Ever Diminishing Circles

That’s what I think I have been going in for the last 3 weeks – which may explain my lack of blog posts. I could blame Microsoft at this point and they are certainly complicit in my absense. But that would be harsh as there are other players involved too. But Microsoft kicked it off, so lets start there…

Back in late September my gaming pc told me that there was a new ‘Important’ Windows update and I needed to restart to install it. We get Windows 10 updates regularly and, to be fair, most of them are non-events. They bring minor improvements or changes that have no visible impact on me at all. This one, however, was different.

In less than 20 minutes it turned my working pc into a total wreck. But, it did it very subtly – everything seemed to be working ok in the first few minutes. Then I started experiencing frame stutters while driving my truck… that grew to frame and audio. I tried watching streaming video – distracting dropouts. Then I found the mouse cursor staggering across the screen and the task bar moving up and down in jagged movements rather than scrolling smoothly.

When these things happen you initially panic… for a few seconds… then your past experience as a programmer kicks in. You start working through the many possible causes and checking on the internet for other people’s possible fixes for the issue you are experiencing. The message I got from doing the latter is that Windows 10 2004 update is a total can of worms – I’d like to call it something else but that would result in my blog becoming an ‘adults only’ experience.

So – first port of call after listening to the encyclopedia of issues with the 2004 update (yes, you could fill an encyclopedia with all the issues) – was to check and update my graphics card drivers. I do that regularly anyway but I still found one new update to load. I’ve loaded 2 more graphics card updates in the last 2 weeks too while seeking a fix for my issues – not that this has fixed anything.

I’ve tried a number of settings changes recommended to end stuttering. None of them achieved more than delaying the inevitable return to stuttering at a level that makes games unplayable and videos unwatchable. Back to square one – or should that be a squared circle? I’ve checked the well-being of my CPU and Graphics Card – neither is stressed and both have plenty of spare capacity.

I decided to rollback the update – back to version 1903. Immediately, there are no issues – everything is working fine. I’ve tried updating to 2004 three times now and each time I have worked through a planned course of action to resolve the issue but nothing seems to work.

Part of the problem is that asking Windows to confirm that the drivers for a particular sub-system on a pc are up to date is likely to result in a ‘latest drivers installed’ response when that may not be the case. I have a suspicion that the issue is relating to the RealTek sound chip drivers as these could certainly cause stuttering audio. However, finding the correct driver on the RealTek site is difficult – the translation from Chinese isn’t very clear. There is also a very serious risk that any ‘drivers’ downloaded from the internet may prove to be malware – so extreme caution is advised.

Is it all a negative experience? No – I found that a setting for my graphics card had been changed and restoring the factory default settings fixed a minor framedrop issue I’d been experiencing in Farming Simulator. I’m guessing that the person who built the pc may have changed it for test purposes and not restored it before shipping. I’ve also learned that turning off the shader cache on the graphics card can improve performance if you have a good CPU to handle processing.

I’m back on Windows 10 v1903 for now because that works. I’ve disabled Windows updates to prevent the level of disruption that I experienced happening until I’m ready to take it on again – a situation that can’t be a permanent solution as Microsoft will stop supporting some things and modify others so that they only work with the latest version of Windows. I’m currently testing games using the NVidia RTX2070’s audio output as an alternative to the RealTek. So far that has worked well and I’ve noticed that a minor sound glitch that I used to experience occasionally isn’t happening – it was rare, so a lot more testing is needed – suggesting that the problem is related to the audio software.

So, the plan going forward is to locate a good set of drivers for the RealTek chip. Continue testing to narrow down the cause before re-updating to build 2004. If the issue continues then I have already planned a full strip out of code from the pc and start from scratch for Christmas when my Son will be home from Uni – two heads are always better than one! If we can’t resolve it then it maybe time to bite the bullet and walk away from Windows 10 – I haven’t ruled out moving to Linux even though that would mean no longer playing a couple of my favourite games.

I’m annoyed with Microsoft for pushing out this Windows 10 update at a time when they were clearly aware that there were many issues. Doubly so because so many of us rely on our computers to keep us sane and maintain contact with the wider world while locked down by the pandemic. Insensitive at best 😦 Did I say my criticism was harsh? Maybe it wasn’t!

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