Jon L. Jacobi is a San Francisco-based freelance writer. Testing was done by Elliott Kirschling of the PC World Test Center.
You spend hard-earned money when you buy a new PC; why, then, should the vendor treat it like a billboard to sell you more stuff? Or, even more annoyingly, siphon off computing power to add punch and persistence to those marketing messages?
Unfortunately, most systems these days ship with a desktop littered with links, trialware, adware, and other software that you may find worthless. Adding insult to injury, major electronics retailers such as Best Buy and Circuit City are cashing in on this trend by offering to remove the junk (a service they call PC optimization or setup)--for a price.
Some of the software can be useful, but much of it deserves the derogatory terms many people employ: junkware, shovelware, and plain old crap. And there tends to be a lot of it on new computers. For example, our examination and tests on 15 new desktop and laptop PCs turned up, on average, seven to eight nonstandard desktop icons; four to five non-Windows applets in the system tray; five or so Welcome Center icons that Windows didn't create; and additional lurkers in the Start menu and Windows Registry.
Getting rid of all this junk has a real benefit: Performance scores (as measured by our WorldBench 6 Beta 2 test suite) can improve by as much as 8 percent, which is pretty impressive considering the speed of baseline performance on a current PC (see our chart, "Cluttered Computers"). Read on for details, including advice on how to minimize the gunk when you shop--and, if you can't avoid it, see "How to Clean Your New PC" for advice on getting rid of it.
And don't miss our related story "20 Tools to Get the Junk Off Your PC," which contains pointers to useful downloads.