Use the drivers Windows provides and you won’t have to worry about bloatware. If you do have to install the drivers provided by your manufacturer, here’s how to avoid all the heavy control panels and startup applications they include.
These applications are sometimes useful, but they often aren’t. Install a few different driver packages and you may find your computer takes noticeably longer to boot and has quite the collection of system tray icons.
Download and Install the Minimal Driver Packages
Device manufactures sometimes offer multiple driver download options. You may be able to choose between a smaller driver-only package and a larger package that also includes additional software.
For example, in the screenshot below, Brother’s website offers a large “full driver and software package” as well as individual drivers for printing and scanning with this particular printer. If you didn’t want Brother’s printer control panel and other software installed, you could just download the individual drivers.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers don’t provide this option.
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Avoid Installing the Junk
Some driver installers allow you to choose exactly what you want to install when you go through the installation process. You can sometimes uncheck the additional tools and only install the drivers. Look for a “Custom” install option, if available. This option isn’t always available — don’t be surprised if you’re forced to install everything.
Extract the Drivers and Install Them Manually
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Even if the device manufacturer only provides a large package containing the drivers and other software, there’s still a way to only install the drivers.
First, download the full driver package. Next, extract the files to a folder on your computer. You can sometimes just double-click the driver installer and allow it to extract the files. They may extract to a folder you can easily access or a folder buried in your temporary files. You can sometimes open the drier installer in a file extraction tool like 7-Zip to view its contents and extract them manually.
Once you have the drivers, you can install them manually. Open the Device Manager by pressing Windows Key + R, typing devmgmt.msc into the Run dialog, and pressing Enter. Locate the device you want to install the drivers for. Right-click the device’s name and select Update Driver Software.
Click “Browse my computer for driver software” and point the tool at the folder containing the extracted drivers. You don’t have to locate the exact subfolder containing the drivers — just point it at the larger folder and Windows will find the drivers wherever they are.
Windows can locate and automatically install the driver files for the device, skipping the device manufacturer’s larger installation package.
Disable the Bloat
Install a large driver package and you’ll often have to disable the bloatware afterward. On Windows 8, you can right-click the taskbar, select Task Manager, click More details, and click the Startup tab. From here, you can quickly disable startup applications associated with drivers you’ve installed. These applications won’t load at boot up, speeding up the startup process and conserving your RAM.
If an application turns out to be useful, you can return to the dialog here and re-enable it. You may want to perform a search for an application’s name before removing it — just right-click an application’s name and select Search online to see what it does and decide whether you want to disable it or not.
On Windows 7, you’ll have to use a third-party startup manager for this. We like the Startup tool available in the free CCleaner application. Install it, navigate to Tools > Startup, and disable programs in the same sort of way.
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Expert geeks can also visit the Services application afterward and disable any unnecessary system services a driver application might install. We don’t recommend average Windows users mess with services — it would be easy to disable necessary Windows system services if you don’t know what you’re doing.
You’ll have to judge whether each utility is actually useful to you, or whether it’s just bloatware wasting resources. If you need an application later, you can always use the manufacturer’s driver installation package to install it. If you disabled a startup program or service, you can re-enable it from the same place.
Image Credit: Cheon Fong Liew on Flickr