Refresh and Reset

One of Windows 8’s most appealing new features for enterprises is something Microsoft calls “refresh and reset.” It adds the ability to automatically roll a busted Windows install back to a pristine state. The “refresh” functionality rolls back changes to system files and installed desktop applications (unless you create your own recovery image; more on that in a minute) but preserves user data, and the “reset” functionality reverts Windows to its freshly-installed state. This is analogous to the appliance-like “reset” or “restore factory defaults” functions present in many smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, and other electronics capable of storing customized settings and user data.

Refresh and reset, accessible from the “General” section of the Metro settings and from the WinRE recovery menu, both use the same image-based technology used by Windows Setup to do their thing. Since Vista, Windows install media has included (1) a collection of files required to enabled booting from the media and (2) a large, monolithic .WIM image file that is uncompressed and copied to the hard drive during install—this contrasts with the setup process for Windows XP and earlier versions, which expanded and copied individual files from the install media to the hard drive. Microsoft also offers a number of tools (many included in the Windows ADK) to let end users and IT admins create their own, customized .WIM images, which can be used to deploy a custom Windows installation to many computers quickly.

So, to continue the Windows Setup analogy, “refreshing” the PC acts as an upgrade install, replacing the operating system while preserving user data. Metro-style apps will also be preserved, but installed desktop apps will be removed and a list of them will be placed on your desktop in HTML format for reference—Microsoft’s reasoning for this behavior is that malicious desktop apps are more likely to be the cause of serious problems than are Metro apps from the Windows Store’s “walled garden”.

“Resetting” the PC acts as a clean install that blows away all user data, especially useful if a PC is being repurposed or sold or otherwise transferred from one party to another. The reset option also gives you the option of erasing the hard drive securely so that sensitive data won’t be at risk.

Recimg: Creating Custom Recovery Images

There’s one more major component to the refresh feature, and it’s probably the most interesting one—using the Recimg command-line tool, users can create snapshots of their systems to use as the reference point for a refresh. These snapshots, which are really just the same .WIM images used by Windows Setup, will store settings, drivers, and both Metro and desktop applications, and can be created at any time and stored basically anywhere, including the Windows partition.

These recovery images can even be used to replace factory restore partitions—suppose that you buy a cheap Windows 8 PC, as many people will do, and it comes with the requisite sea of crapware and no recovery DVDs or USB sticks. Thanks to Recimg, you can uninstall that crapware, update drivers, install programs you actually want, capture an updated crapware-free image, and then delete the old recovery image/partition from your hard drive to save the space. Relatives who have broken their PCs can then use the recovery image to revert their PCs to an unbroken state without losing their personal data.

Sounds useful, right? Let’s talk a bit more about how to use recimg.

First, you’ll need to run the Command Prompt as an administrator—otherwise, Recimg won’t run. From here, you can launch recimg with one of five different switches:

  • Recimg /createimage <directory> will create a new install.WIM image containing your installed drivers and programs to a directory you specify. The easiest way to do this is to store it on a local hard drive, but an external drive will also work as long as the external drive is plugged in when you initiate the refresh). The size of the .WIM file will vary based on what you’ve got installed, but images usually start at 3 or 4 GB and work their way up from there.
  • Recimg /setcurrent <directory> will set the install.WIM image in the specified directory as the one Windows will use when refreshing your PC. If you run Recimg /createimage but don’t use /setcurrent afterward, Windows won’t know to use your image.
  • Recimg /deregister will deregister the currently set recovery image. If a previously-created recovery image exists, Windows will revert to using it. If no image exists, Windows will ask for you to insert install media when you try to refresh the PC.
  • Recimg /showcurrent tells you where your current recovery image is stored.
  • Recimg /? tells you all of the stuff I just told you.

The primary downside of Recimg is that it can’t be used to reset a PC, only to refresh. My test PCs always asked me to insert Windows install media to use the reset functionality—OEM PCs that ship with Windows 8 may behave differently, but we’ll have to wait and see.

That aside, Recimg and the refresh/reset functionality do a solid job of making OS reinstallation a bit simpler—Windows Setup isn’t very hard now but it, combined with the challenge of reinstalling apps and drivers, has made reinstalling a fresh copy of Windows more of a pain than it needs to be.

Storage Spaces

Windows 8's new Storage Spaces functionality allows users to pool different physical drives together into one large logical drive, not unlike the now-discontinued Windows Home Server Drive Extender. You can pool drives connected by just about any common interface, including USB, SATA, and SAS.

Once you've created a storage pool using two or more drives, you can then set up one or more "spaces" that will be seen by the operating system as a logical drive which can be formatted, partitioned, and used just as a physical disk would be. To provide redundancy, you can either apply the "mirrored" attribute to your pool, which makes sure that a copy of every file in the pool is stored on at least two different physical drives, or the "parity" attribute, which uses some drive space to store redundancy information—in the event of drive failure, this information is used to rebuild your pool and enforce mirroring. Microsoft notes that while the two redundancy options are similar, the "parity" attribute is best used for large sequential files or less-frequently-accessed content, since it has a higher random I/O overhead. As with any redundancy technology, you'll give up maximum drive capacity in exchange for data integrity, so weigh your priorities carefully when you create your pool.

When creating a new Storage Space, you can specify a maximum size larger than the amount of available physical space—the system will prompt you when the storage pool needs more drives to work with. Microsoft calls this "thin provisioning," which means that drive capacity is only reserved as you store data to the drive rather than all at once. You can also expand the maximum size of the Storage Space at a later point if necessary. Creation of these spaces can be scripted using PowerShell.

My experience with Storage Spaces was a bit spotty—it didn't seem to want to recognize some of the USB sticks I plugged into my computer, and it wasn't clear why. It may be that there are some unspoken speed or hardware requirements that a couple of my drives just weren't meeting. Once I did get it working, though, it worked as designed—as you can see in the screenshot above, I unplugged one of the drives from the pool I had configured to simulate what would happen in the event of drive failure, and the redundancy features ensured that I was still able to access all files I had copied to the pool. One could then reconnect the drive or add a new one to the pool to restore redundancy.

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  • RavnosCC - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Very annoying till I went through Microsoft Help and discovered I will not be able to "snap" apps with my standard 4:3, 1280x1024 screen. boo Reply
  • fRESHOiL - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    This time around they added a great setting "Make Everything on my Screen Bigger".

    I didn't have to mess with loading my custom fonts, sizes, DPI, etc. to make my system visible from my couch on my 56" DLP. It did seem to make Metro Apps bigger but not desktop apps or the desktop experience.

    Also, I've gone through a ton of small media keyboards and none are as easy as my remote. Since Metro, and all tablet/phone OSes are more geared towards consuming media/data rather than creating it... not saying they can't, but they do better at consuming, I thought for sure they would have accepted windows remote control commands in all the Metro Apps, to my surprise not one does. Of course the arrow keys and OK/Enter key work, but Info, Back, etc have no function in Metro Apps. Just a few changes and Metro becomes the best 10' full OS ever, mainly that it needs to work with remotes. Also, Media Center hasn't changed at all... I think it could use a little Metro and hope it does get it in the final product.
    Reply
  • lilmoe - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I wonder how your video playback batter test would perform with well encoded HD videos with hardware-accelerated playback...

    I'm sure most of you guys know all about video encoding and decoding... GPU video decoding (my personal experience) consumes a LOT less power than software decoding done on the CPU. Yes, GPUs generally consume more power than the CPU, but it's a lot easier for the GPU to decode Full-HD videos than it is for the CPU (by an order of magnitude), also arguably more efficient.

    We all know that hardware-accelerated video players (MPC-HC and Windows Media Player included) support that feature. But you never mentioned if it was enabled in your setup. So I'm assuming you didn't use any sort of HW Acceleration, and therefore, you had 2 or more cores of your test setups running in each test for decoding the video while playing the videos.

    On my HP DV6 Core2Due T6400 laptop, properly encoded MP4 videos run with almost 0% of CPU utilization, and with the right codec (I use the FFDShow with DirectX Video Acceleration) even high profile MKV files run with 5-15% cpu utilization (otherwise 50-100% of CPU utilization. I use Windows Media Player since it doesn't utilize as much CPU power as MPC-HC.

    My laptop stays 2-2.5 hours on battery if i'm using software decoding, but lasts well above 3.5 hours with HW-Acceleration enabled... I wonder how that will affect your setup?
    Reply
  • mutatio - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I'm glad the reviewers found some redeeming qualities to the OS. All I can say is that I was not impressed with MS' mobile OS. It's strong in concept but just tacky in appearance, like some city traffic symbol maker was in charge of the design. Windows 8 does no better IMHO and this honestly looks like a crap sandwich waiting to blow up in MS' face. Serious? "It's very useful once you learn all of the 50+ new keyboard commands!" You have to be kidding me. I know you all are hardcore nerds here working at Anandtech but there is a reason W8 is getting slapped silly in the consumer oriented reviews. I saw a review the other day that quite literally said, "I enjoyed the review of Windows 8 so much I order a 21" iMac." Tempered indeed. Reply
  • FuzzDad - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    No issues with SLI, my watercooling programs...my configs for gaming...the install went solid. I have a mouse locking problem with Logitech keyboards but there's a work-around until they fix it. I didn't like the interface at first (it isn't intuitive) but once you get to the point where you accept Metro=Start Button it all kinda makes sense. I think the GUI is snappy and smooth and it grows on you. I also think they're probably writing off Windows 8 for the desktop/business use...unless they throw the start button on there...and only after that would there be any talk of it going widespread on desktops that have not yet moved to Win7.

    I think their strategy is simply get back to a three-year release schedule and into the tablet space as quickly as they can. TBH...this OS is as good as Win7 w/new interface...if they had offered the start button as a hard-core option I think all the howling winds we hear now would have been a soft sea breeze.
    Reply
  • jabber - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    ...who exactly is going to buy a Windows based Tablet?

    It's way too late surely? It's the Zune all over again.

    The Corp bosses will all have iPads so will be pushing to use them in their work surely? The iPhone through this method is now becoming the standard corp phone of choice at the cost of BB.

    MS isnt going to get a look in on this one.

    I am a Zune Mk1 owner, just in case.
    Reply
  • lilmoe - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    you'll be surprised how many people there are who didn't go with the hype and rejected iPads and Android tablets just because they're not "Windows"....

    What's amazing about this release is the first impression i heard from lots of people who saw it on my laptop. Lots of them said the very same thing: "Wow, Windows now has *windows*! Everything is in front of me an I don't have to look for anything!"... i haven't noticed that myself, but surely, what they said was true.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    "you'll be surprised how many people there are who didn't go with the hype and rejected iPads and Android tablets just because they're not "Windows"...."

    Well good luck to the three of you I say.
    Reply
  • somedude1234 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Great article, the efforts of the whole team come through in the depth and quality of the report and I'm looking forward to reading the follow-up articles.

    I use Windows 7 every day to get real work done.

    I'd appreciate any feedback from the team (or other AT readers) on the following question: Will the UI enhancements in Windows 8 offer any benefit to me? Specifically, is there anything in Win8 that will help me be more productive in my daily use cases?

    On my multi-monitor primary workstation I have the Win7 start menu running vertically on the side of one of my monitors. I often have 3 "pages" on my taskbar of windows open between: outlook, word, excel, powerpoint, firefox, PDF files, text files, explorer windows, putty sessions, and skype or MSN chat windows.

    In other words, I am doing a lot of multi-tasking and waste a lot of time doing context switches as needed. Even with 2 or more monitors available, I never have enough screen real estate to have all of the various applications and windows open without ever needing to re-arrange all of the windows.

    Win7 provided marginal improvements over XP, I especially like the ability to quickly snap a window to the left or right half of a given monitor. I wish MS would have expanded on this to allow me to snap to the top and bottom halves as well.

    I've used a number of 3rd party applications over the years to enhance window management, but invariably they end up either being clunky, unstable or requiring so much additional effort to negate the goal of improving productivity.

    Does Windows 8 actually add anything to make window management better/easier/faster/more powerful for those of us that are really multi-tasking all day? Metro seems to be completely consumer focused, what about the professional users?
    Reply
  • Th-z - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    I've tested it, I don't think you'll find improvement for your usage scenario. In fact it can actually slow you down because they remove Start button. If you want to launch normal desktop apps quickly, you basically have to pin them to taskbar from Metro UI, or use the same enabling-Quick Launch bar trick that people use when they went from XP/Vista to Win 7. There are also third party programs such as Start8 that can bring the Start button back.

    I find it ironic that people have to use third party program for basic functions to circumvent Microsoft's devolution in UI scheme or stubbornness. I have to use a third party program to enable hovering scrolling in different panes in Windows Explorer (it's still not there in Windows 8).

    There are so many ways they can improve desktop UI that I can list that would put OS X to shame, and you even suggest the horizontal snap that can improve desktop usage that many people would probably use. Unfortunately, they're too busy toying with Metro UI. I've always thought Microsoft is a company good at software engineering, but bad at user interface.
    Reply

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