PCs optimize

Yet another thing you should do before you buy a new PC

Saving a few bucks by buying from a shady vendor could cost you dearly in the long run.

Bill Detwiler gave me a heads up on a September 13, 2012, article published by CBS News with the provocative title: Some new PCs infected before boxes even opened. The gist of the story was that there are several disreputable vendors in the world selling PCs which have counterfeit software installed on them. So, if you buy one, you are basically infected with malware before you even get your new PC out of the box it was shipped in.

The CBS News article was primarily focused on Microsoft's efforts to expose these counterfeiters and put them out of business through legal actions. The news takeaway was probably a bit overwrought, but I had a separate takeaway - whatever you do, whatever you may think you are saving in initial cost, do not buy PCs from shady vendors.

I know this is obvious to most TechRepublic members, but the problem described is apparently more prevalent in less tech savvy parts of the world. No matter where you are or where you are getting your equipment from, you should expect and insist on proper license documentation.

In fact, that might be another aspect to add to the various new PC tips articles we have published through the years.

Where do you draw the line when it comes to vendors? Have you received equipment that was missing the licensing information or other proper documentation? What procedures does your organization have in place to prevent the inadvertent acquisition of counterfeit PCs?

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

45 comments
bizicafe
bizicafe

Absolutely agree with tech@... when you say about a safe computer, pretty the same as a man who is sleeping can be a very good one. This will be even worse for governments and businesses in this competitive world, and those who cannot make their own tech stuff will be very vulnerable.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Buy a commercial desktop or laptop, wipe the OS and start from scratch. No crapware. Or build your own custom desktop.

rtroy56
rtroy56

I've long concluded that the desktops I've bought from HP and Dell were really obsolete junk before I ordered them. Turned out that each was extremely limited in expansion and upgrade, and in particular, the HP was built with parts designed to underperform, die prematurely and be hard to replace. The PSU was a custom unit for HP, not quite the right shape and size to be readily replaceable when it died (let alone be upsized). The video card was supposed to be able to do analog to digital video conversion, but it was all done in software , not an on board adc chip, and it would take a day or two to convert 1 vhs tape - if it didn't crash. RAM was limited to 2gb - but HP said only 1. Mobo specs were not too bad, but HP actually provided a stripped version of the mobo. At least with a desktop you can readily build one yourself and pick the best components for the best price. I finally did it and got a system that if I need to upgrade it, I can keep doing so for years to come. It has a dedicated video import card that actually does video conversion. Even doing video or gaming seldom has raised cpu usage above maybe 10 percent. The 800 watt psu draws 100 to 200 watts max during any operation I've put it through. It has plenty of on board ports left for fast sata and even usb 3, and 2 ethernet ports at 1gbps each. Even running windoze 8 in virtual box with lots of ram has little impact. My remaining issue is with laptops. HP replaced a very nice laptop I bought a few years ago under warranty after several botched repairs. The new one is nice except that it has a slow hard drive and a useless wifi card. The old one had a far better wifi card, but HP now only provides extremely low end N 2.4 cards that actually may perform at lower then G rates except MAYBE if you by their Envy series. They do this even as wifi routers get faster and faster; their wifi cards get slower and slower. I wouldn't mind so much if I could pop out the junk card and pop in a new one (physically easy) because they've put a bios whitelist in to prevent you from doing that. You can't really build a laptop yourself, but at least there are some vendors that will let you really customize one with decent components. But it will be expensive.

user support
user support

The article is not aimed at Most TechRepublic members yet it was published and just received in my email under the caption "TechRepublic Top Discussion". I looked at the main article it references and here are the first two paragrahs (AP) WASHINGTON — A customer in Shenzhen, China, took a brand new laptop out of its box and booted it up for the first time. But as the screen lit up, the computer began taking on a life of its own. The machine, triggered by a virus hidden in its hard drive, began searching across the Internet for another computer. The laptop, supposedly in pristine, super-fast, direct-from-the-factory condition, had instantly become part of an illegal, global network capable of attacking websites, looting bank accounts and stealing personal data. OK, so we should know that if a deal seems to good to be true it probably is and it should be avoided. If you can build your own computer and install the OS great. If you can't you can buy direct from Dell, HP, Toshiba to name a few. Yes, they have their own software but you don't have to use it. Some of the trial software is easy to remove. What do you do if you get a machine that hijacks your personal and financial data like the person in the related article. Do you call the police, the Microsoft crime unit and email CBS news and TechRepublic to get the word out?

monophysite
monophysite

I need a laptop for work, bought a Toshiba on sale with win7 and a load of crap. I need windows apps to do work. So, the compromise solution for me was to partition and dual boot with Ubuntu. The great thing about Ubuntu, unlike some other linux os, is that it took over the boot process. It's grub4dos, then select os, with Ubuntu being the default. I like Centos & am playing with Knoppix on a 32 GB flash drive, but I had the easiest time with installing dual boot and having linux take over the boot process w. Ubuntu. So I'm lazy. A reputable company put a rootkit in the BIOS? You mean, like Sony?

adystate
adystate

I expect there is the possibility of malware when buying a PC from a lesser known vendor but I suspect this article is more about MS protecting their revenue stream. There is an extremely easy way to protect against this possibility - just buy a PC without an OS on it. Hmmm I wonder why MS didn't suggest that?

gbravin
gbravin

In 1995 I had a computer shop. After a while I received from the italian Microsoft, envelopes to be delivered to my Clients, informing them that Windows 95, althoght original, may be infected. They included a floppy disk to make some trial. I have some envelopes, still sealed, in case they start some legal action....

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

reputable shop and either have them put it together for you or buy all the parts and put it together yourself, also buying the appropriate OEM copies of the full version of the software you want. Sure, if you insist on a lot of proprietary software it will cost a little more than a vendor pre-loaded system, but you usually end up with a stronger system that lasts longer and is able to be easily upgraded - something not possible to all vendor systems. In the long run, this process will save the average user lots of money over the years. Even the top line vendors provide you with a ton of garbage and extra stuff that should really be called malware, so why not avoid it all. Even in a major corporate roll out it can often be easier and quicker to use a full copy of the software to create the image and then use that instead of trying to make a cleaned up image of the vendor issue crap.

Bhollyhock
Bhollyhock

I laugh (buaahahaha) because everyone touts themselves as 'reputable dealers.' Any suggestions on how the unititiated might be able to distinguish between the good and the bad? Or (gasp) even suggest vendors that already meet the criteria? I'd be very interested to hear what you all have to say about that.

tech
tech

There have been instances where even well known computer manufactures (Dell comes to mind) have had to recall computers due to infections in the BIOS or Flash. Think about it, even hard drives could put you at risk with embedded malware. Check out http://en.community.dell.com/support-forums/servers/f/956/t/19339458.aspx The only safe computer is one that has never been turned on! LOL.

Han CNX
Han CNX

I have no issue buying from shady vendors. Typically they load the drive will all kinds of stuff, but the first thing I do is format the drive and load the OS myself. Solved. Note that this is very different from the 'malware loaded in the factory' story. These are legitimate PCs that are sold without operating system (or with some fig-leaf OS like PC DOS or Linux), where the retail shop loads Windows and apps. That's the typical scenario. (In Asia)

jscbet
jscbet

I did buy a copy of McAfee from a PC vendor once, and the registration failed. I called tech support, and they told me that I had purchased a copy that was not for individual resale, so I lost $20. Someone could write a series of books on the things that vendors DON'T list in the descriptions.

bboyd
bboyd

No crap-ware, individual hardware warranties, components that aren't the absolute cheapest available in the given spec range, clean install of windows. Oh never mind we can't do that because the 25 minutes it takes to snap together the components is so horrible. Dude you'll get a Dell(tm)(C)(ad naseum)!

JCitizen
JCitizen

unless your loss is above $5000. There are US government web sites that will take your details to add to their data base. It may seem like a joke, but I still read that the data helped many of the cracker ring investigations that Microsoft and the FBI finally disrupted. I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't help in the DNSchanger debacle this summer.

Gisabun
Gisabun

I think Sony put some software on audio CDs to stop peaople from ripping them but inadvertantly cause rootkits [or an opening for rootkits] to get onto the PC.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Conspiracy nut or just anti-Microsoft and pro-Linux? Majority of malware that comes on a PC when you BUY it is most likely from the store that isn't too kosher. As i said before, manufacturers won't caiter to a very small minority who won't want an OS -if it was allowed.

james.vandamme
james.vandamme

You have to mail order one or build it from parts, unless it's a laptop, and then you have NO choice, you have to pay the microsoft tax. Fortunately, windows is easily erased by a better operating system.

1DaveN
1DaveN

That idea is OK for enterprises that are probably deploying their own custom images anyway, but it's unrealistic for everyday consumers. The last thing grandma needs is to sit down to a new PC and Step 1 is the OS install. Have you ever tried to walk a non-technical user through booting from DVD?

JCitizen
JCitizen

the statute of limitations would have expired years ago - but that is the earliest case of doping I've ever heard of! Back then people usually only got viruses from the "Sneaker Net"! Thanks for posting! :)

n2add
n2add

Consumers should have a choice of buying a system preloaded with the OS and all the other stuff or an identical system with an empty HDD at a somewhat lower cost.

JCitizen
JCitizen

that I couldn't blame even the trusted brick-and-mortar store, for getting doped hardware/software. I'm afraid the whole Pacific Rim market is very untrustworthy, right now - and I'd bet the OEMs know it, but don't want to admit it, and don't want to start a trade war right now. The only way they will get close to a solution is to put their own very strict quality control into the factory - but even they might be subject to bribes, and graft.

Gisabun
Gisabun

These "infections" are minor compared to getting ripped off. You buy a computer - you should be getting a brand new and untouched PC.

EzeXpl01t
EzeXpl01t

I would keep the Linux broseph....

JCitizen
JCitizen

I have reason to believe some refurbishers, are infecting PCs as well. I have at least one or two clients, that can't even use their machines, because the usual wipe and re-install; is not working. I think they not only doped the factory recovery partition, but also the bios, and firmware to the hard drive and optical drive. I have one client who had to totally wipe the drive of his DELL using Darik's Boot and Nuke, and then flash the bios and hard drive firmware, before it was even usable. Part of the problem is OEM hardware driver incompatibility with Win7 - I warned him that it might not act like a normal PC until SP2 is released. My HP was a nightmare until SP2 was released for Vista x64, but I am sure no embedded malware was involved in my case at least.

tech
tech

There have been reported infections of BIOS etc, on build it yourself systems as well. Heck a bare hard drive you purchase could be 'infected'. Besides, the masses can barely manage to turn on a computer, let alone build one from scratch. They don't know board and case form factors, slot types, power supply requirements, video card options, hard drive types and form factors, Ram speed, and bank requirements...... Even if they manage to understand that you would be surprised at the number of people who would NEVER be able to put the standoffs for the motherboard into the case, let alone completely assemble, attach all leads... The newer CPU's require great care and a little bit of skill to properly apply thermal past and attach that massive heat sink to the board and CPU without cracking the board and making sure it properly mates to the CPU. Even if they manage to do that, then they have to install an OS and all the related software and that is a challenge for a lot of people too. Show of hands, how many regularly build their own systems? I build on average 3 - 5 a year for myself, friends and family.

highlander718
highlander718

as it's mentioned in the article as well, things presented are probably not a problem for techrepublic members, but general public. Don't think many people today can assemble a PC from scratch (even in the IT field that is)

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

there was nothing inadvertent about it, it was a deliberate ploy to load a rootkit to stop music copying, but the kits messed up system even when they weren't copying the discs

RealAusTech
RealAusTech

that included a rootkit, for the express purpose of spying on user's computers to see if they were downloading music in breach of copywrite. A technical worker found the rootkit after doing a scan of his PC because it had suddenly slowed down. Sony got into a lot of trouble over the matter. There are still people around who won't buy any Sony products as a result.

adystate
adystate

No I am not anti Microsoft at all and in my job I manage lots and lots of Windows based machines, however I always buy machines without an OS and install it myself, that way i decide what goes on it and not some reseller who gets a little extra cash from companies whose software he puts on it. In the UK I have absolutely no problem buying machines without an OS, there are plenty of vendors selling them.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

not the store as the stuff is loaded at the factory.

MUNHALLCOOK
MUNHALLCOOK

In my experience i have bought two pc's from stores and have had nothing but trouble i have spent more time removing the crapware that came with them than installing windows 7. Now i have no tech experience but after doing a little research i have built several pc's including the one i use now which has been problem free people need to be much more care full in the software they instal and also their surfing habits / watch out for the free lunch it can be very expensive Brian

Gisabun
Gisabun

Unsure if they can even sell a system without an OS. It is fine and dandy for us but if someone who's not technical bought one, what would they do? If they don't like Linux [and you can't legally pout OS X on a non-Apple hardware] then you need to by Windows. A REetail copy is probablt $300+. The number of people requesting a PC without any OS would be very small. AS other say, better off building your own PC according to the specs you like. I've been doing it for probably 25 years [except once and regretted it].

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Of you go onto most of the vendor websites you can find, after a lot of hard work, some systems that have no OS at all, and some that have Linux installed for the same price as Windows. But they are NOT provided through the retail outlets that sell to the general consumer, only the Windows pre-built systems are sold through the retail outlets. My experience has been that for the general user you can get a lot more computer for your money for the same price, or less, from a local store who put it together for you provided you don't mind getting Open Source software for some things. When you price out a system with an OEM copy of Windows, Libre Office or Open Office, free AV and firewall software you get a much better system and it doesn't have all the trialware and other garbage. Go one step further and get a copy of Linux that looks like Windows (I use Zorin OS with a Win XP type interface) and you can save more still and be a lot safer from attacks.

tech
tech

The article refers to computers infected at the factory. In other words the images used to do the initial build are infected. I am just pointing out that components can be infected too.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I suspect Sony is in the hands of the Yakuza mob anyway. Just a bunch of crooks by any other name.

JCitizen
JCitizen

seemed shocked when they saw what happened to one of the Dells they had just sold; they seemed to want to just quietly give the customer a new machine with a Microsoft installation disk, just to placate my client. I suspect, even the factory restore partition was doped! Microsoft did send a factory disc, after a previous failure from the same vendor source. It seems they just want to keep people happy, so they don't attract too much attention to the problem. With MS and its bad relations with OEMs lately, maybe that is the reason why.

Gisabun
Gisabun

I don't buy store PCs for myself except a netbook but if I did I'd trash the OS with all the garbage and re-install from an unmolested media that has no crapware. Sometimes takes longer to remove the crapware than to install from scratch. I did this with my netbook [b'sides getting the latest drivers].

JCitizen
JCitizen

selling without an OS, from many different in-store and online vendors. Maybe the supply dried up, but only for the last few years was this coming available as a common find in the USA. The economy has thrown all this into chaos now. PC sales are dropping so rapidly, they may be an endangered specie as of right now.

JCitizen
JCitizen

One of my clients got TWO brand new Dells for them; that I am almost positive were doped. The technicians were really scratching their heads over one of them, and simply issued a new computer with a Windows CD so it would finally work right. The other PC was out of warranty, because they struggled with it too long before going back to the vendor - but it is almost usable now after Nuking the drive, and flashing all the firmware. I think Win7 needs SP2 before the drivers on that Dell ever get working properly.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

vendor system and wipe it, but I've yet to see a vendor system (other than the very top end systems) that have the latest generation of all the hardware in them - even then you can get a better price on the top hardware in the high end stuff by buying the parts instead of a vendor system. The way they do the vendor buying and building means they're always a few months behind the curve to a year or more behind the curve.

bobc4012
bobc4012

You can purchase systems at reasonable prices from all these places. My desktop carpped out a little over a year ago. Staples had an HP lap-top for $350 -$400. It had Win. 7 Prem., 4GB Ram and 500GB (or more - but not a TB) PLUS a 17" screen. Since I already had two older "donated to me" lap-tops, I decided to buy an Acer desktop from Wally's World (Wal-Mart) for $350. It came with Win. 7 Prem., 4GB RAM, 1TB HDD. It would have cost me more to repair and upgrade my "crapped out" desktop. Of course, I did take an hour to get rid of all the crapware and McAfee and install other Firewall, anti-virus/anti-malware/etc. support. And then backed it up to an external drive (which Win. 7 later took out!).

Slayer_
Slayer_

My folks bought A full working Acer I3 desktop and monitor for 300 dollars at staples. Preloaded with XP Home Prem I saw in the USA you can get gateways, emachines and HP machines at Walmart for 150 bucks. No idea what OS it had (if any) But my previous comment wasn't clear, I'm sorry, I was just trying to point out that you don't have to build it yourself to get the best bang for the buck.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

saying that Staples in the USA have vendor systems without an OS? Or do they also sell no name systems without an OS, and how good are they? I ask as you replied to my comment about what the vendors do.

Slayer_
Slayer_

But you can also go to staples and buy a full I3 desktop and monitor for 300 bucks