• Stuclark

    After the repeated failure of my QNAP NAS, I decided the time had come to start experimenting on how to build my own. In this, the first part of a series of articles, I'll go through hardware choice and show you how to get Windows installed and running FROM an SD card (something Microsoft say you can't do).

    I already have an HP Microserver G8 (GT-1610) running FreeNAS which works very well, but I wondered if there's anything in the Microsoft camp which could provide similar functionality.  With this in mind, I started off by buying another Microserver G8 as, even in their base specification, they provide a Celeron 2.3GHz processor, 4GB RAM, 4x 3.5in (non-hot swap) drive bays, internal USB and MicroSD card support, dual Ethernet plus iLO and a PCIe expansion port. This spec is good enough to run FreeNAS out the box, meaning I'd always have something to fall back on if my endeavours ultimately failed.
    The first decision was to get some more RAM - the G8 only has 2 DIMM slots so RAM needs (or at least should) be in matched pairs. For now mine is running 1x 8GB DIMM and 1x 4GB DIMM, giving an useable 12GB for the development work (the box will be upgraded to 16GB in the near future). Should the box end up running either Windows 10 or Server 2016 then i'll need a better processor than the Celeron it comes with, especially as it will get tasked with running my Emby media library as well, so a Xeon low power processor is on the cards, but only once the initial testing has been done.
    I should probably add that all this is going to be getting benchmarked against my existing FreeNAS setup, also running on a Microserver G8, and my existing Emby server, which is a MacMini with i7 and 32GB RAM, oh, and that's running Windows 10 of course.
    The first strugle with this plan is to get Windows installed on the MicroSD card that's sitting inside the G8. The reason for booting off a MicroSD card is twofold - 1) I've got a DVD-RW drive in the optical bay, so can't populate that space with internal SSDs; and 2) I already boot FreeNAS from the SDCard in my other G8, so if Windows is to win out in the new solution it has to do the same. It also keeps the OS and the disks which will make up the actual NAS element seperate, which is no bad thing. (infact, Windows does not allow a boot disk to be part of a Storage Spaces pool or cluster, so this is necessary to avoid loosing capacity)
    Microsoft *STILL* don't support booting Windows from any form of removable drive, unless you're opting to use Windows-to-go, which itself only works on USB pen-type drives (sticks) and not on SD cards. However, Windows runs absolutely fine from either SD or USB, so long as your machine's BIOS is able to address them as a boot device. To get round this, it is necessary to get a little bit inventive with Microsoft's imaging tools; which, when used in the right order, make this a simple, if time consuming job.
    First off (at least on the G8), make sure the SD card you'll be using as your ultimate boot device has not volumes on it; most cards ship pre-formatted these days, so use the Windows disk manager tool to delete any partitions showing on the card. Next, you'll need to have a bootable installation media for whatever version of Windows you choose (I picked Server 2016 over Windows 10, but both work in the same way) - I used Rufus to burn the Windows ISO onto an 8GB USB stick. Next, put the SD card and USB stick in the G8 and boot the machine. (you'll need to check that booting from USB is enabled in the BIOS if the machine is not set at its facrory defaults)
    Once the Windows installer boots, it will present you with a language, location & keyboard choice screen - leave all these as default as we're not going to be using the wizard to install Windows anyway. On the next screen, which is the "Install Now" screen, instead click on the text link marked "Repair your Computer" then click on the Troubleshooting and Command Prompt buttons on subsequent screens to get the installer to drop you into the Windows command line. It's here we'll actually do the work which will allow us to install Windows on the SD card.
    Next, we need to make a partition on the SD card using the command line DISKPART tool. To do this enter the following commands: (where the X below is the numerical value for the SD card (disk) in your system. Usually it will be 1 as Windows has booted from the USB disk 0)
    diskpart list disk select disk X clean create partition primary format quick fs=ntfs label="SD-Card" active At this point we need to assign a drive letter to the SD card, but becuase we're going to subsequently boot from this drive, it *has* to be drive letter C:. Unfortunately Windows has "stolen" C: for the USB drive we're currently booted from. To resolve this minor issue run these commands. (this is still within DISKPART, and you'll need to replace the values for X and Y with those shown in the list volume command. Usually volume 0 will be the volume from which Windows has booted, and so volume 1 will be the one on your SD card. This would mean X = 0 and Y = 1)
    list volume select volume X assign letter=D select volume Y assign letter=C exit Next, we need to apply the Windows install image to our newly created C: drive (SD card). Use the command below to do so. There's two versions of this code listed, depending on whether you're using a Server 2016 or Windows 10 boot image.
    WARNING: The dism command takes a looong time (30 - 40 minutes) to run.
    Windows Server 2016 version:
    dism /Apply-Image /ImageFile:D:\sources\install.wim /index:2 /ApplyDir:C:\ Windows 10 version:
    dism /Apply-Image /ImageFile:D:\sources\install.wim /index:1 /ApplyDir:C:\ Finally, once the DISM command has eventually finished (and you've drunk a lot of tea), the last step is to make the SD card bootable. Run these commands to do so, and once complete, feel free to reboot the computer. (remember to remove the USB stick when doing so)
    bootsect /nt60 C: /force /mbr bcdboot C:\Windows When the computer reboots, if you've got all the above correct, the machine will boot from the SD card and "Iinstall" Windows on to itself. In reality it is just going through the first run setup and "discovering devices" stages that we're used to seeing when installing Windows, but it will seem to take an age this time. Stick with it, and after a reboot or two, the system will eventually boot up with a fully installed copy of Windows, be it Windows 10 or Server 2016.
    Part 2 will cover the fun had in getting Storage Spaces to actually work on our newly installed machine... stay tuned!

  • Stuclark

    Breaking the once-weekly release cycle for the first time this year, Microsoft yesterday released into the wild Insider Preview build 15031.

    This build's headline new feature is the Compact Overlay Window - think of it as a picture-in-picture clone from your TV and you'll not be far wrong. It essentially allows app developers to write code that allows their apps to peak through another app's windows and appear on top (um, like that's been possible for years) - ah yes, but this new method allows that "peaked" window to take on a new compact design, only showing the contents (such as a video or TV stream) rather than all the fluff around the content.
    As always, the full release notes are available here for all to see, and they include a screenshot of what Compact Overlay Windows will allow (once every app under the sun has been re-coded to use the feature).
    As for user experience changes, I can't say I've noticed any yet, but if they crop up I'll add them to this post.

  • Stuclark

    Yesterday Microsoft released the first "bug bash build" of the upcoming Windows 10 Creator's Update (build 15025) to Windows Insiders.

    This build is the first in a series of builds which will be released, probably with increasing speed, in the build up to the next public release of Windows 10 - the Creator's Update (or Redstone 2 (rs2) release, as it's known internally).
    The release notes are available here and show that this build is not about adding new features, but is the first take on polishing the features already in the rs2 builds.
    An interesting issue with this build though is that it currently won't install on an x86 based computer; only the x64 version works. Microsoft's answer to this is to simply not release an x86 build at this stage, instead promising an x86 ISO later in the week.
     
    [more to follow]

  • Stuclark

    Today's Windows Insider build, 15019, promises to be quite a big one. As always, what are the new features we should care about this week?

    The biggest change this week is the inclusion of "Gaming Mode" for those people who are Windows and XBox Insiders. Microsoft have been blogging about this during the week, making it somewhat confusing to know what is and isn't in the Windows Insider build (and also mudying when the build was going to be released) for us "mere mortals"; but now it's here this is what we're being told from the build's release blog entry.
    First off, it seems that Gaming Mode has been made available to everyone, whether or not a member of the XBox Insider programme. I don't have many any games installed on my test devices, so can't comment on the functionality at the moment, but there's lots of options (mostly centred around sharing and recording game experiences) to try out.
    Also new is the renamed "Holographic Options", which is now called "Mixed Reality". Again, there's quite a few options within here, but no as-yet obvious method of adding a mixed reality device, although there is interestingly an option to completely uninstall the Mixed Reality options. (although, Microsoft have again said we shouldn't be seeing this menu option yet)

    Other new features and changes of note include:
    Wi-Fi Captive Portal: The Wi-Fi connectivity experience in OOBE has been updated to support “captive portal” Wi-Fi networks.  When connecting to such a Wi-Fi hotspot, OOBE will navigate to a lightweight browser experience allowing you to complete the connection and reach the internet.  We’ve also included some updates allowing you to configure some basic properties for the Wi-Fi network during OOBE.
    This might not seem like much; but if you've ever tried to work out the continual circle of not being able to activate a device because you can't sign in to a wireless network to get an internet connection to activate the device because the device isn't activated and so you can't open a web browser to complete the wireless network sign in because the device isn't actvated and so you can't open a web browser because you've not activated the device because you're not signed in to a wireless network because you can't open a web browser to sign in to the network because you can't open a web browser because the device isn't activated ... (you get the idea), then this really is a huge, huge deal!
    Improved high-DPI support for ITPros: With Build 15002, we shared our new option to override a GDI-based app’s high DPI scaling with our own System (Enhanced) scaling. With Build 15019, we’re happy to let you know that this System (Enhanced) application compatibility setting will now also available to be enabled or disabled via the Windows ADK for IT Professionals, so you can make adjustments to a broad audience of PCs.
    I mentioned this before in the 15007 article, sufice to say that while I haven't noticed any apreciable differences in 15019 (System (Enhanced) scaling still breaks Photoshop CS6), any advances in these settings are a good thing in my book.

  • Stuclark

    This week sees the release of build 15014 - what should we care about in this build?

    The most notable change is ironicly not available to everyone; only those with "select hardware". It is a GUI element which in future builds will allow you to tune your laptop / tablet's battery vs. performance settings in a slidebar, much as you can currently do for screen brightness.

    Other than that, and the usual raft of changes / new features for Edge [seriously, does anyone even use Edge], there's not an awful lot to report this week. The full release blog post is available here.

  • kradcliffe

    BT is hiking prices for broadband and some calls and is to begin charging TV customers £3.50 for BT Sport.

    BT is hiking prices for broadband and some calls and is to begin charging TV customers £3.50 for BT Sport.
    The company said copper broadband customers will see a £2-a-month increase from April 2, Infinity fibre broadband will go up by £2.50, representing typical increases of 5% or 6% across the bundle.
    BT TV customers will have to pay £3.50 a month for BT Sport from August 1, while customers who have BT Broadband and watch their Sky satellite service will see a £1.50 increase to £7.50 a month.
    Non-BT Broadband customers who watch BT Sport on their Sky box will see their monthly charge go up £1 to £22.99 a month.
    Anytime calling plans will go up by 49p to £8.99 a month and evening and weekend call plans will go up by 30p to £3.80.
    All call pence-per-minute rates are going up by 1p and the call set-up fee is going up 2p to 21p and individual calling features are going up by 25p, such as Call Minder which will increase from £4.25 to £4.50.
    BT said it would soon be announcing details for automatic compensation if it fails on service and was investing in UK call centres, nuisance calls protection and faster repairs by an average of 31 hours.
    It has also frozen prices for BT TV packages and the £18.99 cost for those who only take a phone line.
    BT Consumer chief executive John Petter said: “Customers will get a better package and improved service from us this year in exchange for paying a little more.
    “Millions will have the chance to upgrade to faster broadband and almost a million will be able to upgrade to enjoy unlimited usage for no extra cost.
    “As usual, we’ve taken care of low income customers by freezing the price of BT Basic and capping call costs. We’ve also frozen line rental, which will particularly help customers who only take a traditional phone service from us.”

  • Stuclark

    Microsoft have released Windows 10 Insider Preview build 15007, this build crucially fixes the most annoying bug in 15002, making Windows sensibly useable again.

    15002, the last released build, had a serious Explorer bug which prevented the Action Centre and Start Menu working properly, meaning you'd have to either restart explorer (or in some cases the entire PC) every few minutes. Build 15007 fixes that and is the build MS should have released instaed of 15002.
    (it's worth noting that MS initially said they wouldn't release 15002 due to "break" bugs, but were essentially forced to do so by insider pressure as there hadn't been a build for over 2 weeks due to Christmas.
    Another majorly important new feature (initially released in 15002) is a new method of display scaling for applications *cough Adobe Photoshop *cough* which haven't previously dealt well with high resolution displays under Windows.

    Amongst the raft of other new features, fixes and changes (available to read here) MS have also changed how Windows deals with memory managemet in the desktop version of HyperV, meaning more available memory will be used, or rather made available to virtual machines than in previous versions. This makes it far more feasible to run more than one or two virtual machines on a "normal" Windows 10 desktop without everything running out of memory. (Windows achieves this by reducing the amount of memory it marks as reserved for the host OS and applications)

  • normal

    Gibson continues to expand out of it's traditional guitar market. This time, they've tied up with Usain Bolt to launch the Trainer Ti100 earphones, which are sufficiently different to be worth a look at.

    The Trainer Ti100 earphones are aimed at sports people, weighing only 14g and offering 6.5 hours battery life, as well as freedom of movement through bluetooth. But not only that, but they also incorporate an interesting Aeroflex option will allows users to easily choose between in ear and more secure over ear usage. Not only that, but night runners are also covered too. With NightNav, the earphones illuminate small LEDs to make sure the runner is easily seen.
    On top of these already impressive features, the Ti100 also offers water / sweat resistance and also attractive and strong Zylon cables to extend it's lifetime.
    Available in white or black, it's available from John Lewis for £150 and is certainly worth a look for sports people.