Monday, September 05, 2016

Valca Windows KeyFinder Utilities

Last night I was culling my collection of Windows key-finding utilities.  There were some that had gone “404” and others that didn’t seem stable (or effectively work at all) on newer Windows 7/10 systems.

Many were collected back in the days of Windows XP so I decided to pick through them and dump the oldest ones and add some new ones.

This morning I saw that the TinyApps.org bloggist was hard at work on his own list!

Possibly we are being confronted with similar troublehsooting and service issues?

Here is my list and there are some similarities (as presented in semi-alphabetical order).

Some of these recover more than just the Windows OS key.

Some have not been updated in a while and may not work effectively on Win 7/8/8.1/10.

Then there is there is the manual method using CMD or PowerShell for most Win 10 / 8 / 8.1 systems.

I tend to prefer ProduKey, ShowKeyPlus, and Windows OEM Product Key Tool as my primary tools.

Cheers,

Claus Valca

Lenovo Y50 Hard Drive Replacement and Windows 10

About a month ago I was asked by a family at the church-house if I could give them some advice about their son’s two-year-old Lenovo Y50 laptop.

Apparently the hard-drive had failed and time was short before he headed off to college out of state.

They had purchased a new 1 TB Western Digital laptop drive similar to the one in it but despite good effort had been unable to get Windows 10 reloaded on the device. They suspected more was wrong with the system and wanted to confirm before picking up a new laptop before he shipped out.  Basically, they said the BIOS detected the HDD but they could not get Windows 10 reloaded on the laptop.

I asked them to let me look at the system along with the bits and pieces and then I would let them know.

So, armed with my various troubleshooting tool kits and USB sticks I sat down in our sound-booth with it and ran a quick assessment.

I’m more of a Dell-guy and hadn’t had much experience with the Lenovo line. As such, getting into the BIOS took a bit of research.

The trick was something called the “NOVO” button.

I booted into the BIOS (on the Y50 using the NOVO button to the immediate left of the power button) and checked a few things.

I was able to confirm the BIOS was picking up the new HDD. 

I look under the boot tab options and saw that it was set to EUFI.

I changed it temporarily to “Legacy” and saved. I needed it that way for the next step to work more smoothly in my troubleshooting assessment. 

I attached one of my custom USB sticks that I can use to boot a system and load/run an OS (Windows/Linux/Whatever) directly from the USB stick and not off the local HDD. 

I then hit the NOVO button again and selected to boot from my USB stick. That allowed me to load a WinPE build and run some commands to…

  1. confirm that I could see the new HDD,
  2. confirm that it was a 1 TB drive,
  3. rebuild the drive partition configuration (MBR type) and make it bootable, and then
  4. formatted it as NTFS using DiskPart from a command prompt window.

        1. Diskpart
        2. > select disk 0
        3. > clean
        4. > create partition primary
        5. > active
        6. > assign letter = C
        7. > exit

Followed up by a final

format C: /fs:ntfs /q /y

It worked perfectly. That confirmed the laptop recognized the drive while running under a Windows OS and it was working as expected. Now I needed to get the Win 10 OS loaded on the hard drive.

I shut it down and rebooted it again with the NOVO button. I went back in to the boot options tab and set it back to UEFI, saved the changes and rebooted. 

This time I had swapped USB sticks and now used a Windows 10 Installation Media USB that I had previously built when I was working on my own laptops a while back.

The Win 10 lnstaller loaded and the setup wizard started.

Only I had forgotten that the HDD was still configured as MBR with my pre-testing. 

Win 10 and UEFI BIOS support enabled didn’t like each other and the wizard refused to continue with the installation. So at that point in the installation options I had to just delete the MBR partition I had made so Win 10 could automagically create the partition again as a GPT type which it required. 

It did and then the rest was just watching Win 10 install, reboot a few times, creating a local user account, and dumping on the OS updates. 

Because it had Win 10 on before, it automatically loaded the license key from BIOS storage and activated Win 10 once fully installed and after I connected it to the Internet. 

Done. The Y50 was a sharp looking (and running) laptop and I was impressed during my short service time with it.

Note: I had planned on looking at the failed hard-drive to see if any data could be recovered and ported back over onto the new drive, but they said that wasn’t needed and would just go with a fresh-start. I left it to them to follow up with any remaining software application reinstalls as well.

I didn’t kick off the new Win 10 "Anniversary Edition" build update release since this was to be just a short “assessment” service but told them that it should eventually auto update in a week or so. I also let them know they could force it on early by heading over to this Microsoft site page and following the instructions. 

And I advised them to keep these link handy as well. 

                The family didn’t have to shell out for a new laptop and all was well.

                Cheers.

                Claus Valca

                 

                Additional reference notes:

                Saturday, June 25, 2016

                A Perfect Father’s Day – 2016 edition

                This past Father’s Day, dear little Alvis and her husband invited me over to their place for some hang-out time.

                We watched some great Copa América soccer matches.

                We wrestled with their “schnoodle” (schnauzer poodle mix) Molly.

                We ate spicy chicken and I wolfed down red-beans and rice.

                We laughed and then hunkered down when a ferocious storm blew through dumping rain by the bucketfuls, tossing lighting, drumming up thunder. And killing the power for about 30 minutes.

                It was perfect!

                Along the way I couldn’t help but be a dad and do some fixing of Alvis’s laptop.

                See about a week or two prior, her husband had been using it when suddenly it died right in the middle of some work.

                Alvis tried some pretty good troubleshooting but couldn’t make headway. It seemed to sort-of boot but would just display a black screen and power off.

                To make matters more challenging, the kids reported that Microsoft had foisted a stealty/scammy Windows 10 upgrade on them. It was running Windows 7 just fine, but did a Windows 10 upgrade they didn’t ask for or want anyway. Classy.

                However, they were good sports and adjusted. It seemed the Windows 10 upgrade went ok and the laptop survived the experience intact.

                Was it a Windows 10 upgrade black-screen problem related to the upgrade? Was it a bad system board or power-source issue? Bad display? That snoodle can get rough at times though I didn’t see any teeth-marks on the lid.

                In the worst case scenario, I was prepared to do a data-recovery and then port Alvis’s files onto her external USB drive so she could still work with her data on another laptop if her’s was dead.

                I made sure the device was on the AC power cord and tried to boot it with a bootable USB stick first. Nothing.

                I removed the stick and tried a power cycle again.

                Miraculously, it sprang to life this time – for a moment. Enough to partially display a Windows 10 boot loading routine and for me to see an exasperated and amazed look on Alvis’s face that it was working for me – before the screen went black again and nothing.

                Hmmm.

                I pulled the battery out of the laptop and removed the AC cord plug.

                I pulled a Leatherman Micra multitool out of my pocket and removed the bottom laptop access cover.

                Alvis said she had started to do that earlier but stopped since she was afraid she would loose the tiny screws.

                I was proud she had considered that (exploring under the access cover) and explained that the lid screws were “captive” and probably wouldn’t come out – though I did keep my eye closely on the schnoodle.

                I pulled out the single DIMM of RAM, then firmly reseated it and clipped it back in.

                The access cover was snapped back in place and screwed down, the battery returned to the bay, and the A/C power connected.

                It booted right up normally and ran like nothing had happened. Fixed just like that.

                After offering to roll her laptop back to Windows 7 (declined by Alvis) she did say that the thing that frustrated them them most was the “new” Start button and menu.

                I downloaded and installed Classic Shell and after a bit of tweaking had the Windows 10 start menu tamed into a format Alvis was familiar with again.

                Mischief managed – for now!

                A right-perfect Father’s Day and I was still able to be handy and useful.

                Thank you Alvis!

                You are the best daugher a father could ever hope to have. I’m so proud of you.

                Dad

                Time for a larger laptop hard-drive?

                I’ve got two laptops that are near and dear to me; Tatiana and Alister.

                Tatiana is my main personal laptop – it’s a Dell Studio 15 (1558) notebook running an i7 core, a 500 GB drive, and 8 GB of system RAM.

                Alister is my hot-rod racer – it’s a hand-me-down Dell XPS L702X laptop also running an i7 core, one 250 GB SSD drive (system/boot) and a 2nd 500 GB HDD in the 2nd bay. It has 16 GB of system RAM.

                So here is my quandary.

                I really, really love the boot speed and performance of the Samsung SSD 840 EVO 250 GB SSD drive. Once you go SSD it’s very difficult to consider a traditional spinning platter HHD.

                However the prices for larger storage capacity on a SSD are still pretty high.

                I’ve almost filled up the 250 GB SSD in Alister. Luckily I’ve been able to migrate more files and apps to the 2nd HDD drive and am fine for now.

                For Tatiana, all those music and video files, utilities and applicaiton installs are taking their toll and the 500 GB drive in it is almost filled up too. And unfortunately, I don’t have a 2nd drive bay space on that laptop.

                My gut tells me I will do better in the long run if I pick up some nice 1TB traditional HDD’s for both laptops.

                If I go with a speedy 7200 RPM drive with a big and fast cache I would still come out ok. I could easily pick up 2-3 of those drives for less than the price of a single 500GB SSD drive (when I honestly want a 1TB SSD size).  Though I could probably find a budget SSD drive, I’m spoiled with the Samsung EVO line right now and it would be hard to walk away from.

                Thoughts?

                Any recommendations for a solid, fast, and dependable 1TB or larger 2.5 inch internal HDD for a laptop?

                If I rolled Alister back to a 1 TB HDD for the system drive, I’d likely pass the SSD drive in it now over to Lavie and upgrade her older Dell laptop with it. She doesn’t need near the storage space and the faster boots would make her happy. It would be an easy-peasy performance upgrade for her system.

                More SSD links to ponder…

                Cheers,

                --Claus Valca

                File under “You think they would have learned by now”

                Seriously?

                Remember these GSD blog posts from a year ago or so?

                I guess you can’t keep a crappy “helpful app updater” down when it is an exploitable “feature” to help consumer’s out.

                Constant Vigilance!

                --Claus Valca

                Now showing on the small screen – Ransomware!

                Must read for all you IOT fans…

                Next targets; your smart-refrigerator, your smart-washer/dryer, your smart-car, and your smart thermostat.

                And you thought it was bad-enough fighting with your spouse over the room temperature?

                Pay bitcoins now or your whole home (and heating/cooling bill) will be held hostage!

                Sheesh…

                IOT lovers beware!

                --Claus Valca

                Windows Service Triggers

                I was troubleshooting some issues with WSUS server updating firing off on some Surface Pro tablets the other week.

                In doing so, it seemed the root cause was that the Windows Update Service was set to not run full time or Automatically but rather manually and based on service trigger starts.

                Hmmm. Time to learn me some facts about Windows service triggers.

                Now we know!

                --Claus Valca