Keith Combs' Blahg

Ramblings from another nerd on the grid

Windows 8 BIOS Keys - embedded goodness

Windows 8 BIOS Keys - embedded goodness

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imageA couple of weeks ago I purchased the Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D-A02US notebook.  It came with Windows 8 Professional pre-loaded.  I’ve been wanting a Series 9 machine for quite some time, but I waited until the Ivy Bridge based silver model landed on USA shores.  When I saw that mwave.com had them in stock, I purchased one. This particular model has a TPM chip and a three year warranty.

When I received the notebook and fired it up, I was a little dismayed at the bloated Windows 8 installation.  Not only that, the 128GB mSATA SSD was half consumed already.  Not a very good start. Since my family already owns the Sandy Bridge model, I knew it would run Windows 7 well and with a pending trip fast approaching, I wiped the drive and installed Windows 7 Ultimate x64.

Prior to doing the wipe, I did attempt to create the factory DVD disk set with Samsung’s built-in recovery solution.  I could never get that program to create the boot media.  After looking at the user guide, I noticed they no longer create DVD disk sets and expect you to store the image on an external hard drive.  That appeared to work though I am unsure how to do a successful restore without the boot media.

Windows 8 to the Rescue

The machine has been running great.  But the entire time the whole Windows 8 question has been nagging at me.  I ordered a Crucial M4 mSATA 256GB SSD and waited.  I also picked up a retail copy of Windows 8 Pro at the Microsoft employee store.  When the Crucial drive arrived, it was time to test some new Windows 8 features.

Now maybe I haven’t been paying attention, but in addition to secure boot and all of the other work in the BIOS and UEFI area, we have also worked with OEM’s on a new licensing model.  If you look at the bottom of my machine, you’ll notice there is no Windows 8 Certificate of Authenticity (COA).  There is an official Windows 8 logo sticker, but no product key.

The good news is that you no longer have to worry about it fading or getting scratched.  The 5x5 key is embedded in the BIOS.  Therefore all I had to do in order to install a fresh clean copy of Windows 8 was attach an external DVD drive, boot from the retail DVD, and run setup. As soon as I connected to the internet, the machine activated.  It never asked me for a key.  No fuss!!!

And in case you are wondering, all but three of the device drivers for this machine came right off the Windows 8 Pro DVD.  Two were resolved by running Windows Update and installing from the WU servers.  The remaining device it probably an Intel management driver or something.  I’ll look into it later.

I really dig this feature.  I don’t have to worry about the key and I know I can re-install whenever I want.  Pretty freaking cool.  Enjoy!

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  • Bah... I just typed a long post and it got eaten. I forgot that there's some very short timeout (5 minutes?) when you post on Technet (and the Building Windows 8) blogs, and unfortunately the posts just sent into the ether.

    I'll try to summarize my earlier post quickly--have you tried running as a standard user? We have been unable to get the Easy Settings program to work without prompting for admin credentials. The screen brightness control also will not work unless you're a local admin.

    Love the hardware on the second-gen model (with the exception of the now-recessed touchpad)--it's a very nice step up from the first-gen model, which is also fantastic.

  • I run as an admin. I tested that utility as a standard user on the last Series 9 I had, but as you indicated, it didn't work.  Considering the tool makes BIOS changes and such, I don't you getting around that.  It's a Samsung problem.

  • And the result of wiping the disk and installing a fresh Windows was?

    BTW, what can a non msoftee do in these cases? Am not thrilled about purchasing 2 copies of the OS to make each computer work! (license w/HW + 2nd copy after wipe)

  • So, the installation from the retail media can pick up the OA3.0 key from the firmware - that's interesting and good news :-)

    Quick question: After the installation were/are you able to access the Samsung OEM apps in the windows store (assuming there are some...)?

    There is some minor rage going on the Lenovo forums, because Lenovo rebuild Power Manager and some other tools as OEM store apps and users that upgrade their machines to Windows 8 can't access them.

  • @Ryan, Digital River used to host the .ISO's of the Windows OS. I have not checked to see if they have Windows 8 but I would imagine they do. All you would need to do is download the .ISO and burn a DVD.  No need to buy a copy. If you want to use a USB stick, download the USB stick making utility from the Microsoft store.

    @Max, I just did the install and confirmed it was booting properly.  That's about it. I need to go through the Windows 8 thread at forum.notebookreview.com/samsung to see how the early adopters are fairing. I am also waiting for Samsung to put all the drivers and software on the support download area. I don't like it much when an OEM ships software ONLY on the factory image of forces you to use their distribution software.

  • Re: admin rights and Easy Settings/brightness:

    You can change the screen brightness through the Windows Power Management Control Panel, though, even as a standard user. So it doesn't seem that the actual functionality *requires* admin rights to work, but for some reason Samsung's software does.

    Another issue that we've noticed is that this machine very rarely will enter high-throughput (40MHz channel 802.11n) WiFi mode (confirmed by our Aruba WiFi controller). We had to do major tweaking to get the first gen model to work reliably on WiFi, but once tweaked, we had no problem establishing 200+ Mbps speeds (and 70-80 Mbps actual throughput). With the second-gen, it will rarely go above 60-70 Mbps. I've seen it enter high-throughput mode a couple times, so I know it's *capable*... it just seems very conservative about entering the higher speeds. Have you seen similar behavior?

    I called Samsung support and they opened a ticket on these issues. We'll see where that goes.

  • What if I need to replace the motherboard?

  • @Ryan, how are you testing throughput?

    @Steve, a motherboard replacement under warranty would seemingly include a new set of keys.  Out of warranty, I am not sure. Good question for the OEM.  I am sure they would say to make sure and keep a good backup.

  • @Keith: re: throughput testing

    Admittedly not very scientifically--typically I'll just transfer a very large, single file from a file server to the laptop. If caching seems to come into play, I'll re-run the test several times on both machines (server-side caching is a good thing in this case).

    If it were just an issue of reported speed vs. actual speed, that would be one thing, but the bigger concern is that it rarely seems to take advantage of 802.11n channel bonding (aka "High Throughput" for Aruba). I haven't tested it with other controllers yet, though, so I was curious if perhaps it's an issue specific to this device/card and Aruba.

  • I have friends that buy computers and after awhile they want to upgrade the motherboard and cpu.. before windows 8 they would just use the key on the side of the case to reinstall... now with windows 8 they would have buy windows 8 again???

  • @Steve,

    That's a question for the computer maker or the Windows product group.

  • Keith, any word on installing a different version of Windows 8 on a system with embedded product key? Say Windows 8 embedded and I want to install a retail copy of Windows 8 Pro, or the other way around.

    Will the bios key conflict with that?

  • @KC testing... is the comments system flawed? Just wrote here and nothing, not even a gone-to-moderation message!?

  • Flawed is being nice.  Sometimes it just doesn't work.  Use notepad first.

  • @Martin, could you re-phrase your question(s)?  I am not sure I understand what you are asking.  The embedded key is specific to a certain SKU.