Junkbusters!

Rating PC Junk

Because performance numbers don't tell the whole story, we developed a junk rating that integrates the WorldBench 6 improvement with the quantity and quality of the gunk. We then tied the numbers to word scores ranging from Polite (little or no junk) to Mildly Annoying, Irritating, and Infuriating.

The most junkware-free system, scoring an impressively low 10 points, was Alienware's Area-51 7500 desktop, which didn't even display the Alienware name on its screen.

At the other end of the spectrum: Sony's VAIO VGC-LS30E multimedia desktop, which came with Spider-Man 3 wallpaper and 27 nonstandard Vista Welcome Center icons hawking everything from online games to CNN to e-books. Booting up the PC for the first time simultaneously activated setup for a trial of Norton Internet Security; we also saw an ad for a trial of QuickBooks and an invitation to a Sony feedback survey.

Throw in AOL and Travelocity Sidebar gadgets, and the VGC-LS30SE ran away with the number one spot on our chart. As brazen as the appearance of its desktop was, the Sony actually had slightly less junk running in the background than the average machine does, but it still scored a whopping 162 points on the junk-rating scale.

After the Sony, all the other PCs seemed tame, though the Acer, Dell, HP, and Toshiba all surpassed the Annoying mark. The amount of junkware on Gateway and on Gateway-owned eMachines PCs was tolerable, though we're still waiting for the company's BigFix background app to actually fix something. Other than the Alienware, only the Polywell earned a Polite mark. It was a bit cluttered, but it had no adware or trialware, and what software there was served a purpose.

After two weeks of staring at cluttered desktops, adware, trialware, and utilities, we concluded that PC vendors, under tremendous competitive pressure to keep prices down, are seeking new revenue sources (or, in the case of vendor-branded support aids, ways to cut their own costs). They sell ad space on their desktops for cash, try to distinguish themselves by providing utilities that frequently duplicate or simply manage Windows features, and have generally allowed their products to be used to sell those of others. When we asked vendors about this trend, they responded with various explanations--the favorite being that users appreciate having the additional software--but in the end most of the justifications sounded to us like poor excuses for bad behavior.

It doesn't have to be this way. Microsoft has done a pretty good job of making the initial boot-up of an unadulterated Vista PC pleasant. It's the computer vendors who muck things up. With the exception of Alienware and Polywell, all the companies whose PCs we tested could take a hint from Apple and sell their extras with a modicum of dignity.

Cluttered Computers: Which PCs Have the Most Annoying Junk?

A Sony desktop and a Toshiba notebook earned the worst junk ratings, which are based on the quantity and quality of preinstalled non-Windows software and its impact on a system's performance. Conversely, a high-end PC from Alienware and a desktop from Polywell earned the lowest junk ratings. To see our ratings and test results, click on the chart icon below.

Cluttered Computers: Which PCs Have the Most Annoying Junk?A Sony desktop and a Toshiba notebook earned the worst junk ratings, which are based on the quantity and quality of preinstalled non-Windows software and its impact on a system's performance (see the footnote at the bottom of this chart). Conversely, a high-end PC from Alienware and a desktop from Polywell earned the lowest junk ratings.SystemJunk rating1Cleanup resultsCrud countCommentsSony VAIOVGC-LS30E (desktop)

162  Infuriating

  • Processes removed: 30 out of 63
  • WorldBench improvement: 3.7%
  • Desktop icons: 11
  • Start menu items: 4
  • Welcome Center icons: 27
  • Startup wizards: 3
  • System Tray craplets: 5

From its Spiderman Desktop to an amazing 27 Welcome Center icons, the LS30E--like many multimedia PCs--is a crapware horror show. Toshiba A205-S4639 (notebook)

118 Infuriating

  • Processes removed: 34 out of 81
  • WorldBench improvement: 1.4%
  • Desktop icons: 17
  • Start menu item: 0
  • Welcome Center icons: 6
  • Startup wizards: 2
  • System Tray craplets: 9

Toshiba dishes out a heapin' helpin' of both third-party and proprietary crapware on this laptop. Its 17 desktop icons was the high for our roundup. Dell Inspiron 531 (desktop)

113 Infuriating

  • Processes removed: 46 out of 78
  • WorldBench improvement: 5.9%
  • Desktop icons: 9
  • Start menu item: 3
  • Welcome Center icons: 5
  • Startup wizards: 3
  • System Tray craplets: 6

Dell has taken a lot of flack for crapware, but it's not the worst offender for third-party items. However, there's a ton of Dell-branded "extras." HP Pavilion dv9500t (notebook)

100 Infuriating

  • Processes removed:34 out of 69
  • WorldBench improvement: 8.2%
  • Desktop icons: 14
  • Start menu item: 4
  • Welcome Center icons: 5
  • Startup wizards: 2
  • System Tray craplets: 4

From the proprietary first-boot configuration wizard, which tries to sell you stuff, to the 14 desktop icons, the dv9500t is impolite in a big way. Acer Aspire 5920 (notebook)

94 Infuriating

  • Processes removed: 45 out of 76
  • WorldBench improvement: 6.5%
  • Desktop icons: 9
  • Start menu item: 4
  • Welcome Center icons: 1
  • Startup wizards: None
  • System Tray craplets: 5

Like Sony, Toshiba, and Lenovo, Acer tries too hard to be helpful. Too many utilities duplicate Vista tools and create a bad case of sensory overload. eMachines T5602 (desktop)

93 Infuriating

  • Processes removed: 37 out of 68
  • WorldBench improvement: 5.5%
  • Desktop icons: 4
  • Start menu item: 1
  • Welcome Center icons: 6
  • Startup wizards: 1
  • System Tray craplets: 5

Gateway-owned eMachines loads its system with trialware and adware--though not quite on the scale of the PCs in the top five. Lenovo T61 (notebook)

70  Mildly annoying

  • Processes removed: 52 out of 87
  • WorldBench improvement: 1.4%
  • Desktop icons: 3
  • Start menu item: 5
  • Welcome Center icons: 0
  • Startup wizards: 1
  • System Tray craplets: 3

A deluge of "helpful" utilities and a first-boot wizard that tries to sell stuff irked us mightily. But you can ditch the third-party junk by reinstalling the OS. Gateway DX430X(desktop)

69  Mildly annoying

  • Processes removed:46 out of 80
  • WorldBench improvement: 2.2%
  • Desktop icons: 4
  • Start menu item: 0
  • Welcome Center icons: 3
  • Startup wizards: 2
  • System Tray craplets: 7

But for the parade of system-tray applets, this PC might have scored a Polite. It didn't, and Gateway could come up with a more subtle desktop logo. Polywell Poly P3503 (desktop)

22 Polite

  • Processes removed: 11 out of 45
  • WorldBench improvement: 3.3%
  • Desktop icons: 6
  • Start menu item: 2
  • Welcome Center icons: 4
  • Startup wizards: None
  • System Tray craplets: 1

Polywell's desktop may not be squeaky clean, but everything you find is full, not trial software. Once upon a time, this was the norm. Alienware Area-51 7500 (desktop)

10 Polite

  • Processes removed: 9 out of 40
  • WorldBench improvement: 2.4%
  • Desktop icons: 1
  • Start menu item: 0
  • Welcome Center icons: 2
  • Startup wizards: 0
  • System Tray craplets: None

Alienware knows it's charging top dollar for its performance PCs and treats its customers accordingly. Pristine.FOOTNOTE:1The higher the junk rating, the worse the score. The ratings were calculated by adding the number of third-party desktop items, start-menu items, system tray applets, sidebar gadgets, Welcome Center icons (multiplied by 2), boot wizards (multiplied by 3), and the WorldBench 6 Beta 2 performance percentage gain (multiplied by 2). We also added points if we couldn't restore the OS cleanly using the vendor-supplied recovery discs or partition.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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