Friday, January 1, 2010

12 Steps: Setting Up A New PC

Here's what you need to know to set up a new PC. Right out of the box, every computer is far from perfect. Unlike most electronic devices, which you can plug in and use instantly, PCs—particularly those with Windows—need some adjustment before they're ready for everyday use.

These 12 simple steps will make your new system safe, and also personalize it with your own preferences.

1. First Start
After you've devised clever ways to use your new collection of Styrofoam, and made the basic initial connections (power, monitor, Ethernet, keyboard and mouse), Windows 7 will ask you to do various things, like set your language, time zone, clock and calendar, and perhaps most important, create a user account and password. Forgo this only if you're 110 percent sure no one else will want to gain access, ever, or if you're so dull-as-dishwater that it wouldn't matter. For a computer that will have multiple users, this is a must.

2. De-bloat the System
Big-name system vendors typically install software on their consumer PCs at the factory. These "extras" go by many names: bundleware, begware, bloatware, and my favorite, crapware. That's because a lot of it is just that: useless crap. The vendors install it under the guise of helping you out, but mostly they do it to get money from the software makers. A few vendors, like Sony and Dell, offer some options to avoid crapware, but usually just for businesses . Boutique manufacturers, like Velocity Micro, do a better job of providing a clean system.

What can you do to decrapify your new PC? Download and run the free PC Decrapifier. It will hit some of the flotsam you might not want, from AOL installers to Yahoo! Toolbar, but it won't get it all. If you can identify more crapplications it missed, try Revo Uninstaller, a free utility that does more to fully eradicate errant softwarethan the built-in Windows control panel.

This is a good time to kill anything you don't want that's part of Windows 7 itself. Load up the control panel called Uninstall a Program. Click "Turn Windows Features on or off" at left. You'll get a User Account Control warning; click OK. Uncheck anything in the list you definitely don't want, such as games, Tablet PC Optional Components, and so forth. If you don't know what an item does, hover the mouse over the name for a description. If you still don't know what it does, best to leave it.

Don't confuse crapware with trialware—a trial version of software you might actually want that is active for a limited time. It might be worth keeping, especially if it's a free trial of a solid security product, which leads us to...

3. Activate Shields
If you're willing to pay to protect your system from malware, and get some extra firewall protection to boot, we recommend you install our Editors' Choice security package, Norton Internet Security 2010. Its defense against spyware and viruses is extremely effective, and impact on system performance is minimal.

If you don't want to pay, check out Panda Cloud Antivirus Free Edition 1.0, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) that is super-light on your systems. That's because the data it uses to fight malware is entirely online. The downside is that you must have an active broadband Internet connection for it to work properly.

Everyone on a broadband connection needs a software firewall to control which applications on your PC can access the Internet. The firewall in your network router is not enough. When it comes to free firewall software, there are several to pick from, including Comodo Firewall and ZoneAlarm Free Firewall. Look for free download links at their Web sites.

4. Download Updates
At some point your PC will tell you there are Windows updates available. Probably about five minutes after you successfully boot up. Grab those updates. You may have an icon in the system tray at the lower right, or you can select Windows Update from the main menu at the lower left (choose All Programs to find it).

Depending on which version of Windows has been installed on your computer and when, you could have quite a few updates—big updates—to download. Let this process run its course. Walk away. Eat some leftovers, go out for a mocha latte, watch an Adam Sandler movie. It's going to take a while, and the Sandler movie will seem to last forever (especially Zohan).

When the downloads are done, run Windows Update... again. Updates tend to beget updates. Three times should be sufficient. By now you've got a truly pristine system. —next: Steps 5-8 >

5. Ghost the Machine
After something catastrophic happens, some techies prefer to reinstall from the original CDs to get a fresh start. That means going through all those updates again. Instead, back up your pristine system right now with the full, updated OS, so you can restore everything quickly after a disaster.

Make a complete drive image (aka a ghost) of the C: drive. You can make images with Norton Ghost 15, Acronis True Image Home 2010, or a freebie like DriveImage XML ( If you've got Windows Vista Business or Ultimate, use the built-in tool called Complete PC Backup to do the job. Windows 7 users with Home Premium on up can go to the Back up or Restore control panel and pick "Create a System Image." Save the image to your hard drive. If it's small enough, burn it to some DVDs, otherwise copy the im to an external hard drive or USB flash drive for access later.

6. Transfer Files
Windows Vista and 7 makes relatively simple to move files from your old computer to the new with the Windows Easy Transfer utility. It works with various methods (external hard drive, USB flash drive, network, and transfer cable) to move not only data files and folders but also settings from your old Windows system to the new. It even re-creates your user accounts, if you want that. It does not move your old applications. To take advantage of Easy Transfer, your old PC must be running Windows 2000, XP, or Vista.

You can always use old-school sneaker-net—copy files from the old PC on a CD, DVD, or flash drive, then copy them over to your new machine—but if you've got a lot of files, this could take hours or days. That really big external hard drive with a USB connector you bought for backup is an option. A better solution might be to reuse the hard drive from your old computer. A USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE Adapter (about $25), like one from StarTech, can turn an old drive into an external drive for use on your new PC. It's just not very pretty.

The home network is your slickest alternative—once you have it set up right. Go into the System control panel, click Advanced system settings, and then go to the Computer Name tab under System Properties. Click the Change button. Make sure the new computer has a name that's unique among the computers in the house, and that the Workgroup name is exactly the same for all the computers in the house. Otherwise, they can't see each other to share. Go into your software firewall and check that it's open to other PCs on your network (and that the firewalls on the other computers are open to the new PC, as well). Find the folder containing the files you want to share on the old computer, right-click on it to get Properties, and tell Windows to share the folder. On Vista and Windows 7 systems, the folder should now show up in the Network and Sharing Center when you click View computers and devices. (That HomeGroup stuff in Windows 7 is great, but is only going to be useful if all your computers run Windows 7, and how likely is that?)

Avoid the temptation to buy a migration utility or some special, expensive USB cable to use with its Easy Transfer utility. Neither option is worth the money, especially for an action you'll take only once.

Consider instead something that does much more, like IOGear's USB Laptop KVM Switch with File Transfer ( It not only handles file transfers between computers but lets you switch instantly from PC to PC, using a single monitor and keyboard/mouse. For $49.95 it's one way to ensure that both your old and your new computers remain useful.

7. Prep for Data Backup
No doubt you've heard this a zillion times, but in case this advice hasn't taken, I'll repeat: A simple backup regime is great for peace of mind. Online backup services like MozyHome make it painless. You can start with a free account that stores up to 2GB of data. Perfect for your unfinished novel or other small projects. (You can get unlimited online storage with Mozy for $4.95 per month.)

If you've got multiple machines, consider one of the many services that synchronize files between computers and add online backup in the middle, so you can get to files when you're at someone else's PC. Dropbox is our Editors' Choice in this category. supports sync between multiple Windows, Mac, and even Linux PCs, and even allows access to files via iPhone. Basic service is free and gives you 2 gigs of online storage; it costs $9.99 a month to get 50 gigs.

Local backup of your data gives you more control. One option is to partition your hard drive into multiple drives—C: for the system and programs, D: for data, E: for items you don't need to back up. That way, you can tell Windows Backup and Restore control panel to look at one drive only. Buy an external hard drive that's at least 1.5 times larger than the data partition (a 500GB external drive to back up your 300GB partition, for example) as a target drive. Now even huge video and photo files are no big deal to back up. Simply put them in the same spot every time—always "D: for data" (for example)—and let the software do its job.

8. Geek Out The Browser
Firefox remains the PC Magazine Editors' Choice Web browser for good reason. It's friendly and infinitely configurable, though problems with memory have been cropping up a lot lately.

That makes Google Chrome 3, which also rates four stars without quite making it to an EC—yet—another good choice because it's about as fast as a Web browser can get come. And if you're willing to switch to the 4.0 beta, you'll also find that same kind of configurability, since Chrome now has support for extensions.

Sure, you could go your whole life using both browsers and never change a thing, but once you install a few key extensions, you'll wonder how you ever lived a plain vanilla browser. If you used Firefox on your old computer, you probably want the same settings, bookmarks, and extensions. Back up the old Firefox using freeware MozBackup, save the file to your new PC, and use MozBackup to restore. It also works with Thunderbird to back up e-mail.

If you want to get anything done online, you better quickly install these programs no matter what browser you use: QuickTime, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Media Player, and a PDF file reader (try the free Foxit Reader; it's faster and smaller than Adobe Reader). —next: Steps 9-12 >

9. Place Your Programs
This is one area where you're on your own: We can't decide what software you want or need. But if you're configuring this new machine for someone else, remember that no PC is complete without at least an office suite, a photo-editing tool, a media manager, and e-mail. And there are free alternatives for almost any program you might need; see our no-cost favorites in The Best Free Software 2009.

If you want the same setup as your previous machine, check the Program Files folder on the C: drive of your old PC. Make a list of the programs there using an online word processor like Google Docs so you can access the list from any computer. Keep in mind that you'll also want to carry over the settings and log-in info for software like e-mail and IM clients.

Gather those monstrosities known as registration codes for your software. Record them somewhere permanent and accessible. Write them on the discs themselves with a thin-tipped Sharpie, keep them in a notebook, get a tattoo; use whatever method you have for preserving data you know you will need again.

Some software is limited to a certain number of machines. For example, iTunes also an Editors' Choice, will play only songs you've bought online on up to five PCs. So check that the software is de-authorized on the old PC if you won't be using it there.

10. Tune-Up Time
On the right system Windows is very fast--Windows 7 is especially impressive—but tweaks always help performance. You have to decide: do you want a system that works great or is goodlooking? Here are a few steps to tweak your new PC's performance in favor of speed, not appearance:

  • Set the desktop to a plain, one-color background. Big photographic wallpaper can slow load time.
  • If you're not into desktop widgets along the screen's edge, or maybe prefer those from another source (like Google), turn off Windows Sidebar. It takes up space on your desktop. In Vista, go to the Windows Sidebar Properties control panel and deselect Start Sidebar when Windows starts. In Windows 7, the control panel is renamed Windows Gadgets. But you can just right click a gadget to remove it and it won't come back unless asked.
  • Aero is the name for the fancy graphics interface that delivers things like transparency in windows. Cool as it looks, Aero can slow down your system. In Vista's Personalization control panel, select Windows Color and Appearance. In the next window, click Open classic appearance properties. Change the color scheme to something else, such as Windows Standard, and click Effects to turn off menu shadows and the ability to see windows as you drag them. In Windows 7, you can deactivate features like transparency individually.
  • Go to the System control panel, click System Protection, and on the Advanced tab, click the button in the Performance box. If you turn off every option under Visual Effects (like animated controls, fading menus, and shadows under your mouse cursor) by selecting "Adjust for best performance," it should speed things up.
  • If you've got a very fast USB thumb drive, insert it and activate Windows ReadyBoost. This cache can help a bit with performance while the drive is inserted.
  • Adjust the power settings, especially if you've got a laptop that is unplugged while in use. The "high performance" pre-sets will drain juice faster.

11. Review Hardware
Starting out with a new PC is the perfect opportunity to reassess the hardware attached to your old PC. Before you start plugging things from that ancient XP machine into that snazzy Windows 7 system, consider carefully how much you need those peripherals. Do you really need that old flatbed scanner now that the pictures you take are digital? For some, the answer will be no. Ancient USB hubs (you probably have more ports on your new box, and you don't want a hub that doesn't support USB 2.0), old-school ink-jet printers,low-capacity portable hard drives could probably all stand a refresh if not outright dumping.

Old hardware moved to a new PC means you need the latest drivers. DriverMax can back up drivers for when you need them later. However, it doesn't upgrade your old XP drivers to new Windows 7 drivers, so you still need to do the leg work. Hit the manufacturer's Web site for your scanner, printer, camera, media player, and so on, and download what you need.

That mouse and keyboard that came with your new system should be considered suspect. PC vendors aren't known for including highly ergonomic input devices. Consider instead the Microsoft Wireless Comfort Desktop 5000, which comes with a wireless ergonomic keyboard and mouse.

In fact, consider an ergonomic keyboard and mouse even if your new PC is a laptop. Especially one you don't move around much. Your wrists will thank you later.

12. Register Everything
It's no guarantee of great technical support, but if you register your PC with the manufacturer, as well as the software and peripherals with their respective creators, you stand a better chance of being recognized when the time does come to call for help—and you know that time will come. Getting a vendor to honor a warranty might depend on knowing when you bought or received the product.

Registering online is relatively painless; you're on the Web anyway, so you might as well. One downside is that registration can also put your name on endless mailing lists, so if that bothers you, deselect that option when signing up. Or, create a special email address that you can use to filter them. For example, Gmail users can stick a random period in the first part of their address (such as and it will still come to the account, but you can filter messages sent to it into special folders. Keep in mind that it's smart to be registered in case there's a recall—you don't want to be the only person walking around with a laptop battery that might catch on fire, do you? —next: Easy, Mac >

Easy, Mac
One thing you don't have to worry about with a Macintosh computer is crapware. Companies like Dell or HP can justify lame extras by claiming they provide functions that are unavailable (or insufficient) in Windows. The MacOS and hardware is a closed system controlled by Apple, a company that prides itself on user experience. It is not about to sully that rep with a bunch of third-party junk; it would have no one to blame but itself. Of course, Apple will gladly sell you some extras, like the iWork and iLife suites.

Mac OS X SnowLeopard (version 10.6 comes with an application firewall to control any connections made by your software to the Internet. You can find it in the System Preferences folder to make adjustments. As for antivirus software, you can buy itbut Apple's market share is still small enough that the Mac is seldom a target of malware.

Migrating files from old Mac to new is a breeze. In the Applications/Utilities folder, find the Migration Assistant. Hook two Macs together with a Firewire cable and run the Assistant. The settings from the older Mac (with Mac OS 10.4.10 or later) will transfer to the new system with Leopard. That includes data like browser bookmarks and user profiles. It doesn't include apps that come with the Mac OS; Apple assumes the new Mac will have the latest Safari, for example. If you've got a modern MacBook, including the Firewire-free MacBook Air, you can migrate files over the wireless network.

If you're going from Mac to Windows, or vice versa, you can always fall back on a USB drive to move files, but you're on your own finding the data you want to transfer. And it's slow. A faster method might be the Media Sharing Cable for PC and Mac from Kensington. This $60 cable allows you to drag and drop files between systems—very handy for really big media. That's a lot to pay however; you might prefer to network the Mac and Windows, even if it is a struggle.

Of course, if you plan to use both the Mac and Windows PCs regularly, real-time synchronization is definitely the way to go, and as stated, our favorite, DropBox, will do that between folders on multiple Windows and Mac OS systems. —next: What to Do with Your Old PC >

What to Do with Your Old PC
You can probably put your old PC to some kind of good use. But sometimes, you want that old dinosaur out of the house. Here are some options to consider:

1. Revitalize it. You may think that ancient laptop is too slow for use, but try installing a Linux-based operating system like Ubuntu. It may turn that geezer into the perfect Web-surfing speed demon. If you want to hand it down to your least PC-literate family member, gOS 3.1 Gadgets will get them started online.

2. Give it away. Whether you hand it down to family or to a local charity, there's got to be someone clamoring for your old, working PC. If you can't find anyone, check for a mailing list of people in a city near you who love free stuff. Your junk is their gold.

3. Pick a dump spot. Find a PC Donation center in your area that will make sure PC toxins don't end up in a landfill. Search Earth or for places that will dispose of electronics responsibly.

No matter what, sanitize that hard drive before you pass it on. At the very least, format the drive and reinstall the operating system before recycling the old PC. If you're extra paranoid, keep in mind that formatting isn't enough to be 100 percent certain data is completely unrecoverable. Specialty software Darik's Boot and Nuke or Active@ KillDisk - Hard Drive Eraser will do the job free, but the job can take hours and hours.

So then there's the Swiss cheese option: Take the drive out to the workshop and drill holes through it. Bullet holes will do the same thing, but that's overkill, even for your data.,2817,2337550,00.asp

from PC Magazine.

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