Though I have personally purchased items from Best Buy, including a recent laptop purchase, I usually buy online when shipping is free. I have not purchased a laptop or any computer system from a Best Buy retail store so I am not familiar with their purchasing policies.  I am therefore relying on others who have reported problems with a policy concerning ‘optimization’ that Best Buy offers.

Most of us are familiar with what is called ‘crapware’. These are trialware programs, usually time limited, that are placed on a new computer. According to the OEM’s this ‘crapware’ is a necessary evil that keeps the cost of a new computer low. Whether this is true or not is controversial and another story different from what I will be covering today.

When the hard disk went out on my wife’s new Toshiba laptop recently, it was replaced and all of the ‘crapware’ that original came with the system was reinstalled. I downloaded a program called PC Decrapifier that I have used before which removed all of the gunk and junk for me. This is a time saver and you get to select which ‘crapware’ you want uninstalled automatically. See link below.

According to a recent article at the Consumerist, this is what Best Buy is alleged to be doing:

Optimize This

Would you pay $39.99 to improve your computer’s processor speed by 200%? What about software updates that would take you two days to perform on your own? Or how about services that take an “incomplete” computer and make it more useful? Good deals, right? Just one problem: None of these claims – made by real Best Buy sales clerks about the company’s Geek Squad optimization services – is true.

We wanted to know three things:

  1. What is optimization? What does the service consist of?
  2. How is Best Buy marketing the service? How widespread is “pre-optimization,” in which a store sells computers that have already been optimized?

The article also states that:

In Which There Is Science

Though we did learn a few interesting things about Best Buy’s sales practices, we found ourselves no closer to being able to tell if optimization was a good deal – or even precisely what it was.

So, we asked Consumer Reports’ electronics testing experts to help us out. They purchased three optimized laptops from a local Best Buy: An Asus U50A-RBBML05, a Gateway NV5207U, and a Toshiba Satellite A505-S6980. They then compared each optimized laptop to regular factory setups to see what kind of improvements optimization might offer.

Here is what Consumer Reports found when they tested the ‘optimized’ computers:

When we received our test models, the initial impression was of a rushed service: Some samples were left in standby mode, and two had not finished installing Windows updates. A quick start guide for one laptop had been mixed in with the papers in another laptop’s box, and a power cable for one sample was missing.

Upon comparing the optimized changes, the first noticeable change was a cleaner desktop. Most of the removed shortcuts were for trials, promotions and software added by the manufacturer. The programs themselves were still installed and available for later access. Updates had been downloaded on all three models, but differences in the factory default setup can affect how the system is optimized. On one laptop, for example, because Windows Defender was deactivated by default, its definitions had not been updated.

Some optimization changes seemed intended to make the laptop easier to use, such as adding the status bar to the file explorer, or displaying the file menu bar in Internet Explorer. Including a link to the Downloads folder in the Start menu, for example, can save you a few clicks. Security settings were adjusted to allow for automatic Windows updates, and in Internet Explorer, privacy settings were eased up to allow websites you visit to save info you provide on your PC.

Some have complained that they were unable to buy a computer that wasn’t already optimized:

Most of what the Best Buy Optimization process can be done by the consumer themselves if they are technically savvy and know which free programs to use to clean the computer system. That is not to say that what Best Buy offers is useless. They are providing a service that may save the buyer time by doing the optimizing for a fee.

What is disturbing is the fact that some are claiming you can’t buy a computer system from Best Buy without the $39.95 fee being tacked onto the price.

So I have a few questions. Is the optimization fee of $39.95 reasonable or not? Have you bought a computer system from Best Buy and were told you had to have the service done or you could not purchase the system?

Let us know.

Comments welcome.

Decrapifier download link

Consumerist story link