A laptop is a marvel of engineering. So much work goes into designing and manufacturing all the individual pieces of hardware before combining them with software that’s taken decades to build. After going through all this work, laptop manufacturers are paid to make their laptops slower and more frustrating to use.

The PC ecosystem’s race to the bottom and cut-throat pricing means that many computer manufacturers aren’t focused on providing a good experience — they’re focused on releasing the cheapest laptops possible and making some additional money by loading the laptop with bloatware.

The Bloatware Is There Because It Pays

Your laptop’s manufacturer doesn’t really believe Norton antivirus is the best security solution, or that some obscure casual game portal has the best games available for Windows. Instead, they’re paid by software companies to preinstall this stuff.

Instead, laptop manufacturers load their computers up with shovelware — so-named because it seems as if manufacturers just shovel a pile of software onto the computer without much thought given to its usefulness. This often-useless software slows a laptop down, making it take longer to boot, reducing available memory, and generally cluttering up the computer. Toolbars may insert themselves into browsers and pop-up messages may urge the user to upgrade to paid copies of trial software. Messages for trial antivirus programs can be particularly scary, warning users they may be at risk if they don’t open their wallets and pay additional money.

These programs are generally trial versions that urge you to purchase paid software, links to places where you can purchase software, or browser toolbars that encourage you to use bad search engines. Software companies pay the manufacturers so inexperienced users will end up purchasing complete versions of the trial software, paying for bad casual games, and using less-useful search engines.

How Much Does Bloatware Slow a Laptop Down, Really?

Do we geeks exaggerate the significance of bloatware on a laptop? Benchmarks would help us understand just how significantly bloatware can drag down a new computer.

Luckily, such benchmarks exist. They even come from an unlikely source — Microsoft. Microsoft sells “Microsoft signature” PCs in its Microsoft stores, which are laptops free of the usual manufacturer-installed crapware. Microsoft even offers to turn any laptop into a Signature laptop, getting rid of the bloatware for you –for only $99. Microsoft is making money coming and going here — you pay them for a Windows license that comes with your computer and then you pay them more than the cost of a Windows license so your new laptop will work like it should.

Microsoft advertises their signature PCs by pointing out how much faster a signature PC is than a non-signature PC — these statistics really tell us how much faster a new laptop is once all the bloatware is removed. They’ve now removed the statistics from their latest Signature PC page — maybe they were a bit embarrassing  to Microsoft’s hardware partners — but we can view them with archive.org.

Based on Microsoft’s tests with six different Windows 7 laptops, removing bloatware made the laptops start up nearly 40% faster on average. That’s a significant improvement that shows us just how much bloatware can affect performance.

Worse yet, a 2009 PC Pro study found that bloatware could add over a minute to boot-up times, with Acer’s laptops taking an additional two minutes to boot because of all the included bloatware.

Banishing Bloatware

If you have a new laptop packed full of bloatware but don’t want to pay Microsoft $99 for the privelage of getting rid of it, you have some options:

  • Manually Uninstall Bloatware: You can uninstall bloatware that comes with your laptop from the standard Uninstall Programs pane in the Windows Control Panel. You’ll need to know the programs you should uninstall and the ones you should keep. Some utilities may help you take full advantage of your laptop’s hardware, while some are completely useless. Preinstalled bloatware will vary wildly from laptop to laptop — if you perform some Google searches, you should be able to find an explanation of what each program does. You may even find a a full, user-created guide to the bloatware that comes on your specific laptop, what it does, and which programs you should remove.
  • Automatically Uninstall Bloatware: If you don’t want to do all of the grunt work yourself, try using the free PC Decrapifier program. It will scan your computer for known bloatware and automatically uninstall it. However, PC Decrapifier isn’t perfect and it won’t catch all the bloatware. (Note: This software is no longer available.)
  • Reinstall Windows: Many geeks prefer to install a clean copy of Windows on their new PCs, removing all the manufacturer software and starting with a clean slate. If you opt to do this, you’ll need a Windows disc. You’ll also need to download and install the appropriate drivers and hardware utilities for your laptop afterwards — you can generally find them on the manufacturer’s support site for your laptop.

If you’ve ever purchased a new laptop and found yourself spending minutes watching the bloatware load every time you power on your laptop, you can probably understand why so many people buy Macs.

We geeks may know how to deal with bloatware, but the average computer buyer is getting stuck with a laptop made worse by its manufacturer.

Image Credit: Collin Anderson, Bruce Turner on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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