Part of my job as a Windows Insider MVP means working with — and on — Insider Preview releases. Last Wednesday (July 31) the Insider Team dropped its latest Fast Ring + Skip Ahead release (20H1: Build 18950). I run that software on three machines here at my office. One runs on a Dell XPS 2720 (Haswell i7-4770S CPU), another on a Lenovo X220 Tablet (Sandy Bridge i7-2640 M CPU), and the last one on a home-built desktop (Haswell i7-4770K). So far, I’ve upgraded 2 of those 3 machines completely. Things could have gone more smoothly, though. There’s been a bit of the old “two steps forward, and one step back” along the way. Hence, the description as Insider Preview 20H1 upgrade follies. Let me explain further . . .
The top lines from the MS Flight Hub list show that 18950 joined the Fast Build Ranks on 7/31/2019.
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About Those Insider Preview 20H1 Upgrade Follies
It’s traditional for Insiders to whine, moan, fret and complain about unexpected and untoward things they experience during a Preview’s many and frequent upgrade installs. I hope my tone here isn’t that strident or negative. But I will be observing some surprises that have bitten me, sometimes in tender places, during this latest upgrade round. Some of the usual litany for upgrades include:
- lengthy download times (this one wasn’t too bad: under 5 minutes);
- long install times (none of the three completed in under an hour; one took over 2 hours); and
- strange behaviors during and after the upgrade process.
This latter topic describes most of what I’m writing about today, in fact. You can also glean a lot useful information about this release from the forum members’ comments among the 179 comments currently posted at TenForum’s 18950 announcement thread. So far, I haven’t experienced some of what others are reporting, but everything I report here is also covered there, too.
When the Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro
Older readers (including your humble correspondent) will recognize this heading as a quote from the Father of Gonzo Journalism, Hunter S. Thompson. And indeed, a strong element of this attitude is necessary for those who deliberately tackle beta software as complex as Windows 10. I can’t say I enjoy being bewitched, bothered, and bewildered by the doings of this sometimes tempestuous and capricious operating system. But I can say, I’ve gotten used to it, and have learned to cope with or work around many of its vexations.
First things first: if you’re going to install Insider Previews on PCs to see what happens, be prepared for the worst. I use Macrium Reflect as my backup tool, and I have Rescue Media for all of my Insider Preview test machines. I always have a reasonably current backup of those machines, and the Rescue Media handy, should an upgrade result in an inoperative or overly hinky system. That hasn’t happened to me with 18950, but I was certainly thinking about booting to the Rescue Media and restoring a backup once or twice along the path I’m about to describe.
Weird Thing #1: Looping/Cycling Install Progress
To my way of thinking, the Windows 10 install process falls into two major parts. One, there’s a GUI install piece, which describes the part happens before the first reboot. Actually, this is the part of the upgrade/install process where the old/previous OS is running the Windows installer. It’s handling the “getting ready,” “downloading,” and “installing” activities that Windows Update reports while they’re underway. Sometimes what TenForums members call “cycling” occurs during the GUI portion of the install. Often, the path from these three activities occurs in the order just described: Getting Ready → Downloading → Installing. Cycling occurs when the process goes back to Getting Ready after showing Downloading or Installing. This happened with 18950 on two of my three test machines.
Two, there’s the post-GUI install when the kernel of the new OS takes over and you see a solid-blue screen. It reads “Working on updates,” and shows a percentage of completion. The same screen also quite correctly says “This could take a while.” It usually does.
For all three of my 18950 test machines, the completion percentages bounced around while post-GUI install was underway. A typical sequence is to see a reboot at around 30% complete, another reboot at 64% complete, and another reboot in the 80s (either 82 or 84% on my test machines). This time, things got whacky in the 40-80% range. My X220 Tablet rebooted three times at 72%, 74% and 80%, then showed 64% complete after the last of those three reboots. Decidedly weird!
All three test machines got entirely through the upgrade process and booted into 18950. But the i7-4700K desktop immediately showed alarming symptoms, which led me to restore the previous version. The Settings path for this goes: Settings → Update & Security → Recovery → “Go back to the previous version of Windows 10.” Therein also likes the “next weirdness” about 18950: networking oddities. I am, however, happy to report that my second upgrade attempt completed successfully.
Weird Thing #2: Wireless Networking Shenanigans
The desktop includes an ASUS 802.11 AC-56 PCIe (x1) wireless adapter that I installed in that machine. It’s right above the Spectrum WiFi WAP in our master bedroom closet, in my son’s bedroom. It gets great bandwidth, up to 400-450 Mbps when the LAN is otherwise quiet. But after the 18950 upgrade, the NIC wasn’t working. A quick trip into Device Manager explained “A driver for this device is not installed.” Also, for some reason, Airplane mode was turned on for this PC. I wrassled around with the driver just long enough to understand that something odd was up with this particular Win10 install. Not only was I unable to install the driver, but the machine was running incredibly slowly and fitfully. That’s what decided me to roll back to 18941 (the previous build on that PC) and try again.
Initially, I wrote this off to issues with the specific WiFi NIC on that PC. Then as I was writing this piece, I fired up the X220 Tablet after the GUI install phase had completed, to restart the PC and let phase 2 get underway. I immediately noticed that it, too, had Airplane mode turned on. (Easily turned off through the notification panel.) It also showed the Network Globe icon in the notifications instead of the more typical WiFi symbol. (This also reappeared when Airplane mode was turned off.) Fortunately, this machine had no other networking issues with the upgrade, either during or afterward. I didn’t get that on the Dell XPS 2720 but then, it’s connected via GbE wired Ethernet, not WiFi.
All’s Well That Ends Well
Some Win10 Insider Preview releases are better than others. This one took me about two hours longer to transit than a problem-free upgrade does. But I keep watching what’s going on, and learning what I can along the way. That’s what beta-testing a big, hairy, complex piece of software like Windows 10 is like. Mostly, I enjoy it.