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Restoring Surface Pro 3 Poses Interesting Challenges

In the wake of last week’s firmware updates for the Surface Pro 3, released outside the usual “Update/Patch Tuesday” timeframe, I decided to upgrade the drivers on that machine as well. I shouldn’t have: one of the RealTek drivers I updated (for either RealTek Audio or the unit’s built-in card reader, which handles the microSDXC card I used to extend storage) is apparently hooking pages it won’t release upon shut down. This provokes the “PROCESS_HAS_LOCKED_PAGES” error, and prevents the machine from shutting down properly (error code 0x00000076), and generally describes one of the symptoms of an ill-behaved or improper driver for the hardware it’s running on. Initially, I thought it was the Intel HD 5000 graphics driver, because discussion of the error message online pointed rather firmly in this direction. In fact, Action Center kept reporting an issue with the video driver, even though I had uninstalled the newer version and replaced it using the “Update driver” option on the device’s properties page in Device Manager.

When it’s good it’s very, very good, but when drivers go bad, it’s horrid!

“Fine,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just roll back to an earlier system image or restore point.” Sounds easy, but turns out to be harder than I expected it to be. The issue with a shut down problem quickly led me to understand that I couldn’t use a restore point from inside the OS (it still has to be able to shut down and restart properly for the restore point process to complete successfully, and thus also, deliver the desired outcome — namely a bootable functioning system with the older drivers in place). That’s why I found myself booting from a Windows 8.1 install UFD, and invoking the repair option after getting the installer up and running. Clicking through “Troubleshoot,” “Advanced Options,” and “System Restore” menu options, I was able to select an old enough restore point to precede the day my troubles started and believed I’d be able to resume operation with a known working set of drivers. But alas, Restore reported it was unable to access a file and was therefore unable to restore to the earlier state of things, observing that my anti-virus software might be causing the problem. Of course, this was an installer driven restore attempt, so there was no AV software in the picture. Very interesting!

As it happens, and much to my delight, Paul Thurrott released an article just yesterday (3/29/15) entitled “Tip: Be Prepared to Recover your Surface Pro 3 No Matter What Happens.” It describes where to find the files for a Surface Pro 3 (abbreviated SP3 from here on out for brevity) to creater what he calls an “uber recovery drive,” which requires a 16 GB flash drive (I dedicated a USB 3 Patriot TAB model I had laying around for this purpose). It also describes using the Windows 8.1 built-in “Create a recovery drive” to copy the contents of the recovery partition on the SP3 to a second and separate UFD, which need only be 8 GB in size as well.

Now realizing that I needed to rebuild the OS on the SP3, I decided to first try the factory refresh approach from inside the OS, after creating both of the UFD prescribed in Mr. Thurrott’s article. As I had feared, the results were that as soon as refresh sought to restart, the shut down error preventing the process from proceeding any further. The SP3 refused to start up from the uber recovery UFD, so I used Rufus and the Windows 8.1 with Update ISO to create an install UFD, and was able to get into the Reset Your PC mode where it stayed at 3% complete long enough for me to fear further difficulties. But then it advanced to 5%, 6%, onward and upward until the process completed successfully. Then, all I had to do was re-install all of my applications (which gives me a chance to check out Ninite, as I’ve wanted to for a while), after catching up on updates, to get back to where I started.

The moral of the story is: when it comes to the Surface models, stick to the drivers from Windows Update only. My urge to experiment really got the better of my caution and system savvy this time. I don’t intend to this again any time soon!