What to Do Before You Use That New PC

What to do before you use that new PCThere’s a time for work and there’s a time for play, particularly when you are getting paid. Last Friday I combined both occasions into one for my end-of-the-work-week article — it was a special occasion, after all, and I thought a look at Second Life might provide a welcome relief from the reality of our everyday lives. Today is Monday, however, and that means it’s back to the grind for most of us. There’s little time for fun and games. That said, anything that can make even the most mundane of tasks easier has the potential of inserting a bit of fun (or at least, relief) into your workday — unless, of course, you prefer to make life more challenging for yourself.

This weekend I finally decided to make my work life a little easier: I purchased a new personal computer. It’s been a while since I’ve purchased a new PC; most of the time I opt for replacing components I need to keep my old machine(s) running. Recently I brought home a motherboard and CPU I found at a place called Unclaimed Baggage Center (a store which sells exactly what is described in its name). The combination replaced my old Pentium 4 and brought my PC well into the 21st century. Unfortunately I was only able to use it for a few months before it began behaving erratically a few weeks ago. I’m in the process of troubleshooting that monstrosity (One of my colleagues, LockerGnome editor Bob Fogarty, has referred to me as “Dr. Frankenputer”), but in the meantime I’ve decided to pitch a few hundred dollars into a brand new, packaged PC rather than continue pouring time and money into the home-built one. I need something reliable and dependable right now, not something I have to troubleshoot.

So I went out to a big box retailer and bought myself a new PC. I bought one of the inexpensive ones in a price range that would be extremely difficult to beat if I was assembling the computer from its components myself. It’s been so long since I’ve purchased a new PC in this manner that I’ve forgotten what to do with it first. Do I just jump in and start driving this baby, or should I wax and polish her first? Do I need to put her on my insurance policy? Do I hand out cigars to all my friends to celebrate the occasion?

There’s really not a whole lot I can think of doing before placing my new computer on the launch pad, but I’ll note the few tasks I find essential for using a new computer.

Clean Your Work Space

This may seem obvious but how many of us actually do it? Cleaning your work area before bringing just about any new component into the mix — a new chair, a desktop computer, a fish bowl — should be the first thing we do. Not only is there potential for dust to immediately begin clogging up the insides of your desktop computer, but even a cluttered workspace can cause immediate problems. Have you ever placed a computer or speakers underneath your desk, only to find yourself accidentally kicking the side of the box or potentially damaging your speaker’s woofers? I have. I don’t know about you but I like to keep my new toys shiny for as long as I can. My 2005 iPod hadn’t even lost much of its luster until I hastily took it apart to install a new battery, scratching it up a bit in the process. And if you tend not to go in for the retailer’s service plan, you don’t want to kick around your computer too much. So I intend to vacuum and organize the space where I’ll rest my new PC before I plug it in and fire it up.

Install All Updates and Service Packs

Now, this may also seem obvious, but there are too many of us out there who immediately begin the surfing the web on our new computers without properly protecting it. When we first turn on our computers and connect them to the Internet, we should always immediately download all of the operating system’s updates and service packs so as to make certain our systems are fully securitized and now vulnerable to security threats. Even the most expensive Ultrabooks are more vulnerable to catching a virus or being hacked than a PC which is equipped with all the proper armor the updates and security packs will provide.

Remove Bloatware

All pre-built PCs include software that can (and in some cases, should) be removed right away. I’m going to remove all “trial” software from my system before I even connect to the Internet to download all the operating system’s updates. Some people prefer to run their systems for awhile before they remove the bloatware (that is, the extra software that can tend to affect a system’s performance); they may find they do in fact wish to utilize the software, regardless of its affect on system performance. I intend to remove any of Microsoft’s trial software if I already own a recent version of the same software, and any software that appears to inject its hooks into my system in order to provide a “better” experience. For example, Toshiba Satellite laptops usually provide some configuration tools intended to make it easier for us to connect to the Internet and monitor our network connections; I prefer to remove all those utilities and instead use Windows’ built-in tools.

Clone Your Drive

Once I’m done installing and removing everything I desire, and once I’ve installed a few other things I’m certain I’ll need for my system (such as my favorite web browser and drivers for peripherals I use), I’ll make a clone of my drive so that I’ll be able to easily restore it in the future (should I ever need to). Once that’s done, I may test the clone — perhaps on another PC, or to an external drive connected to my new computer — to ensure the integrity of the image. If everything is copacetic, it may be time for me to start working (and playing) with my new computer.

What are some things I’m forgetting about in this article? What do you do whenever you bring home a new personal computer? Let me know as soon as you can so that I can put into practice your idea(s) before it’s too late!

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.

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  • Michael Stokes

    I also uninstall any trials of Norton or McAfee, and instead install Microsoft Security Essentials or another “lighter” AV program.

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      Yes, I’ll probably be removing those right away. Norton has a bad rep for bloating and slowing systems but I understand the most recent version of Norton was developed from the ground-up and is much less taxing on system resources. So I might try it for awhile. Maybe.

  • Jonathan Wakeman

    I reread this article the next time a buy a new computer.

  • Matthew Cheung

    Nice tips and suggestions!

  • Moondogg

    If the new PC does not come with a set of restore disks, I burn a set before I do any thing else, that way if something goes wrong, you can restore it to factory condition!

  • John

    I usually just find it easier installing Windows from scratch as soon as I get it. It’ll be about the same time doing that versus uninstalling all crapware etc =

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      Could be!

  • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

    Good call. I’ll be doing that, too (if the PC doesn’t come with a set of restore discs).

  • Peter

    I would like to know how to get rid of information on my old computer before I give it to someone.

  • Curtis Coburn

    So much to do. When I got my new laptop, I don’t think I even got to use it the first day I got it because I had to update if for like 2 hours, and install all the programs I want. Sometimes, maybe a mac will just be easier. Surly it wont waste your time.

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      Thanks for your comment, Curtis. Most of us consider Macs issue-free due to the relative dearth of threats to Mac OS X. So many of us don’t even install anti-virus or anti-spyware/malware applications on our Macs. Still, we’re taking a risk by not doing so, however miniscule it may seem.

      By the way, I just installed Mac OS X Leopard (an earlier generation than the previous version) on an old PowerBook today, and it took some time to download and install the updates for it, too.

  • Luqman

    You should install an antivirus or anti spyware before begins to surf the web in case you might catch a virus or spyware on the way. Or if you already have an antivirus or anti spyware installed, then you need to update your virus or spyware definitions first before browsing the internet in case the virus definitions is out of date.

  • Ahoier

    It’s quite funny cause this bloatware is so common someone decided to make a program in AutoIT called pc decrapifIer…I think it was originally targeted at Dell but them they got in trouble and remanded it to simply pc decrapifier LOL. But ya the bps works great to remote this bloatware….though gotta say the last two PCs I got…an eMachines and an acer….they didn’t have much alma to them at all! So I think some manufacturers started getting the hint…there boxes were only loaded with Google apps for the most part…my theory is Google must get a cut for allowing their apps to be packaged on their systems…

  • Karl Entner

    I’ve always suggested that to many people that get a new computer. Get the install or recover cd’s for it. If not and there is a utility to let you do that to burn it to the dvd. I go for that every times. And suggest that to all my clients. cause you never know when you have to redo a partition. 

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  • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

    Oh, great — so you mean this Dell I’m about to fire up is going to be full of bloatware?

  • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

    Yes, that’s another important thing. Did I fail to mention that?

  • http://www.caseyfrennier.com/ Casey Frennier

    I usually make a set of restore disks, install avast! free, uninstall everything, install updates, safe clean the registry, optimize a few settings to my liking, and install RocketDock.

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      RocketDock? Y’all are really make me use Google tonight!

  • http://twitter.com/compublues Mark Hazeleger

    Remove the bloatware and trialware and subsequently install all the uitilities you actually do use in one go without  toolbars and endlessly confirming installation screens through ninite.com…
     Get the most recent drivers for your printer form the manufacturer website, don’t install those from the disks you still have in your drawer (which may still support Windows 98…)

  • Johan Lidström

    Well, if the machine is for myself, after I get it hooked up, I boot from a live linux rescue cd, backup the rescue partition, mbr and partition map text dump to another machine, and then I zero the first 2048 byte, and the last 2 meg. And when that is done, I install what I need on it.

    • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

      I’m taking notes. I just removed a brand new PC from its box today and it comes without a restoration disc, which I guess is standard practice these days. I installed many of the apps I intend to use, configured those apps, and attempted to use the restorations disc creation software the computer vendor had installed with the OS (which is Windows 7 Home Premium). Guess what? The creation software hangs. So no restoration disc.

      I’ll probably image the partition using Clonezilla or something — either that or use your method. I might go ahead and wipe the drive clean and install Windows 7 Ultimate first, though.

    • frozen_dude

      Oh, and I really should explain why I erase those specific values.
      First I erase the 2048 bytes at the start because that will erase the mbr (byte 0-511), and the partition table (byte 512+, end depends on OS; 2048 should ensure that all table-type numbers are 0).
      And 2 meg at the end because that is where GPT (as used in windows 7, and some linuxes) stores it’s backup table, and if the disk has GPT and you forget this step, the OS install will (or rather might, it’s supposed to, but not all follow standards that good) actually recover the partition map from the backup.
      That way your disk will look to the OS as a spanking new drive (it ignores the middle parts).

  • Brandon Ragoo

    Before making a cone of your drive I would prefer to customize the OS to suit my needs.