Initial cleanup of an Acer notebook PC with Windows 8 pre-installed

By: Frank Rysanek [ rysanek AT fccps DOT cz ]

First tips and hints

During the following steps, you may have to deal with some Metroid configuration dialogs. Unlike the traditional control panels, the metroid config dialogs don't have an "apply" button and there's typically no "exit" or "finished" button. If you can't get rid of a particular metroid config panel, just try Alt+F4 - it will typically go away. The one exception is some post-install / first start dialogs in Windows 8.1, presented by the installer still running in "single mode" (with a spartan shell).

Initial garbage uninstall

Uninstall all Acer stuff EXCEPT:

Uninstall any garbage apps except maybe the antivirus (Acer preloads McAffee).
Note that in Windows 8, some software remains on the Metro chocolate slab, even after you uninstall the relevant entries in the "add/remove software" control panel. Curiously, to properly uninstall some of the Metroid stuff, you need to delete the icon from the Metro applications screen - and this action sometimes brings about the desired deeper uninstall (related data vanish from the various directories on your disk).

System backup and re-partition

Next, you may want to perform an initial backup of the Windows install, and while you're at it, repartition the drive: to get rid of the Acer recovery partitions, to shrink the system partition, and to get a separate partition for your data.

I still tend to use Ghost 11.5.1 to make a backup (disk to image) of the semi-cleaned-up Windows install to an external USB disk drive (or possibly two places).
I use Ghost again to restore the system disk from the image. Ghost won't restore the Acer recovery stuff. Voila, you're left with just the EFI partition and the Windows system partition, which you can resize (shrink) before the actual data restoration.
After Ghosting, you need to repair the boot sequence (BCD). See this description for an explanation and walkthrough.

You can set up a data-only partition in the left-over space later on, from normally running Windows (via disk management).

Further cleanup

Now that you have a semi-cleaned-up backup of the initial Windows install, it's safe to proceed with a deeper cleanup.
Actually you may want to leave most of the manual deeper cleanup for "after the upgrade to Windows 8.1", as in 8.1 the cleanup seems easier, and some pieces of Windows 8 turd on disk seem to vanish automagically just owing to the upgrade to 8.1. I will try to hint at this specifically in the following text.

Somewhere around this stage, it might be useful to install FreeCommander and 7zip. Both are free of charge and malware.

This might be a good time to uninstall the McAffee antivirus, unless of course for some reason you want to keep this AV tool (subject to personal preference). I prefer MS Security Essentials or maybe AVG with the resident scanner turned off - time for that later.

You may want to remove the preload of MS Office, under
...or possibly make a manual backup first.
Zip it to your external backup disk if you will.
Actually this Office preload should vanish, once you uninstall any traces of Office via the "add/remove software" control panel.

Another directory that's fairly safe to delete is Acer's
Again you can zip it to a backup drive, just in case.

Interestingly, 7zip hung when I tried to zip C:\OEM from running windows. So I booted Windows PE once again, to perform the backup and deletion. Much to my amazement, after a reboot to full Windows, the directory C:\OEM was still there, and the zipped backup was missing from my external backup HDD! (NTFS)
This effort of mine has coincided with some updates. And after *another* reboot, suddenly C:\OEM was gone, and the backup zip was there - the way it should've been one reboot *before*. Spooky stuff. Something like EWF, only persistent across reboots, and on two drives... Does Windows 8 use FS-level snapshots during updates?

Somewhere down this road, I decided to do this cleanup and update stuff under the Administrator user, to avoid UAC getting in the way all the time.
On OEM-preloaded Windows 8, the built-in Administrator user is typically disabled ex works. You can re-enable it e.g. from the command line (which itself runs as administrator) using
net user administrator /active:yes
To hide the admin account again, use
net user administrator /active:no
There are other ways to do this.

Next, I noticed that Windows failed to install some updates. The error was 0x80070003, and I couldn't find any description for that on the MS website for Windows 8. There was a KB article relevant to Windows XP, saying that possibly the local "windows update metadata database" got out of date, becoming inconsistent with the update server... and that a possible remedy was to reset (erase and reload) the database. There's a script for that...
Not sure if this actually helped or merely reset the history - Windows didn't seem to download and re-apply any updates after that, but the Windows Update control panel does look satisfied now. The "reset script" will erase the contents of the downloads directory, which saves space, which is good.

If your notebook shipped with Windows 8, consider a free upgrade to Windows 8.1. It's available at the Windows Store - there's a tile for that in the Metro chocolate bar screen. You're not even required to create an account in the MS cloud - yippee.
The download took an hour, the install took another hour. Unlike normal "windows updates", this really looks like a full reinstall - e.g. prefetch gets re-enabled and the built-in administrator gets disabled, and you're asked again to pick your WWW browser.
After a first reboot during the 8.1 install, the %scale wraps around several times, each time with a different funny explanation of what it's actually doing in the background.
The installation ends with a silly wizard that massages you into creating a "Microsoft account" (account in the MS cloud). Apparently you can work around this by supplying a nonsensical e-mail, after which you're allowed to "continue without a Microsoft account" (EDIT: it appears that Microsoft has since renamed the desired button, to make the evasive path even more obfuscated).
Install available updates to 8.1 (this is where the browser selection jumps at you).
To get rid of C:\Windows.old\ and C:\$Windows.~BT, use the built-in "disk cleanup" tool (clean up system files).
This possibly also cleans up WinSXS and the CBS log (at the very end of the cleaning - that last step takes quite a while).

In Windows 8, I've discovered a huge log file in C:\windows\logs\CBS\CBS.log . This can be safely deleted. It is possibly a bug that it doesn't get truncated / zipped / rotated automatically. It grows at a mad pace whenever you install some windows updates, or even while you're purging WinSXS (see below). In Windows 8.1, this log file seems pretty harmless.

After all the updates are done, you may want to sensitively clean up the WinSXS subdir in Windows.
Note: don't attempt this in Windows 8, upgrade to 8.1 first, the upgrade will take care of a lot of clutter, hassle and bugs that were present in Windows 8 in this area! Upgrading to 8.1 before cleaning up WinSXS may save a day of your time!
DISM.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase That's still rather rough. There are further details and gentler possibilities... It appears that /ResetBase only works in Win 8.1 - just skip that arg in Win8. In my case, dism.exe reduced WinSXS in Windows 8 from 13.8 GB down to 8.5 GB. Surprisingly, after an update to Windows 8.1, this folder shrank further to 6.5 GB, and after another cleanup, it's under 6 GB. If DISM.EXE gets stuck at about 60% and the "Windows Installer Modules Worker" eats 100% on a single CPU core (or more) and some hundreds of MB of RAM, consider disabling the Windows Defender local scanning and (perhaps more importantly) consider disabling prefetch and superfetch (a registry hack + a reboot). Or just reboot, if the disk IO hogs are already all disabled. Disabling the prefetcher is a favourite item for SSD's, but it might actually be okay on "spinning rust" as well, especially if you properly defragment the drive.
=> this cleanup was quite an ordeal in Windows 8, with the "components service" hanging all the time (converging to infinity). On the next notebook that I cleaned up, I left WinSXS for "after Windows 8.1 upgrade" and in 8.1 the cleanup of WinSXS was a breeze.

Clean up browser caches.
Empty "recycle bins".
This will make your backups slightly smaller.

Use Free Commander with "directory sizes" enabled to look for any other crap that deserves removal - various nested TEMP directories, archived installer backups (in per-user "application data" folders) of Mozilla / Skype / Acrobat / Apple software etc.

After the uninstall of garbage apps, you may want to clean up the "history list" in the "notification area properties" = clean up the set of icons that you are offered when you try to modify (edit) the display status of systray apps.
In regedit, under
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Classes\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\TrayNotify or
HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Local Settings\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\TrayNotify delete binary values

Another backup

Now may be a good time for another Ghost backup of the whole system drive.

A further user interface crapectomy

Classic Shell
Tiny Windows Borders

Replace the psychedelic pre-logon screen background. The JPG file is cached in C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\SystemData (give ownership to self and SYSTEM) - delete the file. The master/original is saved in in C:\Windows\WEB\Screen\ , replace img100.jpg (rename the old one) - and restart.
Possible other way: search for "lock screen" - you should be able to select the background. But the control panel seems half defunct.

If you're so inclined, create a "god mode" folder and add shortcuts to it... not so much use anyway.

If your notebook lacks NumLock and CapsLock LED's, there's a free app (a precompiled AutoHotKey script, really) called kLED. Does the job just fine, and doesn't need a full install of AutoHotKey in the system. It's available from, the author is SkWire. You only need to run as admin if you need to tweak some settings. After the .ini file is saved, you can run as normal user again. Add the stock Windows accessibility helper that beeps whenever NumLock or CapsLock is pressed, and it works pretty good.

As for Antivirus...

Microsoft Security essentials is not for Win 8/8.1.
Win 8 / 8.1 have the Windows Defender.
Some say Windows Defender sucks, some say these opinions are bought.

I prefer to disable resident scanning of all traffic towards the disk drive - after I disable autorun on all removable media:
32b Dword NoDriveTypeAutoRun = 0x000000FF
(...or just search for AutoPlay in Windows 8 :-)

and enable scanning of e-mail and the interwebs.
Running with the resident shield disabled takes some self-discipline, but keeps your system somewhat swift even with an antivirus running.

Defragment the system drive

Try MyDefrag - my favourite script is "Sort By Name".

Done, ready to cruise :-)

Closing notes

If you like what you see, you might want to make another backup = your first choice backup for cases when "windows need a fresh start after too many software installs/uninstalls".

If you've been through this several times and you're sure that the final result with all the tweaks is going to be perfect, you can skip the intermediate backup after Win 8.1 upgrade and cleanup (before ClassicShell).