My Windows 8 Upgrade Fiasco: Part 3

This article is the third and final piece of my Windows 8 upgrade fiasco. You may want to read part 1 and part 2 first.

PART 3

After 23 days in waiting, I finally received my Windows 8 Pro install disc in the mail this past weekend. Actually, the package contained two discs, one DVD for 32-bit and another for 64-bit. I created a new 80 GB partition on my computer and installed Win8 64-bit. It installed in very little time, only taking about 10-15 minutes for the whole thing. That part was easy. I went about the business of getting it updated and activated before I attempted to install Battlefield 3.

Windows Update ran and found 22 important updates, totaling 324 MB. After it attempted to install those, it said that the updates failed and it rebooted and reverted the system changes. I cringed. I don’t know what that was about. After that snafu, I went to Windows Update in the control panel and manually selected various updates in small chunks. All of them installed without issue. Odd.

I then tried activating Windows with my product number and it wouldn’t let me. I was not surprised by this. I had read online that activation only works when you are upgrading in place, not creating a clean install. That is ridiculous and all part of Microsoft’s annoying upgrade pricing, but this is well documented. I soon discovered that I could change a small value in the system registry and it would activate. It did. Whew. You can find a link to those instructions here.

My Windows 8 install experience was fine, barring the complications I just mentioned. I have not experienced any system crash like I did when I installed my last copy. This time, I immediately installed the Apple Boot Camp driver package to avoid any driver-related failures. (More on those lackluster drivers later.)

Now I come to the rough part — I installed Battlefield. After two install DVDs and a long time later, the game was on my system. The game had a slew of updates that were required after install. The download package was a whopping 7 GB. That took a while. After it installed all of the updates, it then wanted to download the expansion packs that have come since the original game was released. Those expansion packs contain a lot of map data. They totaled another 7 GB that I had to download. Again, that took a while. All in all, I had to download over 14 GB of data to have a complete install of this game.

Battlefield was able to run, but when it reached the game deployment screen, it gave me a nasty message about my graphics driver not being current enough. I wasn’t able to proceed. I could see the game menu but my mouse and keyboard could do nothing to make it go. I fiddled with this for quite a long time.

I set out to get new drivers for my graphics card. My computer is an iMac and the card is an AMD Radeon HD 6750. (AMD bought ATI a while back.) Apple provides drivers for the hardware on Windows via it’s Boot Camp software. That is all good and well, but the latest version of it doesn’t support Windows 8. It uses Win7 drivers for everything, which seem to work fine (at least on the surface.) I had no issues with the graphics display in Windows itself, but Battlefield wouldn’t tolerate it.

Here comes the rub, and the bulk of my problems. I went to AMD’s website and tried to download drivers that should work. They didn’t. I think Apple has done something to the hardware to mask it somehow. The AMD detection software (running on Windows) was not able to determine my graphics card. Hence, it wouldn’t provide me with a driver. The best I could do was use a Microsoft driver for my card that was as current as June 2012. That’s nice, but Battlefield still said it wasn’t good enough. I then found a way to download AMD drivers for my card elsewhere on the web. But when I went to update the driver in the system device manager, Windows reported it was not compatible with Windows 8 and it aborted every time. After countless hours of wrangling, I gave up and threw in the towel. I’d had enough!

I went for a long bike ride. After several hours away from my problem, I sat back down and tinkered with it again. I ended up reading user forums online for an hour and a half on issues similar to what I was experiencing. I found a guy who had the exact same problem with the same computer as mine. Someone had provided him with a link to the specific AMD driver that was needed to make it work. I tried it myself and lo and behold, it worked. It freakin’ worked! Windows 8 accepted it as valid, as did Battlefield.

The number of hoops I’ve had to jump through to play this game is absurd. I would never have done this from the start if I had known what I was in for. I’m almost tempted to advise everyone that if you want a hassle-free gaming experience, stick with Playstation and XBOX. PC gaming isn’t for the faint of heart.

My biggest concern about running Battlefield on Win8 is that I’ve read mixed reviews on the gaming performance. People have reported lagging and memory leaks. Fortunately, I have not experienced any of those problems. I’ve played the game twice on Win8 and it seems to perform better than it did on Win7. That is probably due largely in part that it is able to make use of my full amount of installed RAM. At any rate, I can say that in my usage, game performance has not been a problem. It’s a miracle.

As for my early reaction to Windows 8 itself, I’ll say that it is pretty nice. The interface is something I could get used to in time. I’m only going to use it for games, so I’m not installing any programs on it, not even Dropbox or an anti-virus. It is strictly for games and I want it to run at maximum speed. Having said that, I couldn’t help but feel compelled to delve into the tiled Start screen and customize things. It has potential. I’ve only had it for a few days so I’m not going to write any more about the operating system itself until I’ve had some time to experiment with it more.

I want to give a plug to Paul Thurrott’s website called WinSuperSite.com. He really knows his stuff. He also hosts a weekly podcast called Windows Weekly on Leo Laporte’s TWiT network. Everything you need to know about upgrading and installing Windows can be found on Paul’s site. I only wish I had read it before I started this whole process. It would have saved me a lot of pain and hassle.

My Windows 8 Upgrade Fiasco: Part 2

PART 2

It has been 12 days since I wrote part 1.

I am so angry! I still have not received the Windows disc in the mail that I was promised, but they charged me shipping for it.

It has been almost two weeks since I communicated with the support rep. Tonight I started another online chat to chew them out, and guess what. I found out that they haven’t even mailed it! Its status is listed as “under review.” I bitched at the support tech. He said that since Windows 8 is so new, it is taking longer than normal to get the discs in the mail. I am pissed. I told him that if my disc isn’t put in the mail I will call them back and demand a refund. I was not nice to him. I have had it with this.

So far this whole debacle has been a waste of time, money, and effort.

My Windows 8 Upgrade Fiasco: Part 1

Preface: I wrote the bulk of this text nearly two weeks ago. I was going to wait and publish a single large post about the entirety of my experience, but I am still unhappy. I’ve decided to post what I have so far, and call it “Part 1.”

PART 1

Backstory:

I have a desktop iMac computer, 2011 model. I have been dual-booting into Windows so I can play PC games (mainly Battlefield 3). Windows XP doesn’t have drivers for my Mac hardware, so Windows 7 or higher is required to dual-boot via BootCamp. My copy of Win7 is a paltry 32-bit, so it can only see 2 GB of my 12 GB of installed RAM. How Battlefield even runs on 2 GB of memory is a mystery to me. It has to be maxed out.

Through the end of January, Microsoft was offering Windows 8 Pro for only $39. I decided to jump on it and I bought it. I figured I owed them that much for using borrowed copies of Windows in years past. Plus, I need a 64-bit Windows OS to power my gaming needs. I didn’t particularly want Windows 8, but the sale offered a cheap long-term solution and I bought it.

Issue:

Here’s the rub. In order to purchase and download Windows 8, you must first run an upgrade advisor program on a Windows machine. I did that from my Win7 OS and purchased the program via download.

I then erased my Windows partition and created a new, larger one from scratch. I completed the OS installation, only to find out afterward that my shiny new Windows 8 is also 32-bit. I was furious.

I began to read up on the matter and it turns out that you aren’t allowed to upgrade to 64-bit if you run 32-bit currently. It’s not allowed under “upgrade” pricing. At no point was I told this or warned what I was actually buying. I felt like I was ripped off.

On top of that alarming discovery, while I was setting up Windows 8 and tinkering with settings, the entire OS crashed on me and required a hard restart. I fumed.

I began an online chat with Microsoft live support and asked for a refund. To fulfill that request, I was told that I had to call Microsoft support on the phone. I called them and was on hold for about 10 minutes. I spoke to a rather pleasant woman and I explained everything to her and that the product I paid for is worthless to me and that I don’t want it. She asked if she could put me on hold for a few minutes while she worked out a solution to try keep me as a customer.

She came back on the line and told me that if would satisfy me, Microsoft will mail me a physical DVD with 64-bit Windows 8 Pro to my house. I had not expected the offer and I accepted. I had to pay shipping on the disc.

I went on to tell the support rep that Windows 8 should never have been made as a 32-bit OS to begin with, and that these days 32-bit OSes are finished. She replied, “I see.” Well, what could she say, it really isn’t her problem. I just wanted to vent. I did ask her if they’d received a lot of support calls over this upgrade matter. She chuckled and said they had.

I’m not yet jumping for joy over this. I’m still curious how this is going to perform and whether Battlefield will play nicely in Windows 8 (online performance reports differ.)

As for the unexpected Windows crash: In hindsight, I think the system crash was driver related. I had not installed the Apple driver package for Windows that puts all the correct drivers in place for the system. Out of the box, Windows liked my Logitech mouse, MS keyboard, HP printer, and D-Link USB hub, but it scoffed at some of my computer internals such as the Bluetooth receiver, iSight webcam, and others. Once I installed the Apple-issued Windows driver package for the hardware, it appeared to function correctly. Truth be told, I’d be hard pressed to tell you what components are powering this machine.

We shall see what comes once I get the DVD, which should take 3-5 days shipping. Ugg! Then I have to delete my Win partition and start all over again from scratch. What a headache.

All of this to play a damn game. In the end, it had better be worth it.

Windows 8 Evaluation

An idea struck me last night. I’ve long been dual-booting my Mac to Windows 7 so I can play Battlefield. The problem is that my Win7 copy is 32-bit, so it can’t utilize all of my RAM. I need a 64-bit OS. Win7 would be preferred, but I’m not going to pay full price for it just to play games.

Through the end of the month, Microsoft is selling Windows 8 Pro for $40 (I guess to convince people to buy it.) I was thinking I could perhaps get that and use it. My Windows partition is maxed out right now anyway, so I could bear blowing it away and starting over.

Unfortunately, I’ve read lots of reports of Battlefield not working right under Win8. People have reported memory leaks and game stuttering. I’ll have to hold off if that’s the case. I haven’t seen any official response from EA about it. I don’t know why they haven’t released an update for these issues.

Anyway, it turns out that MS lets you download Win8 freely as a 90-day trial. I found that link here. I downloaded it this morning and installed it as a virtual machine in VirtualBox, just to play around with it. That isn’t going to let me run Battlefield, of course, but I thought I’d tinker around with the OS and see what’s up. I only allocated 3 GB of memory to the virtual machine, as you can see in the screenshot.

So far I’m not sure what I think of the whole tiled Start screen side of the system. Perhaps once I customize the tiles more it will grow on me. Still, I’d prefer the OS to boot straight to the desktop.

Windows 8 Desktop

Plants vs. Zombies

I recently heard about the insanely fun game Plants vs. Zombies, from PopCap games. I downloaded the trial, and loved it. It’s available for Mac and PC, and I’ve played it on both systems. Your goal is to squash an oncoming zombie raid using a barrage of plants and other clever weapons. This game has proven to be very addictive. Try it!

Plants vs. Zombies

Six Editions of Windows 7?

It has been announced this week that the upcoming Windows 7 release will come in six different versions! I find this to be utterly ridiculous.

Back in the 1990s, I always lamented the dual Windows offerings, which at the time were Windows 95/98 for home users and Windows NT/2000 for business users. Later, when Windows XP was released, it still had two flavors, with Home and Professional editions available. I was at least pleased that both of them fell under the umbrella of a single product, XP. Fast-forward many more years, and Windows Vista came in four versions: Basic, Home Premium, Business, and Ultimate. I think this confusing lineup has been partly to blame for Vista’s slow acceptance, though that is only one small aspect of what people have not liked about Vista.

Microsoft has apparently not learned any lessons from their past decisions, and seem content to confuse their customers all the more. They are charging forward with six editions of Windows 7. Really? This is completely asinine to say the least. Upgrading from any of the four different Vista releases to any one of the six new Windows 7 releases is sure to be a complete nightmare. I am really fed up with the state of Windows today. I believe that at this point, adding even more editions of Windows to the already absurd lineup is a monumental mistake. It gives the public a perception that the new Windows is going to be even more bloated and confusing than the last one.

In 2006, I bailed on the Windows world and became an overnight Mac user. As such, I can confidently say that I use the one and only Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system. Every other Mac user has the same installation and feature set that I have on my Mac. As Steve Jobs once said, mocking Microsoft, “Everybody gets the ‘Ultimate’ edition.” Microsoft should do likewise, with one single Windows 7 product to debut on the market. Then again, I suppose that would be too easy on the end user, which is something that Microsoft has not shown much interest in over the years.

TrueCrypt File Encryption

I’ve often wondered how to go about encrypting a particular file or folder on my computer, but always figured the process to be so daunting as to not bother to ever try. A recent article on the subject in my PC World magazine has shed some light on the matter. I’m going to fill you in on my experience that I’ve gained thus far. Keep in mind that I am not attempting to encrypt the contents of an entire drive, and I am not encrypting data on removable storage devices. I can’t speak to those scenarios in any way at this time.

I reviewed three possibilities for my approach. First, I’m a Mac user and looked into the FileVault encryption that is built into OS X. That solution is very easy, but it wants to encrypt my whole account user folder. In that scenario, logging into the OS decrypts all of the data. I worry that may slow down my computer, and that isn’t what I was going for in the first place.

Second, I researched the popular PGP encryption solutions. Their products all appear to go above and beyond my needs. PGP adds email and instant message encryption to their desktop offering. I don’t need any of that, and PGP’s products are all pretty costly for my taste, ringing in at $99. I’ve heard good things about PGP overall, but I am not looking to spend that kind of money on my project.

Third, and my favorite solution, is a free open-source application called TrueCrypt. TrueCrypt is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux! It’s free and easy to use. You create an encrypted volume that is stored as a single file on your computer. That file can have any file extension you want, or none at all. You can hide it anywhere you like, and the program won’t memorize locations if you ask it not to. Opening the contents of your volume is achieved by mounting the volume, which allows you to use it with a drive letter of its own. Dismounting the volume encrypts all of the data again. I’ve had a wonderful experience using this program. One downside for me is that I wish the program was faster at dismounting my volume, though speed will most certainly vary depending on your system. On my Windows PC, dismounting was nearly instant.

TrueCrypt was definitely the way to go for my needs. The program can also encrypt an entire drive as well. It does exactly what I want it to, with ease. It’s fast, secure, and completely free!

Free Disc Burning with CDBurnerXP

If you like to burn CDs and DVDs, but are sick and tired of the expensive, incredibly bloated offerings from Nero and EasyCD Creator, I have a solution. CDBurnerXP is a free disc burning utility for Windows that will do everything you need, completely free of charge. It’s both lean and powerful, supporting double-layer DVDs, ISO files, and even Blu-Ray disc burning! The Microsoft .NET Framework must be installed to use CDBurnerXP. Download the .NET Framework from Microsoft. One use and you’ll probably not want to look back to the $100 offerings of the competition.