seeing a similar problem and still scratching their head over the WHY. This will at least confirm that you’re not losing your mind, and give you some direction on where to look.

So here’s Andy:

“Here’s something I think we need to think about with respect to Win10 readiness, based on my own experience upgrading: Ever since upgrading a laptop to Win10, I have suffered from intermittent network issues, despite tearing down and rebuilding the network stack (i.e. following the procedure detailed here).

The other day I did a bit more digging into the issue and noticed that ping times to and from the laptop were excessive, on the order of 100-200ms and sometimes much higher, even to the local router or other machines on the network. They behaved in a peculiar way: ping times would often start fairly low (5ms) while each successive ping would take longer and longer and then the process would repeat itself. At other times the behavior was more chaotic with no obvious pattern.

Changing the driver settings (e.g. to disable 802.11a, change channel and roaming preferences, etc.) had no effect. I noted that the other Win10 machine on the network, a Surface 3 Pro, didn’t appear to have the same problem. Further, a Raspberry Pi Zero W on the network recorded consistent ping times to the router on the order of 1-2ms. It also reported slow ping times to the laptop. This pretty much isolated the problem to that device, as expected. In other words, the issue is clearly a driver problem and in no way appears to be related to the hardware itself as it worked flawlessly under Win7 for a very long time.

By using the Pi as an access point, it was possible to see exactly the same problem, which eliminated the router and the rest of the network from contention as now we had a point-to-point connection from the laptop to the Pi access point (As an aside, these devices are insanely useful for network diagnostics! That process may result in a future blog on how to do so).

Some Googling revealed that many others have suffered this same problem, including those using a Surface Pro 3.  Unfortunately, the issue with Broadcom is that, unlike some other network vendors, they don’t appear to provide chip-level drivers directly. Instead, you’re stuck with whatever your PC vendor decided to give you. Since, in this case, Acer (my laptop vendor) called it quits on support beyond Windows 8 for the laptop in question, this means that driver upgrades are not an option. Thus far there seems to be no clear resolution or alternative driver sourcing directly from Microsoft either.

A quick rummage around the junk drawer turned up an ancient Netgear USB Wi-Fi adaptor. I suspect that it must be many years old (WG111v3, I think). Officially there’s no Win10 support for it, but it turns out the driver will work fine if you just copy it over and use device manager to associate it with the device. Enabling that old device in place of the on-board Wi-Fi resulted in ping times to the device dropping to around 1ms consistently. Furthermore, the constant network dropouts and disconnects also present previously seem to have stopped, though it’s still early days.

Now, the reason I mention this is that the problem seems to be so widespread that it raises significant doubts about the wisdom of upgrading laptops to Win10 without giving careful consideration to both the network adapter(s) (there have been serious problems both the wired and wireless networking devices) and whether or not the laptop vendor provides support for Win10. It doesn’t necessarily matter so much if the network vendor supplies their own drivers – but, as you can see here, that’s not always the case, as in this scenario Broadcom does not, while Atheros and others do.

If we are assessing estates for Win 10 readiness I would hope that we would take into account, for portable devices, the vendor support situation for that device (which would require some kind of database or other Catalog of devices, unfortunately). As it stands today, it’s clear that any hardware that is more than 2-3 years old with certain chipsets may experience serious networking issues after upgrading similar to mine. The thing is, that with CPUs not really having moved forward dramatically in performance for a few years, these “older” devices are not obsolete by any means. For example, the Acer laptop I upgraded has a core-i7 processor and Kepler GeForce graphics, along with 8G RAM. It is a quite capable machine.

As a start, if your laptop has a Broadcom Wi-Fi adapter and the laptop vendor doesn’t officially support Win10 on the device, that’s a red flag. What’s annoying here is that undoubtedly this behavior is some interaction between Win10 and the driver due to changes in the network stack that Microsoft and Broadcom are likely well aware of. As a result, customers are just left twisting in the wind as a result of both parties effectively washing their hands of responsibility. Fortunately, a low-cost external adaptor (like the old Netgear I used) will generally resolve the problem, but this isn’t really ideal.

As an aside on an unrelated upgrade exercise to replace the internal 1T HDD with a Samsung 850 EVO drive, this process went flawlessly using Macrium Reflect. It took 5 hours to clone all partitions, after which you simply swap the drive out. The only glitch was that the recovery partition got copied, but was subsequently visible on the cloned SSD, and couldn’t be hidden or have its drive letter changed, no matter what I did with partition types. Eventually, I backed it up and deleted it. The SSD obviously has a dramatic effect on boot times and overall performance, albeit at a wallet-lightening cost!

I do intend to try and find the actual root cause – it doesn’t seem to me acceptable just to say “Oh the driver’s junk” because it wasn’t under Win7, where it worked just fine. Win10 is clearly asking different questions and provoking some kind of behavior that causes these issues.”

As an added bonus to the reader, here is a separate tidbit around network devices causing Direct Access issues in the Win 10 space from my colleague, Jim Bezdan, that came into Andy’s thread above.

“When 1E was deploying the Dell 6430 laptops internally back in 2012, we were also having a lot of issues with Direct Access (DA).  When I started a customer project, the CfgMgr admin, who had recently been a PFE for Microsoft before joining this company, saw that I was having some issues and asked what they were.  As soon as I said that DA wasn’t connecting, he asked if I had a Broadcom chipset.  It was a Dell device and used Broadcom at the time.  He said that was the issue and recommended getting the Intel internal one or anything else but a Broadcom.  He couldn’t explain why at the time other than internally his group at Microsoft were told the Broadcom chipsets would cause issues with DA.  I went out that night, bought this $15 Netgear USB adapter and rarely had a DA issue again except when there were problems on the back end.  I also had much better signal and range.”

I trust some of you may find this useful reading as you dive into your Win10 readiness planning and testing. Rest assured that I will follow on with any more concrete details on this that Andy may come up with once he emerges from his Bat Cave with a satisfied smile on his face!

 

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