Thoughts: Toshiba Satellite with Windows 8.1

Thoughts: Toshiba Satellite with Windows 8.1

If you are like me, you have managed to avoid any version of Windows that is greater than 7 for the past few years.  This recently changed as I purchased a new laptop.  So, what does this feel like?  Below is a summary of my first experiences with Windows 8.1 on a pre-manufactured system.

Windows 8.1

I wrote this article on my new Toshiba Satellite(C55D-B5214) that I mentioned in my previous post.  It by default came with Windows 8.1.  I was pretty excited as I have briefly played with Windows 8/8.1 and had found it mostly confusing, but now I would get a chance to really see what the OS had to offer.  Unfortunately, though it fell way below my already low expectations.

Hardware

Lets get this out of the way at first.  This laptop contains an AMD A8-6430 which is a quad core APU clocked at 2Ghz with a 2.4Ghz turbo mode.  The graphics cores are a Radeon R5 and are way more capable than what I expected to find in a $350 USD laptop.  It also has 4GB of 1600Mhz RAM with 3.5 usable and 500MB reserved for the GPU portion of the APU.  It also has a 1TB 5400 RPM drive as well as an SD card reader, a DVD Super Combo Drive and HDMI out.  Not bad!

OEM Bloatware

Previous Experience

I build my desktop PC’s and my last laptop purchase was in 2007 for an Acer Aspire 3680-2682.  So I knew there would be bloatware, but I was taken back by the sheer volume of it installed.  My first laptop(the Aspire mentioned previously) came with bloatware, but I don’t recall nearly as much being present as what I recently found.  To fix this on the Acer, I loaded up the install DVD that came with it and reinstalled Windows from scratch.  A nice clean install and I happily used Vista (I did actually like Vista, yes I guess that makes me weird) for some time.  (Although mainly I was happy as I added RAM, swapped to a faster HDD and upgraded the processor from a Celeron to a Core 2 Duo.  Yes, you could easily do those kinds of things then.  Now it’s a bit harder to make these kinds of changes.  But I digress.)

Times Are A Changin’

So does this machine come with a recovery/reinstallation DVD?  No.  Only a recovery partition.  I have to create my own Windows OS back up if I want to keep it.  Also, I discovered there are no more Windows Activation Stickers and that the key to install Windows 8.1 is embedded into the bios of this machine.  WHAT?

“Ok, that isn’t that bad.” I told myself.  I will just uninstall the bloatware and make a backup.   I then go to wipe my first account and create a default account and the bloatware Windows Store Apps reinstall for the new user.  HUH?! It comes back?!  I then realized that the bloatware is for Windows Apps store apps and are installed per user as I could not uninstall the apps for the new default user under my account.

At this point I am desperate for a clean install but a search online shows that retail and OEM discs can’t be used to reinstall the OS from scratch as the key wont be accepted and that finding a non-oem manufacture install disc sounds impossible.  At this point I give up as it doesn’t seem worth the hassle.  So I am pretty much stuck with permanently embedded bloatware on my machine unless I pay for another copy of Windows, and I am not inclined to spend money on Windows yet again.  It is now about the time that I think I may want to just scrap the whole thing and install any form of Linux.  And this is partly because of this and the out of the box experience.

First Boot, First Impressions

Welcome to the Cloud!

After booting the laptop up for the first time the install process was simple enough and wasn’t too painful except trying to figure out how to create a local account as I detest the idea of having my PC account directly tied to the cloud.  I have nothing against cloud services, but integrating it into the OS where I like to keep things LOCAL is not an idea I think is good.  I feel there have been far to many cloud leaks in the past year to justify any personal information being available out there.  Anyhow, the key to making a local account was first to say I don’t have an account and then when prompted to create one find the small text that says to create a local only account.  Hooray… at least I get to use my machine offline.

Glitches, Updates and Bloat

Ok, with that out of the way I am to the Start screen and find the desktop icon.  The absolute first thing I do is start to uninstall all the bloatware.  At this point I hadn’t run any updates, and the machine was very unstable.  The track pad would cut in and out.  The machine would freeze up temporarily and it was generally a huge pain.  I knew from the hardware spec that it MUST perform better than this and the store model at Best Buy was buttery smooth.  So I pushed on uninstalling apps thinking that was the problem.

It turns out that wasn’t the problem.  It turns out that by default I needed whatever Windows update had to offer as only once I updated my machine did it start to become reliable.  Note to self, update the machine first before removing bloatware.

At this point the machine is finally usable and working  pretty nicely.  However, the track pad is still giving me issues from time to time.  It oddly enough seems better than when the Toshiba track pad software was installed as the disconnects seemed to happen quite often while it was installed and less frequent with it uninstalled.

8.1 Usability

Ok, so maybe you have been avoiding Windows 8 or 8.1 as I was and want to know, what is it like using it?  I have very mixed feelings.  Performance is decent, although my machine is no where near as snappy as the store model, so I don’t understand that unless the bloat helps after updates?

Start Screen

Windows 8.1 Start Screen
I don’t like apps and really wish programs would pin themselves to this screen automatically.   It feels so empty, but I guess Microsoft may say I need to just use more apps.

Pretty much useless to me.  As you can see in the article image, I don’t use apps on my PC.  I use full blown programs.  So I uninstalled all the clutter and now the screen is about useless.  It takes up the full screen and hides the applications I installed as well as the preinstalled Windows applications I use such as Paint, Wordpad/notepad, Admin Tools etc.  You can view all apps by using search or clicking an arrow on the start screen to see all apps.  However, they are spaced apart so it wastes a lot of my small 15.6″ of screen real-estate.  I can read tiny font just fine, I find no need to waste all the whitespace and create a jarring experience when I want to switch programs that I haven’t pinned.  I am not a fan.

Classic Shell

A true marvel.  This software returned my start menu and brought back most of the functionality/usability I lost coming from Windows 7.  This is a must if you are adjusting to the new OS or refuse to accept its changes.  I had read about it previously and even had family install it on their machines as they too were not happy with Windows 8.  If you would like a copy, go here to get it!  ClassicShell.net

Other Grievances

Windows 8 and 8.1 have split some aspects of the OS making it completely non-intuitive to navigate.  It took me a few minutes to figure out the charms bar in Modern is different from the charms bar in Desktop mode.  There is a control panel section as we all know from prior versions, but a new PC Settings app(Modern) controls some of the features now leaving me to guess now and relearn where each item is placed.  As far as I can tell, it doesn’t make sense which menu it would be under as to me they are all PC settings, but perhaps I am thinking to broadly(or narrowly?).

Performance

I am not impressed with Windows 8.1 and its default performance on this machine.  The hardware is decent enough that it shouldn’t have the kinds of hic-ups with the track pad.  And this even continues when typing.  Typing is sometimes delayed when deleting which is frustrating.  I am a little upset thinking my tinkering may have broken the experience some as I stated before, this laptop was very snappy and responsive without any issues when playing on the demo model in store.

In addition to the typing issues, browsing websites is also sometimes choppy and slow.  This is especially apparent when browsing with multiple tabs open.

Other use is what I expected.  Generally fast load times and snappy responses.  I even tested compiling some basic Java code using Netbeans and it all functioned well.

So, despite all this, what about gaming performance with the R5?  Can it run Crysis?  I am not sure, but it does play Team Fortress 2 at its native 1366×768 resolution with settings on high.  I don’t own Crysis but might dig up the old demo file just to see if it can.  That would be awesome.

Closing Thoughts

Within the next year I hope to tear this thing apart and install an SSD replacing the 5400RPM drive, as well as a full 8GB of 1866Mhz.  This should give it the added kick it needs to be as responsive as I would like it.  I also plan to dual boot Linux(probably Mint) and use Windows as little as possible as there is no reason a Quad Core 2Ghz processor in this thing should allow web browsing to stutter.  All else, I do enjoy low resource distros of Linux such as #!(Crunchbang) so I will do whatever it takes to make this hardware work for me.  I plan to find a good combination of hardware and OS that allows responsive computing without the hassles and pains of Windows 8.1.  I just hope that Linux handles this better and will write about that when I make it happen.  Maybe Windows 10 will be worth the upgrade for this machine.  Either way this poor laptop will have to suffer its fate of being upgraded, tweaked and pushed to the edge and back as I love to stress test my machines no matter what their specs.

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