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Setting up a new PC – making it yours

May 14th, 2012

Martin

New computers are notorious for packaging tonnes of useless software with them – duplicates of perfectly usable Windows software, unsubtle ways of making you sign up for the manufacturer’s choice of anti-virus, or sinister ways of locking you into a service so you never buy a different brand again.

There are several ways in which this can be a pain: it slows your computer down unnecessarily; it makes it harder to find the stuff you really need and use; and it takes away control from you, the computer’s owner. So, when you unpack your new PC, follow these steps to get the computer you paid for.

First things first: Security

The thing you should always do when you get a new PC is to set a System Restore Point, and create recovery media if you can.

Some computers come with a ‘recovery partition’, meaning that if Windows falls apart, then your PC can be made to boot from a reserved part of the hard drive to begin a factory reset – leaving your computer in the state it was when you bought it. Other computers offer a way to create DVDs, and you boot from these disks when something goes wrong. If you have the opportunity to create these, do so first, and also create a Restore Point by finding ‘Backup and Restore’ from the Start Menu, and in the window which opens, select ‘Set up Backup’ and follow the instructions. You’ll need an external hard drive or a pile of CDs or DVDs big enough to hold everything.

Once you’ve done this, browse through the rest of the programs in the Start menu. If there are any unfamiliar things in there, open them up and have a look at what they do. Familiarise yourself with them. Unless you’ve got specialist needs, and bought a computer to match, then much of what is in there can be re-downloaded later for free, or better alternatives found.

Start chopping

When you’ve familiarised yourself with what’s there, you can start being ruthless. Begin by getting your security in order. Unless you’ve already paid for the anti-virus software on your computer, get online and download one of the perfectly good free alternatives such as Microsoft Security Essentials or AVG Free. Once it’s downloaded, go to Start > Control Panel > Uninstall a Program. Pick your pre-installed anti-virus and hit ‘Uninstall’ at the top of the window. Now install the anti-virus you downloaded, restarting your computer when prompted.

Now you’re secure (what with your safe browsing habits and cautious approach to suspicious sites, yes?) you can look through the other programs on your machine, and remove the ones you don’t need. Typical programs include:

  • music / video players – choose your own or use the built-in Windows Media Player;
  • media uploaders – why start using HP’s online service when no one else is?
  • film editors – do you really need this? There are basic ones built into Windows, and if you need something better spend some money on a decent package;
  • Microsoft Works – you’re much better off buying Microsoft Office, or downloading free and Office-compatible LibreOffice.
  • Online backup – there are a growing number of online backup services these days such as SpiderOak or Dropbox. Scout around for the best deals, and don’t just plump for the ones bundled with security suites or your laptop’s manufacturer.

Just remember, though: if you’re not sure what something’s for, it’s best to leave it installed, just to be on the safe side.

You’ve broken it down, now build it up

Once you’ve finished paring your computer down to a lean machine you can start adding the things it lacks.

The main one is a browser. Internet Explorer is catching up with the better browsers all the time, but why use a browser whose current marketing line is ‘not as rubbish as it used to be’ when faster and safer browsing experiences are free? The two leaders in the browser market are Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.

Chrome has a reputation (and aim) for speed, especially with complicated sites like Google Maps, Google Docs, Google… well, you get the idea, and it also works well with any other sites which could slow down lesser browsers. It’s also minimalist, with a clean interface and only the buttons you need.

Firefox, on the other hand, while not so sprightly, is still relatively fast, and also benefits from a massive selection of add-ons, so you can back up your bookmarks, save them in your Delicious account, change the browser appearance, have Twitter in your sidebar plus many other things.

Other browsers include Opera and Apple’s Safari. If you feel like exploring, download these and play around with them. Read reviews and see which ones fit your browsing habits the best.

Keeping your PC ‘Your PC’

You have nearly everything you need now for a full computing experience. By all means add more software, but remember: you should only keep what you use as this keeps things running smoothly. With the money you saved by not buying anti-virus software, try out something like System Mechanic or Tune-Up Utilities, which provide advice and maintenance tools to keep your PC trim, up-to-date and secure.

These are just the first few steps you should take to get your new PC off to a flying start. Most people don’t bother, so if you carry out these maintenance tasks at the very least you’ll have bragging rights for the swiftest computer in town! If there’s something you think I’ve missed, share it with us in the comments, and if you’d like a professional to spring clean your new PC for you, then get in touch with me.

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