5 Steps to Setting Up Your New Laptop

Set up your new laptop in no time

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A new laptop or computer is like a blank slate: ready to be customized with your preferences and programs. Whether this is your first computer or your fiftieth, these 5 steps for setting up your new computer will create an important foundation going forward, with the security, most important applications, and settings to prep your laptop for full-time use. ~ May 30, 2011

1. Get Rid of Bloatware

Bloatware, or software installed by the manufacturer that you don't want (such as trial versions of picture greeting software), is less common in new computers these days--and definitely less likely to be in business computers as opposed to consumer computers.

Bloatware is still around, though, and if you want a lean, mean computing machine, you may prefer to wipe your drive of these unwanted programs. It's easiest to do this at the start, as soon as you get your laptop.

One way to get rid of the bloatware is to just use the regular program uninstall feature in Windows' Control Panel, but this can still leave your system with stray entries in the system's registry. A cleanup utility like Ccleaner can more thoroughly get rid of all traces of unwanted programs. It's free and easy to use.

Otherwise, you can wipe your laptop's hard drive and install your operating system from scratch (provided you have the OS installation disks or you make your own for this purpose). About's Guide to PC Support has some instructions for how to do a clean install.

Now you'll really be starting with a clean slate.

2. Set Up Laptop Security

Password-protect your user accounts.

When you set up your user account(s) on the laptop, make sure you add a strong password: One that has a combination of character types and is long enough. (See Is My Password Strong Enough?) Because laptops are more easily stolen or lost, you want to make sure anyone who finds your laptop won't be able to access its contents.

Change the Administrator password. The default Administrator account is disabled by default in Windows 7 and Vista, but if you're using an older version of Windows, you'll want to change the default Administrator password (find the account under the Control Panel > User Accounts.

Install security programs. The first programs you should install on your laptop are security ones to help protect against viruses and other threats. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Antivirus/Anti-Malware: Unless you have a disk with the A/V program already, you'll need to hop online and download then install the software. For a free option, take a look at Microsoft Security Essentials or avast! Free; both provide protection against viruses and spyware. You'll need antivirus protection if you're on a Mac as well; ClamXav is a free, open-source antivirus program for Macs.
  • Firewall: You should also turn on Windows' Firewall and Windows Defender if they're not turned on already. For more robust protection, consider a dedicated firewall that may include email scanning, adware removal, and more configurable firewall options. Comodo Firewall is a free option, but About's Wireless/Networking site offers more top firewall picks for both Windows and Mac.
  • Laptop Recovery: Anti-theft software for laptops can help you retrieve a lost or stolen laptop--but you need to install it before you lose your laptop or it gets swiped. Prey (previously reviewed), is free laptop recovery software that has a light footprint, so there's no reason not to install it.
  • Encryption software: For true mobile security, it's critical you encrypt all sensitive information stored on your laptop. The open source utility TrueCrypt can create an encrypted volume on your laptop to store that important information, and it can encrypt your entire system as well.

3. Get System Updates

With your antivirus program installed, now check for system updates.

On Windows, go to the Control Panel > System and Security to find the options to check for and install updates. On Mac, go to the Apple menu and click Software Update.

4. Install Your Essential Programs and Documents

Install all the programs that you need for everyday use, including office applications and your email program (unless you use cloud-based apps for these purposes). I've posted a few programs on my list of essential applications, which include backup software, a password manager, and syncing programs.

Two great utilities that can save you time and make installing all your favorite apps a breeze are AllMyApps and Ninite. These app installers for Windows give you a one-click installer for popular programs like Google Chrome, Skype, VLc, and more and keep them up to date.

If you use a syncing program like Dropbox or SugarSync, setting up future computers is much easier, since your documents will automatically be synced over. Otherwise, you'll probably need to transfer your files from your old computer to your new one. There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Use Windows Easy Transfer, a wizard built into Windows 7 to move your files and program settings from the old computer to the new one. You'll find it on a new Windows 7 laptop under the Start menu > Getting Started > Transfer your files.
  • You could also connect both PCs to a router (for speed, a wired connection is preferred) and then copy the folders over.
  • Or you could connect both PCs together with a crossover cable, a special type of Ethernet cable. There's a nice tutorial for how to do this on Dr. Bill Bailey.net

    5. Backup Your System and Create a Custom Install Disc

    Once you've got everything set up the way you like, it's a good idea to backup the entire system. Create your DVD backups or put the backup on an external hard drive and label it with the name of your laptop, the date, and something like "initial install." This way, if you ever want to go back to a clean setup, you can restore this backup. While you're at it, set up your automatic backups (daily, weekly, and monthly both onsite and offsite, e.g., to an external hard drive and to a cloud service).

    You can also create your own "slipstreamed" Windows installation disc (DVD-R or USB stick) so in the future you can install Windows with your preferences, updated drivers, and other customizations. The RT7Lite utility can help you do this (Lifehacker has a tutorial on to how to set this up). Enjoy your new laptop!