Installing Windows 8 Pro over Standard OEM in your new Win8 Certified notebook

Discussion in 'Asus' started by MifuneT, Dec 4, 2012.

  1. MifuneT

    MifuneT Notebook Guru

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    I hope I don't get in trouble for reposting this from my Asus S56 teardown thread, but looking at the titles of some of the other posts, it looks like many other ASUS owners who bought a new Windows 8 Certified notebook are having a hell of a time in installing Windows 8 Professional over the Windows 8 Standard OEM that came with their new notebook / laptop / ultrabook.


    With Windows 8 now out, prebuilt computers and notebooks that are deemed "Windows 8 Certified" adhere to certain security protocols on the BIOS level that make installing an OS other than what came with the machine increasingly difficult.

    Problem areas and some preface:


    SLIC 3.0
    SLIC 3.0 is software licensing information located on the BIOS. Other versions of SLIC have been around several years, but all Windows 8 computers must use 3.0, which has keys that are unique to each machine. SLIC allows OEMS to have the keys autoloaded during the OS installation process, which helps to streamline manufacturing. It seems like a logical thing, on the surface. Previous versions of SLIC assigned one single key to volume license hundreds of thousands of machines, and they keys, installed via BIOS hacking, were widely abused by software pirates. The problem arises with SLIC 3.0, because Windows 8 installation procedures will ALWAYS pull the keys from the BIOS and then default to that version during install, since Windows 8 media is not specific and includes all versions on the same disc. Again, this seems logical on Microsoft's end, to limit the number DVD images they must produce. In practice though, this prevents users who own legitimate copies of Windows 8 Pro and its license key, from easily installing their Pro OS on "Windows 8 Certified" hardware that is preloaded with lower versions of the OS.

    UEFI & Secure Boot
    UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) is a protocol that has also been around for several years, but with the release of Windows 8, carried the increased "security" of Secure Boot, which prevents unsigned bootable media from interfacing with the OS, hardware, or firmware. This function is supposed to make PCs more secure, by disallowing BIOS level exploits that use things like the memory space (ie: Konboot) to accomplish some task. In reality, this is limiting user's ability to control their hardware and limit what OSes they install. Due to the increased restrictions of Secure Boot, I have not been able to use any USB thumb drives, including those created by the official Windows 7 USB/DVD Tool, to boot directly from USB. Bootable DVDs are also required to be signed, and it appears that modifying a signed, legitimate ISO (ie: Windows 8 installation ISO, downloaded from MSDN) by inserting a file, completely prevents it from booting anymore. Additionally, popular boot media with legitimate tools and OSes that I like to use, like Backtrack, Ubuntu, and Partition Magic, are no longer bootable. I haven't tested it yet, but I have a feeling that I can no longer boot Memtest either. I don't mean to preach, but if Windows 8 Certified laptops and desktops are this restrictive via Secure Boot, it does not bode well for the PC industry.

    Evaluating ASUS' BIOS in the S56[/SIZE]
    It's an understatement to say that the BIOS settings the Asus S56 are poorly documented. There are very few options to change. Even when I went into the Security tab, went into "Key Management" and deleted all of the stored certificates and keys (they can be restored to default), disabled "Secure Boot Control", and played with all variations of all BIOS settings, no matter what, I absolutely could not get my Asus S56 to boot from any USB thumb drives, or unsigned or otherwise modified bootable DVDs.

    Fortunately, I found a workaround
    I found a bug in the Windows 8 install process that provided me with a workaround to allow me to finally install my copy of Windows 8 Pro, rather than having to stick with Windows 8 Standard OEM. This bug involves the ei.cfg file that Microsoft removed from Windows 8 install media. It was a configuration file that allowed you to specify which version of Windows you wanted to install. You cannot simply modify the Windows 8 install ISO and add the ei.cfg file, as mentioned before, the DVD will not boot. The bug I found, is that during the install process, Windows 8 install still does a cursory check on all accessible drives for the ei.cfg file, even though they intentionally removed it from all of their install media. The cursory check Windows 8 install does, also includes USB drives that are attached. I had a custom ei.cfg on my thumb drive, which Windows picked up, which finally allowed me to select my OS version!

    Here's what you'll need:
    • Windows 8 installation DVD (unmodified), retail, or a burned copy from an ISO downloaded from Microsoft
    • Windows 8 installation ISO
    • Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool free, from Microsoft
    • USB thumb drive, large enough for the Windows 8 installation DVD (4GB is fine)

    1. Burn a copy of the Windows 8 install DVD (assuming you purchased a key, and didn't buy the retail DVD) using your favorite image burning tool. I prefer ImgBurn.
    2. Open the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool, select the Microsoft Windows 8 installation ISO as your source file, hit Next, and then select USB device. Select your thumb drive and then "Begin Copying"
    3. Once your "bootable" thumb drive is ready, open it in Explorer and navigate to the "sources" directory.
    4. Using notepad, create a new Text file. Name it ei.cfg. The contents should be as follows:

    [Channel]
    volume

    [VL]
    1 ​

    5. Save the file and exit.
    6. Insert the Windows 8 installation DVD, as well as the Windows 8 installation USB drive you just created (with the added ei.cfg).
    7. Reboot. Your notebook will boot from DVD and take you to the Windows 8 install interface. Hit "Install Now".
    8. You'll now be presented with the choice of what version of OS to install. Remove the DVD. When you select the version and hit next, installation will occur from the USB!
    9. Enjoy being able to use the OS you paid for, on the machine you also paid for that didn't want you to install anything other than what it came with.

    There you have it. This workaround defies all logic and sensibility, but it is the only way I could figure out how to install Windows 8 Pro over the Asus S56 Windows 8 Standard OEM. Interesting thing is that if you skip activation and check the key in Windows System, you'll noticed that Windows still pulled the OEM key from BIOS. This workaround forces the installation of Windows 8 Pro. Strange and infuriating. I'm still working on how to disable Secure Boot and the stored SLIC 3.0 keys for good. For now, this is as good as it gets, I suppose.
     
    Thirubalam Arumugam likes this.
  2. Prostar Computer

    Prostar Computer Company Representative

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    Wow! If this works for everyone, this is immensely helpful! I have come across a number of machines with this lockdown; thanks for the repost. :thumbsup:
     
  3. MifuneT

    MifuneT Notebook Guru

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    It should, in concept, since it's a bug that exists in the Windows 8 install process and should be hardware independent-- Windows 8 pre-install bootloader loads drivers to allow for USB access, so it should work for everyone, so long as MS doesn't patch it.

    I haven't seen anything to confirm whether this is a known bug/exploit that I used or if I'm the first one to discover it, but it could be helpful in other areas. I have a feeling this exploit has existed since Vista, but until now has been an unknown.

    The lockdown of Windows 8 Certified hardware is pretty bad. I'm thinking because the Windows 8 bootloader lords over boot, my next vector of attack in getting unsigned USB and DVDs to boot would be to exploit the Win8 bootloader into loading that media itself by making those USBs and DVDs bootable options.
     
  4. Prostar Computer

    Prostar Computer Company Representative

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    Ssshhh, the MS satellites will hear you. :p

    Let us know how your experimentation fares. This is valuable info. :)
     
  5. ajua

    ajua Newbie

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    I have been running Windows 8 Pro since it reached RTM on my main desktop computer but today I bought an ASUS K45A and wanted to make a clean install of Windows 8 Pro since I already had bought a license.

    My first headache came from the fact that ASUS (I don't know about other vendors but I service computers and I haven't had any customers with Win8 laptops to come by) didn't provide a way to burn the factory image or recovery media. Windows 8 recovery wizard can make a bootable USB along with the recovery partition data but there's no option to burn it to DVD. I made one on a USB drive and then fired up Acronis True Image to image the entire disk to have another way of restoring the laptop to its factory state.

    Next, I proceeded to inset my Windows 8 Pro USB drive that has all current updates integrated but as soon as the setup started I got an error saying that Windows couldn't find a suitable image for the preinstalled key in the USB drive. A few searches lead me here.

    I'm about to test this workaround. I will report back to let you know how it goes.

    Thanks for the information. Hopefully it will work as well as in your case.

    Sorry for the long post. I registered to write this but I'm sure I will be checking these forums often.

    Reporting back. It worked!

    I'm now installing Windows 8 Pro on my ASUS K45A. Thanks for the workaround.

    It should be noted that Windows setup won't ask you for a serial. I guess it's like using one of the generic installation keys and after Windows finishes its installation, we can activate it by writing down our license keys.
     
  6. Relvas

    Relvas Newbie

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    Hello! Does this method allows to clean install Windows 8 in a GPT Partition?
     
  7. Prostar Computer

    Prostar Computer Company Representative

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  8. Relvas

    Relvas Newbie

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    Thanks!

    I was asking because i have a Asus UX32VD laptop and i would like to do a clean install of windows but when i boot from the CD and try to install windows i get a message that says that's not possible to install in a GPT partition i could change ir to mbr but with that i'll lose the issd features with expresscache, and windows will not recognize the iSSD partition etc...
     
  9. MifuneT

    MifuneT Notebook Guru

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    So are you trying to run Windows from the iSSD while retaining the Intel Smart Response Technology fast boot stuff? I think, essentially, you just enable the volume with the GPT partition to be recognized by removing flag that specifies the GPT partition(s) as off limits OEM (diskpart -> select disk -> select partition -> gpt attributes=0x8000000000000001) and create a new partition on the iSSD so a bootable volume can be mounted. I wound up just using the mSATA integrated SSD as a conventional MBR volume for my Windows install. I'm not really missing any speed improvements SRT provides, while getting the benefit of being able to have to have multiple drives (iSSD boot volume + hard drive, + optical drive (or hdd in optical drive caddy)).
     
  10. Relvas

    Relvas Newbie

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    No, i want to run windows (clean install) from my hdd and still have the iSSD to use for that expresscache stuff & instant on etc like the factory instalation but with Windows 8 installed from scratch.

    Thanks ;)
     
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