Congratulations, you’re the proud owner of a new Windows PC! Maybe you found one under the Christmas tree, or finally decided to ditch that old laptop you’ve been hauling around since high school. Either way, you’ve got some work ahead of you.
Getting that PC into fighting shape, paring down all that bloatware, and getting your apps installed is always a bit of a pain, but we’re here to ease that transition. We’ve amassed a codex of everything you need to know, and need to do, to get your new PC up to speed.
Whether it’s a sleek new laptop, or a big bad gaming desktop with lights and sound effects, your PC is going to start asking you all sorts of questions when you first set it up. The first of which is one of the most important.
Setting up a Microsoft account — or not
One of the first decisions you’ll have to make when setting up a new PC a crucial one: local account, or Microsoft account? No doubt when you first started up your new PC, Windows 10 asked you to login and it’s now pestering you about setting up a Microsoft account.
Now, you might already have one. If you have an Xbox Live account, an Outlook email account, a OneDrive account, or even a Skype account, then you already have a Microsoft account. Should you use it to setup your new PC? Probably, but if you don’t it’s not going to make a huge difference in your Windows 10 experience.
Using a Microsoft account is a little more secure, because it allows you to setup two-step verification, and receive notifications related to your PC. Plus, it’s just easier in the long run. If you forget your password, you can always reset it online or from a different device.
MAKE IT YOURS, WITH PERSONALIZATION
Before we get to any of the other important security and driver updates, we need to make sure you can actually tolerate looking at your new PC, that means picking a wallpaper and adjusting your display scale. Windows 10 comes bundled with a standard array of wallpapers, and for this step we’re just going to use one of the defaults.
Right click your desktop, click “Personalize.” From the window that pops up, just choose one of the available wallpapers or hit “Browse” to open one you downloaded – then choose an appropriately sized image (probably 1,920 x 1,080).
You have some other options here, down where it says “Choose a fit,” you can decide how Windows should fit your chosen image to your display. Now that we have a wallpaper, it’s time to check on your display scale. Just like before, right click on your desktop but this time click “Display Settings”.
If your text and icons seem a little too big and stretched out, you might want to turn your scale down. Similarly, if everything is tiny and hard to see, turning it up should take care of that. Warning: This scaling feature only works with apps updated to take advantage of it. Older applications won’t change size.
Next, click on “Advanced display settings,” and make sure that your resolution is set to the maximum available for your display. If it isn’t, then your text, windows, and pretty much everything will look pixelated and weird.
Now if you have trouble seeing small items on your display, which can be an issue if you have a big (1440p or 4K) display, your best bet is increasing your resolution, and increasing your display scale to compensate. That way images, videos, and multi-media will display properly but you’ll also be able to keep your text and display elements nice and large.
While you’re in there, take note of what your display’s resolution is. That’s the number you want to keep in mind when you’re looking for wallpapers in the future.
Use Windows Update to get the latest features
Now you need to decide how often you want your PC to check for, download, and install updates. Not if — when. You need to keep Windows updated in order to keep your PC secure and running properly, and setting aside time for your PC to keep itself up to date is the first step.
In the Settings menu, click on “Update & security.” From here you can check for updates manually, and decide when your PC will download and install updates on its own. Under “Change active hours,” you can tell your PC what times of day you’re typically using it, so Windows Update will download and install updates outside of those hours.
So if you tell your PC your active hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., it’ll only download and install updates outside of those hours. Under “Restart options” you can also determine when your PC will reboot itself to install updates, instead of bugging you when you’re trying to work.
Similarly, under “Advanced options,” you can determine whether or not Windows Update should update other apps, and if you want to let Windows Update login by itself to finish the setup process.
If you’re a little daunted by all the options and settings here, just set them up as follows:
- Set active hours to 8AM and 11PM
- Under “Advanced options,” check both boxes.
That’s it. Windows Update should take care of itself from here on out.
Clearing out the clutter, revealing the unseen
Okay, so we’ve setup your basics, and we’re almost ready to get started on the fun stuff. But first, let’s take out the trash. Click your Start menu, and type the word “Uninstall.” Now, what’s going to happen is your PC will just start searching for settings and apps which contain that word. The first one that should pop up is Programs and Features. That’s the one we want, so click it, and let’s get started.
The window that pops up contains a list of every application and game installed on your PC. What we’re looking for here is “bloatware,” applications that don’t really serve any purpose which manufacturers include in order to promote their own products and try to get you to use their software – even if you don’t need it.
The problem with bloatware is it can make your PC slower, it can take up unnecessary amounts of space, and in some cases might even gather data on your usage habits without your express consent.
There are two ways to get rid of bloatware. You can do it manually if you’re confident you can spot it and remove it safely, or you can do it automatically with tools like Decrap.
If you’re going to do it manually, here are a few pointers. On the programs and features window, sort the apps by name, and look for anything that starts with the name of your PC manufacturer (Dell, Toshiba, Razer, etc).
Standard Dell bloatware, for instance, includes applications like Dell Stage, Dell Digital Delivery, and Dell DataSafe. Make a list of these, and then open to see what each does. Sometimes the apps are useful. For example, gaming laptops usually have an app that controls customizable keyboard lighting, and if you delete it, you won’t be able to change the lighting. But most apps aren’t of much use.
While we’re tooling around in settings, let’s disable hidden files. There will come a day when you’ll need to dig into your PC’s file structure and access the AppData or Windows files, and when you do it’s going to be easier if your hidden files are laid bare for all to see.
INSTALLING USEFUL APPLICATIONS
Next up, we’re going to cover some of the most useful apps your PC should have, and that’s going to put a lot of them in direct competition. First up, it’s time to pick a browser. A year ago, we probably would’ve just told you to download Google Chrome and call it a day, but the browser landscape has changed in 2016. You not only have more options than ever, a few of them are pretty good.
We put together a detailed breakdown here , where we compared the strengths and weaknesses of Chrome, Firefox, Vivaldi, and Microsoft Edge, and put them all through a series of tests. Chrome still came out on top as the all-around winner, but if you’re in the mood for something different, there are a number of solid, reliable, options available to you.
Next up, it’s time to pick an antivirus. Just like browsers, you have a lot of really reliable options available, so head over to our breakdown to check out a full analysis of the top antivirus and anti-malware apps on the market today.
After your PC is all setup, you’re probably going to sign into your social media accounts, your bank accounts, and all those other services you use on a daily basis, right? Well, with that in mind, you should consider a password manager.
Instead of keeping all your passwords in your head and potentially using the same password over and over, a password manager allows you to generate unique passwords for each service you use and store them securely within the app. We highlighted some of our personal favorites over here, if you’re interested but a little unsure of which manager you should choose.
Well, that about covers it. Before you go, be sure to check out Ninite for any apps you still need to download. There you can find Java runtimes, messaging apps, even some of the apps we mentioned above.
It’s a great tool for just grabbing common software in one neat, tidy package without having to navigate a bunch of seedy websites with big “download” buttons all over the place.
Good luck with your new PC!