2 hours with Windows 8.1 Preview: A cautionary tale

2 hours with Windows 8.1 Preview: A cautionary tale

Summary: The next big update to Windows is out in a beta form and it's not ready for every system yet. I found that out the hard way.

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Image credit: Ed Bott/ZDNet

Microsoft has released Windows 8.1 in a preview form to get as many Windows 8.0 users as possible to try it out. It brings a lot of nice features to the table but it is definitely still a beta version to be used with caution. Installing it on the ThinkPad Tablet 2 was a challenge, and the preview had so many issues it only lasted on the PC for a couple of hours.

I have been quite taken with the ThinkPad Tablet 2 and I proclaimed it to be the "best Windows tablet". All contributing factors aside, the Tablet 2 is tailor-made for Windows 8 and runs it superbly. 

One of the reasons for buying the Tablet 2 was to give the Windows 8.1 Preview a good test. The ThinkPad would let me fully test 8.1 with touch operation, using it with a keyboard, and with pen use. Windows 8 supports those methods of operation well and I wanted to test the 8.1 Preview with them all.

See related:

The Windows 8.1 Preview is just a beta which means it's not ready for full release. This is important to understand before installing it as problems are to be expected. I'd heard good things on the internet about how stable it is so I set aside a few hours to install it on the Tablet 2. Unfortunately a few hours was not enough.

The first thing I did was create a system image on the ThinkPad to give me a path to get back to Windows 8.0 in the event something went wrong. Lenovo includes a nice utility for building the system image and I used it to create an image on a USB flash stick.

Once I had the image safely tucked away I went to the Windows 8.1 Preview web site and started the upgrade process. It installed a small app that when run made the Preview appear in the Microsoft Store for download and installation.

It took several tries as the download kept crashing. Finally a lengthy download (1.65GB) got started and the fun began. 

The installation was straightforward and once completed (a couple of hours later) the Tablet 2 had been upgraded to a stock system running Windows 8.1 Preview. The OS looked very similar to the Windows 8.0 system with minor improvements including the now famous Windows start button.

I immediately started having problems with the Preview as wi-fi on the Tablet 2 kept dropping the connection. Sometimes it would reconnect automatically and sometimes it would require a reboot. It made exploring the Preview difficult, but it's just a beta so such issues are to be expected.

Just as problematic, the system would constantly drop the Bluetooth connection with the Lenovo keyboard. This always required a reboot to get reconnected so it kept interrupting the testing of Windows 8.1 Preview. At one point the Bluetooth category disappeared from the settings menu indicating that the Bluetooth hardware was not recognized by the system.

That quickly became frustrating as I was already seeing nice things in the update to Windows 8. The famous snap view improvements alone made the update worth it. Having flexible windows side-by-side is awesome and the way Windows 8 should have been from the beginning. I saw enough to make me desperately want the final 8.1 update to get rolled out in a hurry.

Sadly I didn't get to test the 8.1 Preview very long as the wireless connectivity problems got in the way. I was rebooting the system every few minutes and after a couple of hours I had to throw in the towel. There was no way to properly give the Windows 8.1 Preview a test run so I had to roll back to stock Windows 8.0. I could have visited the Lenovo web site to see if other hardware drivers would have addressed the wi-fi and Bluetooth issues but at this point it was the wee hours in the morning and I nixed that idea. I might have created additional problems doing so anyway.

It turns out restoring the system to Windows 8.0 wasn't easy as I couldn't get the system to recognize the system image I carefully created before installing the Preview. It was there on the flash drive but the system wouldn't let me restore using it.

I ended up doing a factory reset to Windows 8.0 which worked as expected. That meant I spent hours updating Windows and the Tablet 2 after the restore, so out of the 10 hours of the Windows 8.1 Preview experiment only two were spent actually running the beta. Most of that time was spent watching the system restart screen.

I suspect the wireless connectivity issues I had with the Preview were due to driver problems. Windows 8.1 is a beta and OEMs like Lenovo are no doubt scrambling to get all hardware drivers updated for the new OS. I wasn't surprised to have such driver problems; other PCs may work with the Preview just fine but ThinkPad Tablet 2 owners should be aware things might not upgrade smoothly.

My brief foray into the Windows 8.1 Preview jungle was enough to convince me how important 8.1 will be. I am already anxious to see Microsoft get the final update rolled out. Please get everybody working on that, OK Microsoft?

Update: It's been pointed out that there is a workaround to the problem of my system image not working. Windows 8.0 and 8.1 have a setting that allows accessing the UEFI firmware to activate legacy BIOS operation. This will allow booting from an external source such as my USB flash drive. Once the system image is restored then resetting to UEFI mode gets back to normal operation.

I'm also hearing that my connectivity issues are noted in a Microsoft support forum as a driver problem as I suspected. Right-clicking on the hardware adapter and updating the driver is noted as the solution to the connectivity problems.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Lenovo, Tablets, Windows 8

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44 comments
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  • same problems here

    I have the same issues on a Surface RT with RT 8.1. You don't need to reboot to fix the network issues. Instead, use the Windows network troubleshooter. It will say that the wireless service is turned off (yes, the service that controls wireless connections in Windows, NOT your radio). It will prompt to turn it back on with an admin fix and it'll work again after that.

    The other problem I have with a Surface RT is that it won't always wake up from sleep. Someone in the forums says that it happens if you aren't in the same WiFi network range when you try to resume, which I believe to be true also, since it happens when I take mine back and forth to work. I would imagine this is a bug with the drivers that handle Connected Standby on ARM SoC's.

    The Bluetooth problem is something I recently saw on an Acer notebook running Windows 8.0. After putting the system to sleep, the Bluetooth controller wouldn't wake back up properly, so it wouldn't work until a reboot. Is the Bluetooth controller in the Tablet 2 made by Atheros? I wonder if there was a new driver on Windows Update recently that causes this problem.
    Joe_Raby
    • Issues

      I'm not on 8.1, but even on 8.0 I've seen the sleep issue once. As for WiFi, I do find that the machine will often have a hard time connecting to WiFi. It appears to suffer from some sort of confusion stemming from a previous connection. I'll be at work, for instance, and it will be trying to identify "Starbucks" or whatever. Luckily, disabling and re-enabling the NIC seems to fix it.
      dsf3g
    • Good post

      just as Melissa answered I am dazzled that a mother can get paid $5668 in a few weeks on the computer. did you read this page... c­a­n9­9.ℂ­ℴ­M
      BillieLawson
  • Its a Lenovo driver issue...

    I have Win 8.1 and 2 machines and Surface RT. No problem whatsoever... It seems a Lenovo issue...


    From the FAQ

    Are there risks to installing Windows 8.1 Preview?
    Yes. Windows 8.1 Preview and Windows RT 8.1 Preview are stable and have been thoroughly tested, but aren't the finished product. Your PC could crash and you could lose important files. You should back up your data and you shouldn't test the preview on your primary home or business PC. You might also encounter problems like:

    Software that doesn’t install or work correctly, including antivirus or security programs.

    Printers, video cards, or other hardware that doesn’t work.

    Difficulty accessing corporate or home networks.

    Damage to some of your files.

    You should carefully balance the risks and rewards of trying out the preview before you install it.
    OwlllllllNet
    • Why the FAQ quote?

      He knows it's just a beta and understands what that means. He acknowledges it in the article several times.

      "The Windows 8.1 Preview is just a beta which means it's not ready for full release. This is important to understand before installing it as problems are to be expected."

      "It made exploring the Preview difficult, but it's just a beta so such issues are to be expected."

      "I suspect the wireless connectivity issues I had with the Preview were due to driver problems. Windows 8.1 is a beta and OEMs like Lenovo are no doubt scrambling to get all hardware drivers updated for the new OS. I wasn't surprised to have such driver problems; other PCs may work with the Preview just fine but ThinkPad Tablet 2 owners should be aware things might not upgrade smoothly."
      Ndiaz.fuentes
      • Its for the benefit of readers

        James learned the hard way...I quoted so that other readers would benefit.
        OwlllllllNet
        • Fair enough.

          n/t
          Ndiaz.fuentes
        • Re: Its for the benefit of readers

          Like, because readers will skip reading the actual article and jump right here to read your advice?
          danbi
      • I was surprised that with James' experience in these matters

        he did not think to upgrade the driver as was mentioned later on in the article.
        John Zern
  • Windows 8.1

    I have 8.1 installed on a Dell Inspiron (I used dual boot) and so far not a single problem. Wi-Fi works without trouble in different locations.
    My advise is to always do clean installs if possible, because in my experience a clean install minimizes the problems. I like the smaller tiles and the Shut Down option in the lower left corner.
    hrosita@...
  • Not for me

    A colleague's been trying to cajole me into installing the preview on my Surface RT, but I'm always loathe to install beta/preview software on a device I depend upon for real work. I've got no major issues with 8.0, so I'm happy to wait until the official release.
    dsf3g
  • Not for me

    A colleague's been trying to cajole me into installing the preview on my Surface RT, but I'm always loathe to install beta/preview software on a device I depend upon for real work. I've got no major issues with 8.0, so I'm happy to wait until the official release.
    dsf3g
  • Not for me

    A colleague's been trying to cajole me into installing the preview on my Surface RT, but I'm always loathe to install beta/preview software on a device I depend upon for real work. I've got no major issues with 8.0, so I'm happy to wait until the official release.
    dsf3g
  • Not for me

    A colleague's been trying to cajole me into installing the preview on my Surface RT, but I'm always loathe to install beta/preview software on a device I depend upon for real work. I've got no major issues with 8.0, so I'm happy to wait until the official release.
    dsf3g
  • I hate you zDnet

    When you're not blocking my long and carefully thought out comments for supposedly containing spam, you're duplicating my less informative, throwaway posts.

    Thank you very much.
    dsf3g
    • I feel your pain, sir. Spam filters here aren't very good.

      n/t
      Ndiaz.fuentes
      • and I too..

        am frustrated, by the wacky filter that blocks MY actual comments on this and other ZD articles! Actual discussion seems to disappear, while the whining and trolls keep posting!
        randysmith@...
    • And here I believed you were just attempting to get your point across

      quite forcefully. :-)
      John Zern
  • James, you just have NOTHING but problems with Microsoft products

    From your blogs and your tweets, Microsoft products do nothing but frustrate you. They seem to know when you are at the helm and then they break, secretly laughing at you behind your back. Then you are forced to come onto ZDNet where, for free, without being paid from clicks, have to lament how horrible Microsoft is and how Microsoft will die soon.

    Please, for your safety, simply stop using any and all Microsoft products. Look at how happy danbi is. He quit Microsoft 25 years ago and he doesn't obsess about them at all. He is happy. He doesn't ever use Microsoft products and he makes sure we know about it. That is the sign of a happy, content, satisfied user.

    James, you too can be a happy, content, satisfied user of anything but Microsoft products. Just think about how much happier your life will be without having to worry about whether or not a beta product will work without any problems. Your twitter feed could then be reserved for talking about how wonderful your 823rd ipad keyboard is and we wouldn't have to read about how horrible Microsoft products are from our Microsoft products that Just Work.

    Win-win.
    toddbottom3
    • Just to add my personal experience with products that don't work

      apple products were a never ending stream of disappointments, failures, problems, issues, and limitations.

      You know what I did? I stopped buying them. My advice can work for you too.
      toddbottom3