How-To: Get Rid of Bloatware on Your New Laptop

Alex Castle

Let’s set the scene: It’s a beautiful April day, and you’ve just come home after a trip to your local Best Buy, a spring in your step and a smile on your lips. What’s got you so excited? Why, it’s new laptop day! You’ve scrimped and saved and finally, finally , you’re able to afford that new notebook you’ve been pining after.

Breathless, you tear your new computer out of its packaging, plug it in and turn it on, right there on the kitchen table. Windows loads for a minute, then pops up the first time setup. You make an account, and there you are; gazing at the desktop. You feel a sense of proud ownership: that’s your recycle bin; that’s your browser; those are your network places. That’s your Google desktop search bar, your link to and your 30 day free trial of America Online.

Wait, what? What is all this crap?

When you buy a brand new laptop from an OEM, they’ve already installed an OS for you. And, while they were at it, they’ve tossed in a few extra “features” that they (have been paid) to think you would like. These range from the useful to the vaguely harmless to the downright obnoxious. In any case, your laptop would be better off without them, and in this article we’re going to show you how to make your new notebook as pristine as freshly driven snow in just two steps. Then, we’ll show you how to back up your disk so that you can restore your notebook to a clean state whenever you want, even if you can’t start Windows.

Decrapify Your Laptop

The first step’s an easy one: download and run PC Decrapifier . PC Decrapifier maintains a list of crapware commonly installed on OEM machines, and uninstalls them for you en masse .

The decrapification (did we mention that “decrapify” is one our favorite verbs?) process is very simple. Just use the internet or a USB thumb drive to get the executable onto the laptop, then give it a run. When you’re asked, indicate that you’re running PC Decrapifier on a new computer.

The program will perform a quick scan, then return a list of programs that it identifies as junk. In our test with a thoroughly gunked up Toshiba laptop, PC Decrapifier did an admirable job of finding all of the obvious junk programs, like trial versions of bad software, and spam shortcuts with names like “Get 15 Free Photo Prints.” By default, PC Decrapifier will mark all of these for deletion, so unless you’ve got a hankering for some dubious free photo prints, just click the Next button.

Now PC Decrapifier will display a list other programs that it has detected on your system. This includes all the programs that are not necessarily junk, but which you may not want on your system, anyway. For instance, on our test laptop, this list included Picasa, Napster and Google Desktop. We could have left these intact, but because we like starting with a totally clean slate, we decided to go down the list and pick out all the programs that we could identify as being non-vital, and selected them for deletion. You don’t have to worry about getting absolutely everything, because in the next step we’ll run a targeted uninstaller to clean up whatever we missed.

These programs don’t uninstall as quickly as those on the first batch did, and you’ll find yourself having to manage the uninstall dialogues for all of them. Still, in a couple of minutes you should be done, and you’ll be ready to move onto the next step.

Use Revo Uninstaller to Remove Stubborn Programs

Revo Uninstaller is a freeware program which is very, very good at uninstalling programs. As nice as PC Decrapifier is, it sometimes programs, so Revo is a big help. For instance, after we ran the Decrapifier in the previous step, Google Desktop had managed to hold on and was still left on our system. We admire the programs tenacity, but it still had to go, so we fired up Revo.

Revo Uninstaller’s default screen is a list of programs installed on the computer. To get rid of Google Desktop, we just select it from the list and select Uninstall. The program gives you a list of uninstall options, ranging from basic (just runs the program’s built-in uninstaller) to the advanced (runs the uninstaller, deletes any remaining program data on the hard drive, scours the registry for left-behind keys, burns sage and recites Bible verses, etc).

For us, the “safe” removal option was enough. After clicking it, the Google Desktop uninstaller runs, then gives you the option to delete unneeded registry keys and left-over data. When it finishes, there’s not a trace left on the system.

One of our favorite features of Revo is the “Hunter” mode. When you enable this mode by clicking the radar icon at the top of the main window, Revo disappears, leaving only a small square “crosshairs” icon on the screen. At any time you can click and hold on the icon to turn your cursor into a crosshair, then drag and release the mouse button on a program to open an uninstal dialogue.

We used this feature to remove a pesky toolbar from our brand new Toshiba laptop. Toolbars are a perfect use for hunter mode, because it’s not always easy to tell what the the program underlying the toolbar is called.

Next up, we'll discuss how to create a backup image to save your laptop's clean state.

Create a Recovery Disk Image

So now your new laptop finally looks like a new laptop. Fantastic. But what happens if, somewhere down the line, your system gets a nasty virus or gets bogged down with too much crapware and you want to restore your system to its initial state? Unfortunately, if you use the restore disc that comes with the laptop, you’ll just be reinstalling all of the stuff you worked so hard to get rid of. To give yourself a better option, take the time right now to create an image backup.

First, get your laptop into exactly the state you want it to restore to. Make sure you have every driver you need installed on your laptop, as well as the current Windows service pack. You can also include any apps you’re absolutely sure you’ll want when you restore your notebook. Don’t go crazy here, there’s no point in cluttering up your laptop before you restore it, and the more applications you have on your disk, the larger the restore image is going to be. Once you’ve got things the way you like, we’ll create the image.

Our disk imaging software of choice is Acronis True Image Home , which is available for $50 on their website. While we generally like to use free software whenever possible, Acronis does an excellent job and we think that disk imaging is such an important function that it’s well worth paying for.

Acronis True Image Home is a snap to use. Once it’s installed, you just install, and run. True Image includes several hard disk utilities, but the one we’re interested in is the Back Up option in the top left. From the next screen, select My Computer . Click the Target Archive button on the sidebar to determine where your image will be save (name it something that will remind you that this is a clean restore, CleanRestore.tib for instance). Finally, click the Scheduling tab and make sure the Do not schedule radial button is selected. This will keep Acronis from updating the backup as time goes on. Click the Next button a couple of times to get through the rest of the options, then click Proceed.

Now you have an image of your clean computer sitting on your hard drive. You can keep it there, if you want to allow for a fast restore whenever your system gets too cluttered, but you definitely copy the backup image to an external drive as well, in case things get really FUBARed and you can’t access your primary hard drive.

Acronis true Image includes a utility called Bootable Rescue Media Builder, which allows you to make a boot disc with Acronis True Image Home on it. In the event that your system data gets corrupted and you can’t boot to windows, you can boot from this disc, and use it to restore your clean backup from the external drive you saved it to. Bootable Rescue Media Builder is more of a wizard than a full-featured program, so just follow the steps on the screen to create your boot disc.

So there you have it! Keep your image backup file safe, and you can restore your laptop to a pristine state any time you want.

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