You have a brand new computer. Awesome! This small metal box holds the key to unlocking a vast world of possibilities. It can help you with everything from juggling your finances to keeping in touch with your family to blowing off some steam on, uh, Steam.
A new computer is not like a brand new car. You can’t turn the key and go. Okay, maybe you can–but you shouldn’t. It is possible to make your computer safer, more efficient, and more ready for the future by performing a few simple tasks when it first starts up. This is how to set up a new desktop computer the right way, one step at a time.
Run Windows Update on your new PC
The first step is the most difficult. The first step is the most tedious. The bad news is that this can take minutes to complete depending on how long your computer has been on the shelf. It has to be done.
Microsoft issues new Windows patches at minimum once per month. The most recent “major” upgrade for the operating system came in the form of the ho-hum Windows 10 November 2021 Update; those larger “milestone” releases occurred twice per year in the past, but will slow to one per year in the future. Windows 11, on the other hand, just launched in October, so laptops with that installed should be pretty current. You could miss important security fixes or new features if your computer isn’t properly patched.
First, ensure your computer is connected to the internet. In Windows 10, open the Start menu and head to Settings > Update and security > Check for Updates. The system will scan for updates and locate them. After installing them, reboot your computer. Hopefully it won’t take too long, but in worst-case scenarios updating a new computer can take an hour or more.
Windows will automatically download and install any new updates that are released in the future. This is all you need to do!
If your new laptop came with Windows 10 installed, you may see the option to upgrade to Windows 11. We recommend skipping Windows 11 for now. There’s not only a new interface to learn, but the fresh-out-of-the-oven operating system also has multiple rough edges and outright bugs in these early days. Feel free to read our exhaustive Windows 11 review and decide for yourself if it’s offered, though.
Install your favorite browser
Surfing the internet in an unfamiliar browser can be like trying to dance while wearing another person’s shoes. Although it is possible, it’s not very attractive. Here are direct links for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera if Edge isn’t your thing.
Chrome has been our go-to pick for years, but the Chromium-based version of Microsoft’s Edge upset the long-time champion in our most recent round of web browser testing. Edge is the best browser you can use right now if you don’t mind breaking away from Chrome, and better yet, it’s Windows 10’s default. If your tastes lean more exotic, you could always dabble with one of these 10 obscure, highly specialized browsers, too.
Set up your new PC’s security
Now, that you have slipped into something more comfortable it is time to put your security ducks on the table.
Windows ships with Windows Security enabled by default unless your laptop or desktop includes a third-party antivirus trial. Windows Security is a solid solution, although not too detailed. It’s great at sniffing malware and should be sufficient for most users. Although it isn’t the best anti-malware software, it does offer some useful features. You can’t even schedule scans! PCWorld’s guide to the best antivirus for Windows PCs can help you find all the right tools to keep your PC protected.
We also have a guide to building a solid free security suite, but it takes more legwork and hassle than premium antivirus options.
Clean your computer’s bloatware
Now that you have your defenses in place, it is time to get rid of the junk from your computer.
You can skip this step if your Windows PC is already built. You don’t need to have extra junk cluttering your hard drive with straight Windows installations. However, big-name PC manufacturers often ship boxes that are full of bloatware.
The easiest way to get rid of junk is to type “Add and Remove Programs” into the Windows search box. Next, select the option at the top. You can go through the list and remove any unneeded programs. You shouldn’t delete any apps made by your hardware manufacturer. For example, leave software from Intel, AMD Nvidia Microsoft and HP alone. However, you can remove bundleware. Antivirus trials, Candy Crush and Spotify are some of the most popular preinstalled apps.
If you’d rather nuke everything from above, Microsoft also offers a downloadable tool that installs a clean copy of the most recent version of Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro but without any apps that aren’t part of Microsoft’s default Windows 10 setup. It seriously doesn’t mess around, as Microsoft drives home in the tool’s description: “Using this tool will remove all apps that don’t come standard with Windows, including other Microsoft apps such as Office. It will also delete most pre-installed applications, including support apps and drivers .
This tool will wipe out any product keys or digital licenses associated with that software too, so if you want to keep some of the software being blasted away (like Office, say), be sure to jot down the product key before using Microsoft’s fresh-start tool, using something like Belarc Advisor to find it.
Fill your new computer with software
Why do you need to get rid of all the junk and clutter? It’s silly to make space for your stuff. New hardware just begs for software to match!
Outfitting your rig is an intensely personal affair, but if you’re looking for suggestions, PCWorld has a guide to the best free programs that are so helpful, so handy, so downright useful that they should be welcome on pretty much any PC. These roundups and software guides will help you find the best programs:
- The best free Microsoft Office alternatives
- 5 free Windows power tools we can’t live without
- The best password managers
- The best PDF editors
- 7 free programs every PC gamer needs
- The best VPNs
- 5 free Photoshop alternatives for Windows
- How to play DVDs in Windows 10 for free
Head towards Ninite when it comes time to actually install all that software. You can install multiple free applications from Ninite at once. It even disables the crapware that so many free programs attempt to sneak in during the installation process. This handy tool takes the hassle out of installing new programs on a computer.
If your new laptop came with Windows 11 preinstalled, you might be uncomfortable with its radical new Start menu and taskbar design. Consider checking out StartAllBack or Stardock’s Start11 if so. Both of these $5 programs help you reconfigure the look and feel of Windows 11 in ways the operating system itself doesn’t. It’s possible to get it back to normal in no time.
Back up your new computer
After all this, your computer is now ready to rock. It’s secure, up-to-date, clean, free from junk and loaded with software that meets your needs. It’s almost over! But we’re not done juuuuuust yet.
Now is a good time to make a copy or an image of your primary drive, the one Windows boots from. If your primary drive fails, you can create a clone of it or an image to make a replica. A snapshot of your system in its current, updated, bloatware-free, customized state will save you the hassle of having to recreate Windows from scratch if necessary.
What is the difference between a image and a clone? A clone is essentially a copy of your hard disk on another drive. It includes files, master boot record, etc. Although the clone takes up all of your hard drive, it can be used as a plug-and-play device if ever needed. Images on the other side create one, huge files that contain all your stuff. Although it takes more effort to make an image backup, you can store it in a much smaller file. Lincoln Spector has a more detailed comparison if you’re interested.
There are excellent backup tools available that let you create clones and images, which we cover in detail in PCWorld’s roundups of the best Windows backup software and best online backup services. Do you not want to pay for data security? We’ve also rounded up the best free backup options, and if you don’t mind performing more technical gruntwork to save some cash, we explain how to use Windows’ native imaging tool step-by-step in PCWorld’s guide to creating a free, foolproof backup system. Use something though. If disaster strikes, regular backups will save your data.
Optional: Update your new PC’s drivers
This step is not for everyone. A driver refusing to cooperate for any reason is one of the most common things that can cause trouble in your computer. If your from-the-box desktop PC is working fine and you only ever plan to perform basic tasks like surfing the web, working with Office, and stuff like that, feel free to forget your computer even has drivers and keep on keeping on. Windows Update should have found reasonably new drivers for your hardware.
If you’re building a custom rig or using a gaming computer, it’s worth checking if there are any newer drivers for your hardware. Windows Update doesn’t always have the latest driver updates. However, new drivers for your motherboard or network cards can offer performance and feature updates. To ensure the best performance in new games, gamers will need to regularly update their graphics card drivers. (Fortunately, you can do that easily using Nvidia and AMD’s must-have graphics suites, and they’ll let you know when new ones are avai