On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

Summary: Are PC makers finally getting the message that their customers don't want crapware? A close look at three consumer PCs delivers a mixed answer.

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The weakest link in the PC ecosystem is, without a doubt, the one right before the hardware reaches your desk.

That's the conclusion I've drawn over the past two months as I've compared three pairs of modern PCs. What made this experiment especially interesting was comparing the software installations provided by the PC manufacturers with a clean alternative called Microsoft Signature, which is available only through the Microsoft Store.

In the first part of this series, I looked at the Signature experience in detail and found that it really does make a difference. (For details, see Can Microsoft cure PC makers of the crapware habit?)

In this installment and an accompanying gallery, I provide a closer look at what each of the three PC makers provided to their customers.

See the accompanying image gallery: 12 ways hardware makers screw up a perfectly good Windows PC

All three PCs use modern Intel i5 processors, have plenty of memory and disk storage, and large, bright screens. They make an excellent first impression, but what happens when you turn on the system for the first time?

Sony VAIO VPC25FX

Back in the darkest days of Windows Vista, I documented my truly dreadful experience with a Sony PC (for the gory details, see Fixing Windows Vista, one machine at a time and its companion photo gallery). Since then, Sony has been more conscious than most of its competitors about the need to improve its customers' experience with new PCs, so I was eager to see this machine in action.

As with most Sony hardware, it's well built and very handsome, with a glossy white case, a backlit keyboard, and a gorgeous 1080p screen.

Surprisingly, the OEM desktop was almost free of icons, with only the Recycle Bin, the Office 2010 icon, and a Norton shortcut to mar the neutral Sony wallpaper. The only trialware on this system was a copy of Norton Internet Security, good for 60 days. It nagged repeatedly until I registered, and then nagged again, with increasingly dire warnings, after the trial expired.

Unfortunately, that didn't mean the system was free of extra software. Bumping the mouse pointer against the top of the screen revealed Sony's VAIO Gate software, a dock with shortcuts to third-party programs, a VAIO Control Center and a VAIO Care utility, and a slew of media programs. Given the existence of the Windows 7 taskbar, it's hard to imagine what purpose this dock is supposed to serve except to annoy.

Both systems included a Blu-ray drive with a full copy of CyberLink PowerDVD BD that played Blu-ray media flawlessly. Loading a regular DVD on the OEM configuration popped up a dialog box demanding that I choose a default program. On the Signature system, it just began playing.

In terms of of performance, both of the Sony machines were impressively fast, with the Signature machine typically booting to the desktop in just over 30 seconds, about 20% faster than the Sony configuration.

Samsung Q430

Samsung's hardware feels solid and well built. The OEM software load, on the other hand, is a mess.

Take a look at this home screen, which sports 17 desktop icons and offers for preinstalled trialware from both Norton and McAfee. In an especially unkind cut, the Norton dialog box offers only two choices: "Get started" and "Remind me later." That's a common theme with trialware, as it turns out: "No" is rarely an option.

Even the Cyberlink-supplied DVD software was a nest of upsell offers. Opening any one of the programs triggered an upgrade offer, and several functions that appeared in the program were disabled and could only be unlocked with—ka-ching!—an upgrade.

In all, this Samsung OEM installation had 53 programs installed by default, including an especially ugly collection of 10 games from Oberon that had to be uninstalled individually. By comparison only 34 programs were installed on the Microsoft Signature image. That massive collection of crapware had an impact on performance. In side-by-side startup tests, the Signature build booted in a little over 40 seconds, while the OEM install consistently took at least 12 seconds longer.

HP DV6

Give HP some credit for being different. The DV6 notebook has a silver external case with a black bezel, keyboard, and trackpad. For some reason, the trackpad is brightly illuminated, while the keyboard isn't.

The initial experience with this machine is annoying, thanks to a "Welcome to your new HP PC" wizard that takes up the entire screen and insists on rendering itself in slow, dramatic graphics. The four-step wizard takes nearly four minutes to go through even if you just say no to everything. That setup wizard includes extra nags to turn on the trial version of Norton Internet Security.

HP's build was laden with unwanted software, for which the company is presumably paid a bonus. The OEM load includes a collection of games from Wild Tangent, an e-book reader called Blio, and an unbelievably cheesy replacement shell called Magic Desktop. Of all three systems, this was the slowest to start up: the Signature build took 49 seconds, the OEM collection well over a minute.

The biggest surprise with this system, however, was something I discovered by accident as I was preparing the OEM unit to be returned after I had finished my review. Like its competitors, HP includes a recovery partition that you can use to restore the system software to its original settings. With most OEMs, that's a mixed blessing, because the system image also includes all the trialware and utilities that are so annoying.

HP includes that option, but it also includes a Minimized Image Recovery option that it describes as a "clean image."

Sure enough, installing that option resulted in a squeaky-clean Windows install, with no crapware and no unnecessary utilities. The full OEM image includes 50 installed programs; the clean image has a mere 25, and it doesn't force you to jump through any extra setup steps after the restore is complete.

I wish every PC maker had a similar option.

Topics: Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Software

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122 comments
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  • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

    Norton is probably the worst crapware. When I uninstalled it from a brand-new VAIO, the system stopped booting. Apparently Norton had entangled itself into some of the drivers. It took quite some work to fix.

    OEMs need to realise that, by including crapware on their systems, they endanger their own brands and destroy the performance of their systems.
    Imrhien
    • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

      @Imrhien

      If you download an run the Norton Removal Tool you won't have that trouble. I keep a copy of that, the McCrappy, Trend, AVG, etc removal tools just for that reason. Norton is not the only one that does that. Most of the retail AV programs do that now.
      alabasterdragon@...
      • The problem with that

        @alabasterdragon@...

        ...is that the NRT and MRT expire after a relatively short time.

        I too have a USB stick that used to have those tools. Now I just have URL shortcuts to the download site to make sure the copy that I have is up to date.
        Joe_Raby
    • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

      @Imrhien - well not really. I wanted to post a top level comment but can't see how to.

      @Ed Bott - actually

      I tried the Minimized Image Recovery option on a HP laptop but it restored a copy of Windows 7 Home Basic instead of Home Premium with the full Factory Restore. Please check this out.

      Thanks for great research and posts. Much better than most of your colleagues at ZDnet.
      allis0
  • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

    I have one of the last IBM branded PC's. The crapware they included was very modest by present standards. More importantly, most of it was useful! One of the best was IBM Record Now. Another good one was a modest backup program, something Microsoft failed to include on XP Home Edition. I miss IBM.
    nikacat
    • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

      @nikacat
      Perhaps you mean Lenovo. IBM doesn't do much on their own; they are an umbrella over a loose confederation of groups with vastly different agendas.
      MarauderX
      • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

        @MarauderX No I don't think you are right. I think nikacat is referring to pre-Lenovo IBM (no gets fired for buying IBM) in which case they are probably right.
        polandro
    • Which IBM-branded machine?

      Used or new? I'm thinking of getting a Lenovo, but I'm not sure what you meant. Please elaborate? I'm not the only one interested...
      brainout
  • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

    i work in IT and the thing a lot of users/clients tell me is that because of the bad experience they've had at work with all the corporate security tools and applications and also on regular PCs with all the crapware, they are more likely to buy a MAC just because it comes clean.
    I try my best to tell them that Windows is a great OS, but how long will i have to keep explaining to people. I think Microsoft should find a way to stop OEMs from loading so much crapware especially the ones that duplicate features already on windows and also antiviruses especially norton.

    If the OEMs realise that the cleaner their PCs, the more money they'll make from end users, compared to whatever it is they make from the makers of these crapware.
    taabello@...
    • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

      @taabello@...

      I was in agreement with you until you:

      MAC - it's Mac, not MAC - MAC is networking.

      Windows is not a great OS. Get out of the Windows/MS mentality and you'll see there are many better OS's out there.
      itguy10
      • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

        @itguy10 There are better OS's out there, but not ones that 90% of the general public is capable of using. Come on, if their VCRs face blinked "12:00" for years, what makes you think they are capable of figuring out anything more complex!?! You're talking about people who think if you push the button on the front of the computer the cup holder comes out. But if it were not for these saps we all would still be paying $4,000 or more for a computer like it was back in the days when only geeks had them.
        alabasterdragon@...
      • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

        @itguy10 Sorry dude; Win 7 kicks OS X right down the street. There are still 100X more applications for Win than for Mac, and the whole Win ecosystem delivers more bang / buck than OS X ever will. Macs are fail in all but a few niches. Now personally, I love Linux 'cuz I'm a Unix nerd, but I use it for embedded applications, not for office productivity or entertainment.
        Vorpaladin
      • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

        @itguy10 Windows is a great OS - Mac OSX (Gee I [i]HOPE[/i] I didn't put too many capital letters in it) is decent but it does not hold a candle to Windows 7 IMHO. Get out of the MAC (which according to my wife is also a brand of makeup) mentality and you'll see there are many better OS's out there.
        athynz
      • Better OS

        @itguy10 It only takes me half an hour to decrapify a PC. I usually use a program called Ubuntu.
        james.vandamme
        • LOL!

          Ubuntu, the OS that has Amazon ads built into the search? Heck Linux in general is a bad joke on the desktop, how many MAJOR subsystems have been gutted and replaced with alpha quality software in the past 5 years? Pulse? KDE and Gnome replacing working versions for bling heavy junk, WiFi is still a bad joke, need i go on?

          Linux is a 75 Dodge sitting in a field in that IF you spend your weekends tinkering with it and IF you learn all its quirks and IF you don't mind getting under the hood every couple of months to work on the thing? Well it can be a nice car, sink enough time into it and it may be able to be a hot rod. The rest of us have better things to do and don't treat our machines or OSes as a hobby and therefor want something that "just works" and that is Windows 7 and OSX.

          In fact I'd be happy to take the pepsi Challenge with Ubuntu, I'll take the worst MSFT OS this decade, WinVista, and we'll take the same version of Ubuntu that was released that quarter. We'll install both side by side, make sure all the drivers are working, then update BOTH OSes to current. Know what will happen? the Vista machine, despite multiple service packs and many patches will have 100% working drivers, Ubuntu? Will be broken. In just the time since Vista you had ALSA replaced by pulse, major work done on WiFi management, and Gnome replaced by unity. ubuntu WILL die, it has no chance of being 100% functional. Now do you REALLY think that experience in any way compares or is anything but inferior to Windows?
          PC builder
      • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

        @itguy10 : Do we REALLY care what you think. Everyone knows your are a fanboi. What is a fanboi doing reading articles about Windows [exclusively]? I guess you don't have a life.
        Gisabun
    • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

      @taabello@... <br><br>Yes, for the reason you mention and others (especially inteligible and high-quality support), I buy Mac's. I tend to build PC's, but not because of crapware. I like both OS's about the same. When I buy a PC (seldom), I do a clean install immediately.
      Znod
    • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

      @taabello@...

      "Win 7 kicks OS X right down the street. There are still 100X more applications for Win than for Mac, and the whole Win ecosystem delivers more bang / buck than OS X ever will."

      All my Macs, (Intel based, all), run Windows in a dual boot system/Parallels. I get all of Windows and All of MacOS X... Oh, yeah, I run Linux, too - both dual boot and Parallels..

      Sorry...

      (The rest I won't get into, because it's basically like an argument about religion.)
      mtdoonmeister
    • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

      @taabello@...

      Before I retired and closed my consulting business, I LOVED Windows and despaired Macs - Even though I've owned and used Macs since 1984.

      Windows networks = a lot of system downtime, steep learning curve, spyware, malware, viruses, frequent support on the desktops and servers. I made a lot of money. (Do you have any idea how much money you can make at $150/hour, just keeping PCs free of junk downloaded front the Internet?)

      Mac networks = About the only business I got from Mac networks was money from the initial install and about 2 hours of training when the site hired someone new...

      From the IT consultants and freelance network IT people - PLEASE, MICROSOFT, PLEASE do not make your OS easy to use, kill all the bugs or protect it against viruses... And LOAD IT UP WITH CRAPWARE. We'll starve to death if you don't.
      mtdoonmeister
  • RE: On consumer PCs, crapware is still a performance-sapping nuisance

    First of all. As a real world working tech. Sony make nice products but you better hope you never have to reload the OS. Sony hacks the crap out of the OS and hardware for themselves. OEM disc re-installs using the original COA on a Sony product will result in semi-functional equipment.

    This is IF the restore discs even work for that matter. A 6 month old Sony (VPCEC290X) has been in the shop recently for a wipe and reload of the OS. FRESH, CLEAN install of windows 7 from an OEM disc and not one single video driver for the ATI 5650 worked. Not even the one from sony's website. Not even after downloading all the packs from sony for that model and the restore discs didn't even work that the customer had to pay $35 for from sony.

    I would always choose an OEM disc install over a menufacturer. At least I KNOW I get a clean, unaltered, crapware free install of my OS. Let just hope it's not a sony or you now have a new 256 color paperweight.
    Nate_K