Clean PC Walkthrough: Windows 7 Ultrabook, Take Two

Posted on February 8, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Windows with 0

You may recall that my original Windows 7 Ultrabook cleanup walkthrough was a bit of a slog. Determined to make this a bit more efficient, and armed with my previous experiences, I tackled a second, older Windows 7-based Ultrabook. And while cleaning up a Windows 7 PC will always be time-consuming, this one did go much more smoothly.

First, the PC. This one is a 2012-era ASUS Zenbook UX31E. This system is based on a second-generation, dual-core Intel Core i5 2557M (32nm Sandy Bridge) processor running at 1.7 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD, and a 1600 x 900 13-inch LED screen. Like my newer Windows 7 Ultrabook—it of Clean PC Walkthrough: Windows 7 Ultrabook fame—this machine has been part of my range of test systems for Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, though I had stopped using it day-to-day. Booting it up this morning, I was greeted by an unrecoverable blue screen from some Windows 8.x build. So this is an ideal system on which to test my Clean PC ideas for a number of reasons.

Prep the patient

Clearly, I’m starting to get good at this. So I was able to quickly collect the following.

Drivers. I had saved a shortcut to the device’s driver download page to the home server along with what I assume are out-of-date drivers. So I downloaded a set of the latest 64-bit drivers for Windows 7, none of which are less than two years old. (ASUS had supplied Windows 8 drivers as well.) I happened to recall one wrinkle: ASUS shipped this device with two different touchpads, one from Sentellic and one from Elan; I believed mine was the latter but grabbed both drivers just in case. And for whatever it’s worth, ASUS’s set of drivers is both complete and very well-named, making it very easy to find what you need. Kudos for that.

Windows 7 boot media. Using Rufus this time, I created 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium USB boot media. Check out Clean PC: Download Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 Setup Media Legally for the steps.


Product key. The system was non-bootable and had long ago lost its default Windows 7 install anyway, but no matter: The proper product key—which verified that Windows 7 Home Premium was originally installed—was easily located on the Certificate of Authenticity (COA) on the PC’s power supply. Good to go.


Clean-install Windows 7

OK, it was time to start. The ASUS has an obvious hot-key boot menu, which I used to boot off the USB stick. I could tell this was an older PC because I actually got the “Press any key to boot” off the USB stick, which I hadn’t seen in a while. But Setup was uneventful, though I noticed during the “Where do you want to install Windows?” phase that there was a recovery partition on the disk. Not sure if this was the original or not, I left it alone, blew away the other two partitions, and installed Windows 7.

And that was that. About 20 minutes later I booted into the Windows 7 desktop.

Post-Setup: Activate Windows

I wanted to activate Windows before I did anything else, but I could see from the red “bang” on the network connectoid in the system tray that no networking drivers were installed, so I installed the Wi-Fi driver from my driver folder first. Then, using the product key on the power supply—which I also saved as a text file to the Drivers folder I’d be backing up on my home server—I activated Windows 7. Bingo! It worked.


Post-Setup: Driver installs

Now it was time to tackle Device Manager. I knew in this case that even if it were horrific, I had access to all the drivers I needed. But it wasn’t all that bad, with four items unaccounted for.


While I was positive I could fix these issues by simply stepping through some of the more obvious drivers in the Drivers folder I had created, I decided to see what Windows Update could clean up automatically first. As expected, Windows Update found hundreds of software updates, but I selected only the driver-related stuff (and the latest IE version) for the first pass.


After a reboot, I checked Device Manager again and saw I still had three missing drivers. Time to break out the downloaded drivers. All three were really obvious: I know from previous experience that the SM Bus Controller refers to the Intel chipset drivers, so those drivers were easily located and installed. The two USB entries were also easily installed though—spoiler alert—I happened to remember that “USB2.0-CRW” referred to the card reader.


Of course, just getting Device Manager cleaned up isn’t always enough: In many cases, Windows will install a generic driver of some kind, and a more specific driver provided by the PC maker—or in some cases by the component maker—would be better. With this ASUS in particular, I knew that the touchpad driver was important—but Windows installs a generic PS/2-style pointer driver. Point being, one can always assume there are other components in the system that would be better served by less generic drivers.


So there are few basic strategies.

The first, which I employed on both this system and the Samsung Ultrabook that was the subject of the first clean PC walkthrough, is to look for a PC maker-specific utility that is specifically designed to examine your PC and find, download and install the correct drivers. On the Samsung, this utility is called SW Update. And this older Ultrabook has a utility—downloaded from the ASUS driver page—called ASUS Live Update that works similarly.

You could also just step through the drivers you downloaded and install all of them, or some subset of them. For this ASUS, just installing the device-specific touchpad drivers—and, yes, it was the Elan version—improved matters greatly. And thanks to its great documentation and driver naming, it was easy to cherry-pick drivers to enable device-specific features.

Sometimes, of course, you simply can’t figure out what a driver-less component in Device Manager even is. I’m going to write this one up separately, but in many cases simply knowing where to look can help you find out the exact identity of that component and thus find the correct driver. More on that soon.

Next steps

I’m quite happy with how this one turned out.

Clearly, making the Clean PC process as efficient as possible just requires a bit of familiarity with what you’re doing and of course being prepared: this means having the PC’s product key, the correct install media for that Windows version and SKU, and drivers ready up-front. Assuming you do have your Windows 7 product key, you should be able to blow away your PC maker’s crap-laden install with a clean version of Windows pretty easily and be up and running in a few hours.

Of course, you may not want to go through this every single time you wish to clean install Windows. Fortunately, Windows 7 includes system image backup capabilities that you can use to make subsequent clean installs a lot simpler and a lot quicker. So I’ll be looking at this crucial piece of the Clean PC puzzle in the near future.

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