Saturday, September 30, 2017

How to Install Windows 10 on the Dell Venue 8 Pro Tablet

I stopped using my Dell Venue 8 Pro a couple years ago because Windows 8.1 just didn't deliver as reliable and satisfying a tablet experience as iOS did on my iPads. I recently decided to install Windows 10 on my Venue 8 to see if the new operating system would make the Venue a better tablet- but I was surprised by how complicated this process turned out to be. It took a lot of research and experimentation to upgrade my tablet, so I decided to compile all my notes and observations in one place to save other Venue 8 owners the trouble.

Pros and Cons of the Venue 8 Pro

I originally got my tablet, the Venue 5830 Pro model, at a huge discount when buying a laptop from Dell a few years ago. I used the thing almost daily for at least a full year before relegating it to a bookshelf when I won an iPad mini at a company picnic.

What I liked about the Venue 8 Pro:

  • It's got a bright, good-looking screen.
  • It's got a sturdy, solid build.
  • I like the simple, elegant vinyl folio case I bought with it.

What I didn't like about it:

  • The "Windows Store" version of Internet Explorer 11 that came with Windows 8.1 was really slow and unbearable to use. At the time, it was also the only browser available on the Windows Store, so I had to use the tablet in Desktop mode in order to run more responsive browsers like Chrome and Firefox.
  • At the time there were also no Reddit Enhancement Suite versions available for Windows Store-compatible browsers, and I find Reddit basically unusable without it, so that was another thing keeping me in Desktop mode on my tablet. (There is now a version available for Microsoft Edge.)
  • Windows 8.1 desktop mode sucks on a tablet (no mouse, tiny text, links hard to click, etc).
  • Every few weeks the tablet would refuse to wake from sleep mode and I'd have to go through an elaborate set of steps to force the thing to do a hard shutdown and power-on.

Before You Start

My Venue 8 only has 32GB of storage (and of that, only around 25GB is actually available to Windows with the default partitioning scheme), which means that there isn't enough room to do an OS upgrade; only a fresh install on a newly-formatted partition. In order to be sure you don't lose anything before doing a fresh OS install, make sure to do the following:
  • Back up your data. If you keep any unique files on your tablet, be sure to store copies of them. If your Windows 8.1 user account on the tablet is linked to a Microsoft account, the simplest way to back up those files would be to place them all into OneDrive folders, so they'll be waiting for you once you log into Windows 10 with your Microsoft account.
  • Back up your product keys. Even though the Windows 10 free upgrade offer officially ended in 2016, Microsoft quietly still lets licensed Windows 7 and Windows 8 owners upgrade for free with product keys for eligible editions. I used the free program Belarc Advisor to examine my tablet and saved the resulting profile as an HTML profile to my OneDrive account. The Software Licenses section of the profile included the product key for my OEM version of Windows 8.1, which is what I used to activate my copy of Windows 10. Note: While I think my tablet came with a license for Microsoft Office 2013 (version 15.0), I didn't see a product key for it listed in the Belarc report, and I don't know if this is because I never used/activated Office on the tablet or if Belarc Adviser doesn't pick it up. I do not use Office on the tablet anyway, though, so I didn't really care.
  • Charge your tablet. This is really important- you won't be able to power your Venue 8 while installing Windows 10, because you'll need to use your USB port for other things during that time. You do not want to run out of battery while installing an operating system, so make sure you're fully charged before proceeding.

Required Hardware

Once Windows 10 is fully installed and updated, you don't need any peripherals to use the tablet, but for several reasons, you will need several devices in order to install the operating system and some drivers.
  • A powered USB hub with at least three ports for connecting a mouse, keyboard, and thumb drive to your tablet. It must be a powered hub since the tablet's USB port doesn't provide enough juice for multiple devices. I can vouch for this D-Link 7-port hub but any solid powered hub should do.
  • A USB Type A female to USB Micro male adapter for connecting your USB hub to the tablet. I used a StarTech 5-inch Micro USB to USB A On-the-Go Host Cable Adapter.
  • A USB keyboard, since there will be no soft keyboard support during the Windows 10 install process.
  • A USB mouse, since there will be no touch screen support until after Windows 10 is installed and updated.
  • A USB thumb drive big enough to serve as a Windows 10 boot drive, and also for copying some necessary driver files to the tablet before it has access to the internet. The drive must be at least 5GB in size, and any data currently on the drive will be wiped out because the process of making it a bootable Windows installer involves formatting it. I get these 5-packs of Topsell 16GB USB 2.0 Flash Drives, and use them for this sort of thing all the time.
  • A separate internet-connected computer for downloading drivers and Windows installer files. 

Updating the BIOS

In order to fully support Windows 10, you should make sure you're running the most recent BIOS version for your Dell Venue model. In my case, I still had the BIOS version that my tablet shipped with (A04), but the most recent version available for my model (the 5830) was A14. I downloaded the Dell Venue 8 Pro 5830 System BIOS file from this Dell support page.

Installation is painless; just have your tablet plugged in, launch the downloaded file (in my case that was 5830A14.exe), and allow the tablet to reboot if/when prompted.

Preparing the Bootable Windows 10 Installer

There are a couple of easy ways to prepare your USB thumb drive for installing Windows 10. Regardless of which method you choose, keep these things in mind:
  1. The Venue 8 Pro can only run 32-bit (x86) versions of Windows, so you need to be careful which version you download from Microsoft.
  2. The Venue 8 Pro can only detect UEFI-capable boot devices. (Both of the following methods should account for this if you follow the instructions closely.)

Using the Windows 10 Download Tool

If you don't already have an ISO image for a Windows 10 setup disc, use Microsoft's Windows 10 Download tool to get the necessary files and prepare your USB drive. Go to the Download Windows 10 page and click the "Using the tool to create installation media" link to see detailed instructions. The quick steps are here:
  1. Plug in the USB thumb drive you plan to use as your Windows 10 installer.
  2. Click the Download tool now button to download the file MediaCreationTool.exe.
  3. Locate the downloaded program and launch it.
  4. On the first screen, select Create installation media and click Next.
  5. On the second screen, uncheck the Use the recommended options for this PC box and make sure to pick 32-bit (x86) for Architecture, and then click Next.
  6. On the next screen, select USB flash drive and click Next.
  7. On the next screen, select your desired target thumb drive from the list of devices and then click Next. The tool will download the necessary files and prepare your thumb drive.
  8. The Windows 10 Download Tool creates those infamous $WINDOWS.~BT and $Windows.~WS folders on the computer where you run it, and after your boot media is created there will still be hundreds of megabytes of content left in them. You can use the Delete Windows 10 Download Folders function of my free program, GWX Control Panel, to delete those folders when you're all done.

Using Rufus

As a Microsoft Developer Network subscriber I have access to ISO images of Windows setup discs, so I downloaded the x86/32-bit version of the latest "Windows 10 (Multiple Editions)" DVD image. Here's how to create a bootable USB drive from a downloaded Windows 10 ISO image:
  1. On the computer where you downloaded the ISO file, plug in the USB thumb drive that you intend to use as your Windows 10 boot drive.
  2. Download and run the latest version of the free tool Rufus.
  3. On the row that says "Create a bootable disc using," click the button that has a picture of a disc on it and browse to/select your downloaded ISO file.
  4. Select your target USB thumb drive from the Device list.
  5. For Partition scheme and target system type, select GPT partition scheme for UEFI.
  6. For File system, select FAT32.
  7. Make sure Quick format, Create a bootable disk using, and Create extended label and icon files are all checked, and "ISO image" is selected as the source format.
  8. Click Start to prepare your thumb drive. This process can take several minutes.

Booting the Venue Pro from the USB Thumb Drive (hardware and software setup)

Since the Venue 8 Pro comes with a UEFI Secure Boot configuration there is no "Press F12 for boot options" prompt when you power up the device. Instead you have two different ways to boot from a properly-formatted USB flash drive:

Booting to flash drive from Windows 8.1

  1. While logged in to Windows 8.1, connect your mouse, keyboard, and flash drive to your USB hub, and then connect the powered hub to your fully-charged Dell Venue Pro.
  2. Move your mouse to the upper-right corner of the screen to display the Windows 8 charms menu.
  3. Click the Settings gear at the bottom of the charms menu.
  4. Click Change PC Settings.
  5. Click Update and Recovery.
  6. Click Recovery, and then click Restart now under Advanced Startup. The tablet will boot into advanced startup mode.
  7. On the Choose an option screen, click Use a device.
  8. Your USB Flash drive will probably be labeled: "UEFI:Removable Device." If you see such an option, select it to boot from that device. If you do not see an option that looks like it might be your thumb drive, it might not be formatted properly.

Booting to flash drive from power-on

If your tablet's already powered off, there's no need to launch Windows 8 just to reboot it into advanced mode. These instructions are correct as of the latest available BIOS for my Venue Pro model (the 5830). I have seen a lot of alleged instructions posted around the internet for doing this and none of them worked for me. This is the only boot-to-USB-from-power-on procedure that I've managed to get working.
  1. With the tablet powered off, connect your mouse, keyboard, and flash drive to your USB hub, and then connect the powered hub to your fully-charged Dell Venue Pro.
  2. This part is tricky. You need to hold down the power button just long enough for the device to begin powering on, but let go before the Dell logo appears on-screen. On my tablet 3-and-a-half seconds seems to be the perfect amount of time. You might see lights on your connected keyboard/mouse flash right when you need to let go.
  3. While the screen is still black (and before the white Dell logo appears), release the power button and then hold down the tablet's Volume Up button until the Dell logo appears on-screen.

    If you see the spinning circle of dots that indicates Windows is loading, you missed your window. You might as well just follow the Windows method mentioned above if that happens.
  4. Once you see the white Dell logo for a couple of seconds, release the Volume Up button. The UEFI boot menu should appear:
  5. If your USB drive is properly formatted with a 32-bit version of the Windows 10 installer as described in the above sections about Rufus and the Windows 10 Download Tool, you should see an option for your thumb drive on this screen (mine is selected in the picture above). If you only see Windows Boot Manager, it means your tablet doesn't recognize your thumb drive. Use the Volume Up button to navigate to your thumb drive's entry on this screen and press Volume Down to boot from the selected device.
  6. After a short while, the Windows 10 Setup wizard should begin.

Installing Windows 10

After using one of the above methods for booting to your USB flash drive, you should now see the Windows 10 setup wizard:

Some quick notes to guide you during setup:
  • These steps assume you have already upgraded your tablet to the latest available BIOS.
  • During Windows installation, the tablet's accelerometer isn't available, so you can only work in portrait/vertical mode.
  • The touch screen doesn't work during Windows setup, so you'll be glad to have your USB mouse and keyboard here.
  • When you get to the "Which type of installation do you want?" screen, pick the Custom: Install Windows only option.
  • Choosing how to partition your tablet: On the Where do you want to install Windows screen you will probably find a bunch of partitions listed. Most of these are Dell-created partitions for backup/restore purposes and to store Dell's diagnostic tools. These additional partitions take up 6 gigabytes of the tablet's storage (and my model only has 32GB total). If you would like to keep the existing partition scheme, then you'll want to choose the largest "Primary" partition available (the one selected in my screenshot). The next bullet item in this section has some details on using that partition. If you don't think you'll need those other partitions and would like to reclaim that extra space, I have read that some folks have had success simply using the Delete button here to remove all of the pre-existing partitions and then letting Windows 10 partition the storage with its default settings. I have not tried this personally, so I don't know what you lose by going this route. (If anyone out there tries it, please let me know how it works out!)
  • If, like me, you choose to keep Dell's existing partition scheme, you might notice something like the below screenshot, where the Format and New commands are grayed out and there's a warning saying "Windows can't be installed on drive 0 partition 5." This is because the Dell Windows 10 configuration uses BitLocker drive encryption to protect your files. In order to use this space to install Windows 10, you need to select the partition, and then click Delete. After you delete the partition, it will appear as unpartitioned space, which you can then select as your install partition.
  • Since the Windows 10 installer doesn't include drivers for the Venue Pro's WiFi, you won't be able to connect to your network or create an online-connected user account during Windows Setup. After setup is complete and you install your WiFi drivers, you'll be able to connect your local user account to your Microsoft account for full Windows 10 functionality.
  • When/if prompted for a product key, use the key that you archived with Belarc Adviser (or other methods) in the "Before you start" section of this guide. If you choose the "I don't have a product key" option, the setup wizard will let you proceed, but it will ask you which edition of Windows you wish to install. You must be careful to choose an edition that is a valid upgrade path from your old Windows 8 install. The "Using the tool to create installation media" section of the Download Windows 10 page lists which Windows 7/8 versions map to specific Windows 10 editions.
  • Follow the rest of the prompts to allow Windows 10 setup to complete.

Installing drivers and finalizing setup

Once the initial Windows 10 setup procedure is complete, there are a few important things you'll have to do get things working normally, because right now you'll probably notice that:
  • There is no audio.
  • There is no WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity.
  • The accelerometers aren't working, so you have to work in portrait mode.
  • The touchscreen doesn't work.
  • You can only create/use "local" user accounts.

Install required drivers

First off, on an internet-connected computer, go to the Dell drivers page for the Venue 8 Pro and download the following drivers to a USB flash drive. (I created a "downloads" folder on my Windows 10 setup drive for this.)
  • Network > Dell Wireless 1538 WiFi/Bluetooth Driver
  • Chipset > Intel Atom Z3000 Series Driver
Connect your flash drive to your powered USB hub and install both drivers. Restart Windows when and if prompted.

After both drivers are installed, you should find that you can now do the following:
  • Pair Bluetooth devices.
  • Connect to WiFi networks.
  • Rotate the device to switch between portrait and landscape modes.
  • Use the touch screen.

Update the audio driver

The Z3000 Series chipset drivers actually include the correct driver for your on-board audio, but Windows seems to pick a different sound driver during Windows setup that doesn't work. Here's how to get the audio working (assuming you've already installed the chipset driver). You will want to have a mouse connected for this step.
  1. In Windows 10, open up the Device Manager control panel and expand the Sound, video and game controllers node.
  2. Right-click Intel SST Audio Device (WDM) and then click Update driver.
  3. Use the "Search automatically for updated driver software" option and Windows should locate your newly-installed driver.
  4. Repeat these steps for the Realtek I2S Audio Codec device. In my case, Windows reported that I already had the correct driver.
  5. Restart Windows. Once you log in you should be able to play and hear audio.

Connect to your Microsoft account

Since you probably had to create a local account during Windows setup, now that you have network connectivity, you should connect to your Microsoft account so that you can use OneDrive and the Windows Store.

After logging into Windows 10, bring up the account settings page by pressing the Windows key, clicking your user portrait, and then clicking Change account settings. (You can also open up the search box and type "Manage your account.")

On your account settings page there should be a link that says "Connect to a Microsoft account" or "Sign in with Microsoft." Click this link and enter your Microsoft credentials. From this point on you can log in with your Microsoft credentials.

Where did my desktop and taskbar icons go?

Once my tablet was connected to the internet it began downloading Windows updates, and I let it restart a few times to let all the updates install. At one point, though, when I logged into the tablet, something was very different!

Instead of being greeted with my desktop upon logging in:

I instead logged into what was essentially a full-screen Start menu:

There was no Desktop tile, and when I launched any apps their icons wouldn't appear in the taskbar, so I could only switch between them using hotkeys. What the heck happened?

Well it seems that after one of the Windows updates I had downloaded, Windows 10 realized my device was actually a tablet and "helpfully" forced it into "tablet mode" for me. This is a mode that's meant to make desktop windows feel more like a mobile/tablet operating system. It's fine for what it is, but there were still some things I wanted to do in desktop mode before I felt ready using the Venue Pro as a tablet again. Here's how to switch between modes:

  1. If you're in tablet mode, click the Settings gear on the left side of the screen. If you're in desktop mode, press the Windows key to bring up the Start menu, and search for "Tablet mode settings."
  2. On the Tablet mode screen, change the "When I sign in" setting to force desktop or tablet mode, or to let Windows decide which is best for your device.
  3. If you use Tablet mode, you can also decide whether or not to show taskbar buttons by changing the "Hide app icons on the taskbar in tablet mode" option.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Comparing DAW Performance of Recent Cubase Versions on Windows

I recently had to increase the buffer size setting on my audio interface to eliminate audio glitches in a music project on Cubase Pro 9. Since I almost never have to adjust my interface settings while producing a track, I wondered if perhaps Cubase 9 wasn't performing as well as previous Cubase versions I'd worked with. I searched around for some performance information, but I couldn't find any detailed, up-to-date comparisons of recent Cubase versions- so I decided to do my own.

Cubase versions under test

I decided to test the most recent available 64-bit versions of the last four major Cubase releases:
  • Cubase 6.5 - Originally released February 2012, the latest version is 6.5.5 from June 24, 2013.
  • Cubase 7.5 - Originally released December 2013, the latest version is 7.5.40 from Jan 19, 2015.
  • Cubase Pro 8.5 - Originally released December 2015, the latest version is 8.5.30 from Feb 22, 2017.
  • Cubase Pro 9.0 - Originally released December 2016, the latest version is 9.0.30 from July 20, 2017.
In addition to comparing basic performance of individual Cubase releases, I also wanted to examine the effects of ASIO-Guard, a feature Steinberg introduced with Cubase 7. By using smart management of CPU time and audio buffers, ASIO-Guard claims to increase the amount of plugins you can run without encountering audio glitches. Steinberg claims to have made improvements to ASIO-Guard over time, so I wanted to see how the feature had changed.

DAW Bench and Test Preparation

I installed each version side-by-side on my PC, patched them with the latest updates, and then downloaded the 2017 versions of the DAW Bench test projects. In case you're not familiar with DAW Bench, it's a collection of DAW projects assembled by audio professional Vin Curigliano to assess a digital audio workstation's ability to reliably produce audio while operating under heavy DSP workloads. When a computer's DSP resources are exhausted, audio suffers, with pops, drop-outs, and strange digital artifacts. Many factors contribute to a DAW system's ability to perform well: CPU, chipsets, drivers, operating system, DAW software, and audio interfaces all play a role.

The current iteration of DAW Bench includes five different Cubase test projects, broken into two categories.

  • The DSP projects contain some basic audio tracks with literally hundreds of instances of a specific effect loaded up on various tracks. These push your computer's computational digital signal processing capabilities to its limits. The "score" for a DSP test is the number of plugin instances that can be activated without glitching the audio.
  • The VI projects use instances of Native Instruments Kontakt to test your computer's virtual instrument oscillation/voice generation abilities by playing from hundreds to thousands of simultaneous notes of polyphony. The "score" for a VI test is the number of musical notes that can play simultaneously without glitching the audio.

Each of the DSP projects uses a different freely-available effects plugin:
  • DSP-1566 uses Shattered Glass Audio's SGA1566, which is a CPU-intensive emulation of a vintage tube amplifier.
  • DSP-MJUC uses Klanghelm's MJUC jr., a "variable-mu" compressor plugin.
  • DSP-REAX uses a specially-compiled version of Cockos ReaXcomp, a multi-band compressor. (Note: The correct version is included in the DAW Bench download, don't use the one from the Reaper site.)
There are also two flavors of the VI tests: The "VI-CV" tests use Kontakt's internal convolution reverb effect (using more DSP power), while the "VI-NCV" tests have no reverb enabled.

I performed the tests on my primary DAW PC. The full specs of the system are published elsewhere, but here's the pertinent information:
  • Processor: Intel i7 5930K @ 3.50GHz (6 physical cores)
  • RAM: 32GB
  • Video: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Professional SP-1, 64-bit
  • Audio Interface: RME FireFace UFX, in FireWire mode
  • Interface Settings: 44.1kHz, 256 samples.
  • Windows Optimization: The only Windows performance tweak I made was to select the High Performance power scheme in the Power Options control panel and to disable some unneeded startup processes and services. I have not adjusted any of the more arcane Windows settings such as the MMCSS options.
  • Cubase Optimization: In all of my tests I use the default Cubase performance settings, with the obvious exception of disabling/enabling ASIO-Guard for a specific round of tests. So this means I'm leaving Audio Priority to Normal, Activate Multi Processing is checked, Activate Steinberg Audio Power Scheme is unchecked (I'm using the built-in Windows High Performance scheme), and on versions of Cubase that offer various "ASIO-Guard Level" settings, I'm using the normal level.

DSP Test Results

The results of the DSP tests are below. For versions of Cubase with the ASIO-Guard features, separate scores are shown with the feature disabled ("no AG") or enabled ("AG"). Cubase 6.5 is the only tested version which lacks that feature.

DSP Test Raw Data (44.1kHz, 256 samples)
DSP Test Chart
The results weren't very dramatic, however they did show modest gains for the ASIO-Guard feature- particularly for versions 7.5 and 9.0. Cubase 8.5 with ASIO-Guard enabled scored the best for 2 out of 3 tests while Cubase 9.0 with ASIO-Guard disabled scored lowest in all three tests.

VI Test Results

The virtual instrument tests were a little more interesting. In the tests below, "VI-CV" are with Kontakt's convolution reverb effect enabled, while reverb is disabled in the "VI-NCV" tests.

VI Test Raw Data (44.1kHz, 256 samples)

VI Test chart

A few things stand out in these tests:
  • First, ASIO-Guard made dramatic improvements in both Cubase 8.5 and Cubase 9.0, while their ASIO-Guard gains weren't quite as impressive in the DSP tests. The feature shows a clear and demonstrable benefit, at least for some plugin duties.
  • The improvement ASIO-Guard made on Cubase 7.5 was much less impressive, and I am guessing it's because the Cubase 7.x implementation of ASIO-Guard did not fully support multi-timbral plugins such as Kontakt.
  • It was also interesting that while Cubase 9.0-with-ASIO-Guard gained the second-highest score in the test, without ASIO-Guard, Cubase 9.0 scored the lowest on these tests. Cubase 8.5 scored significantly higher, in both the ASIO-Guard enabled and disabled tests.

Final scores

I wanted to be able to rank individual Cubase versions in terms of performance, but I didn't want the VI tests to skew the numbers (since the VI scores reach up to the thousands while the DSP scores are all down in the low hundreds). In order to give each test equal weight, I divided the VI test scores by 10, and then I summed all 5 test scores for each DAW and ASIO-Guard setting.

Final Scores (raw)
Final Scores (chart)
With these adjusted performance scores, it appears that Cubase 8.5 with ASIO-Guard is the best-performing version of Cubase in recent years, although Cubase 9.0 still performs very well in second place so long as ASIO-Guard is enabled. However with ASIO-Guard disabled, Cubase 9.0 is the worst-performing version of Cubase of the versions tested.


  • Cubase 9 performs slightly worse than Cubase 8.5, given the same content and settings on the same system. Without ASIO-Guard, Cubase 9 performed about 4 percent worse than 8.5. With ASIO-Guard there was only around a 2 percent difference.
  • Core Cubase performance (without ASIO-Guard) has not changed significantly over time. With Cubase 7.5 and 8.5 performing around 1 percent better than Cubase 6.5 and Cubase 9.0 performing nearly 3% worse, Cubase has delivered more or less consistent performance across major releases.
  • ASIO-Guard can make a big difference, but it depends on the specific plugins and workload. Both Cubase 8.x and 9.x saw huge gains in the VI tests with ASIO-Guard enabled, but the gains were less impressive in the DSP tests.
  • Cubase makes very good use of multi-core processors and hyper-threading (*). Not all Windows DAWs handle modern CPUs the same, but Cubase has, for some time, been quite good at making use of both physical and logical CPU resources to deliver reliable audio under heavy DSP loads. Here's a screenshot of Windows Task Manager while Cubase is performing one of the DSP tests covered earlier. Every logical core of my i7 5930K is working at the maximum allowed by the Windows MMCSS settings (which reserve 20% of CPU power for background tasks). I plan to explore this stuff a little more in future posts.
(*) As of the time of this writing there is a known issue with Cubase on Windows 10 where Windows imposes a thread limit that can result in audio instability on CPUs with more than 14 logical cores (or more than 7 physical cores). For now, Steinberg recommends using Windows 8.1 or earlier for top Cubase performance on CPUs that exceed 14 logical cores, or using workarounds on Windows 10 which are documented at the above link to at least avoid the audio glitches resulting from this limitation.