Setting Up My New Windows 8 Laptop


To be productive on my commute to work, I needed to find a small, reliable laptop. My need became more pressing because my quad core ACER — very soon after coming off warranty — began having significant power supply-related issues, a.k.a. randomly shutting down and then not starting up for hours.

Setting Up My New ASUS ZenBook Windows 8 Laptop

The Buy

On Friday I researched ultra books online and spent a few hours going to stores. After seeing dozens of models, I headed to the store with the laptop that met all of my criteria at the lowest price: the ASUS ZenBook. The Zenbook is a 13.3 inch computer weighing in at 3-pounds and measuring under 2cm thick (about 3/4″). The body is machined aluminum — so I immediately handed the sales guy a blank cheque, telling him to name a price, because that’s what consumers do whenever they see “machined aluminum”.

The processor is a bit underpowered and graphics are integrated — but I just wanted something that’s tiny yet great for typing with serviceable performance. My old quad-core will remain the workhorse. The new ASUS ultrabook has a hybrid 24 gigabyte SSD (solid state drive) and 500 gigabyte HDD (conventional hard drive with spinning disks). I would have liked to get a full SSD, but even the cheapest SSD-only laptops (which come with a measly 128 gigabytes of storage) were more expensive.

The closest competitor in my analysis was a Lenovo that had incrementally better specs, but it was about 35% heavier (which makes a significant difference when I’m carrying it every day); it was also thicker and the body was an inch bigger diagonally. In all, including Ontario’s ridiculous 13% VAT and eco-fees, I paid a smidgen over $750. A MacBook Air with comparable specs runs for a heckuva lot more than that. (Actually, I could only get a 128GB SSD model that weighs about the same and would cost $1200 plus tax.)

Initial Setup

Windows asked me a bunch of questions. I turned off some of the recommended features to improve performance. (No, sorry Microsoft: try paying your software engineers to improve the user experience, rather than collecting free data from my computer.) When Windows finally started, it was like a dog’s breakfast. ASUS had its update system fighting with Windows. After a few required reboots (which were admittedly blazing fast thanks to Windows being cached on the SSD) I was in business.

First Impressions of Windows 8

Except I wasn’t actually in business yet because Windows 8 is freaking awful. That’s already been said in every review I’ve seen, but I thought it was typical “MICROSOFT SUX0RS!!!1!” propaganda from iFan journalists. Having used it, I can’t understate how awful this trash is. I now know what my Grandpa felt like the first time I helped him use a computer with Windows XP. I hope there’s something going on “under the hood” that justifies this train wreck because the interface is garbage, garbage, garbage.

Setting Up My New Windows 8 Laptop - Windows 8 Start Menu?

Try using the apps on that Start screen — they open up bizarre-o world full screen versions of programs (sorry, “Apps”). After getting trapped in a literally blank email screen with no “X” button and Windows 8 flipping out because I hadn’t verified my account email yet, I put the cursor in the bottom left of the screen (Why? Who knows?) and somehow got back to the “Start” page. Then I used my last wit to press “escape” and thankfully ended up on a somewhat familiar desktop. Except there’s no start button. You need to move your mouse to the top right corner of the screen to get a menu that’s kind of like the Start menu of olde. Except that’s only part of the Start menu; I mean, why keep all those functionalities in one place when you can spew them incoherently across a half dozen different locations?

Setting Up My New Windows 8 Laptop - Wait, is this the Windows 8 Start Menu?

Give me back the start button! After Googling that exact phrase, I found out that Microsoft had an alleged reason for removing the Start button: “We are seeing people pin [applications] like crazy [to the task bar]. And so we saw the Start menu usage dramatically dropping…” That is their reason. Instead of Microsoft saying “Oh, great, by letting users pin stuff to the task bar we created a useful new feature!” they said “Oh, great, we created a useful new feature for users now let’s destroy the Start button because it’s a useful old feature!

You get the point about Windows 8: I give it an “F”. Worse than that. I honestly considered trying to return this otherwise decent laptop.

[BONUS RANT: Seriously, Windows 8 makes no sense. I start up the computer, and I have to click a button to pop up the login screen. After logging in, I arrive at the weird new Start interface. Then I have to exit to the desktop. Why the extra clicking? Just let me where I want to freaking go in the first place. If I want to find a new app, instead of using the Start button I need to go to the right of the screen, click the "search" button, and then view a full screen search results page. The "all apps" screen is a bizarre new list with massive buttons where you see all the apps under each heading, rather than organized folders in a concise list.]

Secure the System

Windows 8 comes with Windows Defender which has apparently been expanded to include free anti-virus protection. I uninstalled the trial of McAfee (which was almost as annoying as the real life drama queen), activated Windows Defender, and then installed Norton (I had an extra license anyway).

Clear the Trash

ASUS, like ACER and the other low-priced PC manufacturers, apparently spend a great deal of time concocting useless software to load onto PCs. I spent a solid hour just uninstalling programs and rebooting. And look at all the amazing business productivity software ASUS included:

wow look at all the amazing business tools they preloaded

Customize It

My computer didn’t come with a “low-end” free version of Microsoft Office unlike my last laptop. Because that’s where the future is — extremely expensive, unimpressive software suites designed to complete rudimentary tasks like writing. I removed the time-limited trial of Office. Thanks, Microsoft, for giving me the final push to adopt Libre Office.

I also downloaded the browser that, as it turns out, is the most optimized for Windows 8. PS it’s not Internet Explorer.

Tweak Settings

I haven’t gotten into this yet. It’ll involve installing Glary Utilities (which I’ve praised before) and running the optimization processes I talked about in that article.

So that was my Friday night; spending hundreds of dollars on a computer followed by wasting several hours to make it functional. Thanks Windows 8. Did I mention it’s awful?

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28 Comments… Share your views

  1. Haha love your rant on Windows 8. Looks like I’ll be using Windows 7 as long as I used Windows XP (which is to say, about 5 years longer than everyone else).

    • Good call; wait until the next OS is less of an abhorrent travesty. I wish this came preinstalled with Windows 7; I’d be a pig in mud about the boot up time etc. Instead they need to ruin it all with an OS that’s worse than Windows ME.

  2. I have a little Acer note book or net book (don’t know the difference) and that McAfee free trial made me crazy.

    I use 2 different keyboards at work and the Acer at home is different again. Lots of typos during the day because my finger jumps to some key that I want but I am on the wrong computer at the time.

    • If it cost under $500 it’s probably a netbook. Ultrabooks are thin and smaller than most notebooks but their keyboards are generally carefully designed to make typing a decent experience and they have pretty good specs in a small body. Netbooks come with dinky ATOM processor and, frankly, are an abomination that’s dying off (and good riddance). People need useable computers, not tiny, sluggish little sins against computing.

  3. Last time I bought a laptop, I had to use an old one with a non-functional screen for almost a year while waiting for Windows 7. I’m thinking of waiting it out again, although you can still get laptops with Windows 7.

    For those who do everything online, the Chromebooks are looking pretty nice and there’s a few low-cost models.

    • Android has a very poor reputation for security. Lots of Chinese manufacturers like Huawei use the system and presumably get to muck around in it. When I don’t wake up every day to see a dozen Chinese IPs have been locked out for attempted SQL injections, excessive 404s, and brute force attacks I will give the Chinese more trust. Anybody who has been educated under communism who has not disavowed that terrible system is, in my opinion, untrustworthy.

      • Less secure than Windows? Now that would be a feat :) When Windows Defender first came out I think the talk was that it wouldn’t be too good because that would damage the market for other anti-virus software. That has to qualify as one of the biggest protection rackets in technology.

        • True say. I upgrade computers every few years — the fact that I can’t buy one license PER computer but need to buy one license PER computer PER year definitely makes it a money-grab.

  4. Lol @ u.

    Step 1: Install Linux over Windows.
    Step 2: Done

    No security. No removing bloat. No tweaks.

    Yeah, I know nobody will actually do that. But I’ve been using Linux for years on our desktops and couldn’t be happier.

    • I look at instructions like these And I think “I HAVE TO PROGRAM MY OWN CLICK PAD!?” and then I back away slowly from Linux lol

      • The idea that linux requires a tech to setup is outdated. It’s plug and play right of the box for any normal distribution. You just picked a bizarre distribution as an example :).

        In fact, once you’ve installed linux and windows, linux is actually easier.

        The real reason people don’t use linux on their desktop is the learning curve to switch. It’s better on the other side,but you can’t get around the fact that you have to learn a new distribution. Once you’ve done it, there’s no more hackers, no more bloatware, no more reinstalls, no more ‘can’t fix because MS doesn’t fix it for you’. That’s also why, the odd time I have problems, I persevere – too much of an uphill battle for me to go back to windows – not that I would for other reasons.

        My admin person didn’t like that the scanning program we use didn’t have a ‘scan to print’ button. You could scan to file, scan to pdf, scan to lots of things, but not right to the printer. Turns out, nobody had asked for it, yet. I emailed the linux guy, paid him $200 (and because he was in europe, I sent him some of those olympic mitts a few years ago) and we got our scan to print button. Can’t do that with most Windows programs. And if the linux guy didn’t want to do it, I could’ve hired someone locally to customize it for me. Aaaah, freedom.

        • The problem is that’s *my* distribution lol so I’m pretty sure I’m SOL. Maybe next purchase.

          • Archlinux? How grotesque.

            If you’re tech enough, consider spending some time setting up a dual boot. I did that for a month or two until I convinced myself I didn’t really boot into windows anymore.

            Now I run windows as a virtual device inside linux. So the odd time I have to run a windows app, I fire up XP inside a linux window, run the app, then close everything. Yeah, I’m still running on that really old XP license. But no real security issues there, since it’s only ever running long enough to run the app, then closed. Probably 99% of what everyone is doing these days (documents, web, email) doesn’t require a specific OS anyway. Look at the average mac user -they get along just fine without windows :).

        • Haha, nothing wrong with Archlinux!

          pacman -S (whatever I want).

          I’ve got a PogoPlug here running Arch with 7TB of backup. I use it as a Time Machine share, SAMBA share, and it’s got sftp running on it. Quality stuff – I haven’t rebooted for months.

  5. Can it run Microsoft Security Essentials? That’s what I’ve got going on 7 right now, along with MalwareBytes (great piece of software). Far as I can tell, MSE is pretty good.

    • I think that’s all been repackaged into Windows Defender. It claims to be a sufficient and complete anti-virus / anti-malware security solution. I struggle to think that’s a trustworthy / sufficient combination because of Microsoft’s dismal record on security.

  6. I’ve used that laptop and it’s great! I have the larger SSD drive and OMG that thing is amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t switch to SSD earlier in life.

    I’m also a huge fan of the Lenovo ThinkPad X series, with the X230 being their current model.

    You can add the start button back and make Windows 8 look more like Windows 7, but I don’t remember how to do that off-hand.

    Enjoy the new toy!

    • Thanks! But it’s a tool not a toy :P

      I considered Lenovo, but I had a friend who had a hellish experience with their awful customer service related to a problem that was definitely their responsibility but they wouldn’t fix it. So while Zenbook ended up the winner on my weight / size specs, I might have still paid a small premium to go non-Lenovo to reduce my risk exposure.

  7. Microsoft shot themselves in the foot with Windows 8 as far as the corporate laptop environment. No one works it in any IT department. I’ve been considering the “surface” for personal use and have stopped at staples to play with their demo. I can’t say the Windows 8 is “Intuitive” I had to mess around with it quite a bit to get to the point where I somewhat understood how to use the interface. It’s possible that it may be a very good interface for a tablet but in my opinion, it has no business being on a laptop or desktop (unless maybe it has a touch screen).

    • Exactly. I didn’t own a cell phone until my third year of university when I dove in the deep end and got a BlackBerry. It WAS intuitive. I have nothing against new/more efficient interfaces. The Windows 8 system is NOT intuitive, just like you said. There are like 8 different locations for things, a lot of overlap, gestures and buttons do bizarre stuff, the “Start Screen” is a separate redundant environment. Why eliminate a useful menu and replace with an entire freaking new OS??

      I am so glad to hear that everybody in IT hates it. I hate it. Absolute garbage and they should be ashamed of themselves for telling me it’s better than Windows 7. It’s a polished turd at best.

  8. If you think you are having trouble with Win8, imagine being 80+ years old and having to try to debug it?! I have relatives who are literally nursing along their laptop because they can’t learn (literally can’t, it’s aging/”learning” memory related) to use Win8. Even getting one of the last PCs that is running Win7 would probably be too hard as they are on XP. Thanks MicroSoft.

    I had to laugh at the “reboots were amazingly fast” I have a Tandy 2000. You turn it on, you start using WordPerfect. It’s amazing how computers have de-volved over time….

    @LifeInsuranceCanada: multiple boots are the way to go while in transition. We have XP, 7 and Linux all available on startup. (And Win95, Win98 and Linux on another machine if anyone needs to use “wayback” software.)

  9. Right… so what was that reason of yours again for buying a PC over a Mac?

    Seriously. Every time I touch my parents’ PCs, I want to throw it out the window and then go after it with a bat, Office Space style.

    The best Windows OS in my opinion, was still Windows XP. I MISS THOSE DAYS.

    • lol if this PC had come with Windows 7, I’m pretty confident I’d be delighted. I avoid Mac for a few reasons.

      1) Cost
      2) Attractiveness for theft
      3) Hipsters
      4) Horrible game compatibility
      5) Inferior specs (even systems that are double the cost of a PC are often comparably underpowered)

      Apple used to market its own internal components. Now it’s all off-the-shelf Intel. If I wanted OSX, I’d buy Linux and install it and enjoy a cheaper, more powerful Apple experience.

  10. “Microsoft Works” (not) – I dread purchasing a new computer in the future and being forced yet another dreadfully user unfriendly O/S or Office software!!!

  11. Thank you for your soooo informative insight! Yes, I have had a taste of other OS systems, but I am lazy (honest, hu?) to learn an entirely new system. I thought it was just me….got windows 8 because ALL the tecks I knew rant and raved about this new more helpful program. What a bunch of Bull pucky! Regrettably, I installed it over XP. It installed perfectly, so microsoft, at least from that point did not lie. But, it stops there. I too have been lost in a biss of unnecessary icons, or whatever the new name is. Bouncing from screen to screen. I really tried to set down and learn this damn thing. Did manage to find a program for an “off” button, but after another week……I am going back! Understand that I must reboot to get anything former to install. But, worth it just to get rid of windows 8! Folks, it not just learning an updates or new more useful tools that have been added….it is completely USELESS! Many more buttons, many more steps, and even then, you are not finished without loading many apps…not to mention having to add yourself to microsoft just to get your emails (not to mention handing microsoft the results of their programing blunders… I agree, pay your tecks to develope something worthwile). I wish I had read some of your comments before wasting soooo much time, frustration and money! Shame on you microsoft!

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