Bloatware, aka junkware, is software that the PC maker preinstalls on your machine -- software you probably don't want. Bloatware comes in many varieties and levels of malignance, from extra icons cluttering your desktop to resource hogs that slow PC performance to computer-compromising malware. Read on to learn how to rid your PC of this unnecessary and sometimes dangerous baggage.

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Uninstalling Windows bloatware

Removing bloatware can be easy or difficult, depending on how it's installed. Start with Step 1 and keep going until you've eradicated the junk.

  1. Run an uninstaller like PC Decrapifier and/or Should I Remove It.
  2. Go through once more with a manual uninstaller like Windows' built-in option or Revo Uninstaller.
  3. Tidy up with CCleaner.

Not sure if a program is bloatware? PC Decrapifier and Should I Remove It can remove some of the guesswork. PC Decrapifier is a compact app that scans and lists all the apps installed on your PC, along with background info. Select which items to uninstall, and they'll be removed in bulk. Should I Remove It, one of our favorite tools thanks to its extensive database, offers an in-depth look into the function, publisher, popularity, and known behavior of installed programs. Reason Software also features a list of known bloatware from many different manufacturers to help you find and remove preinstalled junk.

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These automated uninstallers are not especially thorough and will require you to take additional steps to complete system cleanup. They will, however, cut down on the time you spend cleaning.

To use Windows' built-in uninstallers in Windows 7, 8, or 8.1, head to the Programs and Features panel in Control Panel. If you know what you're looking for, Revo Uninstaller and CCleaner will perform a more thorough uninstall, searching for and removing any leftover files.

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On Windows 8 and 8.1, bloatware can also exist as Modern applications. These apps are less malicious than their software counterparts and also far easier to remove. Right-click the tiles to get the uninstall option.

It is good practice to restart your system between removal processes, as many of the bloatware's active processes and Registry files are stubborn and will not remove themselves until after reboot.

Reinstalling Windows

If uninstallers aren't getting the job done, you can reinstall Windows. This option is best suited for tech-savvy users, because it requires reinstalling hardware drivers, or for users who can spare the time to perform Windows Updates. But the result will be a completely clean PC.

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Before installing Windows, track down hardware drivers for your system. Windows 8 and 8.1 are pretty good at finding these on their own. You can also check the manufacturer's support site for hard-to-find drivers, or use third-party apps like Double Drivers to back up and restore drivers for systems running Windows 7 or older OSs.

To perform a clean Windows install, you need the original Windows installation media. Recovery images or disks that come with your PC purchase typically contain the manufacturer's custom image with all the junkware, so they won't be much help.

If you don't have an OEM install disk on hand, Microsoft has software-recovery options that let you create installation media for Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1. All you need is to track down the OS product license key. Typically this can be found on the Windows sticker attached to the bottom of your laptop or behind your PC tower. If crawling under your desk seems like too much work, software like Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder can look up your license key.

Removing bloatware may seem time-consuming and complicated, but it's definitely worth the effort. Your brand-new PC will run at peak speed, capacity, and longevity. You'll be surprised at how fast your system runs without the burden of bloatware. After the cleaning process, it is good practice to create a new backup of your unburdened PC, in case you ever need to recover. Check out our handy guide on how to back up.

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Raised in the Bay Area but educated on the sandy beaches of San Diego, Tuong writes for Download.com specializing in Windows Security and Mobile Apps.