Windows 10 SSD woes

Windows 10 SSD woes

Last weekend I attempted to upgrade my kids' computers by replacing the spinning rust drives with a couple of SSDs. The machines are several years old -- 4th Generation Intel CPUs coupled to 16GB of RAM -- but otherwise, they are reliable and perform well as casual gaming PCs. It should have been a trivial exercise, but alas, I underestimated Microsoft's incompetence and hostility to its customers.

The problem was getting Windows 10 installed. I downloaded the latest installation ISO from Microsoft, flashed it to the USB thumb drive I use for OS installs, connected it to the computers and booted.

Nope, nothing. The computers refused to boot from the disk.

At first, I thought it was my fault. I repartitioned the drive to GPT, reflashed the drive with the Windows installer, went into the computers' bios and ensured UEFI was active as the boot mode, and disabled secure boot. Sure this would fix the issue, I rebooted.

Nope, nothing. The computers refused to boot from the disk.

I repeated the previous step, this time trying the MBR partition map and booting into legacy mode.

Nope, nothing. The computers refused to boot from the disk.

Much reading ensued. Eventually, I found a guide that resulted in a bootable drive. It required that I create a FAT32 formated disk and manually copy all of Windows installation files from the ISO. Note this step required carving up a couple of files too big to fit on a FAT32 drive. But, at least I got the computers to boot -- yay!

Only that's when more problems arose.

The Windows installer refused to recognise the SSDs when another drive was connected via SATA. Once I disconnected them, I was able to start the installation process. However, even though the installer recognised the SSD on the next boot, it refused to install and threw some vague error about incorrect partitions.

I opened the pathetic excuse for a command-line Microsoft provides and ran diskpart to create the required partitions manually. I formated the primary partition to NTFS, then rebooted and tried again.

Nope, Windows refused.

By now, I'd rebooted about 30 times -- not to mention flashing and formatting both the USB and SSD drives a dozen time. Understandably I was peeved and left wondering why people use this godawful operating system. So, I gave up and went to watch Captain America: The Winter Soldier with my family.

The following day I changed tack and evaluated what my kids need out of these machines. The answer was playing Minecraft and retro PC games, along with lightweight coding (my eldest wants to learn Python). With this in mind, I decided I'd install Linux since that works well with Minecraft, and it's a much better platform for development. As a bonus, my aforementioned (and precocious) son would find Linux harder to break as he had done to Microsoft Windows -- even with a non-admin account -- by loading too many dodgy Chrome extensions. I'm also on firmer footing with administrating Linux than I am with Windows, and I knew I would need to spend much less time with ongoing maintenance.

Nevertheless, I wasn't sure if it would work. I had the nagging doubt in my mind that my kids' ageing hardware might be the issue. Maybe it wasn't Windows fault, after all. The machines in question are a Dell Optiplex and an HP ProDesk -- two stalwart brands of the PC-verse. These are machines built and optimised for Windows, unless, of course, you want to put an SSD in them.

Anyway, I flashed my USB stick with Ubuntu Mate 20.04 (the latest long-term support release), plugged it into the first machine, switched it on.

The computers booted the first time without a single issue. Rubbing even more crap in the face of Microsoft's overpaid executives, Ubuntu recognised the internal SSD and happily installed itself to the drive. No obscure errors, no fuss -- it just worked.

When I booted for the first time in my account, I installed the latest Nvidia drivers, along with Minecraft and PlayOnLinux (a Wine wrapper for PC games). I created non-admin accounts for my kids, and asked them to play Minecraft for a bit to see how it compared to the Windows experience. They said it was great, just as good as gaming under Windows.

Concluding thoughts

Windows 10 is a dumpster fire. Sure, I can say that as a full-time, somewhat smug Mac user whose daily driver is a MacBook Pro. In fairness to Microsoft, they can't support the wide range of hardware out there, but I was surprised that it failed to install on Western Digital SATA SSDs on hardware from two commodity brands. Dell and HP are Microsoft's bread and butter OEMs, between them cornering the corporate market; in fact, I acquired both machines as corporate castoffs and saved them from landfill.

The real hero here is Ubuntu. Far from being user-hostile, Ubuntu is built to be the complete opposite, a fantastic GNU/Linux distribution built for human beings. Linux liberates hardware and users alike, while Microsoft seems at war with both its OEMs and users. I discovered nothing wrong with the hardware I gave my kids, and the machines will have many more years of life.

I can't see myself ever bothering with Microsoft Windows again.

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