I've heard that the 8.1 update automatically comes with IE 11 which I do not want to install. I don't currently have any version of IE on my system - is there any way to download 8.1 without downloading IE 11?
You cannot uninstall IE 11 in Windows 8.1 (or install 8.1 without IE 11) but you can turn it off.
After OS install, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search. Then enter Windows features in the search box, click Settings, and click turn Windows features on or off. In the Windows Features box, uncheck Internet Explorer 11.