Dell’s Pre-Installed Software Mess

By Deane Barker on December 19, 2005

[H]ard|OCP – Dell Dimension XPS 400 Evaluation: This is a review of Dell’s “gaming PC” line — the XPS. The review turns into an huge rant about how much crap is installed on a Dell out of the box.

These pop-ups were so annoying, and seemed very much like a spyware infection, that we downloaded and ran Ad-Aware just to make sure that there really wasn’t any spyware on the system. It came up clean, which meant that it did little to reduce the number and frequency of the popups.

As it was, the icons on the desktop and in the Start Menu didn’t tell the whole story when it came to pre-installed software. There were also programs we had trouble recognizing, including “ESPN Motion,” “My Way Search Assistant,” “Otto,” and “Wild Tangent Webdrivers,” which we only saw by going to the Add/Remove Software control panel.

All of this pre-installed software used quite a bit of system memory. We booted it up and found that the computer was using 216MB of RAM when idle. After we uninstalled the pre-installed software and disabled the services, the computer was using only 130MB of RAM at idle.

I’ve become an expert at “de-crapping a Dell.” I can get an out-of-the-box Dell in pretty good shape in about two hours.

Annoying? Yes. But it’s like advertising — the fact that this crap is on the machine when it arrive is a big reason why you can buy a machine this powerful for $1,300.

Their final assessment is pretty telling:

The hardware is certainly there — the computer was able to perform very well and produce a gaming experience that was quite rewarding… eventually.

The major problem that we had with gaming was the pre-installed software in the system getting in the way with issues of stability and performance. Considering the performance hit we noted with our WorldBench scores, we have to wonder how much better this computer would have performed had we not had to deal with the preinstalled software.

If you’re willing to install copies of your own software and do a complete reformat on this computer, it might make a reliable gaming system. Then again, most people who buy a computer from Dell do so precisely because they don’t want to have to configure their own computer.

Everything’s a trade-off, I guess. I’ve learned to live with the “pre-installed nightmare” that comes with a Dell. I ordered a Gateway a couple of months ago, and found that it’s actually worse. (But the information on this page is downright scary. Dell’s recovery “solution” for these XPS machines is hideously bad.)

Is it enough to get me to switch to a Mac? No. But it’s almost enough to get me to buy a separate retail copy of XP with every machine so I can reinstall cleanly before I start using it.

Maybe I should consider a Mac…

What Links Here


  1. with the first dell I’d bought in a while early last year, I reformatted before I even realized they didn’t include an XP CD like they used to. I also deleted their little hidden partition before I realized that’s where they keep the windows re-install information. I think I could have called and requested a windows CD, but I ended up using an old pre-activated XP CD i had laying around anyway.

  2. I guess it happens all over– e.g., this blog is starting to become heavily crufted with ads too. I’m not against makin’ some honest coin. I value the content on this site, but I’m about ready to switch to my RSS feed, where the signal to noise ration is better.

  3. Any chance of an article about how to “de-crap a Dell” ? My Dell came with loads of stuff installed, but I’m a bit wary of uninstalling stuff…

  4. Steve G, you can try the email approach as outlined here:

    … but I took the phone approach. I told the CSR that I had opened a case through email but I didn’t have the case number. She hooked me up and said I should get the discs in 3-5 business days.

    With the discs you can reformat and reinstall the OS and all the IMPORTANT software. She made a point of “warning me” that the trial software that came preloaded on my machine would not be included in the discs she was sending me. OH NO! I think I’ll live!

    As far as whether you should reformat to remove all the extras or if you should go into Add/Remove programs and remove each program manually, I’m not sure. I would go the reformat approach. Anyone else?

  5. Maybe I should consider a Mac…

    I’m not sure if that was intended as bait or Dave and I, but I think my heart stopped for a second there. I had to double check who wrote this post.

  6. Maybe I should consider a Mac…

    I think we’re getting through to him Rob. Keep up the pressure, but don’t hold your breath. ;o)

  7. Fortunately for Dell’s bottom line they don’t make their money from selling to the likes of us. Sales of PCs and Macs would be incredibly low if you had to ‘assemble’ it yourself. That’s not something the average guy is going to do. Let alone your grandma. I think I speak for most of us when I say that our Family Tech Support time would be unbearable if PCs and OSs were not bundled together. Believe it or not, for some customers the Dell way is actually easier. Great idea Deane, but it will NEVER happen on a large scale. A few retailers here and there, but not the Dells, Gateways and Apples of the world.

  8. I meant the solution for me, not for everyone else. (The solution for everyone else, it turns out, is to have me come over and fix their machines…)

  9. I have this mysterious program on my Dell computer called “ESPNMotion” and I can only find it when I go into the Add/Remove Programs. When I try to uninstall, it says “Could not open INSTALL.LOG file” what does this mean and how do I get rid of this program?

  10. Hello All,

    I recently purchased a XPS 400 with new Pentium D, Geforce 6800 PCI-E, 1gig ram and a 19” flat panel. Now I have been reading up on this for quite some time, and also I am A+ certified and have been building systems for a while. Due to new job employment I have not much time to play around with my system, i wanted something I could buy, format, and run like new.

    So this is what I am planning, I receive my Dell XPS 400 next week. The second I turn it on I will be formatting it to remove all the bloadware and get rid of that god awful version of windows MC. Installing windows XPpro, then updating all my drivers.

    I will then be benchmarking the system to see if I can push it further then the people at [H]ardOCP did, with all the tech specs of the system it should be one beast, and there is no way in hell I would really want to buy a dell, but after looking at what you get for what you pay i decided to give this a chance. I will inform you all of the results.


  11. I’m in the same boat with the guy with the ESPNmotion problem. I’ve gotten rid of almost all the other crap by using Hijack this and Spybot search and destroy, tools I usually require to remove spyware and viruses!

    I do like the machine though, and @ $800 for a screaming 14″ laptop it can’t be beat. My problem with the reformat is that I don’t have a copy of the windows media Center OS that the machine was shipped with. At least I don’t see these add-ons anymore, they just sit as failed installs in my Add/Remove listing.

  12. you don’t need to buy a new version of Windows, just download a windows install CD image from the web , burn it on to a CD you can use, and then use your own licence number (which should be printed on a hologram sticker somewhere on the case of your Dell machine.) My recomendations would be to download all of the drivers needed for your machine. Example: nVidia video card: go to the nvidia website. Creative Labs soundcard: go to creative labs etc. it’s easier that you might think. once you hunted down all of your drivers. put them on a CD or some sort of storage. Then reformat your HD using the windows install CD you just downloaded. wait about 15 min (or more depending on your HD size) and then run windows installer. in less than an hour you will have a clean windows install machine on your PC without breaking the law, install the drivers immediately and enjoy. I don’t recomend installing any antivirus programs. instead visit free virus detection sites on the web like trend micro, panda etc.

    By the way…. I built my own machine for $1200 dlls, the closest thing Dell had to my machine was $1400 and it was LESSER than mine! So all that crap they put on their machines does not help pricing :) nor it helps newer users…. (newer users mostly want a fast internet conection to browse and chat or check email.) you add crazy crap they do not need and they get confused. (perfect example: My sister bought an HP. it came loaded with heaps of crap. all she wanted is to use photoshop (which I had taught her how to use) and check her emails. the computer was moving at an extremely slow pace. sometimes not loading pages, and when you hit refresh it would bring a bloody pop up…. reformated the machine and now she is blazing. she goes to trend micro every week to check her pc for viruses and she comes out clean everytime :D

  13. I bought my Dell XPS 400 in April and it came with both a win xp media center backup cd (as requested at the time of the order) and also a complete drivers disk. And as for David’s comments, I do think that the added crap on the Dells does help bring the price down. You may still be able to custom build a comperable system cheaper, but if you purchase a Dell at the right time of deals you can get a great system as I did, and then take the crappy software off or reformat. If you’re willing to make that runaround then you might save a buck.

  14. To those looking to remove ESPN Motion, let me tell you what I did to accomplish this feat.

    You probably, like me, google searched for ESPN Motion and went to ESPN’s site to attempt removing the application, but could not download the installer because their system detected you already had the application installed. It would seem like a dead-end, right?

    Not quite!

    Go to and search for ESPN. You will find ESPN Motion there. Download it, and reinstall it. Then return to the Add/Remove Dialog in the Control Panel and choose to remove the ESPN Runtime. Make sure all boxes in the dialog are unchecked and proceed to uninstall. Voila! Bye-bye ESPN Motion.

    P.S. You’re welcome!

  15. I would like to reformat (I’ve done it on my old computer) but am not brave (or knowlegable) to give it a try on my new Dell. I already own Window XP (on my old computer, which I’m going to trash once I have the switch to the new computer done). I beleive I can re-register that with MS. I also have “Drivers and Utilities” CD that came with the Dell (and the OS CD that was preloaded on it… just in case I can’t use my own XP CD) and the monitor CD. All I really wanted was a computer that I could load with the programs I already own. I’ve never reformatted a computer with a partition. I don’t even know if I need a partition… I have been told it’s a good thing to have in case of a crash, but have no idea how to set it up to work that way. MY 1st QUESTION: Having only basic knowledge in reformatting an unparitioned computer, is it easier to reformat that I think, or should I continue to try to remove all this crap individually? MY 2nd QUESTION: I removed OTTO using the add/remove feature. It was gone without any confirmation… did it really uninstall? (What in blazes is OTTO anyway???) PS Thanks Jace for the ESPN Motion info!!!!! Sign me: Dizzy With Dell

  16. We were contacted by Alex St. John, CEO of Wild Tangent. He let us know that Otto was a game licensed by MS for use in the MCE OS, and that is why it was preinstalled. Furthermore, their Wild Tangent Webdrivers is part of the “Play Games” option you have on the XPS desktop, and from my understanding, is basically a content delivery system akin to Valve’s Steam.

  17. I dont know if you had the option before but now dell gives you an option to not have all those useless programs installed.

  18. It is a task removing all this crap, dont want to reformat there is lots of usefull info out there in removing tid crap!

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