1) Win 7 or Win 8.1? Which has a better chance of being lean and mean on my approx 3-yr old Dell laptop? My gut is Win 7 but sometimes the latest is the greatest.
I'm going to put one for Windows 8, if only because I feel like it manages resources a lot better on lower-end systems. Like for example, on my tablet after idling about 10 minutes, the RAM usage goes down to 350MB. It ramps up of course once you start using it, but I've never seen Windows 7 do this or drop below 800MB.
2) Should I invest in installing a SSD? I have talked to Dell and this option IS possible. Would it make performance overall faster? Of course, I'm pretty certain I'd enjoy the lack of the fairly heavy vibration I feel through the keyboard and while in my lap.
Yes, as long as you're fine with the fact you will need to lug something around for extra space when needed. You can recycle the HDD already in there as mentioned by using an external enclosure.
2) I'm very hesitant to choose the OEM Dell Win 7 (or Win 8.1) version, or factory reset it from the boot menu because if I'm understanding correct for the latter (factory reset) I'll get a 3-yr old version I think of Win 7 which will mean probably hours and many internet updates from Microsoft of Win 7. I'm hesitant to choose the OEM version because I really HATE HATE HATE the crapware that Dell installs, such as auto service update process and lots of other weird stuff I never use. If I need help from Dell, I'll call 'em or go to their website. But nonetheless, perhaps there is something magical or important about the OEM version. In my limited opinion, and out-of-the box Microsoft copy of Win 7 seems the best and I assume it would go to the web and get appropriate and latest drivers for the various hardware elements. AND would not install any Dell crapware. If you agree, how do I get a fresh Microsoft Win 7 DVD? I'd rather not have to buy.
The problem is that to ensure maximum stability, you must
get the drivers from Dell themselves. The only exception is the graphics driver. You also can't get a copy of Windows 7 for free without pirating it (and I wouldn't do that anyway because you have no idea if the image is tainted or not).
Also a completely fresh install of Windows 7 can't go on the internet unless you have a hardline to the network.
3) Once the OS is up and installed any general advice on settings or useless things to get rid of to make more lean an mean, for example:
- Get rid if IE?
- Needless services?
- Network settings, etc?
Go to Control Panel -> Programs and Features to get rid of Windows features you don't want.
That link I sent posted has a list of services you can disable.
And what network settings?
4) Off the top of my head, I'll be installing from scratch the following programs to make my laptop useful. Can you give some general advice on these apps and if I should use or not, and if so any notes on configuration of them to keep the overall machine lean and mean?
- Microsoft office: I have the 2013 DVD I believe, I can do a fresh insall from It's not the "online" version.
- Firefox for browser. (Chrome/Google creeps me out: Evil eball watching all)
- Thunderbird for email. Hmm, will I might use Outlook from MS office too but probably Thunderbird.
- Dropbox (I'd LIKE to be able to use this, but I realize maybe to be lean/mean I should give it up)
- Skydrive (Same as above)
Microsoft office: Customize the installation and scrutinize all the features you want or don't want. However
, do not turn off automatic updates. Office is a target for security breaches.
Firefox: Leave it as is. If you don't want Firefox to leave anything behind, use it in Private Mode.
Thunderbird: Don't use an email client.
DropBox/OneDrive: Don't use the client.
i.e., if you can access via a website, access it via a website.
5) To keep things virus free, adware free, spy-ware free, and not to install a security suite that itself is an annoying resource hog, endless updating, or pop-up prone pain in the ass, any suggestions on the best one to get/use? Right now I'm using the free Norton suite that comes came with my Comcast cable inet service. I pretty much think it kind of sucks...it has weird menus and is confusing as to what the heck it's doing. Maybe it is good, but I have more of a sinking suspicion that it just another resource hog slowing down the stuff I really want to do.
Microsoft Security Essentials (it comes with Win8) at the minimum. Add Malwarebytes Anti-Malware for another layer of protection. There are other free ones and you can usually disable pop-ups. I use Avast, which comes with a Game Mode that disables all notifications.
Or if you just want to ditch it altogether, use Sandboxie to sandbox the web browser and any suspect programs.