Project Windows IoT

So you told me you want to run Windows on a Calculator

Running Windows on a consumer calculator was a dream until the appearance of HP Prime G2 Graphing Calculator. This calculator has the most superior hardware specification among the market so far. And more importantly, HP switched to ARMv7-A on the calculator (!)

HP Prime G2 SoC Specification. The NXP i.MX 6ULL (Ultra Lite) SoC features a uni-core Cortex A7 processor.

Previous work

My friend Wenting Zhang (Zephray) has done the fundamental reverse engineering about GPIO assignments and technical information regarding this calculator. In addition, he managed to port a functional U-Boot and Linux on it.

According to TI-Planet, the calculator comes with a lot of test pins including SD/MMC, JTAG and UART.

Sarah (winocm) explored the possibility of running Windows RT on Qemu platform. Some information has been changed as of 2019, but the post is still worth reading.

Microsoft also partnered with NXP to enable Windows 10 IoT on iMX SoCs. Given these facts, this calculator should be technically capable of running Windows 10 IoT (or generically saying Windows on ARM.)

Pushing the limit of Windows System Requirements

Microsoft Docs site outlined the system requirements for the Windows 10 family. To run the small footprint (still large compared to Linux), the system should have a x86/x64/ARMv7/AArch64 processor, at least 256MB memory and 2GB storage. The device should also has a functional UEFI firmware and full ACPI & SMBIOS tables.

There isn’t sufficient onboard storage in this case (and Windows doesn’t support raw SLC NAND flash either), but USB device can be attached to the calculator and acts as a boot device.

Sarah has summarized ARMv7 architectural requirements for running Windows. The requirements have changed a bit across years, so here is my new summary on this:

System processor: ARMv7-A compatible processor with VFPv3+VFP HalfPrec, VFPv4 is also okay
Memory: At least 256MB of RAM (can probably do less)
    - System timer (either architectural or vendor-specific)
    - ARM Generic Interrupt Controller (GIC) or Broadcom Interrupt Controller on BCM2835/2836/2837, both CPU and Distributor Interface. GICv2 or higher is required if GIC is present and declared.
    - Framebuffer
    - Supported UART, either NS16550, BCM283x or some vendor-specific IP (in the case of Qualcomm and NXP)
    - Firmware: UEFI 2.3 or higher

In this case the calculator meets those hard requirements. However the SoC runs in 396MHz by default, significantly slower than the 400MHz/1GHz baseline. Also I only report about 250MB memory to the system while the minimum requirement is 512MB with user interface. However, it boots!

The SoC runs at 396MHz according to WinDbg’s cpuinfo

I think we can probably further push the limit. If I recall correctly, Windows Server Nano requires about 150MB memory to boot on amd64 systems.


I’ve talked about UEFI implementations several times in the past so there isn’t anything new. Basically the UEFI consists a set of device drivers and core components from TianoCore. ACPI tables are copied from the Windows IoT iMX Project Mu Repo and stripped down.

I chainload the UEFI from U-Boot. iMX does not enable unaligned memory access by default and this causes a lot of troubles in UEFI DXE and BDS phases. You should enable it as soon as possible.

 mrc   p15, 0, r0, c1, c0, 0
 bic   r0, r0, #2
 mcr   p15, 0, r0, c1, c0, 0 

Using a compiler with hardware float support is also helpful for speed up the boot speeed (30s -> 4s.) Also Windows mandates VFPv3+ support on ARMv7 platforms.

The screen initialization as well as some I/O mux assignments are completed in U-Boot. The current U-Boot does not support 24/32bpp Serial RGB LCD interface operation, so I added the Serial RGB support by referring the implementation of iMX FrameBuffer in Linux Kernel. The code has not yet been upstreamed to the master but I should do this later.

Demo of Serial RGB LCD Interface’s operation in U-Boot

UEFI just picks up the FrameBuffer allocated by U-Boot and registers the Graphics Output Protocol. Unfortunately the screen resolution cannot satisfy the minimum 80*25 console requirements, so I patched Console DXE components by adding a new 40*12 mode.

EDK2 component asserts because the screen resolution cannot meet 80*25 minimum console requirements.

Prior to the hack in console components I did some trick by reporting 640*480 output in the UEFI GOP protocol. The trick also helped me getting diagnostics information from Windows Boot Manager because 320*240 isn’t sufficient to display the error code. I periodically run block-transfer (BLT) from FrameBuffer to the filesystem and saved BMP files on a USB drive.

Hack that makes 80*25 mode available with some graphical artifacts
The 40*12 mode
Windows Boot Manager’s behavior in 320*240
Block-transfer (BLT) on the FrameBuffer

As for USB support, fortunately the USB IP in iMX6 is fully standard-compliant and in-box support is included in recent Windows versions. Therefore once I configured the OTG controller into host mode and pass the MMIO region to UEFI and Windows, it works magically without problems. However, Wenting and me have not yet figured out the VBus source on the OTG port (we assume some DC-DC circuit that controlled by SoC or PMIC but this hypothesis has not yet been verified) so the port has to be powered using some external voltage source for proper functionalities.


Make sure you properly report memory size and address regions in SMBIOS, or Windows will do some incredibly weird things (TM).

Windows debugger fails to read memory due improper SMBIOS configuration.
Windows debugger fails to read memory due improper SMBIOS configuration.

Timer and HAL Extensions

Windows will access to some assumed and invalid memory address if no usable system timer is found.

Windows will fail to boot if no Interrupt Controller or System Timer is found. A system time can be registered using either GTDT table (ARM architectural table) or HAL extensions via CSRT table.

iMX6ULL comes with three timer complexes: iMX GPT (Generic Purpose Timer), EPIT (Enhanced Periodic Timer) and ARM Architectural Timer. ARM Architectural Timer is new to iMX6UL/ULL since earlier iMX6 SoCs use cores such as Cortex A15 which lacks proper Architectural Timer support. Microsoft has implemented a EPIT HAL extension for the system timer, but it was not loaded at first due to a hardware ID mismatch in CSRT table and system image (I downloaded an earlier FFU for iMX6 Solo.) So in the case when no timer is available, Windows will desperately attempt to initialize an assumed timer and the system crashes due to invalid memory access.

The iMX6ULL datasheet does mention the presence of architectural timer but doesn’t say much about the initialization procedure. The EDK2 code can initialize the timer counter but GIC PPI (Per Processor Interrupt) does not work properly. However, Windows successfully initializes and utilizes the timer via GTDT table.

At this moment the UEFI utilizes EPIT timer and turns it off upon the hand-off to Windows. Windows picks up the generic timer and initializes it then. At some later point the UEFI might switch to generic timer too, with the proper initialization procedure.

A few peripherals needs the Smart DMA (SDMA) controller HAL extension and it isn’t too hard to load it.

Show me that in action!

[Security] 3rd party image[0] can be loaded after EndOfDxe: VenHw(0D51905B-B77E-452A-A2C0-ECA0CC8D514A,004118020000000000)/USB(0x0,0x0)/USB(0x2,0x0)/HD(1,GPT,F9ADAEA9-E8DE-4291-B191-5DABA6DC1215,0x800,0x100000)/\efi\boot\bootarm.efi.
 InstallProtocolInterface: 5B1B31A1-9562-11D2-8E3F-00A0C969723B 8F257028
 ConvertPages: failed to find range 10000000 - 100EEFFF
 Loading driver at 0x0008E9D6000 EntryPoint=0x0008E9E7511 bootmgfw.efi
 InstallProtocolInterface: BC62157E-3E33-4FEC-9920-2D3B36D750DF 8F28EB10
 ProtectUefiImageCommon - 0x8F257028
 0x000000008E9D6000 - 0x00000000000EF000
 InstallProtocolInterface: 752F3136-4E16-4FDC-A22A-E5F46812F4CA 8FBFF88C
 ConvertPages: failed to find range 102000 - 102FFF
 Disabling EPIT timer on ExitBootServicesEventSetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F78A000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F787000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F784000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F77F000 - 0x0000000000005000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F77C000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F779000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008) 
A video that demonstrates Windows 10 IoT on a calculator.

Where’s Secure Boot and TPM?

There are not really necessary. However, since OP-TEE has iMX6/7/8 support, you can run a secure monitor in TrustZone (TZ) and provide those services via Secure Monitor Calls from EL1/PL1.

In fact the official iMX Windows IoT implementation comes with OP-TEE bundled. I skipped it due to the concern of memory utilization.

But what about drivers?

Windows 10 IoT BSP repository have a lot of available iMX6/7/8 driver sources available. USB works out of box as mentioned. The calculator touchscreen and keypad drivers need to be implemented.

The touchscreen and keypad drivers are available in the Linux kernel tree so it should not be too hard to port them on Windows.

Can it boot Windows RT 8.1?

Maybe. Update: Windows RT 8.1 won’t boot, but later versions do. Windows PE won’t boot in ramdisk mode because 256MB memory isn’t sufficient. I haven’t got flat boot mode work, it enters some loop with no further initialization once devices are enumerated (including the USB drive I used.)

HP Prime G2 calculator runs Windows, running calculator application.
Notepad running on the calculator

But I want to boot Linux too!

You have two options:

  • Just use U-Boot to load zImage, device tree and initrd
  • Move FD, MpPark and FrameBuffer memory regions to the top of the system memory region and leave the lower 128MB memory unoccupied

Load Linux via either GRUB or directly from EFISTUB. It boots and here’s a snippet of the boot log:

EFI stub: Exiting boot services and installing virtual address map…
 Disabling EPIT timer on ExitBootServicesEventSetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F97B000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F978000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F973000 - 0x0000000000005000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F970000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F96D000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 SetUefiImageMemoryAttributes - 0x000000008F96A000 - 0x0000000000003000 (0x0000000000000008)
 Booting Linux on physical CPU 0x0
 Linux version 4.14.98-g371433a62906-dirty (imbushuo@bc-macbookpro) (gcc version 7.4.1 20181213 [linaro-7.4-2019.02 revision 56ec6f6b99cc167ff0c2f8e1a2eed33b1edc85d4] (Linaro GCC 7.4-2019.02)) #2 PREEMPT Thu Nov 14 03:10:29 EST 2019
 CPU: ARMv7 Processor [410fc075] revision 5 (ARMv7), cr=10c53c7d
 CPU: div instructions available: patching division code
 CPU: PIPT / VIPT nonaliasing data cache, VIPT aliasing instruction cache
 OF: fdt: Machine model: HP Prime G2 Calculator
 Memory policy: Data cache writeback
 efi: Getting EFI parameters from FDT:
 efi: EFI v2.70 by EDK II
 efi:  ACPI 2.0=0x8f49b000  SMBIOS=0x8f9a8000  SMBIOS 3.0=0x8f9a6000
 OF: reserved mem: failed to allocate memory for node 'linux,cma'
 CPU: All CPU(s) started in SVC mode.
 Built 1 zonelists, mobility grouping on.  Total pages: 64516
 Kernel command line: zImage.efi root=/dev/ram0 rw initrd=/rootfs.cpio.gz dtb=/imx6ull-14x14-prime.dtb

If you are using the NXP Linux configuration, it will eventually panic because it reads initrd memory address from device tree or some predefined configuration settings and of course the initrd is loaded as somewhere else in UEFI. You need to remove those settings and make the configuration more generic.

But why?

People talk about running Windows on random devices so I want to troll them by the end of the year.

How about other projects? What’s the next thing?

They will continue. So far, I need to implement more drivers, enable UEFI boot from on-board NAND, implement a calculator-friendly UEFI boot user interface and explore the possibility of booting stock HP PPL OS from my UEFI.


This project is partially derived from Microsoft’s Windows 10 IoT BSP for NXP SoC platforms. I would also like to thank Wenting for sending me his Prime G2 with UART lines soldered for debugging.


Bootstrapping the blue Windows when you have random AArch64 devices in the backyard

Last year I mentioned my attempt to bootstrap Windows 10 on Dragonboard 410c. This year I ported EDK2 to Nintendo Switch and successfully booted Windows 10 arm64 installation ramdisk (rs4, rs5, and 19H1 tested as of writing time). I will briefly introduce a common way to port EDK2 with existing codebase (e.g. U-Boot), as well as cases of booting in EL2 (hypervisor).


While this article applies to most ARM SoCs, the following content will use Tegra as the example. NVIDIA developed a few solutions for Windows on ARM in Windows 8 era: Tegra 3 (Tegra30) and 4 (Tegra114). No further model have official Windows BSP (Board Support Package) released publicly due to low market acceptance of those Windows RT products.

Despite of that, general AArch64 processors are capable to run Windows 10 without additional HAL extension library if the following conditions are satisfied:

  • Architecture Timer with ACPI GTDT table description. Either CP15 or MMIO clock is okay.
  • Generic Interrupt Controller v2/v3 (we are not yet aware of v4 support) with ACPI MADT (APIC) table description, or Broadcom Interrupt Controller
  • AArch64 instruction set (crypto extension is not required)
  • ARM Performance Monitor Unit with ACPI MADT (APIC) table description

One noticeable exception the initial generation of Qualcomm Kryo (Snapdragon 820, 821) due to the faulty cache design in large core cluster. Windows removed the required erratum for it due to the complication of patch maintenance.

In the case of Tegra X1, it satisfied all conditions outlined above. I used an old-bootrom Nintendo Switch as my experiment platform since it is much cheaper than Jetson TX1. Additionally, there is verified CoreBoot and U-Boot source code for these Tegra X1 devices including Nintendo Switch.

I assume you are familiar with the NVIDIA RCM Exploit (Fusee-Gelee) as well as Tegra Boot flow. If you are not familiar with Tegra Boot flow, please refer to Tegra Technical Reference Manual available on NVIDIA developer site.

Port U-Boot Code to EDK2

There are a few environment assumptions that need to be addressed while porting U-Boot device/driver code to EDK2:

  • While U-Boot runs in AArch64 context, it only utilizes little amount of memory at the memory bottom in most circumstances. EDK2/TianoCore loads everything as high as possible per UEFI specification. Certain peripheral operations are not 64-bit addressing aware. It’s okay to force converting 64-Bit pointers to 32-Bit without data loss in the U-Boot assumption, but in EDK2 this might lead to issues. One case is SDMA (single operation DMA). Tegra SDHCI controller SDMA operations are not 64-bit addressing aware. To address the issue, I slightly modified the DMA bounce buffer allocation library (also ported from U-Boot) to allocate bottom memory instead.
  • Syntax styles. U-Boot observes the Linux naming convention for functions and types; EDK2 observes the Windows style. It might be a good idea to write a shim to provide functions like readl/writel as well as udelay/mdelay.
  • There is probably no need for porting generic classes (e.g. udevice). You might not need them in EDK2 context.

To save myself some time bootstrapping the microSD slot, I ported the clock and device framework from U-Boot to EDK2. Here are a few suggestions while porting U-Boot code to EDK2:

  • Address issues mentioned above.
  • Put device specific definitions into “Include” directory, use PCD database when necessary.
  • Install these code services as DXE driver whenever possible. Invoke them using protocols.
  • For board/machine-dependent code library (e.g. mach-tegra), depends on the usage to integrate them with driver or use additional library instead.

From Device Tree to ACPI

Device Tree is the de-facto standard in ARM to describe the system and peripheral hierarchy. Windows RT introduces the intensive use of ACPI on ARM platforms. I will cover some required tables for a success Windows startup on ARM platforms. For tables such as CSRT and DSDT, check out the Microsoft documentation.

GTDT (Generic Timer Description Table)

For SoC with architecture timer, ARM defines GTDT table to describe platform timer information. In the device tree, an architectural timer may looks like this:

timer {
	compatible = "arm,armv8-timer";
	interrupt-parent = <&gic>;

And it looks like this in ACPI GTDT table:


[024h 0036   8]        Counter Block Address : FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF
[02Ch 0044   4]                     Reserved : 00000000

[030h 0048   4]         Secure EL1 Interrupt : 0000001D
[034h 0052   4]    EL1 Flags (decoded below) : 00000002
                                Trigger Mode : 0
                                    Polarity : 1
                                   Always On : 0

[038h 0056   4]     Non-Secure EL1 Interrupt : 0000001E
[03Ch 0060   4]   NEL1 Flags (decoded below) : 00000002
                                Trigger Mode : 0
                                    Polarity : 1
                                   Always On : 0

[040h 0064   4]      Virtual Timer Interrupt : 0000001B
[044h 0068   4]     VT Flags (decoded below) : 00000002
                                Trigger Mode : 0
                                    Polarity : 1
                                   Always On : 0

[048h 0072   4]     Non-Secure EL2 Interrupt : 0000001A
[04Ch 0076   4]   NEL2 Flags (decoded below) : 00000002
                                Trigger Mode : 0
                                    Polarity : 1
                                   Always On : 0
[050h 0080   8]   Counter Read Block Address : FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

  • If your platform does not have MMIO architectural timer, write the address as 0xFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF.
  • If you boot from EL2, you are required to supply all timer values. Otherwise only EL1 timers are needed.
  • PPI starts at 16. Plus 16 for all interrupt numbers you have in the device tree. The four interrupts are Secure EL1, Non-secure EL1, virtual timer and hypervisor in sequence.
  • You may have platform watchdog, supply it in the GTDT table too (see Qualcomm example). It is not mandatory for booting Windows though.

MADT (Multiple APIC Description Table)

Most AArch64 SoC systems have one or more GIC-compatible interrupt controllers. Windows has inbox GIC support, all needed is supplying proper information in the MADT table. The table also describes ARM Performance Monitor Unit information for system’s reference. In device tree, GIC and PMU look like this:

gic: interrupt-controller@50041000 {
	compatible = "arm,gic-400";
	#interrupt-cells = <3>;
	reg = <0x0 0x50041000 0x0 0x1000>,
	    <0x0 0x50042000 0x0 0x2000>,
            <0x0 0x50044000 0x0 0x2000>,
	    <0x0 0x50046000 0x0 0x2000>;
	interrupt-parent = <&gic>;
arm_pmu: arm-pmu {
	compatible = "arm,armv8-pmuv3";
	interrupts = <GIC_SPI 144 IRQ_TYPE_LEVEL_HIGH>,
            <GIC_SPI 146 IRQ_TYPE_LEVEL_HIGH>,

An example of the MADT table can be found here.

  • In MADT table, each processor core have an table entry. Make sure you have the same CPU object in DSDT table, with identical and unique UID and CPU interface ID.
  • If your platform supports ARM PSCI, parking address field can be ignored.
  • The four registers in GIC device tree are GIC distributor, GIC base address, hypervisor GIC base address and virtual GIC base address.
  • You might need to supply GIC redistributor address on GICv3 architecture.
  • SPI interrupt number starts at 32. Plus 32 for all performance interrupt number in MADT table.
  • MPIDR value needs to be referred from platform resources.

DBG2 (Microsoft Debug Table 2)

Microsoft defines DBG2 table for ARM platforms. Although Microsoft docs mark DBG2 table info as mandatory, you do not need to supply debug device information if you just want to boot Windows as a proof-of-concept :P. An empty DBG2 table is enough for booting.

For debug purposes, it is necessary to define at least one debug device (8250/16550 serial or USB) in DSDT and DBG2 table. More information can be found at here.

FADT (Fixed ACPI Description Table)

Indicates PSCI support and Hardware-reduced ACPI mode, then you are good to go.

Debugging ACPI

It’s incredibly difficult to debug early ACPI startup if you don’t have serial or debug access on the platform. Fortunately, Linux provides some utility for it. It is feasible to enable the UEFI FrameBuffer early printk support on 5.0+ kernels to simplify the debug process.


With much effort, Windows on ARM can run on a variety of AArch64 devices. There’s still much work between “just-booted” and “usable”, and it may cost you countless nights to achieve your marvel, even if there are always guys ask you “why”:


Fix broken Windows Management Instrumentation

A colleague told me a Windows Server 2016 node entered an inconsistent state after an abnormal shutdown. The following symptoms were observed:

  • Explorer hangs with “loading…” text
  • Hyper-V Management couldn’t connect to the local server
  • Group Policy Update consequently failed
  • Telemetry metrics disappeared
  • WMI Management reported “RPC: the requested object does not exist” for object Root

A quick diagnostics indicated a component failure with Windows Management Instrumentation. To determine the failure source, I ran WMIDiag from Microsoft. The log showed a metadata failure:

.1526 21:47:43 (1) !! ERROR: WMI CONNECTION errors occured for the following namespaces: ………………………………………….. 20 ERROR(S)!
 .1527 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1528 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1529 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/subscription, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1530 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/DEFAULT, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1531 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/CIMV2, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1532 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/CIMV2/Security, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1533 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/CIMV2/TerminalServices, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1534 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/nap, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1535 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/SECURITY, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1536 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/STANDARDCIMV2, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1537 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/RSOP, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1538 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/RSOP/User, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1539 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/RSOP/Computer, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1540 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/WMI, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1541 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/directory, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1542 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/directory/LDAP, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1543 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/Policy, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1544 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/Microsoft, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1545 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/Microsoft/HomeNet, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..
 .1546 21:47:43 (0) ** - Root/aspnet, 0x80010114 - The requested object does not exist..

The documentation suggested performing a metadata registration. The following script is utilized for the metadata repair:

@echo on
cd /d c:\temp
if not exist %windir%\system32\wbem goto TryInstall
cd /d %windir%\system32\wbem
net stop winmgmt
winmgmt /kill
if exist Rep_bak rd Rep_bak /s /q
rename Repository Rep_bak
for %%i in (*.dll) do RegSvr32 -s %%i
for %%i in (*.exe) do call :FixSrv %%i
for %%i in (*.mof,*.mfl) do Mofcomp %%i
net start winmgmt
goto End

if /I (%1) == (wbemcntl.exe) goto SkipSrv
if /I (%1) == (wbemtest.exe) goto SkipSrv
if /I (%1) == (mofcomp.exe) goto SkipSrv
%1 /RegServer

goto End

if not exist wmicore.exe goto End
wmicore /s
net start winmgmt

It will throw some errors. Ignore them. Then reboot the server.

Windows Runtime Apps

Hack TwinUI to force Windows Store Apps run on low resolution screens

Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 has a minimum screen resolution constraint for Windows Store Apps (aka. Metro Apps or whatever). If the screen resolution doesn’t meet requirement, user will see a prompt indicating the resolution is too low for these applications.

However, on certain platforms (like phones and single-board computers), it is not convenient to change resolution. Recently I am trying Windows RT 8.1 on Lumia 640 XL. Qualcomm has the resolution hard-coded in platform configuration, so I was unable to change the resolution. 1280 * 720 is not sufficient for Store Apps.

But there was an exception – the PC settings (aka. Immersive Control Panel) app. It always opens regardless of current resolution settings. So how can I force other applications to launch?

Let’s turn to TwinUI.dll. It’s one of the core components of shell infrastructure. Start IDA Pro, load TwinUI with symbols from Microsoft. Go ahead and search the existence of PC settings app. All Windows Store Apps are associated with a package family identifier. Let’s search it. In this case, it’s windows.immersivecontrolpanel_cw5n1h2txyewy.

Bingo. We found it in some functions.

PC Settings Package Family ID is hardcoded in TwinUI.dll. This function has been patched by me, so it doesn't reflect actual situation you get from official Microsoft binary.
PC Settings Package Family ID is hardcoded in TwinUI.dll. This function has been patched by me, so it doesn’t reflect actual situation you get from official Microsoft binary.

By checking it’s references, we learned that layout checking routine verifies whether it is a desktop application, or PC settings app when resolution doesn’t meet requirements. Either you can patch layout checking routine or PC settings PFN verification routine. I decided to patch the second one, however patching the first is probably a better idea.

On ARMv7-A platform, I simply patched initial register store operation and the branch. Instruction BLX call was replaced with a simple NOP(MOV R0, R0).

Patched function
Patched function

There are two version of the PC settings check routines, so I need to patch both. The other one is similar to this one. Patching the layout verification routine (actually a better idea, as this patch will have some trouble when launch files from desktop) / patching on other architectures should be similar to this one.


A case that Hyper-V freezes host operating system

Two days ago I set up a new virtual machine for applications that require isolated security. When I put my computer into Connected Standby mode, I noticed SoC fan didn’t stop. To verify whether it was OS inconsistency or persistent issue, I manually initiated a system restart. However, it froze at login screen then. Nothing responded, including Ctrl + Alt + Delete key sequence. Attempting to force shutdown and start the computer almost didn’t improve the situation. After about ten attempts I managed to enter my desktop. There was no clue in event viewer: everything went well then suddenly the system froze.

I remembered that an alternative OS loader entry was configured to bypass Hypervisor launch at startup. I selected this entry to see whether it was related to Hyper-V. Test results indicated the freeze issue was strongly related to Hyper-V.

I tried to remember what I did before virtual machine configuration. I removed a virtual switch bridged to Surface Ethernet Adapter on my Surface Dock, then added a virtual switch bridged to VMware NAT adapter (which works better with Wireless network). Then I checked adapters in Network and Sharing Center, the old virtual switch didn’t get removed at all – and the “Remove” menu entry was unavailable. At last, I removed this adapter from Device Manager, and the issue was resolved.

This issue is likely related to OS inconsistency. When Hyper-V infrastructure attempts to initialize (bring up) all enabled network adapters including these Hyper-V virtual switches, the “removed” adapter is brought up, then enters failure state due to inconsistency in configuration. Because host operating system is a virtual machine on Hyper-V (with privileges), the host OS didn’t even get a chance to record what happened at that point.

The good thing is that I fixed it by myself; The bad thing is I missed an opportunity to report this bug and let Microsoft fix it.

Dev Project Windows Runtime Apps

Migrate legacy UWP project system to MSBuild-based

When Microsoft decided to adopt MSBuild on .NET Core platform, project.json was not dropped immediately until first toolchain RTM arrives. Dotnet Development on Universal Windows Platform Development leverages .NET Core too, but the depreciation progress is significantly slower than other .NET Core platforms due to historical reasons. UWP uses project.json for package management and MSBuild for builds.

In Visual Studio 2017 April Update, Microsoft finally migrates new UWP projects to full MSBuild-based project system. But our projects, which creates on early 2015, doesn’t get an auto migration as expected. Hence we decided to migrate them manually for additional benefits like better toolchain stability and advanced customization features.

Reminder: Do not attempt to use “dotnet migrate” CLI command, it won’t work for UWP projects.

Migration Prerequisites

  • Notify all your team members. Make sure everyone has Visual Studio 2017 with April update installed.
  • If you have continuous integration environment configured, make sure build agents have NuGet 4.1 or higher installed (3.5 or 4.0 won’t work).
  • Lock VCS during migration to prevent additional incidents. (We’re using TFVC for source management so that it will be easy)


  • Clean up all projects (including bin and obj directories)
  • Iterate all project directories
  • Find C# project file, open with your favorite editor.
  • Add following property group before project file lists:

Okay, you’ve completed the first step. Then open your project.json file. Migrate all NuGet packages references as the picture below.

Package Reference
Package Reference

Finally, remove project.json and additional files like project.lock.json, *.nuget.targets, *.nuget.props. (Or your will get lots of warning that may lead .NET Native compilation fail)

Do it for every project. Then open Visual Studio, restore NuGet packages for all projects, build to validate and submit changes.

Dev Windows Runtime Apps

The Windows “Gatekeeper” Internals

Windows 10 Insider Preview 15046 introduces the Windows-flavor “Gatekeeper“. It is similar to Gatekeeper in macOS, with some minor differences.

First of all, Windows “Gatekeeper” doesn’t block the execution of applications that don’t require installation. I tried to run PuTTY, a popular tool on Windows and it works.

Secondly, Windows “Gatekeeper” is based on Microsoft SmartScreen, which means disabling SmartScreen will turn it off too. Prior to application execution, SmartScreen will send file hash and publisher information(including certificate thumbprint) to Microsoft’s server, then SmartScreen server send back metadata including application reputation. Response is signed with a specific key that will be checked in client side for message integrity.

Unlike macOS, attempt to start application from console(e.g. Command Prompt and PowerShell) will trigger “Gatekeeper”.

Attempt to start application from PowerShell
Attempt to start application from PowerShell

The window is web-based. Although you can’t modify the response directly(no one wants to deal with sha256RSA unless the key leaks), you can attach a debugger to have some fun with it.

"Rickrolling" in Windows SmartScreen
“Rickrolling” in Windows SmartScreen

Microsoft claims that this feature is opt-in for most Windows SKUs (except Windows 10 Cloud AFAIK), and it is not revalent to UMCI (User-mode Code Integrity), which is enforced in Windows 10 Cloud.