1) Laptop Setup Secrets: Reclaiming All A Hard Drive's Space

Hats off to successful mobile PC users! Using a portable PC---
notebook,
laptop, whatever type or nomenclature--- can be daunting: Not only do
road-warrior PC users have all the same issues faced by their deskbound
brethren, but they also have a whole range of special concerns ranging
from issues of physical and online security; connectivity issues;
extreme
power management problems; performance issues; and more. Although
anyone
can use a portable PC, using one well, to its fullest capabilities,
takes
a little forethought.

We've covered some of the special concerns of laptop users in this
space
before, and it might be good to start today with a quick refresher: For
example, we covered some security issues in Traveling With Laptops In
The
Post-9/11 World
http://www.informationweek.com/showA...icleID=6503586 ;
looked at wireless security in Wireless Poachers, Wireless Guests
http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20021031S0004 ; discussed
Curing
Laptop Overheating
http://www.informationweek.com/story...cleID=60300177
; examined power management technology in To Sleep, Perchance To
Hibernate... http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20020927S0028 ;
and
looked at ways of solving physical connection problems in
USB-To-Whatever
http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20021003S0007 .

Some of our past broader coverage also applies well to laptops. For
example, all these apply to any system--- stationary or portable:

System Setup Secrets
http://www.informationweek.com/story...cleID=12803122
Ten Ways To Make Windows XP Run Better
http://www.informationweek.com/story/IWK20011204S0009
10 More Ways To Make Windows XP Run Better
http://www.informationweek.com/story...cleID=17500569
Make Windows XP Self-Maintaining
http://www.informationweek.com/story...cleID=15600170
Managing Your Windows XP Passwords
http://www.informationweek.com/story...cleID=13100343
You'll also find still more information via the index page for my
InformationWeek column at
http://www.informationweek.com/LP/co...redlanga.jhtml .

I had all the above information at hand because I just bought and set
up
a new laptop for myself. I eventually used that information to tune and
tweak the setup extensively, but had to take somewhat of a detour
first.
Perhaps my experience can save you time and trouble in reclaiming the
huge amounts of disk space that are normally wasted on laptop OEM
setups.

You see, like so many systems today, the new laptop came preloaded with
tons of software I had no use for, and no interest in. The laptop was
preconfigured to offer me special deals from the vendor's marketing
partners--- canned ads, in effect--- trying to get me to sign up with
this ISP or that photo service or a particular antivirus site.... All
that software (gigs of it!) was eating up hard drive space and would
make
my backups far larger than they needed to be. Plus, once I layered in
my
own software, I'd end up with a needlessly complicated, bogged-down
system containing both the OEM software and mine; in some cases, I'd
have
two kinds of software on the laptop to perform the same task. That's
just
dumb. Plus, as we all know in computers, needless complexity brings
needless trouble. I wanted a clean, simple setup where I could control
what went where.

Plus, the vendor had two hidden partitions on the hard drive, which
combined to eat almost a third of the disk space I'd paid for. This
isn't
unusual at all: Many vendors now ship PCs with a special hidden
partition
that contains the recovery data, diagnostic software, and perhaps a
kind
of disk image of the as-delivered, factory-fresh software setup. The
idea
is that when you get into trouble, you can restore this pristine image,
and get things back exactly the way they were on day one, when the PC
rolled off the assembly line.

Trouble is, the hidden partition cannot be used for anything else; it
can
eat up a truly huge chunk of your total hard drive space, even if the
recovery files are of no use or interest to you. And if you do use the
recovery tools, they're still not a panacea: Restoring your PC to the
state it was in before you bought it means (obviously) that everything
you did to the PC after you got it--- all your data, user-installed
software and customizations--- may be wiped out. (This is another
reason
why making frequent backups, and storing them outside your PC [not on
the
hard drive, with everything else] is so important. See
http://langa.com/backups/backups.htm .)

So, if the hidden partition isn't all that great a solution to system
restoration, why not just wipe it out and gain back the space? Well, in
some PCs, the hidden partition may also control how the system boots:
If
you simply delete the partition, you may also make your PC unable to
boot
from the hard drive until or unless you alter the boot process, which
may
involve some deep-geek tweaking.

And there are other gotchas, too, but the bottom line is that recovery
partitions are at best a deeply flawed, very limited solution. Ideally
and instead, you'd want a more flexible way to retain any recovery
data,
software, or setup files that may have been put in hidden partitions,
while also gaining control over your PC--- and gaining access to all
the
hard drive space you paid for: That is, a way to keep the contents of
the
Recovery Partitions, without having them actually on your laptop's hard
drive.

And, if you're like me, you'll also want a way to get a streamlined,
clutter-free, fresh install of the OS on your laptop system, without
all
the excess baggage, marketing tie-ins, and useless software that so
often
comes bundled on a new PC.

I'll show you what I did, and also lay out two other methods--- one
that's a little harder to implement, but that will work on virtually
any
system from any vendor; and the other that's easier, but that will work
only on systems with a CD or DVD writer built in--- in a new how-to
column, available now (and free, as always) at
http://www.informationweek.com/story...leID=163105444

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excerpt above from this week's langalist. Great resource and a very intuitive way to rid yourself of the crap that OEM's install on your laptop to rob you of your needed hard disk space.