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Dual boot issues and the Black Screen of Death

by Martin de Boer

As is the case for many open source enthusiasts, I am the go-to person in my family for solving PC issues. I enjoy messing with computers and solving technical challenges. Over the last few weeks, I had a lot of Windows encounters. There are 3 reasons to write about this:

  1. I found a great tool to retrieve the Windows license key from openSUSE and I like to write about this tool
  2. I encountered a lot of driver issues on Windows, I like to share the problem and the way to solve it
  3. The grass is not greener on the other side

Dual boot issues

The first problem is self-inflicted. One of my family members has switched to openSUSE and is a happy user. Once openSUSE is installed, it proves to be rock solid. This doesn’t require much maintenance from my side. I recently proposed to upgrade this PC to the latest version of openSUSE, because Leap 15 is simply a fantastic release.

In this case, I wanted to do a clean install. I have performed upgrades to 42.2 and to 42.3 using the installation media. But I think it is a good idea to do a clean install every once in a while. This makes sure that there are only software packages installed that are really needed. During the installation, the openSUSE installer indicated that the EFI partition was not big enough. It was less than 256 MB of space. The only way to continue the installation was to remove it and to create a bigger EFI partition. However, I neglected that this would also delete the Windows EFI key and that Windows would not be able to recover / restore that. So after the openSUSE Leap 15 installation, there was no Windows in the GRUB2-EFI menu anymore.

My first thought was to burn the latest Windows 10 ISO to a disk and use this to restore the EFI key. However, the troubleshooting options of the Windows DVD didn’t manage to fix the issue. My only remaining option was to wipe the Windows 10 install and to reinstall it completely. I first made a backup of all the data in the user directory. And then I realized I would also need the Windows 10 license key…

Lucky for me (and all other Linux users) other people have encountered this problem before and they have created an amazing tool to recover the Windows 10 license key. It is called “chntpw” and is available from the openSUSE OSS repository. It is the offline NT Password and Registry Editor. I followed the instructions that I found online from a guy named Thomas and this worked like a charm. I think this is really amazing. I never knew about this tool, but I can imagine that it has helped a lot of people to recover from similar situations. The only remaining actions are now to install Windows 10 again (following these instructions) and to repair the UEFI/GRUB2/openSUSE boot scenario (following these instructions).

The Black Screen of Death is apparently a thing

I have encountered the Blue Screen of Death a numerous amount of times. The reason for that, is that I was an early adopter of Windows Vista. Windows Vista was very unstable at that time and would constantly freeze. An experience that led me to switch to openSUSE 11.2. In my work environment, I continued to use Windows (first 7, then 8, then 8.1, then 10). As is the case for most employers, there was no freedom to use something different. But I did encounter Blue Screens of Death less and less often, with every new Windows release.

Recently I decided to buy a proper gaming PC. (A review will follow at a later stage.) My ‘old’ PC was purchased 3 years ago. It is still a decently fast PC, as it has an Intel Core i5 4200U processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. So I decided to re-purpose this PC and find a good place for it. That ‘good place’ also meant that I needed to install Windows 10 on that PC. I had already burned the ISO. So I wiped all partitions and I performed the install of Windows 10. After boot, I started to install the usual FOSS software: LibreOffice, VLC, Clementine, ImageGlass, Darktable, OpenShot, GIMP, Krita, Inkscape, Scribus… and then the screen turned black. To never return again. This was my first encounter with an issue that seems to be widespread in the Windows world (post Windows 8): the Black Screen of Death.

Usually this involves some kind of driver issue. The question was which driver was the culprit. Most instructions start with updating the BIOS. However, the motherboard of this Zotac Sphere OI520 is custom. And so there are no BIOS updates available for this PC. I tried installing the official drivers for Windows 10 from the Zotac website. But none of them fixed the issue. I read a lot of forum posts that suggested to revert back to Windows 8.1. As I had kept the Windows 8.1 installation media that I had used for another family member, I tried that suggestion.

But also in Windows 8.1, the problem persisted. Only 1 minute after my first login, the screen would turn black to never return again. As everything worked as intended in Safe Mode, I soon realized that the Intel HD Graphics drivers were the cause of the problem. I tried to solve the problem by installing different versions of the Intel HD Graphics drivers. I tried installing the drivers from the Zotac Drivers DVD that I received in the box. I tried installing the latest drivers from the Zotac website. I tried installing the latest stable and beta Intel drivers from the Intel website that were listed as compatible with the i5 4200U processor. And I even tried to a manual install of the latest stable Intel drivers. Non of these solved the issue. In the end, the only remaining option was to disable the Intel HD Graphics drivers. This forced Windows to switch to the Microsoft Basic Display Adapter. Which allowed me to run Windows 8.1 in the normal mode.

I figured that this solution would also resolve the situation in Windows 10. So I decided to wipe the PC all over again, reinstall Windows 10 and apply the fix. In the end, the solution for my problem was to enable the bootmenupolicy legacy (see this instruction by Sahil Bali) and then boot into Safe Mode with F8 and disable the Intel HD Graphics driver (see the last part of this instruction). Although this seems easy to fix in hindsight, there is still something that troubles me:

  1. The problem occurred both in Windows 8.1 and Windows 10
  2. None of the official Intel Graphics drivers managed to fix the issue
  3. From forum posts all over the internet, this issue existed from 2012 until today

Conclusion

There are a lot of (older) discussions on the internet about Linux driver issues. From my experience over the last few years, I only encountered such issues in the area of Broadcom WiFi and Bluetooth drivers. Everything else was always detected without a problem. This recent experience showed me that on the Windows side, these issues are still around. People who buy a PC with Windows 10 pre-installed, will never encounter these issues, as they are handled by the OEMs. But if you upgrade such a PC to a newer version of Windows, you might run into them. For people that are less technical (and scared of the Windows Command prompt), this is something they simply will not be able to resolve themselves. On openSUSE Leap, there are no Intel HD Graphics issues (and I tested 13.2, 42.1, 42.2, 42.3 and 15). So the grass is definitely greener on the openSUSE side.

Published on: 30 August 2018