I wish I could say you’re ready to go, but out of the box, no computer is perfect; Windows 10 PCs need some adjustment before they’re ready for everyday use.
You need to make your new system safe and personalize it with your own preferences. There are programs on the drive to get rid of and other software you should add immediately. If you haven’t yet been introduced to Windows 10, or it’s been a while since you’ve set up a new PC, we’ll walk you through it. If your new baby is a Mac, you’ve got a much shorter to-do list.
After you’ve made the basic initial connections (power, plus monitor, keyboard, and mouse as needed), Windows 10 will ask you to do various things, like setting your language, time zone, and clock and calendar. Microsoft will push you to create a login—preferably by creating or using an existing Microsoft account—the same you’d use for accessing things like your Xbox, Skype, OneDrive, Office on the Web, etc.—essentially any service Microsoft provides. The upside is that by using that, you can sync your wallpapers and settings among all the Windows PCs you own. It’s linking your PC to the cloud.
You may not want that. So instead consider creating a local account. This isn’t as easy as it should be, but the secret is to disconnect from the internet when setting up Windows 10.
You may also want multiple accounts on the PC for use by the kids or other family. You don’t have to set that up now, you can do that anytime. Here’s how.
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, shovelware, and perhaps the most accurate, crapware. That’s because a lot of it is just that: useless crap. Vendors install it under the guise of helping you out, but mostly they do it to get money from the software makers. The major system builders are reducing the amount of extra software (or at least making sure it doesn’t appear all over your system), but there is a long way to go. You’re pretty much guaranteed to find extra pre-loaded software on a retail-bought consumer system, less so on a business-oriented one.
Here’s how to rid your PC of crapware, but on a new PC, it boils down to this: if it’s got a lot of extra garbage-software on it, use the built-in Windows 10 Fresh Start tool first to reset the operating system back to the basics. It will hopefully be free of all the extras (except the Microsoft-supplied stuff, but you can uninstall most of that).
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…
You should really pay to protect your system from malware. Our current Editors’ Choice security packages include familiar names like Bitdefender Internet Security and Norton 360 Deluxe, which include more than anti-malware tools, like firewall, antispam tools for your email, even parental controls to keep the kids who are online inline.
If you don’t want to pay, you still need protection. There are plenty of decent free antivirus programs to be had. Our current recommendation is Kaspersky Security Cloud Free. While the Microsoft Windows Defender Security Center antivirus that is built in to Windows 10 has made big strides in the last few years, it’s still better to get a third-party antivirus that does more. (When you install the third-party antivirus, Windows Defender goes dormant, and only comes back to life if it detects that other antivirus isn’t running. Because running multiple antivirus products isn’t always good for Windows.)
It used to be that you really needed some personal firewall software to protect your PC from illicit access via the internet. You may even get one as part of a security suite. But that said, we don’t really think you need an extra firewall these days. The firewall integrated in Windows 10 does the trick, along with the firewall you have likely running on your home networking router.
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. Check for them via Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update. Windows 10 gets a major update twice a year, and you may be behind depending on when Windows 10 was installed on your computer. You may have quite a few updates—big updates—to download. Let this process run its course. Walk away, eat some leftovers, watch an Adam Sandler movie. It’s going to take a while, and the Sandler flick will seem to last forever.
When the downloads are done, run Windows Update again. At this stage, updates tend to beget updates. Three times should be sufficient. By now, you should have a truly pristine Windows 10 system.
Delay updates by seven days if they’re getting to be a bit much. Or set the active hours that updates happen in the background, so they only happen overnight or weekends.
Set Up Recovery
After something catastrophic happens, some techies used to prefer to reinstall an OS. That’s not something you do in Windows 10—there aren’t 30 floppy discs to insert anymore, though you could buy it on a USB drive, I suppose. Instead, you’d use the Recovery utility to get a fresh start, which requires all those uninstalls and updates again. Instead, back up your pristine Windows 10 system right now, so you can restore everything quickly after a disaster.
Here’s the step-by-step on how to create a recovery drive for future use, plus the steps on using that drive for a full restore. Depending on the system, Windows will either ask you to hook up an external USB drive or use a local drive partition for backup purposes. Or if you’re old-school, insert writeable DVDs (assuming you have a disc drive).
Windows can also help you create a System Image, which can help recover your base-line system in case it won’t boot up. You can find it by typing Control Panel\System and Security\Backup and Restore (Windows 7) into Windows Explorer (yes, it says Windows 7, don’t panic). Making an image is like taking a snapshot-in-time of your current system—restoring from it won’t bring back your files and programs, which is why we recommend doing it now, at the beginning of your new PC’s life.
Windows used to make it simple to move files from your old computer to the new one with the Windows Easy Transfer utility. But that’s not in Windows 10, so Microsoft recommends that you use Laplink’s PCmover Express. You can use the free version, but to move your old programs over, you need the $19.95 commercial version.
You can always use old-school sneaker-net—copy files from the old PC to a USB drive, then copy them over to your new machine—but if you’ve got a lot of files, this could take a while. Your fastest alternative is actually to use your home network to transfer files.
The easiest method, however, is to already have all your old PC files backed up in the cloud with a cloud storage and file-sharing service like Dropbox, IDrive (an Editors’ Choice), or Microsoft OneDrive (which is an Editors’ Choice and integrated with Windows). Run it on all your PCs to back up all your files, then install it on a new PC and all the files across all your devices will appear. Once it’s installed and files are transferred, you’ve also got your file backup system in place, so it’s a win/win.
Pick Out a Better Browser
Windows 10 comes with Edge as its pre-installed primary web browser. In fact, you can’t uninstall Edge, because, Microsoft claims, too many things rely on having at least one browser installed. Edge now uses the same underlying system as Google Chrome, so you know that web pages will most likely render the way they’re supposed too, plus you can use all the Google Chrome extensions. You can always install Chrome, like almost 70 percent of people do.
Mozilla Firefox remains a favorite of ours. When it comes to extensibility and supporting standards, Firefox wrote the book. You could go your whole life using a plain, vanilla browser and never change a thing, but once you add on a few key extensions, you’ll wonder how you ever lived like that.
Microsoft Internet Explorer—IE to its few friends—still comes with every copy of Windows 10 because some workplaces require it. Microsoft hopes that’ll change. Someday. That’s the price of success.
Place Your Programs
We can’t decide for you what software is most necessary for your needs. We can say generically that no PC is complete without at least an office suite, a photo-editing tool, and a web browser (see above). There are free alternatives for almost any program you might need, many of which are web-based so you can use them right in the browser. See our no-cost favorites in The Best Free Software.
If you want the same setup as your previous machine, check the Program Files folder on the C: drive of your old Windows PC. Make a list of the programs there. You’ll also want to carry over the settings and log-in info all your communications like emails and direct messages.
Two other key pieces of software to consider: a VPN to keep your internet traffic private; and a password manager to help you keep track of the hundreds of credentials you’ll need to log in at services across the web and on your PC.
Some software is limited to a certain number of machines. For example, iTunes will only play songs you’ve bought online on up to five PCs (and seriously, you should update to a music streaming subscription). Anyway, check that the software is de-authorized on your old PC if you won’t be using it there ever again.
On the right hardware, Windows 10 is impressively fast, but tweaks always help performance.
In the past, Windows could benefit a lot from using third-party tune-up software. You can still find plenty of that—Iolo System Mechanic remains our Editors’ Choice in that regard. You can do one click and have it optimize a lot.
That said, many of the tools you need to optimize Windows 10 are built right in. They just lack that one-click option to make it all work. You can read all about the best options in How to Tune Up Your Windows 10 PC for Free. That includes using the disk defragmenter, freeing up extra drive space, setting what apps launch at startup, and more.
We also have 12 Tips to Speed Up Windows 10, with hardware options like adding more RAM (max it out!) and upgrading to a solid-state drive if you haven’t put one in that new PC.
Maybe the best tip in the lot: type adjust appearance in the search on the Windows taskbar. In the Performance Options that pops up, turn off animations, fades, shadows, etc. by clicking Adjust for best performance at the top. Windows may not look as pretty, but it’ll be a bit faster.
Review Extra Hardware
Getting a new PC is the perfect opportunity to reassess the hardware peripherals attached to your old PC. Before you start plugging things from your Windows 7 machine into that snazzy Windows 10 system, consider carefully. Do you really need that ancient flatbed scanner now that the pictures you take are all on the phone? Old USB hubs, ink-jet printers, and 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—that’s the software that lets peripherals work well with Windows. If you’re hooking up old hardware, even if Windows recognizes it and all seems well, it behooves you to seek out the latest, greatest drivers. You can use a utility like Iobit Driver Booster or DriverPack Solution to assist in that.
Not everything new is automatically good: That mouse and keyboard that came with your new desktop PC system should be considered suspect. PC vendors aren’t known for including highly ergonomic or well-built input devices. Consider instead the something from our collection of best wireless keyboards, or best mechanical keyboards. For those still new to the work-at-home world, 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.
It’s no guarantee of great technical support, but if you register your PC with the manufacturer, as well as register 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 that time will come. Getting a vendor to honor a warranty frequently depends on knowing when you bought or received the product. 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?
It’s also smart to purchase your new PC with a credit card that offers its own extended warranty option, because the extended warranty from the reseller is typically not worth it.
Registering online is relatively painless. 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 you can use to filter them. For example, Gmail users can stick a random period in the first part of their address (such as email@example.com) and it will still come to the account, but you can filter messages sent to it into special folders.
What to Do With Your Old PC
You can probably put your old PC to some kind of good use. Turn it into something new (a Linux workstation! A home server! A hotspot!), give it to someone in need, or recycle it (if you trust recyclers anymore). There are a slew of options; we list several in 15 Great Uses for an Old PC.
No matter what, sanitize that hard drive before you pass it on. At the very least, format the drive(s) before recycling the old PC. If you’re sending it off with Windows 10, do the full factory reset to the original, out-of-the-box settings. If you’re extra paranoid, formatting isn’t enough to be 100 percent certain your old data on a drive is completely unrecoverable. Specialty software like Darik’s Boot and Nuke or Active@ KillDisk – Hard Drive Eraser will do the job for free, but the job can take hours.
There’s always the Swiss cheese option: Take the drive out to the workshop and drill holes through it. Bullet holes will accomplish the same thing, but that’s overkill, even for your data.