How PC makers destroy the Windows experience

How PC makers destroy the Windows experience

Summary: Building a PC should be easy. Design great hardware, add an operating system and any specialized tools that your hardware needs, and delight the user. So why do some PC makers insist on screwing things up?

TOPICS: Hardware, Windows

Update Dec 5 2012: Lenovo has released an official hotfix that adjusts the partitions and restores most of the previously unusable disk space. Details here.

How can PC makers screw up perfectly good PC designs? Their bag of tricks is seemingly endless, from cutting costs by specifying inferior hardware to loading new PCs with performance-sapping crapware.

But there's another stupid OEM trick you might not have run into: the incredible shrinking hard disk.

I stumbled across an example earlier this month when I read Walt Mossberg’s review of the new Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13. Mossberg praised Lenovo for the innovative design of this hybrid notebook, which can fold into seemingly impossible positions (thus the name) to work as a tablet or as a touch-first display with the keyboard portion acting as a stand, or in Tent Mode, as shown here.


It’s a clever design, if a bit odd and perhaps impractical. But this is the part of the review that jumped out at me:

You won’t be able to store much data on the Yoga, however. It is only available with a 128 gigabyte solid-state drive, and, shockingly, only 60 gigabytes of that is available to the user — the rest is occupied by system files.

At first I thought that had to be a typo. I’ve installed Windows 8 on dozens of PCs and I’ve seen Windows 8 installed on other manufacturers’ products gobbling far less disk space.

Yesterday, I stopped in at my local Best Buy (where Mossberg picked up his review unit) to investigate. I found a demo unit in a prominent location, opened the Disk Management console, and stared in disbelief at this display, which I captured in all its blurry detail using my phone's camera:


That picture is, I am sure, too fuzzy to view properly, so let me decode it.

First of all, the 128GB SSD is chopped into seven separate partitions. That's three more partitions than I found on a brand-new ASUS notebook I purchased from the Microsoft Store recently. (And the ASUS has a 500GB hard drive, so space isn’t at nearly as much of a premium as it is on the Lenovo.)

Here's what each of those partitions contains:

  • 1000 MB (Recovery Partition) – This partition contains Windows Recovery Environment tools and utilities, allowing you to repair problems that affect the system drive. The Lenovo partition seems considerably bigger than it needs to be. The equivalent partition is 600MB on my ASUS notebook.
  • 260 MB (EFI System Partition) – This partition (details here) contains boot files for a GPT disk. On my ASUS system, this partition is slightly smaller at 200MB.
  • 1000 MB (OEM Partition) – I have no idea what if anything is stored here (bundled programs, maybe?), and I wasn’t able to open it or assign a drive letter using the display model. The ASUS machine has no corresponding partition.
  • 63.91 GB (Windows 8_OS) – This is the system drive (C:). After all the bundled software, it has only 42.22GB available for user data storage.
  • 25.00 GB (LENOVO) – This is drive D:. It’s accessible in File Explorer, so you could use it for data storage. Apparently Lenovo created this enormous volume solely to hold about 1.7 GB of driver files.
  • 8.00 GB (unlabeled Primary Partition) – This is another mysterious disk space thief. It appears to be empty and it has no drive letter.
  • 20.00 GB (Recovery Partition) – This partition contains the recovery image that would be restored to the system drive if you use the Refresh or Reset option in Windows 8. This is the correct location for this partition, which is roughly the same size on the ASUS machine.

Now, an experienced Windows user could copy the driver files from drive D: to another location, then delete the D: partition and possibly the mysterious 8 GB unlabeled partition right after it. After turning those into free space, it would be possible to extend the system drive so that it contains nearly 97 GB of space, with 75 GB free for user data.

I can accept the need for those big recovery partitions. They make all sorts of useful repair scenarios possible, even easy, on modern PCs.

But no one should have to do that kind of under-the-hood tinkering on a brand-new PC just to get access to usable disk storage.

Lenovo, what were you thinking when you put together this customer-hostile partition layout? And why isn't anyone filing a lawsuit over this?

Update: Oh look! Someone posted detailed instructions on the Lenovo forum for restoring sanity to this wacky disk configuration. The end result is reportedly a system drive that is 112 GB in size. I haven't tried this myself, so proceed with caution (and a good backup).

Topics: Hardware, Windows

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  • ed:

    they don't do a very good job partitioning their drives on some servers, either. I've purchased 2 for clients and both only had 1 partition on the 500gb or the 1000gb array with the preinstalled os.

    so, I figured I would just shrink the volume and make a data drive. guess what, there is one block of data positioned right at the end of the disk and I could shrink the volume 35mb. not a typo, 35 mb.

    what a joke:
    1. no server has 1 partition
    2. their image is so screwed up and nobody over there even has a clue.

    i wasn't going to purchases some third party app to get around this, so I had to reformat the drives and reinstall the windows server os.
    • Why?

      Sure a boot, swap but why partition OS and data anymore? Surely Windows filesystems and system are up to this simple task.

      Nothing is more annoying than the MCSE mutliple partitioning (read an article back in 1990s) each taking turns running out of space.
      Richard Flude
      • Dynamic partitions

        Any server configured by a sane person should have everything except the OS on dynamic partitions (logical volume management), not legacy or GPT partitions.

        The first thing I do with any machine is erase the vendor's OS install and put a clean one on - one the vendor hasn't tampered with, from clean retail or generic OEM media for the OS. A sane disk layout is only one of the reasons.
        • I hope you have all the drivers, etc....

 a safe place like a thumb drive before wiping out the system. And a full documentation on ALL the hardware inside the box.
          • Of course that's a concern.

            But, after dealing with so many systems you do come to the realization that saving drivers is a lesson in futility. It's almost always easier to go pick the fresh driver fruit directly from the vine, using another computer and thumb-drive, than to use stale drivers saved at the beginning of a products life cycle. Then, it doesn't take much more than possibly a network driver to get you online to install the updated MS WHQL tested drivers, download data sheets, CPU-ID, run dxdiag, and monitor Device Manager for the extraneous. It may not be the quickest way at first, but it negates installing multiple versions of the same driver, while some elements of the older drivers are orphaned or left as reg-clutter. A simple sysprep and imagex after a proper build allows you to deploy the freshest OS to the remaining systems within hours.
      • Partition wonder

        I like having separate partitions for OS and data so that when something goes wrong with the OS, I can just wipe the partition and start over without having to worry about the data. With today's incredibly large drives, partitions for different uses just makes sense but Lenovo's scheme in the article makes little sense on a small drive.
        G Packard Willoughby
        • RE partitioned D: drive too small?

          The average (non-tech) user will never notice the difference.
          See my comments below...
          Claude Balloune
      • To Richard the novice

        Richard, what cloud are you sitting on, you obviously are a beginner or you would not make such novice statements. You must ALWAYS partition user data away from the windows partition... have you never heard of disk imaging your windows partition, if/when you have a problem, cant start windows or simply want to effectively wind your windows back to a previous date, what would YOU have someone do.. I cant wait to hear your advice on what the user should do with their precious data
    • This is where it pays to know about operating systems other than Windows

      Parted Magic is a free Linux distribution that does all sorts of hard drive maintenance, including advanced partitioning. It even handles Windows partitions well. IMHO all IT administrators should have this in their toolbox. There are both CLI and GUI front ends, so you can use whichever you are most comfortable with.
      Michael Kelly
      • C'mon Lenovo

        We all know OEMs like to slice and dice to their own needs but this is beyond me. I expect better from Lenovo.
      • I would like to add hirens boot cd as well

        Hirens boot cd is another cd or flash disk all admins should have on their belt.
      • Agreed - Linux is a much better option

        If you want the custmizability, go Linux! If you're mainsteam, go Mac. Windows has done nothing but waste time for me, and usually it's because of all the crap that comes with new pc's. 16 brand new boxes from Dell have ~90 updates that need to be done. Come on; this is crap. My Windows box does updates all day while I use my MacBook to get s*it done. Enjoy the new Win 8 stuff, but while I deal with win 7 happily at work, I'll never run it at home. Best of holidays to all!

        And yes. I've used 8
        • Boxes are for Cereal...

          ...or Pizza. Box was a term used in the 80's... It is not used anymore, try PC, or Computer, or CPU or even "server", even "book" and "tablet" are replacing Laptops or as some people that never understood the notion called them: "LAB-tops".
  • are you serious?

    That makes me want to go right out and plop down $1000.
    I would almost prefer to purchase a blank SSD, and load win8 myself.
    • You would think.....

      they could stick some cheap, bootable eMMC read only storage on the MB containing the repair/restore files/functions and leave the full SSD for the OS/apps/data. That would be a great selling point and work even if your SSD died and you installed a new one.

      Should I patent that idea? ;-)
      • Yes!

        Patent it, and in the off chance that someone is smart enough to actually do it, sue the pants off them... just don't expect a get-rich quick plan, since the likelihood of an OEM doing something smart is minimal.
      • Cost

        That eMMC slot and card probably have too high an incremental cost for it to be worth it for the OEM. Not only is it more parts, more space taken up, and something more that can fail QA and scrap a board in manufacturing, but it introduces the extra step of writing an image to the card and inserting it.

        I guess they could have the system do that from the main hard drive on first boot during QA, but it'd take ages and slow down QA.

        They wouldn't generally want to have the cards come pre-imaged from the manufacturer because they'd still need to be able to update them when they updated their preload image. They'd also need a line of cards for each different model of machine.

        It sounds like a cool idea, but I suspect it's impractical.
        • Solder it to the MB

          Just like a BIOS chip, but for restoring the out of box SDD.

          Could even make it re-flashable with some safeguards. I figure an 8GB chip would do, but they might need a bit more. How much is s slow 16GB SD chip these days?

          That is how restore DVDs used to function. They would allow you to restore the out of box experience by reinstalling the OS from scratch. Some of the better ones even gave you choices re the crap ware you wanted to reinstall.

          What is the matter with these people?
      • Even a SD memory Card...

        An Inexpensive read only SD card (8 or 16 gig) that has been paired to the specific CPU will do. Great idea D.T.
  • It's going to get worse!

    For years I have purchased Dell and HP laptops because, despite of the crapware, I could customize them to suit my needs (purchasing from their webstore). But the business news keep mentioning that these companies are falling apart.

    Where will we be able to purchase good customized laptops running windows in the future?