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Windows 10 has been publicly available for just over a month now, and I think I’ve finally got a stable installation on my main computer.  Well after several upgrade and clean install attemptes, three or four ISO downloads, countless crashes, a new hard-drive and new drivers, I certainly hope my PC issues are behind me.  In this post I will try to re-count how I went from a trouble free and stable Windows 8.1 machine to being excited that Windows 10 has stopped crashing.

Microsoft released their newest operating system to the general public on July 29 2015, but prior to that enthusiasts could download “Insider Preview” versions to test.  The feedback from these preview installations also helped Microsoft iron out any gremlins.  I installed the preview of Windows 10 onto a 2010 Netbook, an old Vista laptop and an even older XP laptop.  Despite having no issues with these old computers, I didn’t want to risk my main computer (a homebrew desktop) with an unfinished operating system, but I did “reserve my copy” using the “Get Windows 10” icon that appeared on everyone’s task bar a few months earlier.  When July 29 rolled around, the Upgrade to Windows 10 Pro appeared in my Windows Update, but as I wrote about in a blog post at the time, the upgrade kept failing.

screenshot Windows 10 upgrade fails

Windows 10 upgrade fails

After some online searching I found that it was possible to perform the upgrade manually using the Microsoft Media Creation Tool, however that would also fail and give me the vaguest error message I’ve ever seen – “Something happened”.

something happened error message

As I tried to find a reason for the continued fails I discovered you could chat live to a Microsoft support person.  I was really surprised that a large company like Microsoft would offer one to one customer service as literally millions of people around the world were upgrading their computers, yet within 60 seconds I was chatting to “Marithez”.  After I explained the issues, she asked to remotely connect to my computer, I double checked that I was really connected to a secure Microsoft site and agreed.  Marithez changed some registry settings to force the Windows 10 upgrade to run from Windows Update.

Microsft chat - registry changes

I was happy, it seemed the registry changes had fixed the problem.  I thanked Marithez, who gave me a case reference number, just in case there was any further issues.  It was getting late, so I left the upgrade to run overnight.

The next day I realised that the upgrade had failed again, so I was straight back onto Microsoft Support, with my case number from the previous night, and this time spoke to Sam.

Microsft support chat with Sam

After asking a few more questions, Sam also remotely connected to my computer.  He checked some settings and then downloaded the Media Creation Tool and then the Windows 10 ISO file.  It was at this point that Sam learnt all about internet speeds in Australia!

slow internet comment from Microsfot Support

Not wanting to leave things to run overnight again, I had to be creative to speed things up while Sam was still on the line.  I tethered my iPad to the computer to use its mobile data along with the ADSL landline.

Microsoft support chat during remote connection

So Sam stayed on the line for the ISO file to download and the ran the upgrade from the Media Creation Tool.  Obviously he couldn’t stay connected while the PC updated and re-started so he made sure he had my contact details and told me to hope for the best.

The upgrade continued to run over night, but again it failed.  I tried running the upgrade again myself from the Media Creation Tool and this time it was successful.  Yay!

Sam even phoned me back from America to check if the upgrade was successful, once again I was pleasantly surprised at the customer service from Microsoft Support.

At the time I thought this would mean it would be smooth sailing from here.  In hindsight it was only significant because it meant I had claimed the free upgrade to Windows 10 and could now perform a full clean install, if required, without having to purchase a new licence key.

As it turned out, Windows 10 was anything but smooth sailing, with regular blue-screen crashes and re-starts.

Microsft Windows Blue Screen sad face

My Blue Screen error messages included;

  • error: 0xc000021a

A Google or Bing search of these error messages didn’t really help, and most responses actually referred to earlier versions of Windows.
(See actual screen shots HERE.)

With my new Windows operating system clearly unstable I decided a clean install would solve all my problems.  In between crashes I made sure my important files were backed up.  Thankfully this PC has multiple hard drives with the Windows “C” drive a separate partition on one of the larger drivers, so I could re-format that partition without loosing files on other partitions or drives.  I also have off-site back-ups to Crash Plan and One Drive, so even if I blew up the computer my files would be retrievable.  (I was starting to think blowing it up would actually be easier!)

To perform a clean install of Windows 10 I needed to create bootable media, so it was back to the Media Creation Tool and download another ISO file (that’s three times now), however with my computer now crashing every half hour or so I had to use my wife’s laptop.  I created a bootable USB drive and also burned the ISO to a DVD, just in case.

With my bootable media all set it was time to perform the clean install.  Check my BIOS settings to make sure the computer would boot from the USB, plug it in, re-start.

The install process begins normally until I get to the stage of selecting where Windows should be installed.  Now we have a new problem; “Windows cannot be installed to this disk.  The selected disk has an MBR partition table.  On EFI systems Windows can only be installed to GPT disks”.  WTF?!

Windows disk partition table issues

I’d never heard of MBR or GPT partitions, so a bit of Googling tells me GPT is a requirement of modern Windows systems.  Re-formatting that partition wouldn’t help, because apparently the partition table refers to the entire disk drive, not just a partition on that drive.  I didn’t want to re-format the entire disk, because the other partition had over 900GB of photos and that would be a lot to recover from back-ups.

Wanting to get all of this over and done with, I decided to take the hard-drive from one of the old laptops I had installed the preview of Windows 10 onto, which had automatically upgraded to the full version.  I was thinking the partition table on this drive shouldn’t be an issue, after all it had already been used for a Windows 10 installation.  It was time to get the screwdrivers out!

Fitted this old laptop HDD into the desktop as a new boot drive, however W10 wouldn't install on it.

Fitted this old laptop HDD into the desktop as a new boot drive

Sacrificing the hard drive from the old lap top turned out to be a waste of time.  Maybe because the old Vista laptop had been running a 32 bit version of Windows 10, but even with a full re-format I could not get the 64 bit Windows 10 to install onto this drive either.

My next option was to spend some money on a brand new hard drive.  I had been thinking of upgrading to a solid state drive (SSD) for a while, but instead decided to buy a solid state hybrid drive (SSHD).  I had used a hybrid drive for my eldest son’s homebrew computer earlier this year without any problems, and you’re not limited by the smaller capacity of a pure SSD.

Brand new Solid State Hybrid Drive to install Windows 10 onto

Brand new Solid State Hybrid Drive to install Windows 10 onto

With the new SSHD installed I pluged in the USB boot drive to install Windows 10 onto the new drive.  Everything seemed to go as it should, I even had a laugh at the “This wont take long” message.  I laugh because I’ve seen that message before and I’m still trying to get everything right more than a week later.

This won't take long - Windows install message

The install completes and everything seems ok.  This first thing I do after any clean install is go to Windows Update for the latest updates.  Then I run into trouble again, after completing the updates my system wouldn’t re-start.  I tried some of the repair options from the boot-up menu, but nothing will make Windows run, so I try another clean install.  This time I get an error message saying that; “Windows cannot install required files.  Make sure all files required for installation are available…”

Windows cannot install required files

Are you for real Microsoft?!  It’s your software and you tell me to make sure all the files are available.  That’s what the ISO should be – all the required files all bundled together ready to boot up and install.  GRRRRR!!!!!

Over the next few days I keep trying to install Windows again and keep getting the same message, but eventually it does work again.  This time I don’t check for updates and begin to install some of my own programs, but I start to get the blue-screen error crashes again.  Eventually the computer does it’s own check for updates and prompts me to re-start to complete the installation of those updates.  Once again though, it wont re-start!

At this point I’m thinking of putting the computer out for hard rubbish collection!
Seriously though I start to contemplate what to do if I cant get it working, maybe I should just spend up big on a Mac – no I’m not made of money!  Maybe I could try installing the Ubuntu Linux operating system, instead of Windows, or just turn this box into a home server and work from a cheap laptop.  No, for now I will persevere, but will need to try something different.

I decide to download another ISO file, but this time rather than choose the 64 bit file I select the “both” option, giving me both 64 and 32 bit installation files in the one ISO.  I was thinking that if the error message said it did not have all the required files, there must be many more files available in this double system ISO.  At the very least I could use that ISO to reinstall the 32 bit system onto the old laptop that I borrowed the hard drive from earlier.

So I run this new ISO, choose the 64 bit option and it installs straight away with no problems!

Choose 32 or 64 bit install

I check Windows Update and the latest fixes are downloaded and installed without any issues.  Finally I’m thinking my problems are over and start downloading and installing my preferred programs.  Everything is going great, but it was too god to be true.  As soon as I started a web browser there were extra tabs opening showing spam sites, the same thing happened regardless of the browser, including Edge, IE, Chrome and Firefox.  It seems that in all of the programs I had installed, something must have had some malicious code to infect my browsers.  Most of my programs are mainstream, except for maybe Handbreak and DVDshrink, so I’m guessing it was one of those.  I also discovered an unusual icon in the hidden taskbar area – DNS Unlocker.  I’ve never heard of this program and didn’t knowingly install it.  The program claims to modifiy your DNS and direct your browsing through its own servers – this can’t be good!

DNS Unlocker

DNS Unlocker did not appear on the list of programs available to uninstall, there were no add-ons installed to my browsers and no restore points had been created for Windows to roll back to.  A full security scan by Windows Defender didn’t show up anything either.  It looks like my only option is another clean install of Windows 10.

So I go through the clean install process again without any problems and start installing my programs, manually creating restore points in-between every install – just in case.  This time I leave Handbreak and DVDshrink off my install list.

After these problems I still managed to get all of my preferred programs installed.  There were some error messages from Nero and Microsfoft Office during their installation processes, but I eventually got everything installed.

Microsft Office Instalation

Conflicting messages during the Microsoft Office instalation

My Windows 10 operating system still isn’t perfect at this stage, with a blue screen crash still occurring ever few hours.  Remember this was a perfectly running Windows 8.1 machine up until the end of July, so I decided to start checking hardware drivers for any updates.  After a couple of manual downloads and installs, I remember a program called “Driver Hive” by Bootstrap.

Driver Hive screenshot

I’d used Driver Hive a few years ago to update drivers with great success, so decided to give it another go.  Driver Hive scans your entire computer looking for available driver updates, for me it found 14.  The program offers three updates for free, so I choose Memory Control, Intel Chipset and Motherboard driver updates to install.

After those drivers are updated I can see improvement, but the computer still crashes once or twice a day (usually at the most inconvenient time), so I decide to pay the $30 for the full version of Driver Hive and update all the drivers it recommended.  My computer hasn’t crashed since!

My only other problem after all of that was Microsoft Office suddenly decided it wasn’t activated, and it wouldn’t let me do the activation from the program.  A quick trip to the Office 365 website while logged in sorted out what was going on there.

Office 365

That’s it! Windows 10 Pro is apparently now fully installed, everything is running smoothly with no crashes.

I’ve now also upgraded my younger son’s laptop to Windows 10 without any problems, but my wife wont have a bar of it, after seeing all my dramas she says to me, “Don’t you dare put Windows 10 on my laptop.”