Clean PC Walkthrough: Windows 8.1 Ultrabook/2-in-1

Posted on February 6, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 8.1 with 0 Comments

If you followed my travails in cleaning up a Windows 7-era Ultrabook, then you know that the process was time-consuming and difficult. But if you have a more modern Windows 8.1-based device, your experience could be much, much better based on my initial experiment with such a PC.

The phrase “night and day” comes to mind.

If you haven’t done so, please do check out Clean PC Walkthrough: Windows 7 Ultrabook for my recent, fairly miserable experience cleaning up the stock install on a Windows 7 Ultrabook. That process required lots of time, lots of effort, and lots of know-how, and while I think I’ll get better at it with more experience, it’s troubling to me how difficult that is.

Not so with Windows 8.1. If you have purchased a PC or other device running this latest Windows version, you’re in much better shape.

(There is one exception, and it’s a big one: This article does not apply to Windows 8.1 with Bing because Microsoft does not make this version of Windows available for download. If you wish to clean up a PC that is running Windows 8.1 with Bing, you will need to actually buy Windows 8.1 “Core” or Windows 8.1 Pro first.)

Here’s how it went.

First, the PC. It’s a brand new Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro that is currently here on loan for review. I published that review a few weeks ago, and found it to be an expensive but wonderful transforming Ultrabook, or what many—Lenovo included—describe as a 2-in-1 PC. I’ve procrastinated in sending it back, but that has worked to my advantage since I was able to test my Clean PC theories on this most modern of PCs.


The Yoga 3 Pro comes with Windows 8.1 Pro and a host of Lenovo software utilities and third party apps, most of which are crapware. It’s not super-dirty by some standards, but you can see this junk on the device’s Start screen and also on the desktop taskbar.


So I resolved to clean this PC up.

Prep the patient

Some of the Lenovo apps are of course useful or desirable, and I wanted to ensure that I had access to drivers just in case Windows didn’t detect anything correctly. Lenovo’s Downloads page for the Yoga 3 Pro lists a healthy collection of drivers, and what appears to be a partial collection of Lenovo utilities. So I downloaded the lot of it.

Since this is a modern, new Windows PC there’s no product key on a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) sticker on the device or its power supply. Instead, Windows is auto-activated at the chipset level and my expectation was that I would have no problems there as I did with Windows 7. And if it failed, what the heck, I could use the device’s restore functionality to go back to the factory install.

Next up, I had to acquire a clean version of Windows 8.1 Pro. As I wrote in Clean PC: Download Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 Setup Media Legally, this is quite simple: I used the wonderfully efficient Windows Installation Media Creation Tool to download a 64-bit Windows 8.1 English (United States) language ISO and then used the free Windows USB/DVD Download Tool to convert that file into bootable USB media.

And before rebooting, I copied all of the drivers to the USB memory stick as well.

Clean install Windows 8.1

This is where I ran into my first and only snag, and it’s probably device-specific, though the solution is universal enough. I couldn’t get the Yoga 3 Pro to boot from the USB media. I fiddled around in the EUFI firmware (F2 at boot) and changed some settings that seemed to be related—disabling Fast Boot since that skipped USB, and enabling USB boot—but nothing worked. Not even visiting PC Settings, Update & Recovery, Recovery and then choosing Advanced Startup worked.

No matter: I just ran Setup right from the Windows desktop. And when I was asked what I wanted to save, I changed it to “Nothing” to ensure a clean install.


And then Windows installed. No fuss, no muss, and if you’ve installed Windows a million times like I have, you know what to expect.


After signing in with a local account and skipping the password creation step—this was just a test, after all—Windows 8.1 booted right into the clean, yellow Windows 8.1 default desktop. What a sight for sore eyes. So I checked Device Manager immediately to see what was missing. Not much: Just that SM Bus Controller item that I know can be easily solved with the Intel chipset driver.


So I installed that first using the driver I downloaded to the USB memory stick and all was well. Simplest install ever.

I did take the time to install a few Lenovo utilities, however, including the OneKey Optimizer—which ironically helps keep your PC running smoothly, the Harmony utility for efficiently handling form factor changes (laptop mode, tent mode and so on), and Paper Display (which adjusts the screen brightness and coloring according to what you’re doing and how the device is configured). This gave me the Lenovo special features I wanted, but none of the crap.


Activate Windows

So the install went amazing well. But activation was even better: I didn’t need to activate Windows. As expected—as hoped—Windows did auto-activate. There is no second step. Heck, there was no first step. It just happened.


Oh my. This did go well.

Now, I’m not completely ready to declare success: this was just one machine, after all. And of course I need to see what happens with Windows 8.0-based PCs and devices too: Can you just download the 8.1 media and use that? I believe that to be the case. But the proof is in the execution. So I’ll work on that next.

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