Friday, January 31, 2014

Windows 8.1 Fix for Slow Shutdown and Restart

After Windows 8.1 upgrade, PC is slow to shut down and slow to restart.  The PC is slow to wake from sleep.  PC will not wake from sleep.  The solution is sloppy, but works.  Updated 2015.06.

* Update:  2014.02.11 This article solves the slow-restart issue in Windows 8.1, but introduced a new problem where the machine does not wake from sleep.  Read below for details.

Symptoms:
  • Even on a fast i7 machine, shut-down and restart times are long - taking approximately 3 to 4 minutes.  Some readers have reported as long as 6 and 7 minutes.
     
  •  The PC may not wake from sleep.
  •  
  • You have a Qualcomm Atheros 802.11 b/g/n 2.4Ghz WIFI and Bluetooth adapter or a Dell-branded 1703 Bluetooth and Wireless card.
     
  • The machine can be a desktop or laptop
For this document, this problem was seen and resolved on a Dell XPS8700, but has been reported on other platforms and brands.  The issue is with the Bluetooth Wireless card.  On the Dell, it is the Dell-branded 1703 Bluetooth and Wireless card, but this is really a Qualcomm Atheros WIFI adapter and this appears to be the main problem. There is a secondary problem reported with the Intel Management Engine on Intel-branded motherboards. 

Solution 1: Update drivers
Solution 2: Update Intel Management Engine
Solution 3: Disable Bluetooth until a patched driver is released

Author's Note:  It is difficult to decide whether to blame Dell or not.  The XPS 8700 did not ship with Windows 8.1 and I can't blame Dell for not directly solving this problem.  On the other hand, as of this writing, 8.1 had been out for 6 months, and the machine should have shipped with the new OS by now.  Having a Dell-branded wireless card always gives me reason to pause; I'd bet a name-brand card would work without issue.

Solution 1:  Update Drivers:


Do Solution 1 and Solution2
If you still have troubles, consider Solution 3, which I initially used to solve this problems. 

Dell 1703 Wireless Drivers
Update: As of 2015.06
Version 10.0.0.301,A01  2014.12.29
http://downloads.dell.com/FOLDER02746931M/1/XPS-8700_Network_Driver_K19V9_WN32_10.0.0.301_A01.EXE

Formerly:
Version 10.0.0.263,A00  2013.10.08
http://www.dell.com/support/drivers/us/en/19/DriverDetails?driverID=YX1X0



This driver should work on both Dell and non-Dell machines, with this same Qualcomm Atheros card. 


When installing this driver, the status bar reaches 100%, and on my machine, the installation hung (especially if you chose the "repair" option).  Be patient for several minutes; there is no hourglass or other activity.  When you get bored, minimize all windows, looking for a reboot message.

If you can't find the message, do this:  On the Charm menu, select Settings, Power, Restart.  After a moment, the Restart will complain because a setup is still active.  Cancel the restart.  You should then see an installation message: "Setup was configured not to reboot..."; click Ok.  Then reboot manually.  This is sloppy work by Dell.  It gets even sloppier.


The first restart will be slow and will crash, offering to send diagnostics to Microsoft.  On restart, allow it to send the diagnostics, giving Dell and Qualcomm a reason to fix their horrible installation.  Once you restart, all should be well.

Confirm the driver version by opening Control Panel, Device Manager, Network, and checking the driver version.

Issue:
After applying this driver, I now see a problem where the PC will not wake from a deep sleep (say after 12 hours of no activity).  Oddly, it would wake from a sleep after (3 hours).  While in deep sleep, noted the powersupply-fan was active, CD Drive would open close, but no activity on the monitor -- indicating the PC is not really in a sleep or hibernation.  But you could not PING the machine's IP Address.  Ideally, it would be neat to remote-control the PC to see if it were really active, but without an active Network connection, I cannot do this.

All of this points to a weirdity with the network card.

To narrow the problem down, I did the following: In Device Manager, disabled the Dell 1703 Ethernet card, and Bluetooth features (disabling 4 separate devices).  Plugged the PC into a Wired connection.  After two days of testing, the PC wakes from sleep properly.  Something is wrong with the Dell/Qualcomm Wireless card. 

I could disable the power-save features on the network card, but this is non-standard and defeats the purpose of the power-saving modules and would probably mask the real problem.

Although this won't help any readers, the next test is to replace the wireless card with an Intel-branded wireless and test again.  I suspect this will work fine.




Solution 2: Slow Shutdown Times  (Intel Motherboards only)

In my testing, slower shutdown times have been partially traced to the Intel's "ME Management Engine driver for Intel NUC".  The Qualcomm wireless card driver made the most difference, but I also saw improvement here.  This step alone will not fix the slow reboot times. 

This is a good step to perform, regardless of the slowness issue.

Diagnostics:
Open the Control Panel, "Programs and Features".
Locate and highlight Intel Management Engine.
Note the version number.  You need to be at version 9.5.15.1730 (date 2013/10/24) or newer.  My version was 9.0.13.1402.  Intel often changes this software so expect newer version numbers than what is published here.


Upgrading Intel Management Engine:

Intel makes finding their software challenging unless you happen to know the exact name you are looking for.  As of 2014.02, follow these steps:

1.  Browse to www.intel.com.  From top menu, choose Support, choose "Download Center"


2.  In the Search Downloads box, middle of the screen, type "Intel Management Engine"

3.  Narrow the search by Operating System only (Windows 8.1 64-bit); do not filter by Desktop or Software Products or you will get lost.  The screen used to look like this, but has now changed




4.  In the results, look for

"Intel ME 10: Managemetn Engine Driver for Intel NUC

As of 2015.06:
Version 10.0.38.1036
Date: 1/21/2015

"Intel (R) ME 9: Management Engine Driver for Intel(R) NUC
version 9.5.15.1730 or newer.

You will likely find two possible hits.  Without knowing the model of your mother board, guess at which one to download.  (If the downloaded version will not install - it won't install on the wrong hardware - then try the other).  As of this date, the download is a Zip file. 

5.  In Windows Explorer, create a temporary folder/directory (any location), name it any name, such as "IntelDriver".

6.  Locate the downloaded ZIP file.  Double-click to open.  Highlight all files, all folders, copy.  Paste the copy in the newly built Temp folder  (here is where you wished Intel would distribute installable .exe)'s.   Do not run the install from within the .ZIP.

7.  In the Temp folder, double-click "Setup.exe" and allow the program to install.  The install will take about a minute and a reboot is likely.  In Control Panel, Programs and Features, confirm the version number.  Delete the Temp folder.


Partially Related - Intel ME FW Recovery Agent:

Intel also installs the Intel Management Engine Firmware Recovery Agent (see Programs and Features).  This is a background process that checks Intel for updates and automatically updates regardless of what your OEM does (Dell, HP, etc.). 

In general, I distrust auto-updates for hardware.  After a short while, vendors get tired of updating hardware drivers and then, years later, you still have this process running and occupying resources when there will probably never be another change.  In the system tray, launch the oddly-named "Firmware Recovery Agent" and let it check one time.  Then, in the Settings link within the program, you can disable automatic checks, if desired.  Manually checking for updates with the search-steps above may be adequate for many.

Results:
The machine should boot, shutdown and wake from sleep at lightning speeds. 


Solution 3:  / Workaround:

Note:  This solution, while solving the immediate problem of slow shutdowns and restarts (before I found a newer driver), I have since discovered a new problem:  The PC is not waking from sleep.  This workaround originally solved the problem, with much faster shutdown and restart times, but later discovered the machine would not wake from sleep.

Steps, now in some doubt, but might be worth exploring:

1.  Disable the Bluetooth feature on the wireless card until Qualcomm releases a fixed driver (as of 2014.02.02 - version 6.3.9600.16384 this has not been fixed).  The Wireless card handles both Ethernet and Bluetooth traffic.  With this workaround, the WIFI remains enabled, while disabling Bluetooth fixes this problem with obvious consequences.

Steps to Disable the Bluetooth:

a.  Login to Windows 8.1 with an administrative account (likely, you are already logged in as a local admin).

b.  Open Control Panel, choose "Device Manager"

c.  In Network Adapters, locate:

Bluetooth Device (Personal Area Network)
Bluetooth Device (RFCOMM Protocol TDI)


Highlight each choice, other-mouse-click and choose "Disable";  do not uninstall.



d.  Scroll to, and expand, "System Devices". Disable Bluetooth in a third location:

Locate "Qualcomm Atheros Bluetooth Bus"
Other-mouse-click and choose "Disable"; do not uninstall




e.  Close Device Manager.  Gracefully reboot the workstation.
Once back online, reboot a second time for the final test.  Restart times should be *much* faster.


Related links:
 
Qualcomm Drivers - This page will not be useful, but is documented here, anyway.  Drivers are .Rar and I cannot tell which driver I should be downloading and cannot tell by product description.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Plantronics Voyager Pro HD Review

Plantronics Voyager Pro HD Review









Synopsis:
Buy this headset.  Clear, flawless calls; everyone can understand me and few know I am on a headset.


My previous headset was a cheap, $30 Plantronics Explorer 240.  It was horrible.  Nobody could understand what I was saying and it picked up every ambient noise from paper-shuffling to ants walking on the sidewalk.  In the car it was hopeless.

Lesson learned: Buy a more expensive headset and the Plantronics Voyager Pro HD has been a good -- with just a few problems. 

I recommend this model (Voyager Pro HD) over the newer Voyager Legend.  I believe the Pro HD has a better boom mike and it has a non-proprietary USB charging port.  Amazon reviews tend to agree the Voyager Pro HD has better sound quality.

In summary:
  • Clear, flawless voice calls.  Everyone understands me.
  • I can hear them
  • Noise cancellation is good; wind and road noise works well
  • Boom mike "feels" right - you need a boom mike
  • Comfortable on left or right ear
     
  • Looks bulky but is not noticeable while wearing 
  • Easy-to-use volume and call-answer controls
  • 6 hour talk time - for real
  • Standard Micro-USB charger; unlike newer Plantronic models which use proprietary plugs.
     
  • It can theoretically "detect" when you are wearing it and route the call.  This feature is flawed, but survivable.
  • Fit on the ear but is a bit too "loose"
  • Costs: $70
Related Articles:
Keyliner: Bluetooth Headset does not respond to Voice calls



Hurray for the Dorky Boom Mic:

The overall construction is solid, with quality-feeling materials.  It does not feel cheap or plastic-y.

The boom-mic is the original reason I bought this headset.  I know you think this is dorky but it looks futuristic -- like an airline pilot.  Besides, anyone who thinks they can wear a BlueTooth headset and not look a little weird, is only fooling themselves.  I digress.  With the mic, there is nothing to hide and the device's intent is obvious.  Like flip-phones of yesteryear, the boom-mic seems "right" and you won't subconsciously yell into it.

The mic is one of the main reasons this headset works so well. Technically, it houses two separate microphones.  One picks up your voice while the other listens for outside, ambient sounds.  It compares the two and uses this for background noise cancellation.  In practice, it works well, especially with white-noise. On a windy day, this mic performs far-better than a normal phone.

Most of the people on the other end of the conversation do not know I am wearing a headset.  This speaks volumes about this device.

 
Size and Fit:

Many have complained the headset is bulky and it admittedly looks formidable.  But, despite the size, the headset is light, balances well on the ear.  The back-side has been unnoticeable.

Eye-glass wearers have reported problems, but I wear glasses and have been reasonably happy.

2012.10 Update: With thick plastic-frame glasses, I have had minor but noticeable problems keeping the headset on if I am moving.  When standing still or seated I have not had an issue.  With my thinner, wire-framed glasses, I have not had a problem.


Twists and Turns:

The headset fits on the left or right ear.  It moves "weirdly" with the ear-piece swiveling 180-degrees about the vertical post, and the boom mic rotates up-and-over (see top banner graphic).  In practice, you will pick one ear and will never vary.  But unfolding is a mind-bending exercise and I laugh every-time I do this.  The design is marvelous and confounding, especially when the phone is ringing. But after unfolding the headset about a thousand times, I think I've gotten the hang of it.

 


Problems:  Loose Fit

The vertical post, illustrated above, is a flexible tube (almost floppy).  This means it slips on and off the ear easily, but it also means it applies no pressure against the ear, making the fit seem loose.

The rubber ear-piece does not fit in the ear-canal; it was designed to be on the outside and because of this, it always feels "loose" on the ear.  The center-post, being "floppy" does not help and you will have the distinct feeling it does not feel "snug."  This is probably the only thing really wrong with the headset.  This doesn't mean it will fall off, but it never "feels right."

The ear-piece is replaceable and comes with three separate sizes.  With the smallest, I can wedge it into the ear-canal, where it feels natural and comfortable.  While "in" the ear, the sound and volume are spectacular -- but this is not where it wants to be and it will "pop" out and rest softly against the ear, as designed.  I suppose this is the reason other reviewers have commented the headset volume is too weak.  I can understand the observation but would agree it sounds better when it is "in" the ear.  With hearing aids, you must wear this on the outside.

Problem: On-Ear Sensor

The headset has a sensor that detects when you are wearing it.  While on your ear, new incoming calls are routed automatically to the headset.  If not on your ear, the call routes to the phone, even if Bluetooth is on.  If the headset is removed mid-call, it immediately disconnects and jumps to the phone.  But if I am moving and the headset jiggles, it sometimes "thinks" it has left my head and disconnects.

The on-ear-sensor can get confused at other times -- especially if the headset is in your pocket.  And when this happens, it cannot reliably tell when it should pick up the call.  Plantronics has Re-calibration Instructions here.  But I found calibration is a short-term fix and invariably it needs recalibration again and again and I no longer bother.  In my mind, the ear-sensor is unreliable.  But this is not a show-stopper.
 
Consider going to Plantronics site and downloading the BIOS update.  With this, you can disable the ear-sensor, which solves these types of problems.  Now, if Bluetooth is on, and the headset is on, the call routes to the headset, no questions asked. This is how I operate the headset now.  Granted, it is not as convenient, but with a few clicks on the phone, I am back in business and I know it is going to work.   

In practice, it is easier to control manually.  When not using the headset, I turn off the phone's Bluetooth and turn it on when needed.  Both the phone and the headset will engage during an in-progress call.  I can quickly switch to the headset without the other party noticing.



Optional but-needed Accessory: the Carry-Case

When buying the headset, I recommend buying the optional carrying case ($8), especially if you travel for a living.  This headset is valuable enough to protect.

Because this uses a standard micro-USB charger, throw an old cell-phone charger in your suitcase and leave the original at home but be aware the charger that came with the headset has a  lower amperage and charges slower (which can be a plus;  this is easier on the rechargeable battery).  With this said, I have used both and car-chargers.  It is nice having a standard micro-USB port, which  should be a requirement for all headsets and phones.


Day-to-Day Use

I have used this headset for more than a year and most of the time, the people at the other end do not know I am on a headset.  This is a testament to this headset's quality and the sound-quality is the primary concern. 

I have successfully paired with my cell phone, Android tablet and laptop and use it for calls, Skype, and with Google voice recognition.  The headset can pair with multiple devices and can work with two devices simultaneously.  For example, often the phone and the tablet are competing for the same channel and both seem to work properly. While active on the phone, I can turn on the tablet's Bluetooth and the headset immediately switches (you will hear "connected to device 2").  When I turn off the tablet's bluetooth, it automatically flips back to the phone ("connected to device 1").

The range is about 10 meters (30 feet) and works across several rooms in the house.  Distance has been surprisingly good.  When you walk in and out of range, a voice says "device disconnected / connected".  Each time you power it on, a voice tells you the battery status, such as "talk time 6 hours" or "talk time less than 2 hours."

Of all the headsets I have tried, this has been the best and I would buy it again.

Updated 2014.01
It was dropped on a concrete floor, with no obvious damage, but it quit working for a few days while I diagnosed the problem.  See the related article below for instructions on how to force a re-pairing.  After these steps, the headset is working again.

However, during this time I researched a replacement and seriously pondered a newer model, the Voyager Legend.  After reading many reviews, it appears the Voyager Pro HD is probably still the better device (better mic, better USB charging).  I would have stayed with the Pro HD model.


Pairing the Headset

For reference, this is how to pair the headset to your phone or laptop:

1. On the headset, from a powered-off state, press and hold the power button for approximately 10 seconds until the LED flashes red and blue.

2.  Turn on your (phone's) Bluetooth feature.  For most devices, Settings, Connections, Bluetooth.

3.  From the (phone's) Bluetooth menu, you should see "PLT_VoyagerPro".  Select it to begin pairing.

4.  If prompted for a Passkey/PIN, type "0000"

5.  On some phones, you may be prompted with a sub-menu, or there may be an options menu, where you can enable Bluetooth for Phone Audio or Media (music) Audio.  Check the appropriate options; usually both.




If you are having problems pairing, see this article:
Keyliner: Bluetooth Headset does not respond to Voice calls



2014.01.27 Edited for clarity and some embarrassing sentence construction and transitions; added better Re-Pairing instructions and numerous other article improvements.  Originally published 2012.08.15.

Related Articles:
Keyliner: Bluetooth Headset does not respond to Voice Calls


Monday, January 13, 2014

Plantronics Voyager HD Headset no longer working for phone calls

Problem: Plantronics Voyager HD Bluetooth Headset no longer working for phone calls. Bluetooth Headset will not connect during voice calls.

Symptoms:
Headset announces "Phone 1 connected"
Headset plays MP3 music
Headset announces talk time, disconnects, etc.
Bluetooth Headset settings were marked for both Phone Audio and Media Audio.
But Headset does not work during a phone call.










These instructions demonstrate an HTC One X phone, running Android 4.x.  Steps should be similar on other devices and other headsets.


Confirm this first:

A.  In the (Android) main Settings screen, confirm Bluetooth is On.

B.  In the main Settings page, click Bluetooth and locate the paired device.  On my phone, this appears as "PLT_VoyagerPro connected".  Click the Adjust-Settings icon on the far-right of the headset's name.


C.  In the Profiles section, confirm Phone Audio and Media Audio are turned on.  If not, turn the phone audio on and exit these screens.


D.  Test using the headset by calling Voice Mail (press and hold the "1" key on the numeric dial-pad).  If you still cannot hear the call, continue with the steps below.


Better Re-Pairing (Paring) Instructions:

I spoke with Plantronics support and they suggested these steps.  The first, solved my problem.

1.  From the phone's Bluetooth settings menu, delete the headset (de-pair).

2.  Exit the settings page and return to the phone's home page.

3.  Important, and this is the keys step:  Power-off, then on the phone.  This re-sets the bluetooth stack.

4.  Re-pair normally  (Press and hold the headset's power button for approximately 10 seconds, until the LED flashes alternating red and blue.  Turn on the phone's Bluetooth.  In the Settings page, bluetooth, click on the the advertised headset.  If prompted for a code, use "0000".

5.  One re-paired, click the Adjust-Settings icon on the far-right.  Confirm Phone Audio and Media Audio are selected (see illustrations, above).  Return to the phone's main screen.

6.  To test, dial voice-mail (press and hold "1" on the numeric dial pad).  Confirm you can hear the call.


Other Diagnostic Steps:

a.  Consider pairing the headset to another device, such as a tablet or another phone. If this pairs successfully, it indicates the problem is with your phone.  If it fails to pair or fails to work on the other device, suspect a problem with the headset.

Keywords:  repair repairing paring blue tooth connecting

Related articles:
Keyliner Review: Plantronics Voyager HD Bluetooth Headset