Ask Paul: Does Signature PC Still Matter?

Posted on February 17, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 19 Comments

Ask Paul: Does Signature PC Still Matter?

A reader email this week has me thinking about Microsoft’s Signature PC program and whether this is still a recommended source for clean PCs.

Here’s the email, from Jeff G.

Paul, It is time to stop extolling the virtues of Signature PCs. At one point (especially Windows 7) they were a great concept. Since the advent of Windows 10 their only benefit is less crapware, not no crapware. Whether it’s Candy Crush, MS Office Trial, Skype, MS News, Sports, Finance – you get the point. Even a clean install of Windows 10 from an MS ISO doesn’t get rid of all of that junk. It has taken me at least an hour/PC to clean all of that off the Start Menu and then off the PC altogether. MS no longer gets a pass for all the junk and ads it has been bombarding us with at the system level. MS Signature is no longer a great, clean PC.

My answer:

Signature has always been constrained by what the Windows team puts in the OS: It cannot strip out something that is part of the stock image. But to give Microsoft some credit, the addition of the Refresh Windows tool makes all of this a lot less painful. And perhaps makes Signature redundant.

So let me expand on this.

First of all, the Signature PC program has in fact changed in one crucial way. As you may know, I’ve now done two focus group studies for Microsoft Signature and most recently wrote about this in May 2016. But since that time, the guiding force behind Signature was laid off by Microsoft, and my sources tell me that the impetus was a need to stop being so restrictive to PC makers. For example, they will at some point allow PC makers to bundle the anti-virus software they prefer on Signature PCs. I do think this is a mistake.

Secondly, it is fair to note that Signature cannot remove software that Microsoft ships withWindows 10. You and I may believe that Candy Crush and whatever other nonsense that comes with Windows 10 today is crapware—and it is—but it still comes with Windows. Here, Signature is as constrained as a PC maker when it comes to this bundled software. They can’t do anything about it, and never could. That much hasn’t changed. (I think the real frustration Jeff has is with Windows 10, not Signature.)

Third, as noted above, the addition of the Refresh Windows tool is a nice addition to the Windows 10 user’s toolbox. No, it doesn’t remove the crapware that Microsoft ships with Windows 10. But you could always remove that crapware and then do a system image backup if taking 10 minutes to remove that stuff is such a big deal. I don’t find it to be, personally.

But to the central question here, does Signature PC still matter?

Yes. The answer is yes.

In a perfect world, a Signature PC would be a truly Clean PC as I define it, with no crapware. No crapware from Microsoft. And no AV from a PC maker trying to make a cheap buck.

We don’t live in a perfect world. And Signature PC is still a better proposition, especially for the non-technical users who make up the majority of the customer base. These PCs are tuned to work efficiently and reliably out of the box. They are cleaner than the PCs provided elsewhere. They will continue to work well, for longer, than other PCs, and don’t suffer from the “PC rot” that so many complain about. They are not perfect. But they are better.

For the technical users out there—readers of this site, for example—you will always have the Refresh Windows tool to fall back on. And while the Windows 10 crapware bundling issue is real, it’s easily overcome.

I’m not saying this isn’t worth debating. In fact, it’s an important discussion. But Signature PC is still great, and ay Windows 10 user can have a truly Clean PC. That’s good news all around.


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Comments (21)

21 responses to “Ask Paul: Does Signature PC Still Matter?”

  1. wbhite

    I won't buy a non-Signature PC. A couple of years ago I got my son a Signature-edition HP Envy laptop. Even today, it still does most of what he needs (mostly Flash-based learning websites and Word) without much issue, but I can't imagine how performance-riddled it might have been if bought outside the Signature line.

  2. Jose Gomez

    I've ordered two Windows Signature Edition laptops from the Microsoft Store. One for myself. The other for my son. Compared with all the junk & crappy hardware found in Best Buy, Fry's, MicroCenter, Conn's, Wal-Mart, & other retailers, Signature PC's have better hardware builds & are much cleaner than standard consumer models.

    I do agree that Microsoft shouldn't bloat up Windows with Candy Crush but it's a simple right click, delete, & done. I had a harder time deleting all of the leftover files from G-Mod from the Steam. That's why I wish Microsoft would get its Xbox act together. Make Xbox Play Anywhere a reality with ALL of the titles instead of just a few ideas & potentially good concept. Especially the back library of Xbox & Xbox 360 titles. Granted, it's a lot of licences & publishing companies but it would do a lot to make good with gamers on Windows.

  3. Letswin

    Proposed 'Clean and Minimal' button during setup:

    No trial software

    No third party software

    No ads

    No nagging unnecessary unsolicited notifications

  4. Michael Rivers

    A quick question for those with experience in this. I just ordered an open-box Dell from Best Buy because I couldn't pass up the deal. I'd have preferred a signature PC, but not for $250 more. To clean all the crap off, Is there an advantage to reinstalling from a disc image over the Refresh Windows tool? In either case, am I right in assuming that all the drivers for the laptop will be found and installed automatically?

  5. Bats

    All in all, one cannot argue against "Signature" branded PCs. However, Paul's focus group consisted of 80 people, all of whom WE DO NOT KNOW THEY'RE PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUNDS. I say this because in the past 10 years or so, with the implementation of the multi-core processors onto the motherboards, the availability of resources hasn't been much of a bother and overall performance has been great thanks to the technological improvements by all the PC component makers. SO all in all, here is my assessment of SIgnature PC (referring to Paul previous post),


    The average user does not care how long it will take their PC to load up. As a matter of fact, I think the average user doesn't even shutdown their PC at all. Therefore load times, are not a big deal. In addition, the installation or setup for antivirus solutions is also not a big deal, especially with a multi-core processor setup. You can say the same thing with third party apps like Candy Crush, Fences, etc...

    Setup is also not a big deal, particularly when it comes to malware protection. Everyone knows how inferior Windows Defender is. If I am a PC maker, will I want to not setup a reliable third party malware solution and risk the PC I sold to come back to me all because a customer used the failed Windows Defender? The answer is clearly NO.

    Also, this whole notion that making PC's "Signature" will help Windows 10, is fruitless based on the focus group study. When 8 people are in the same room being asked to compare in a particular type of work environment, it's very easy to sway people towards a particular direction to come up with a favorable solution. Seriously, it's very easy. They do this stuff in the political arena and all other kinds of social-political-corporate atmosphere all the time...ALL....THE....TIME.

    I say this from experience and also as owner of a SIgnature HP Tablet PC from (I think) 6-7 years ago. Honestly, it made no difference to me and I don't think it will to anyone else because the average consumer doesn't care because they don't feel the need to. After all, PC sales are dropping and the mobile smartphone Samsung Galaxy/Note series is as popular as ever and everyone knows the "crapware" that's put into there.

  6. PeteB

    Just when you think you've removed all the candy crush bullshit and Windows store app bloat, boom, its all back and reinstalled to MS defaults after a major update.

    Not to mention all privacy settings get reset. I got tired of dealing with 10 and just went back to 8.1 with classic shell. Now I get the best of 7 and 10 without the worst of 10.

  7. elscorcho

    Hmm... I'd still recommend Signature PCs to friends over the stuff down at Best Buy. For me personally, Windows is now in third place. I do work with a Mac and choose Linux otherwise. My ultimate "signature PC" is an Intel NUC running Arch Linux. I choose all the software that it runs. Don't get me wrong, I (mostly) like the Windows 10 desktop environment and the Ubuntu option is a real plus. I can get all my work done on Windows. But given a choice, I choose Linux. For the unwashed masses, however, I think a signature PC is their best bet. That is, unless they can afford a Mac.

  8. Waethorn

    I will buy non-Signature PC's because of price. I will ALWAYS install my own copy of Windows 10 though.

    Technical users should build a stock image without the apps they don't want and capture it in Audit Mode so they can reuse the image on multiple machines without drivers that are unnecessary or obsolete.

    In some cases, you can modify an image offline and remove whatever Windows Store apps you don't want in a "standard" install.

  9. ym73

    An hour to remove the preinstalled software in windows 10? I call BS. Those are all windows store apps and removing them is as easy as right clicking and choosing to uninstall. The only one of those apps that would talk a little longer is MS Office. Plus, only one of those apps might impact performance. The reason I would go with a signature PC is to avoid the crapware the OEM install that load at startup. Those type of apps do effect performance. The only app that applies to is skype.

    • BradWestness

      In reply to ym73:

      Yeah, there's a real bit of false equivalency there. The "crapware" apps that he cites that come in the stock Windows 10 image are all UWP apps, don't start up with the PC by default, and uninstall quickly and cleanly. Many of them are actually just "stubs" (basically just a deep link to go get the app from the store) and the real app isn't even downloaded until you open it, so they're only taking up a couple KB of disk space as well.

      This is not at all the same as vendor-installed crapware that starts with the PC, takes up significant amounts of memory and disk space, replaces better in-box solutions, slows down every disk operation, and regularly spams you with links to purchase a subscription, like the trial versions of AV software that vendors love to ship with new PCs (which are, by far, the worst offenders IMHO).

      Don't get me wrong, I wish they wouldn't pre-install Candy Crush or whatever else, although I actually l like the MSN apps. If there was no default weather app you can bet people would be screaming about how it's ridiculous that Windows doesn't come with one.

      But whether you love or hate these apps, having them pre-installed does not leave a horrible first impression of Windows in the same way that a crapware-loaded vendor machine does.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to ym73: It isn't even MS Office. It is Get MS Office which is just a link to go get O365. It takes no longer to in-install that as any of the other 'unwanted' store apps.

    • dechah

      In reply to ym73:  These were my thoughts as well.  Right click and select uninstall.  If that takes more than a few seconds to complete, then the user has severe dexterity issues

  10. skane2600

    "Signature has always been constrained by what the Windows team puts in the OS: It cannot strip out something that is part of the stock image."

    Candy Crush isn't like the old IE whose components were used by other parts of the OS. There's no technical reason it couldn't be removed.

  11. jimchamplin

    For me, Signature is wonderful, but I've recently purchased a non-Signature PC from Lenovo which I found on clearance at Best Buy.

    Yeah. Swore I wouldn't do that, but I found an unused Ideapad Flex 4 for around $200. I was pleasantly surprised to find the only junk was McAfee, which I nuked immediately. Everything that Lenovo shipped as part of their own suite were all store apps, and they were very minimal. Basically, an app to configure a lot of the built-in hardware features in one spot, and one to show you free software that they had on offer.

    Not bad! Sadly I still had to use the Refresh Windows tool to fix some strange error that caused Stardew Valley from launching, but it was fine after that.

  12. SDreamer

    Windows Signature is still the cleanest install you'll get imo. An hour to remove apps? How about embrace Windows for what it is today and take advantage of some of the newer things instead of focusing on optimizing the system to get nanoseconds of performance. I did the same thing the other night, on Parallels on my Mac Mini, and took me less than 30 minutes to uninstall the preloaded Window Store apps I'd never use (which aren't even installed yet until you click them! They're just placeholders). Settings > System > Apps and just go down the list uninstalling. It's faster than right clicking every app icon to remove. If you don't even remove them, the modern computers of today have SSDs so it doesn't really matter because physical btyte location won't really impact usages as how it was with platters back then. It's such a small detail to pay attention to, I'd say worry about other things.

  13. Patrick3D

    Do any companies make a wizard for removing all the Windows Store bloat (Candy Crush, etc...)? There is no excuse for such crap being installed by default on a PC running Windows 10 Pro, let alone on a PC joined to an Active Directory domain. The only upside is I am paid hourly so at a minimum, Microsoft is helping me stay employed.

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