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Windows 8.1 Upgrade Gone Awry Teaches Valuable Lesson

Having successfully upgraded a test machine to Windows 8.1 on Friday, I decided to do likewise to my son’s brand-new state-of-the-art Dell XPS 27 All-in-One which showed up at the house about three weeks ago. It is the only system at my disposal new enough to have come with Windows 8 already installed, and I wanted to see how the whole upgrade experience would go on that machine. Much to my later surprise, upon reflection as to why my attempts failed, initial screening of suitability (the compatibility check phase of the pre-install maneuvers now built into the Windows Installer) failed to determine that the Atheros/Qualcomm Killer-N 1202 wireless network interface built into that machine doesn’t work with Windows 8.1. I also experienced some interesting display and storage issues in trying to make the upgrade (and then a clean install) work, which resulted in two pretty major hurdles to the 8.1 install process:


The XPS 27 Haswell model is fast and surprisingly capable, but the Atheros Killer-N 1202 wireless adapter,
Intel HD 4600 display, and RST-based storage environment all impacted
(and ultimately foiled) my attempts at a Win8.1 upgrade — for now, anyway.

1. On the display side, something with the Intel HD 4600 graphics chip went wonky, which resulted in constant (and highly irritating) on-off behavior for the built-in 27″ display. I solved the irritation part by covering the display with a towel, and found that attaching an external monitor via the unit’s HDMI-Out port (a Dell 23″ monitor, as it turns out) worked just fine.
2. On the storage side, I had to load an AHCI driver from the Dell Driver disk that shipped with the unit, to permit the Windows 8 installer to see the primary hard disk (which depends on Intel RST to gang up the built-in 32 GB mSATA SSD and a conventional 2 TB HD to provide access to the built-in storage subsystem on the XPS 27 AIO)

After part-installing Windows 8.1 on the machine, I had a PC that would boot but with no network access capability, and seriously wonky display behavior, it turned out to be simply unnacceptable for everyday use. After spending three hours trying various repair methods (including routing a 100 ft Cat 5 cable from my downstairs network switch to the GbE interface on the back of the unit) I had to give up on installing Windows 8.1 on that machine. I was able to completely reformat the primary drive after supplying the right AHCI driver during the initial install process in performing a clean re-install of Windows 8.0, and by using the external monitor got past initial installation to the point where I could install the proper HD 4600 video driver to return the display to its usual, brilliant and rock-solid graphics performance.

After that, it was just a matter of applying updates to the base-level OS (around 60 of them altogether: 52 immediately following installation, and another 6-8 as various applications and services brought .NET and Silverlight into the runtime picture), addressing the out-of-date device drivers (more or less the same 19 I ran into on my Windows 8.1 upgrade from Friday on a different machine, interestingly enough), and re-installing my usual collection of tools and utilities (RecImg Manager, CCleaner, 7-Zip, WinDirStat, WSCC, and CPU-Z went on right away, and I’ll probably keep adding more in dribs and drabs over the next week or two, as I continue to work on that machine in my spare time).

And obviously, I’m going to keep my eyes on the XPS 27 support pages on the Dell site, so that when the driver issues get resolved, I can try the upgrade “once more, with feeling!”

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