Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

When purchasing a new machine, not only are you entitled to a clean software install, but it's critical for your security.

I purchased a Dell Studio off the floor at a big box store recently. It runs on Windows 7 and has an i7 processor. I didn't have the store take off its loaded software. When I boot up, the computer defaults to the account that the store needed when customers were test driving it. I've attempted to delete that account. As I'm the only one using this computer, I don't need other accounts. How do I reconfigure the boot-up sequence so that the computer goes to my account rather than default to the guest account? And, how do I delete the store-loaded items?

I'll give you what help I can, but I want to be clear about something:

"I didn't have the store take off its loaded software."

That's bad, for a number of reasons.

Most importantly, you have no idea what's on your new machine.

Floor Models

There's nothing really wrong with purchasing the demonstration model of a computer from a retail store, if you don't mind that the hardware's a little used. Perhaps it has a few dings and dents from the hundreds of people that may have come along and played with the machine while it was on display, but as long as the computer's working okay and has some kind of warranty that you can live with, it might be a way to save a few dollars.

Computers & Laptops!

The software's another matter.

You need to consider the machine "used" because it has been; by hundreds of strangers. And you have no idea what those hundreds of strangers did to the machine. It's not unrealistic to think that some might have deposited some malware on the machine or visited malicious web sites that did so.

You could be purchasing a nest of malware along with a host of other problems.

The Right Solution: Reinstall

In all honesty, the store should offer a reinstall. Heck, a good store should insist on this.

Before you take delivery of the machine, the store should wipe the hard drive and install Windows from scratch, exactly as if you had just opened the original package from the factory. For a store that has its act together, this isn't really a lot of effort.

It may delay your ability to just walk out of the store with your new machine immediately, but trust me: the delay is well worth it.

If they don't do it, you should.

That, of course, means that they should provide you with all the discs that you need to reformat and reinstall Windows and all the applications. It's a little time consuming to do it yourself (perhaps you can negotiate a lower price), but as I said, if they don't do it, you should.

You're just not safe if you don't.

"You could be purchasing a nest of malware along with a host of other problems."

The Wrong Solution

I'm going to be blunt and call this the wrong solution because I believe so strongly that a clean install is the only safe approach to this situation.

Unfortunately, I know that many will not want to follow my advice and try to soldier on anyway.

My guess is that you do not have administrative access. That's quickly solved by the process outlined in I've lost the password to my Windows Administrator account, how do I get it back?: download a tool, burn a CD, reboot from that CD and use it to reset the administrator password, or the password to any other account on the machine.

Even if you were given the password to an account with administrative privileges, change it. There's probably a whole cadre of store employees that know it as well and who knows who they've told.

Once logged in as an account with administrative access, first create a new account that you will use as your own. A best practice is to leave that as a "Limited User Account", but if you prefer to give it the option of performing administrative tasks without having to supply a password each time, you can add it to the "Administrators" group.

Delete any other user accounts. Don't delete accounts that are there for system services (.net, sql and possibly similar accounts), but do delete the accounts that were obviously set up and used by and for the store that you purchased the machine from.

Now, install up-to-date anti-malware tools - both anti-virus and anti-spyware. Make sure that they're running with up-to-date databases and scan the heck out of your new machine.

Make sure that all Windows updates have been applied and scan for malware again.

And, of course, begin backing up regularly.

There's no way to be 100% certain that the machine doesn't have something on it that you don't want, or that it has everything on it that it should, but this is about as close as you can get without reformatting and reinstalling from scratch.

You know ... like I think you really should. Smile

Article C4784 - April 3, 2011 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Thomas Mitchell
April 3, 2011 8:12 PM

When i buy a new system i would rather take some time to reinstall from scratch and add what i want than put up with all the crapware they come installed with.

April 5, 2011 8:30 AM

Awhile back, I purchased a floor model Gateway at Best Buy that had a lot of unwanted stuff on it. I tried very hard to get them to remove it, and they said they would be happy to, but they would have to charge me $40.00 for that service. Perhaps it would have been worth the $40, but I balked and just did the best I could myself. I now wonder if problems I had with the machine could have been related to that. I still paid about $800 for the machine, so it wasn't like I was getting that great a deal. Next time, I guess I'll insist on something still in the box. Thanks for the info.

April 5, 2011 9:04 AM

Friend of mine bought the floor model for his 12 yr old and asked me to look at it. Someone had surfed porn sites all of which were in the history file.

Ron Barker
April 5, 2011 10:56 AM

Try this to chang password:

April 5, 2011 11:00 AM

I'm going to say IF it wasn't shoplifted then he should have name dropped the " BigBox " store name. Also like you say the store should have given him a clean install before he was allowed to take it out of the store, but they are greedy and probably have NO Good Customer service anyway as most stores today. Secondly, isn't there a hidden partition with just the original stuff that was on the machine in the first place. Seems like after he gets his administrative access back as you instructed he could access the hidden partition and re-new his computer back to the Factory setup. That's why these computer companies don't give you CD's anymore, they put a Backup in a Hidden Partition, which you should have access to, to restore to Factory Fresh. That's just my two cents on this.

April 5, 2011 1:11 PM

I bought a "last one" demo and will never do it again. I tried for 1-1/2 years to get Best Buy to admit there was a problem; finally when I got the blue screen of death and refused to delete and reinstall everything, they put a new processor and hard drive in it. See, I was right, after all.

April 7, 2011 12:29 PM

I agree 1000%. Reinstall.

April 7, 2011 8:37 PM

A "clean install" on a Windows computer purchased from a big box store? Sounds like an oxymoron to me. That computer was loaded up with junk long before it became a display model.

I think the asker should borrow a real Windows installation CD from a geek friend (not the crummy recovery disk provided by manufacturer) and use the product key stuck to his computer's case. Only then can he get a real "clean install."

April 15, 2011 11:37 AM

I got an Acer from Best Buy, and it had an installation from the previous owner (a return and refurbish). It is an AM5100 desktop with Vista Home Premium, and had this "hidden partition". *Note; few computers come with disks anymore - they have a hidden partition that does a complete re-installation when you press a certain key or combination on bootup. On this one it is F2. When I got it home, I first made an install disk according to instructions (heck, make two!) from the hidden partition - this is in case the hidden partition gets h0sed - and re-installed Windows completely from scratch. It has served me well for several years.

The guy above who fought with them for 1 1/2 years, refusing to do a clean install - jeez!

And, yes, you CAN do a clean install on a computer from a big box store. Just wipe the drive and install from scratch.

April 30, 2011 3:02 AM

one thing to mention for Win7.
I just completed your 'wrong solution' for a friend who did the same thing the questioner did... walk out without asking the store to clean it.
note: when you remove all the 'store' accounts and reboot to get to your own, the win7 system will complain and offer the guest account name anyway.
it's in the Registry as 'default user'.
This needs to be edited to your new account name.
forget where I found it but I think it was HKLM

May 1, 2011 10:09 AM

The point I was trying to make earlier is that the store is not at fault for these computers being loaded with crap. Yeah if the computer was on display then the situation is worse than if it came fresh out of a box there may be viruses and malware, but name brand computers are loaded with crap by the manufacturer before they are even put IN the box!

And if you restore the computer to factory defaults using a recovery disk, a hidden partition, or a disk created from a hidden partition, your computer is going to be left in a sorry state, full of aptly-named "crapware." Your valuable disk storage is hogged by this stuff, your computer is probably running a dozen "helper" apps, slowing everything down, and your registry is full of questionable values.

Manufacturers load up new computers with partially functional demo software and advertisements because they will get a kickback if you end up buying the software or signing up for the service.

Your best bet is to reinstall Windows using a real Windows installation disk--NOT restore the computer to manufacturer defaults. Then install the software that you want to use, not the stuff that your computer's manufacturer wants to sell you.

You will be amazed at how much faster your computer is, and how much disk space you have.

The situation here isn't about crapware. While I agree it's an issue, the issue this article addresses was the free and easy access of your new machine by the general public who've been doing lord-knows-what. The store has a responsibility, in my opinion, to provide you that machine in factory original condition. It's at that point, then, we start complaining about crapware. :-)

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