Windows 8 BIOS Keys – embedded goodness


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 5×5 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!

Comments (20)

  1. Ryan says:

    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.

  2. Keith Combs says:

    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.

  3. Ryan says:

    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)

  4. Max says:

    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.

  5. Keith Combs says:

    @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.

  6. Ryan says:

    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.

  7. Steve says:

    What if I need to replace the motherboard?

  8. Keith Combs says:

    @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.

  9. Ryan says:

    @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.

  10. Steve says:

    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???

  11. Keith Combs says:

    @Steve,

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

  12. Martin says:

    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?

  13. Dave says:

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

  14. Keith Combs says:

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

  15. Keith Combs says:

    @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.

  16. Ryan says:

    @Dave re comments system:

    Hit refresh before copying and pasting your post from Notepad (or wherever). From what I can tell, it seems like a timeout issue. If you type your post and take about 5-10 minutes (or so?) before clicking post, your comment will be lost.

  17. James says:

    "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?"

    I think what Martin wanted to know (as do I) is, what if you bought a system with a Windows 8 key embedded in the BIOS, and then tried to install a copy of Windows 8 Pro (or vice versa)? Would the embedded key interfere with the install or would you simply be presented with a key entry screen if you do this?

  18. Keith Combs says:

    @James, I am not sure. If the embedded key is Windows 8, and you are using the Windows 8 Pro install, I would imagine setup would provide a way to specify a new key.

    My machine came with Windows 8 Pro and I tested with a retail Windows 8 Pro DVD.

  19. Ryan says:

    Just an update… I've been struggling to get anywhere with Samsung's tech support. I've made 7 calls where they've said they'll call back (either 24-48 hours for an engineer, or in some cases, 1 hour for the call center person). They have not returned one call yet. I did find out after calling that the Easy Settings requiring local admin rights issue has been escalated, and that they're waiting on word from Samsung Korea to locate a version that doesn't have the local admin requirement.

    In the meantime, I couldn't wait. I spent some time with the ACT toolkit and was able to create (by trial and error) a shim that, to my surprise, works in every way, including the brightness fn key controls. The shim may grant more permissions than necessary (the permutations of options in ACT are almost endless), but it seems to work well in testing so far. If anyone is interested, I can provide the shim file.

  20. Ryan says:

    Now if I could just get the thing to image via SCCM…. 🙂