WinBook TW700 first impressions, survival guide

So, Micro Center is selling Windows 8.1 tablets for $60. No, really. That includes a Windows license, a quad core Atom (that’s right, this isn’t even RT), an IPS display, and a friggin’ Office 365 Personal license (even with rights to install on a desktop or laptop)! Now, it does only have 1 GiB RAM, and worse, only 16 GiB of eMMC, so there were corners cut. However, even with those limitations, the price really does seem a bit too good to be true.

Then again, it’s only $60, and Micro Center does take returns (and there are plenty of open box units for $48, although I strongly suggest avoiding those for a couple of reasons), so… I ultimately couldn’t resist (if nothing else, it’ll be a decent device for running the excellent VCDS Volkswagen diagnostic tool by Ross-Tech), and I’m typing this post on it.

Let’s start off with the good first. The device actually feels surprisingly nice in the hand, especially given the price. The display has a bit of IPS grain, but otherwise is pretty nice. The full USB A port is an excellent touch that many better tablets fail to provide (and is actually a large reason why I considered this machine – VCDS needs USB and an x86 CPU, and this definitely provides that). There’s also very little bloatware – the aforementioned Office 365 is ready to install (lurking in the WIM), and WinBook bundled NOD32 (but one of the first things the system does upon booting is ask if you want it, and give an opportunity to uninstall it).

And now, for where this starts to get ugly… 16 GiB is really not enough disk for modern Windows, even with heroics such as WIMBoot. As the device ships, there’s about 5.2 GiB free once you’re logged in. However, because of how WIMBoot works, about half of that free space is taken by the Windows updates, and quite a bit is taken when installing Office 365 (which I didn’t do). And, Microsoft makes it impractical to try to JBOD a big microSD card into the volume (I believe it can be done with lots of hackery, but it won’t be pretty), and using NTFS junctions to try to offload big directories like Program Files and Users is strongly recommended against, so the tight internal storage is a real problem. Manually getting as much as possible onto a microSD card is of course advisable, but that only helps for programs that allow themselves to be installed on one, and data that can exist on one.

Micro Center did release an update that purports to free some space, and it’s believed to work by reducing the swapfile size and disabling hibernation. However, there’s a trojan in it. We can do this manually, though, between Advanced System Settings to reduce the swapfile (I went for 1024 MiB), and a quick trip to an admin command prompt to run powercfg /h off (this will slow down booting a little, and the device won’t be able to properly handle running out of battery, but it’s worth freeing the space. More aggressive approaches are called for in this case, though. Your first instinct may be NTFS compression, but beware, for that way lay dragons. See, NTFS compression isn’t actually aware of the concept of WIMBoot, and if you compress a pointer file, that counts as changing that file, which means that the file gets copied into your volume… working against you. I’m not saying that compression is altogether a bad idea, but don’t do it on any directory that contains WIMBoot pointer files (which means anything except your user profile that was present at first logon).

That leaves a couple other techniques that can be used with extreme prejudice to free space – good ol’ Disk Cleanup (including system files), as well as using DISM to clean up the WinSxS directory (dism.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase is the magic incantation for the best results, although you’ll have to kiss your ability to roll back any updates installed before running that command goodbye). Then, you should be back to where you were from the factory, but with a fair amount less swap, and no hibernation file.

So, on to the next bit of ugliness… the WiFi driver. This device uses a Realtek RTL8723BS for WiFi duties, and the driver that ships (dated 2014-04-24), at least in its default configuration, is quite unstable, with dropping connections and even a bluescreen once on my device. Ultimately, I located a newer Dell driver dated 2014-08-14, extracted it, and updated using the INF (the installer refused to run on non-Dell hardware). This improved stability, but pings were still quite unacceptable. After digging around in the properties on the WiFi controller, however, I found an interesting option:
http://bhtooefr.org/images/TW700Wifi.png

Changing this from Performance to WiFi instantly cleared all of the WiFi problems up.

WiFi Update 2015-01-06: Since making this post, I’ve gotten a better understanding of the issues with the RTL8723BS, and my previous advice was incorrect. To explain the issues, they appear to be related to some of the wireless power management functionality that the Realtek driver enables when running on battery, and appears to affect multiple RTL8723BS-based devices (a friend with one from another manufacturer reported the same problem). The symptoms get worse when activity is reduced on network connections, as well, which indicates that it’s a sort of inactivity power down. When the device has external power connected, this power management functionality is either disabled or reduced in aggressiveness, so everything works normally, and when the Wifi Configure option is set to WiFi, what appears to be a conflict between WiFi, Bluetooth, and Realtek’s power management is resolved by effectively disabling Bluetooth.

No driver updates I tried (this Dell driver, version 3007.7.915.2014, dated 2014-10-13 being the newest) fixed this issue on its own (and in fact, I’m currently running the original driver, version 3006.0.320.2014, dated 2014-04-24).

However, I decided to try some other power management settings. The Windows advanced setting for wireless power management was hidden, but using a registry key to show it, and changing it appropriately had no effect. At that point, I decided to go digging in the registry, and found some interesting values at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Class\{4D36E972-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002bE10318}\0000. (Your system, especially if it’s a device other than the TW700, may have a different key than 0000 for its RTL8723BS. If that’s the case, look through all of the interfaces in there, one will be the RTL8723BS’s settings.) Using the source code for the Linux RTL8192E driver’s power management as “documentation” for the options, as it seemed to internally use a lot of the same names as power-related registry keys did, I decided to change the bLeisurePs value from 2 to 0, then disabled and re-enabled the wireless interface in Device Manager. After doing this, WiFi is now rock solid on both battery and external power, with the configuration set to Performance, and Bluetooth working (in fact, I was SSHing using a Bluetooth keyboard, the absolute worst case before, and had no problems after changing that setting). I can’t guarantee that this is the best setting, and there’ll likely be a battery life penalty, but it seemed to solve the issue for me, and is worth trying if you’re having these symptoms on an RTL8723BS device.

Now, how about a verdict… for the car diagnostic application that I got this device for (and I can think of other single-application uses for this thing that it’ll do well at), it’s going to be fantastic. If you want a cheap toy, and aren’t afraid to pull out some of the more obscure Windows administration tools and hacks, go for it. If you want a shitter tablet, it’s not bad, although web browsing performance in IE 11 is a bit sluggish for my taste. If you want an Office 365 Personal license for your desktop or laptop and also want a toy, well, here you go, you get a free tablet with your license. If you seriously want to use this thing as a “real” portable computer… well, it’s damn impressive what it can do for $60, but you get what you pay for, and I’d actually go so far as to say it would be unusable by someone who isn’t very experienced with tuning Windows. I hesitate to recommend a $60 Android tablet, as those are often quite crap themselves (and often are far behind on security updates, and some even have likely backdoors), but even an 8 GiB storage Android device will ultimately be more usable than this 16 GiB Windows tablet (the RAM isn’t even the biggest problem – I notice it lacking RAM for sure, but that just slows it down some, the lack of disk is the killer). If you just need a $60 Windows computer, and don’t care about the tablet size, I’d go for a used business laptop, it will be a lot bulkier, it’ll have shorter battery life… and it’ll have a real keyboard and probably at least 40 GB of hard drive.

Edit: Don’t use the Dell driver or you’ll break Bluetooth until you reimage the device. Just change the setting from Performance to WiFi.

Edit 2: Or maybe that’s not it, I’ll post a later update when I figure out more. Upshot: With the included driver, Performance means unstable WiFi, WiFi means no Bluetooth.

Edit 3: Revamped the WiFi section. Have your WiFi and eat it with a blue tooth too!

30 comments on “WinBook TW700 first impressions, survival guide

  1. Thanks. Just got one of these myself, and this is definitely the best guide I’ve seen on what’s going on with the storage space and how to optimize it (as well as how to optimize the wifi — a welcome surprise).

    You mentioned cleaning up the WinSxS directory. Would you also advise deleting the softwaredistribution/download directory? Would it be no more risky to do so than to clean the WinSxS directory, if we are taking aggressive measures?

    • For what it’s worth, looks like the driver update for the WiFi adapter isn’t necessary (switching the setting from Performance to WiFi is, though), and I noticed that Bluetooth (same radio) isn’t working on mine, even after rolling the WiFi driver back (and the Dell Bluetooth driver isn’t accepted by the system). I’m going to try to reimage it, to see if that clears it up (I hadn’t tried Bluetooth before the Dell driver update), but if that doesn’t fix it, I’ll exchange the tablet for another one.

      As far as cleaning up WinSxS, I did that using DISM, rather than directly cleaning it. Using the command I gave will clean up anything that’s been superseded by newer updates, without deleting anything important, and the only risk will be that rolling back updates will be impossible. As far as SoftwareDistribution, it looks like if everything’s working properly, wuauserv only maintains a 10 day cache in that folder, and deleting it can cause problems with Windows Update as far as update history (as well as much slower updating), so I’d leave that one alone unless old files are hanging around.

      Ultimately, I think what it really needs is a non-WIMBoot image without a recovery partition, as well as NTFS compression. WIMBoot is fine right up until you apply Windows Updates, really, at which point the thing inflates to be the size of a non-WIMBoot system plus recovery partition anyway, but it still needs the recovery partition to work.

      • I design point of sale restaurant systems. We already sell systems with touch screen but am designing a handheld system where the server takes the order directly at the table using the Winbook tw700 (hopefully). I just purchased one from Amazon.

        My needs are very simple. There will be a computer (station1) and the Winbook which will be wi fi ed to the computer. The Winbook will get all information needed from the computer.
        I am in new territory here and not a hardware guy.
        QUESTIONS:
        1. There was talk about the the Winbook dropping the signal. Is there an easy way to upgrade Winbook to eliminate this problem without hardware technical expertise?
        2. Is there such a thing as “industrial grade” wi fi system? By this I mean what do you suggest a restaurant have in terms of a wi fi system.

        In advance thank you for any help you can provide me.

        BILL MILLER
        URSA MAJOR
        1 585 872 3451

        2.

        • 1. The wifi radio in the TW700 will probably have sufficient range in a restaurant given proper positioning of the access point, and proper channel selection. (However, if the restaurant is busy, 2.4 GHz may be polluted with bluetooth and customer wifi traffic, reducing reliability. You may want to consider a different tablet that has a 5 GHz radio for that reason.) If you’re concerned about the wifi performance, you could add a USB wifi adapter, but I’d recommend a different tablet instead. Like I said, the WinBook only has a 2.4 GHz wifi radio, which means that if 2.4 GHz is busy, you may have problems.
          2. There are wireless access points and routers designed for business usage, that can give multiple wireless networks (for instance, you can have one network for customers to use to access the internet, and one for servers to use to access the POS system). I personally like Mikrotik’s equipment, as it’s relatively cheap as far as business-grade equipment goes, although ease of use is not their strong point. Ubiquiti is another vendor for wireless equipment that’s popular for business applications. That said, a good consumer wireless router may be able to do what you need as well.

          Another consideration would be how the tablets are charged. In an environment like that, I’d want a tablet that has a dock of some sort for charging, whether it’s inductive charging or a dock with a connector on it. The TW700 requires that the servers manually plug and unplug the power cord, and I’m not sure that it’s the most durable design in that regard.

  2. “Micro Center did release an update that purports to free some space, and it’s believed to work by reducing the swapfile size and disabling hibernation. However, there’s a trojan in it.”

    Could you point to details regarding the trojan and (hopefully) how to remove it? I ran the Microcenter utility and it freed up memory as advertised, but if it left a trojan behind, I’d like to get rid of it.

    • I didn’t give it a chance to install any potential malware, but ClamXAv on my Mac (I wasn’t letting that thing touch a Windows box given the widespread reports of malware detections) detected the installer as having Win.Trojan.8886870, and there are other reports of infections from other scanners. Not sure about cleaning it, my preferred approach to any malware infection is to reimage the device (which, seeing as you can’t blow away your recovery partition and have the thing still boot, is easy enough).

  3. Regarding any questionable file (zip, exe, msi, even Android APKs), upload them to VirusTotal.com . It was purchased quite a while ago by Google. It has 56 different virus scanners that will check the file. I’ve been using the site for over 6 years on suspect files and site URLs (it scans those too) with great success.

    In this case, at least 23 of the 56 scanners found a trojan (in all its various names) in the MicroCenter optimizer from http://www.microcentertech.com/winbook/ WBOptimize.exe when I downloaded around 01/02/2015. DO NOT RUN *WBOptimize.exe* or its enclosed installer ELSE you will need to reset/re-image your tablet.

    The instructions on this page for changing your pagefile.sys to 256-1024 and running ‘powercfg /h off’ is basically all you need to do.

    BTW, being cheaper than a “gameboy” and far cheaper than an nVidia Shield Tablet, the TW700 is great for retro/casual games as well as streaming games across the house using Steam and OnLive. It plays Steam-streamed Borderlands 2 like glass. And with a 360 USB controller & headphones, I can play it on the back porch, livingroom, in bed sick. Definitely a worthwhile gaming investment once tuned and setup.

    Cheers, Retro.

  4. I like this toy and lets be candid thats what it is. I moved some of the programs by doing what the instructions at the link suggested:
    http://www.howtogeek.com/136404/how-to-install-windows-store-apps-to-an-sd-card-or-another-drive/

    A 32gb or 64gb micro sd isn’t expensive. This runs a full version of Windows and works great with my Canon EOS software so I can tether. I also own several Android tablets and a ipad Mini. The display is bright and sharp. Colors look good. Its actually comparable to several of the more expensive budget tablets around.
    This has a full size USB host. I will try and install Ubuntu with wubi later. 1gb of ram seems okay for Windows 8 on this device.
    If you don’t have a tablet and want to try Windows 8 you can’t go wrong for $60.00. If you can spend a bit more I would suggest the larger unit for $100.00

  5. Just wanted to say Thanks!

    I was having major issues running Plex – just playing a movie was basically OK, but seeking to any new position more than one or twice would hose the system up. No issue if the file was synced local so seemed to be in the network.
    Also, I had to have my router in b mode or mixed b/g/n on 2.4GHz to get this to connect.
    I just made the WiFi fix you outlined and things are much better.

    I did run WBOtimize (had to disable Anti-Virus) but now thinking of doing a factory reset and do the optimizations you outlined by hand just to be safe.

  6. Great article. If they released this with 32gb for $10 more it would be perfect. As it is I’m running 2 of these as servers. One monitors my solar panels in my house replacing an old 20 watt netbook. Data is put in a SQL Server db and performance has been fantastic. The other monitors ACARS aircraft data overhead as well as local police radio and controlling a usb bitcoin miner. Again, performance has been great and it replaced a 30watt laptop. These devices use 10 watts so at 24x7x365the powersavings is great (I live in the Caribbean where power is pricy). I have bee n blown away by what these toys can do!

  7. Thanks for your guide on the wireless chip.
    I currently looking for a way to install lite version of win 8.1 (and later win 10) with the recovery backup to removable device, any insight on this matter?

  8. I tried that registry hack and it’s not working for me. I’m not convinced that the issue is with the wifi device. I tried another wireless b/g/n dongle laying around and it had the same lousy throughput on speedtest site (wifi:14p0.75d1.8u) I believe it’s at the core of Win8.1 on tablets. My 5yr old dell with Win7(64) on stock wireless has throughput at 8x that of this tablet…SpeedTest (wifi:11p6.0d5.0u)(wired; 12p59.0d4.0u). I’ll be getting a usb/ethernet adapter and will determine if it’s a Win8.1 network issue… I’ll report back.

  9. I followed your guide to enable bluetooth + wifi and it did solve that problem on battery.

    Now I’m on power with a bluetooth keyboard *and* mouse and I’m getting some temporary (5 second) pauses with the mouse, but not the keyboard. Mouse is a brand new MS Sculpt Comfort bluetooth.

    Think this is also related to the network driver or do I have a different issue? The thing is the keyboard keeps working but the mouse stops.

  10. Is anyone else having issues with waking this tablet up? After the screen goes off it takes about 5 times of pressing the screen on button to actually get the login screen to show up.

  11. Pingback: WT-700 - WA7NWP

  12. Thanks for the info on this tablet. I have been having a WiFi issue where when the tablet is asleep after about 30 seconds all my WiFi devices get kicked off WiFi. Turning off WiFi/removing it from the network resolved the issue with the other devices. I tried the registry change with no effect. I now just connect to a different router (on the same network) with no problem. I assume it could be a compatibility issue with my Linksys e2000 running dd-wrt and the tablet. I was also able to clear up some more space!

    • I’ve heard of people having that problem, but I haven’t personally seen it (even before I figured out how to get the WiFi working reliably). I’m using a Mikrotik RB493G with an R52nM wireless card, though.

      I do need to figure out how to make Connected Standby less likely to drop connections, as that is definitely a thing that happens, though. Then again, I haven’t tried it on a more mainstream device.

  13. great info, I was wondering if you could umb it down for folks like me that aren’t comp savvy? I get lost with all the acronyms and what not.

  14. So what does leisurePS do then? the link shared for the Linux driver doesn’t explain very much…

  15. I tried this fix on my HP Stream 7 since both of them have the same network driver and Bluetooth works fine, but my microphone won’t even work at all. I’ve been trying to find a fix but can’t seem to find anything.

  16. The windows 10 free upgrade will make all programs compatable with a micro sd card, the you can add a useful 64 gig storage option. Just a little longer.

  17. Outstanding post, very helpful. I have mine completely updated, ran DSIM, moved swapfile.sys to SD via link, ran WBOptimize (there is no Trojan). All said and done I’m current as of today and have 3Gb left, just enough to breathe in. This machine is more interesting as a sort of floating embedded device than as an actual computer. One of the best uses for me is as a portable interface to my Windows Media Center PC via Remote Desktop. Also I can run the Cisco VPN and hit my Linux machines at work via putty. Did not even bother with Office. Am debating doing the VHD on SD solution.. and of course I can just schlep it in my laptop bag and use it as a bog stupid tablet. For the money, the best little device ever! Thanks again for this excellent post.

    -drl

    • It’s worth noting that putting either pagefile.sys or swapfile.sys (which is used by Metro apps) on the SD card will likely give rather dreadful performance when swapping. I tried it with pagefile.sys (using diskmod.sys to trick Windows into thinking that the SD card was a fixed disk), and was not impressed with the results.

  18. Is the screen on this glass or plastic? I actually have a hard time telling. From everything I’ve read, people insist it’s glass, but it feels plastic to me (there still seems to be a certain amount of flex in it and the “thud” sound when you tap it seems more like plastic — though obviously I could be wrong with that kind of unscientific method of testing).

    I don’t know if I should remove the temporary screen protector that came on it. (?)

    Thanks.

  19. I just got this tablet to run software for a small 3d printer (M3D), I was tired to have my desktop ON for 7 or 8 hours printing a small part, plus I have crashed my PC a couple of times pushing the processor to the limit while playing games like Team Fortress 2, Robocraft and others (high temperature shutdown) and if that happens while being 80% done on a part!!!!

    So far I can say that I’m impress with how good it works, I set the power settings to never turn off while plugged and Installed the USB control center from Belkin to have access to the 16GB drive on the router, installed the software for the printer and as soon as I plug the USB the tablet was looking for the right drivers and getting ready, I’m right now printing a small file to do a test and see if the little tablet can take the heat of the task (and literally the heat from being power on for a few hours)…

  20. Mine worked fine for a couple years and then switched abruptly to “limited” (non-existent) connectivity, which has persisted. It will access the linksys E2000 web management interface, but tracert doesn’t get anywhere. Router sees it, it sees the router, but nothing works. Every other computer or phone works great with the router.
    It has had the “limited”from time to time, but always has recovered before.

    Reading the comments, it seems this problem is common, the “fix” may not be absolute, and the linksys E2000 may be problematical with it as well.

    If so, that’s too bad, as it is a nice tablet, and was good as long as it worked.

  21. Thanks, You just saved my Alcatel Plus 10 (2in1 tablet) from landing into a trash can. I can confirm that the trick works on it (windows 10 ver 1607), and the WiFi issue started after some windows updates.

Leave a Reply to John Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *