Microsoft’s latest Windows 11 mishap causes havoc with AMD graphics cards

Windows 11 is causing trouble for some users with AMD graphics cards, thanks to antics involving installing an outdated driver for Team Red’s GPUs.

What’s happening here is that Windows Update is going ahead with an automatic driver ‘update’ that actually installs an older graphics driver.

Windows Latest explains that it has received reports from readers, and via its forums, complaining about the issue, and also there’s a post on Reddit with some affected Windows 11 users making their feelings known, too.

Those hit by the glitch get an error message from AMD’s Adrenalin software informing them: “Windows Update may have automatically replaced your AMD Graphics driver. Hence, the version of AMD Software you have launched is not compatible with your currently installed AMD Graphics driver.”

In other words, Windows 11 has installed a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) driver, but this is an old version and incompatible with the AMD Adrenalin suite.

The good news is that it’s easy enough to fix this problem, as we’ll discuss next.

Analysis: A fairly easy fix – but don’t forget the extra step

The cure, fortunately, is relatively simple. You need to download the latest AMD Adrenalin driver for starters – then uninstall the current driver, and reinstall the new AMD driver. (Some also advise disconnecting from the internet while uninstalling and reinstalling the graphics driver in this way).

The next and very important step to take is to turn off Windows Update’s automatic graphics driver updates, to avoid this happening again. To do that, in the search box (taskbar), type ‘Device installation settings’ and click on this when it pops up in the panel above.

You’ll be presented with a question asking if you want to use automatic downloads for hardware manufacturers’ apps, to which you should reply ‘no’ (even though it says your device may not work as expected – don’t worry about that). Then click ‘Save Changes’ and the automatic graphics driver update will no longer happen. (If you don’t do this, you might find that Windows 11 changes the driver again, even after you’ve reverted it – and so on, ad nauseum, until Microsoft sorts out whatever the issue is here.)

Why is this happening? Good question, it’s a bit of an odd one. There’s clearly been a mistake somewhere at Microsoft, or maybe something has gone awry with the driver supplied by AMD. Hopefully, the situation will be rectified soon enough, but at least you can cure the problem manually as described above.

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Windows 11 could be stealth-nerfing graphics cards – even the RTX 4090

You may recall that when Windows 11 first emerged, late in 2021, there was quite a fuss about VBS (Virtualization Based Security) slowing down games – and heads up, here comes some more controversy around this security feature.

Enter stage left (accompanied by a rumble of thunder, perhaps) a report from Tom’s Hardware, with our sister site having recently done a whole load of graphics card benchmarking, making a realization afterward: namely that VBS was turned on.

Here’s the thing, the senior editor at Tom’s who wrote the report, Jarred Walton, had previously disabled VBS, but at some point, a Windows 11 update (presumably) had reverted the feature and turned it back on without Walton noticing. (Windows 11 has VBS on by default now for new installations of the OS).

Walton further observes that Tom’s Editor-in-Chief, Avram Piltch, runs Windows 10 Home and hadn’t touched VBS since clean installing the OS last summer – but VBS was switched on with that system, too. Again, we can guess this happened via an update at some point (though note, we don’t know this for sure).

The long and short of it is, Microsoft wants this feature on for tighter Windows security – clearly – and is seemingly defaulting to turn it back on with all PCs (during major updates, most likely). But if users aren’t aware that VBS is being reenabled, and it can have a negative effect on gaming frame rates, well, that’s a bit of a pickle, to put it mildly.

Back at the launch of Windows 11, we heard tales of VBS hamstringing frame rates in some cases, with frame rate drops of up to 30%. Now, that turned out to be very much a worst-case scenario, with Tom’s doing its own testing at the time which revealed that the drop, on average, was more like 5% (still an appreciable decrease in frame rate).

Bearing that in mind, what kind of impact does VBS have these days? Walton was curious, so ran a battery of tests to find out using an Nvidia RTX 4090 graphics card (at different resolutions and graphics settings over 15 games).

Would VBS have any noticeable impact on gaming performance with a new processor – Intel’s Core i9-13900K – and a cutting-edge GPU?

Apparently, performance drops remain at about the same level as seen with previous testing a year and a half ago, with VBS taking performance down by around 5% overall. At higher resolutions, the impact was less: only 2% when running ultra settings in 4K.

There were some games that fared worse, as you might imagine. Tom’s Hardware highlights Microsoft Flight Simulator which experienced average frame rate drops of around 10%. Far Cry 6 and Control also exhibited 10% or so drops (at 1080p resolution with certain graphics settings, anyway). Other games were much less affected, or saw no difference at all in some cases.

In cockpit view of Microsoft Flight Simulator

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: A difficult choice, perhaps – but one we should get to make ourselves

It appears that VBS is still pretty much the same as it was when Windows 11 first launched in terms of slowing down games by an average of around a 5% drop in fps (frames per second).

Nothing has changed in the broad overarching picture, then, but what has changed is that Microsoft is now apparently turning on VBS post-updates, at least in some cases (and this could be true for Windows 10 systems as well as Windows 11).

That’s worrying, because the choice of 'VBS or no VBS' should be yours – and you shouldn’t have to worry about the operating system maker deciding that you mustn’t be without this security feature, and turning it on without your knowledge. At the very least, if this is the route Microsoft feels it must take, the move should be documented in patch release notes somewhere, or some effort made to inform the user.

The question of whether or not you should disable VBS is a thorny one. On the one hand, it’s a security feature, and clearly one Microsoft believes that you’d be silly not to use; hence the switching back on. Arguably, too, the impact is fairly minimal for a lot of games (as we can see with Tom’s testing).

However, there is some impact, and a 10% slowdown in outlying cases is quite a penalty to pay. Particularly for keen gamers who are obsessed with tuning their PCs to eke out every extra frame – a drop of a tenth in fps is akin to a lead weight being tied to that kind of enthusiast’s feet.

Furthermore, while VBS might be indisputably important in business PC scenarios, for the average home user, there are those who argue it’s overkill – and indeed probably not even necessary. Again, on the flip side though, Microsoft has pointed out in the past how VBS can be a useful extra line of defense against some malware attacks.

Ultimately, this decision comes down to you, the types of games you play, and whether you play them competitively – and also how cautious you might be on the security front, too. But frankly, what is rather mystifying here is Microsoft seemingly making these decisions for users, as is apparently the case now.

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Warning: AMD graphics driver bug could brick your Windows 11 PC

Windows 11 (and 10) users are suffering from a really unpleasant bug that effectively bricks the PC, putting it in a boot failure loop, and it’s caused by the latest versions of AMD’s graphics driver, the company has confirmed.

PC World reported on this one (via Tom’s Hardware), specifically executive editor Brad Chacos who was unfortunate enough to experience the bug on his gaming PC.

The problem has been found in AMD’s Adrenalin 23.2.1 driver, and the most recent 23.2.2 driver, and leaves the user with a corrupted system.

The occurrence of this glitch is rare, though, and it depends on two factors. Firstly, when installing the new AMD GPU driver, the option for a clean installation (‘factory reset’) must be selected. Then you also need to be unlucky enough for Windows to kick in and perform an update in the background while installing the Adrenalin driver.

Due to the fact that it’s not likely for Windows Update to decide to fire up just at the wrong moment, it seems the bug is rare, which is at least something.

However, this can happen when Windows is set to update automatically (rather than scheduling an update), and if it does, it appears to be the case that the two update processes happening simultaneously (with a clean AMD driver install, as noted) causes severe havoc.

Chacos was left in a situation where instead of Windows booting, a Blue Screen of Death error came up, then the computer rebooted, and the same thing happened again, in a loop. Urgh…

AMD told PC World: “We have reproduced an issue that can occur in an extremely small number of instances if a PC update occurs during the installation of AMD Software: Adrenalin Edition, and we are actively investigating.

“We recommend users ensure all system updates are applied or paused before installing the driver, and that the ‘Factory Reset’ option is unchecked during the AMD driver installation process. We are committed to resolve issues as quickly as possible and strongly encourage users to submit issues with AMD Software: Adrenalin Edition via the Bug Report Tool.”

Analysis: Better safe than sorry

So, as AMD suggests, if you are going to update your graphics driver, ensure you don’t go for that clean installation option (‘Factory Reset’) until AMD has cleared up this situation. Also, make sure any Windows driver updates are already applied (or updates are paused) before you go ahead with installing the AMD driver.

Following either of those rules should mean you’re going to be fine, but ensuring both are observed is obviously the safest thing to do in this situation. And caution definitely seems to be the right approach here, given what happens to PCs that get hit by this particular bug.

The way out of the boot failure loop, as Chacos points out, is to get into Windows recovery mode, but doing so apparently involves a tricky bit of timing. You need to hit the PC’s power button in the fleeting moment between BIOS options disappearing and the Windows loading circle appearing – and it took Chacos no fewer than 15 attempts before getting the timing right. The message is to persevere, but again, this is another unpleasant aspect of this bug.

While rare, given the gravity of this gremlin, hopefully AMD (and Microsoft) will be working to quickly clear up this one. It’s not exactly clear where the fault lies here, but as Tom’s and PC World point out, this has been a problem for a while now – and there’s no way Windows should be kicking in an update, when another update is already underway, because clearly that’s a recipe for chaos.

Fingers crossed for a swift resolution, then, and we wouldn’t blame folks for not taking the workaround presented and simply holding off installing the new AMD driver for a while until a full fix is implemented. As Chacos also observes, his PC was updated to the latest version of Windows 10 before going ahead with the Adrenalin driver installation – it may have been the case that something else, like the Game Bar, just happened to run a conflicting update.

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