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#1
Old 01-15-2011, 01:36 PM
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Clean reinstall of Windows 7 on Dell laptop -- possible?

I just got an XPS 17 laptop from Dell, with Windows 7 preinstalled (I'm more of an Ubuntu guy, but it didn't appear to be an option on that machine and Linux isn't the greatest for watching Blu Ray or playing games.)

In the good old days, Dell computers used to come with a "system restore disk" which you could use to reinstall the OS. (I don't remember if it also reinstalled the bundled bloatware.)

Now, they've "done gone virtual", and all you get is a (hidden) ~ 15 GB partition on the hard drive, and a Dell-created utility called "DataSafe". No OS disks. You can also "back up your configuration to the cloud" via DataSafe remote if you're so inclined.

DataSafe allows you to burn recovery DVDs (two of them!) which it claims will restore your computer to the factory state.

However, the first thing I like to do when I get a new laptop is a clean install of the OS, without all the bundled crapware, then add only the things I want. I can't figure out a way to do this with the Dell restore disks. I can't even find anything that looks obviously like Windows 7 on those disks that I created via DataSafe, though it must be on there somewhere.

I don't have easy access to other Windows 7 installation media, or else I'd retrieve my product key and go that route. (Should be perfectly legal since I have purchased a valid Windows 7 license.)

In short, I don't want to restore to the "factory state" -- I want to install Windows 7, clean, after formatting, and nothing else.

Anyone know how to do this?

(I consider myself an advanced user, so I'm very familiar with reformatting, reinstalling, dual booting etc. -- I just can't figure out this one thing.)
#2
Old 01-15-2011, 01:42 PM
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It sounds like they've arranged things to specifically prevent you from doing what you want to do.

Keep in mind that there may be hardware specific drivers and such that won't be there if you manage to install generic Windows.

Can you just uninstall the bundled stuff that you don't want?
#3
Old 01-15-2011, 01:51 PM
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I did go through uninstalling everything I didn't want, but you still don't end up with quite as clean a system that way as if you "nuke it from orbit" then reinstall fresh.

I'm fine with having only Windows-provided generic drivers -- in fact I prefer that, because then I can go to the manufacturer's website and download the latest & greatest, rather than relying on the Dell-provided drivers which are invariably older versions.

I think you're right, though, that Dell seems to have some agenda to prevent you from doing this. <Conspiracy theory>Maybe they have some corporate-level agreements with the bloatware vendors to prevent users from easily getting rid of the bloatware.</ct>
#4
Old 01-15-2011, 01:55 PM
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you just need an oem windows 7 disk of the appropriate version and the key from the sticker on your PC.

Ask nice at a computer shop and they might burn one for you.
#5
Old 01-15-2011, 01:59 PM
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I think they do it probably to make life easier for their customer support people. The OEM install likely contains tools to help them help you diagnose and fix problems.

Not that you shouldn't do what you want to do, you sound like you're capable of taking care of things on your own. I'm just explaining what may be their reasoning.
#6
Old 01-15-2011, 01:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarrenS View Post
I think you're right, though, that Dell seems to have some agenda to prevent you from doing this. <Conspiracy theory>Maybe they have some corporate-level agreements with the bloatware vendors to prevent users from easily getting rid of the bloatware.</ct>
My last system(bought in 2003) was a HP Compaq and it had the recovery partition/no physical disk.

My current system is self built and one reason was to have the install disk in my possession and avoid the bloatware.
#7
Old 01-15-2011, 02:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by drachillix View Post
you just need an oem windows 7 disk of the appropriate version and the key from the sticker on your PC.

Ask nice at a computer shop and they might burn one for you.
You mean the little "Genuine Microsoft Windows" sticker on the underside? Damn, you're right -- I hadn't realized it actually has the product key on it, though I was fully ready to use one of those "retrieve product key" utilities.

This is a great suggestion. I don't know of any "nice computer shops", at least in my area (do those "mom and pop" computer stores exist any more?), but I bet if I show the IT guys at work that I have a valid product key (I'm very anti-piracy) they would let me borrow an OEM disk.
#8
Old 01-15-2011, 02:12 PM
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After a lot more Googling I found this page which looks promising. Even better, I read on an old forum post that one of the disks has the OS, and the other the bloatware! Could it be...? I will try ordering these from Dell.
#9
Old 01-15-2011, 03:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarrenS View Post
After a lot more Googling I found this page which looks promising. Even better, I read on an old forum post that one of the disks has the OS, and the other the bloatware! Could it be...? I will try ordering these from Dell.
I don't know how it works with Windows 7, but I just restored a Dell desktop with XP using the Dell OS recovery disc. I made the disc way back when I got the computer, a disc didn't come with the computer but you could burn. You might still be able to do it. I'd investigate it before ordering from Dell, if just to save time.

result: Plain jane XP as if I used a regular XP disc. No bloatware, in fact no Dell software or documentation at all on the machine now. It did need to download and install about a hundred updates and SP3, but it's good now. Hope Windows 7 works the same for you.
#10
Old 01-15-2011, 03:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dag Otto View Post
a disc didn't come with the computer but you could burn.
That is the part I don't get -- how do you "burn" an OS disk when all you have is the installed OS, and the Dell utilities?
#11
Old 01-15-2011, 03:57 PM
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FWIW, I filled out the form to request restore CDs and got a response within an hour(!) from Dell that included the following:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dell Support
Dear xxxx,

Thank you for contacting Dell XPS Hardware Email Support. I would be glad to assist you with your Dell XPS L701X with Win 7 on it.

I have sent the CDs for you to your shipping address that you have mentioned in your email. You will receive the Operating System Reinstallation CD, Roxio DVD, Power DVD, Resource DVD for drivers. You will be receiving the CDs within the next 3 to 5 business days.
Yes, it really did say "Dear xxxx" -- I didn't anonymize that part. We'll see what happens.
#12
Old 01-15-2011, 04:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarrenS View Post
That is the part I don't get -- how do you "burn" an OS disk when all you have is the installed OS, and the Dell utilities?
The recovery partition can be copied once so you can reinstall after a hard drive crash.
#13
Old 01-15-2011, 04:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by runner pat View Post
The recovery partition can be copied once so you can reinstall after a hard drive crash.
Right -- but as mentioned above, that means you get all the bloatware. Not only that, but according to the forums you need the DataSafe application to do this, which is no help if your HD has crashed, and allegedly can't be downloaded from Dell.
#14
Old 01-15-2011, 05:00 PM
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According to this Dell document (you an click on 'view' to see the pdf), you have the option of creating a plain OS recovery disc or a recovery disc with the OS and the Dell applications.
#15
Old 01-15-2011, 05:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarrenS View Post
Right -- but as mentioned above, that means you get all the bloatware. Not only that, but according to the forums you need the DataSafe application to do this, which is no help if your HD has crashed, and allegedly can't be downloaded from Dell.
It depends on the manufacturer. My old Gateway laptop had a "barebones" version (Vista32) that works with any computer, and my Vaio has one that completly restores to HDD to its factory state (Vista64). I have a USB hard drive with the first OS installed on it (copied from the backup DVD), and the Vaio boots just fine with it.
#16
Old 01-15-2011, 10:32 PM
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Thanks for the intelligent and useful answers, everyone.
#17
Old 01-15-2011, 11:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarrenS View Post
You mean the little "Genuine Microsoft Windows" sticker on the underside? Damn, you're right -- I hadn't realized it actually has the product key on it, though I was fully ready to use one of those "retrieve product key" utilities.
The product key on the Genuine sticker won't be the key you get from a retrieval utility if you've got a Dell pre-installed Windows.

You may be Ok with spending an hour or more installing Windows from DVD and downloading and installing updates, but be assured that Dell (and the other large OEMs) don't do that for each PC - they have an OEM pre-install image and just copy it onto the hard drive in the PC they're building for you.

Depending on the type of Windows distribution media you get your hands on (retail / OEM / VLK / etc.) it may not accept either the key on your sticker or the key you get from the retrieval utility.

Fortunately, you don't need to enter a product key when installing Windows 7 (leave the key dialog box empty and un-check the "Automatically activate when I'm on-line" box). That gives you a 30-day evaluation period to get things sorted out.

Microsoft has actually been pretty good with providing Windows 7 override keys for people who have trouble activating after re-installing. Make sure you're using the same edition and architecture (for example, "Home Premium 64-bit) installation disc as what your sticker says, and if activation won't accept your serial number, use the option for telephone activation and explain the situation. They should ask you for the key on your sticker and provide you with an override key.

When re-installing, you may want to preserve the first partition on the drive, which usually contains the Dell diagnostics and is usually somewhere between 50MB and 100MB in size (77MB is common). The other partitions will be 2 for Windows 7 ("System Reserved" of 100MB and the C:\ partition). There may be an additional partition for system recovery. If you're never going to use it, you can delete it, though you might want to create the recovery discs first, "just in case".

Given the low cost of hard drives these days, you could also just remove the one Dell supplied and install a different one - then you can go back whenever you please. [Before anyone goes "But that will void the warranty", it is no worse than a clean OS install - Dell won't support the new drive any more than they will provide software support for a clean OS install.]
#18
Old 01-16-2011, 12:02 AM
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Dell has all the drivers you'll need on their web site. Look up your model number or use the service tag to pull up the Dell support page.

Last edited by aceplace57; 01-16-2011 at 12:02 AM.
#19
Old 01-16-2011, 03:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aceplace57 View Post
Dell has all the drivers you'll need on their web site. Look up your model number or use the service tag to pull up the Dell support page.
That's what I was going to say. The general procedure for a clean reinstall of an OS on a laptop is
  1. Go to the website to get drivers.
  2. Put them on a flash drive or external harddrive
  3. Back up any useful data
  4. Get and test a live CD of Linux (to make sure you can boot if something goes wrong).
  5. Reformat and reinstall a fresh OS.

If you want to get fancy, you can use that Linux Live CD to shrink your original partition, and install the OS on a new one. Then you can not actually wipe the original partition until you've got the new one working.

Oh, and there's nothing wrong with using a copy of the install disk, as long as you know it's trustworthy. The main thing Microsoft or any other OS vender cares about is the product code. You can make as many copies of the disk itself as you want. Heck, Windows 7 even encourages you to copy to a flash drive.
#20
Old 01-19-2011, 01:32 PM
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Follow up:

I'm very happy with Dell's customer service overall.

Initial purchase: I had done tons of research, scoured the web for coupons, and tried out various combinations of coupons/my employer's employee purchase agreement/Dell online deals. I came up with the absolute best price I could find, left the package in my cart on Dell's website, and called them up. The customer service rep was clear and helpful, and got me the same configuration but $50 cheaper. He was able to look up the exact item I'd configured in my cart, without forcing me to repeat the specs to him.

The laptop arrived ahead of schedule.

As discussed in this thread, I requested restore disks from the link above; I got a confirmation email within the hour, and the disks arrived within two days.

Even better, the disks are as someone mentioned above -- a "pure" Windows 7 disk, sans bloatware, and a couple other disks with the CD burning software. I was able to do a "bare bones" Win 7 install, after creating requisite backup disks and repartitioning the drive more to my liking and in preparation for Ubuntu, which is what I really want.

After using the laptop for a few days I noticed the DVD optical drive was vibrating and making noise. Googling suggested this is not an unknown issue on Dell laptops. I tried the "online chat" support, and the Dell rep offered to send a technician to my house to replace the drive. (I should have read the warranty more carefully...hadn't realized on-site support was covered.) Good stuff. It's probably just a question of removing a couple of screws and reseating/tightening up the drive, but since it's under warranty I'd rather have Dell do it.

You hear horror stories about Dell customer support, but so far I'm pleased with them.

Getting Ubuntu running on this thing is a whole other matter, but of course Dell never claimed Linux compatibility for this model. Top of the "annoying" list is that you can't use the discreet Nvidia video card, due to the dreaded Optimus technology. There are some very rudimentary efforts to make this work in Linux (e.g. vga_switcheroo), but for now if you're planning to run Linux of any kind on a laptop, my advice is to steer clear of any with "Optimus". You can still use the onboard Intel video card in Linux, but you won't get all that juicy Nvidia eye candy goodness. Worse, you can't even turn off the Nvidia card to save power (important for a laptop) unless your mobo provides a switched mux controllable from the BIOS, which the Dells do not.
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