Make the Most of Your New PC



Make the Most of Your New PC


Make the Most of Your New PC

Follow this simple 12-step program to guarantee maximum performance,
security, and ease of use. Plus, decide how to deal with all your old

by Eric Griffith
Buzz up!on Yahoo!

Did you receive a pristine, mint Windows Vista computer this holiday
season? Great, but right out of the box it's far from perfect. Unlike
most electronic devices, which you can plug in and use instantly, PCs—
particularly those with Windows—need some adjustment before they're
ready for everyday use. You need to make your new system safe, and
also personalize it with your own preferences.
There are things on the hard drive you should get rid of, and other
things you should add immediately. If you haven't yet been introduced
to Vista, or it's been a while since you've set up a new machine,
we'll walk you through it all in these 12 simple steps. And if your
new baby is a Mac, you've got a much shorter to-do list.

1. First Start

Spring forward?
After you've devised clever ways to use your new collection of
Styrofoam, and made the basic initial connections (power, monitor,
Ethernet, keyboard and mouse), Vista will ask you to do various
things, like set your language, time zone, clock and calendar, and
perhaps most important, create a user account and password. Forgo this
only if you're 110 percent sure no one else will want to gain access,
ever, or if you're so dull-as-dishwater that it wouldn't matter.

2. 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, and my favorite, crapware. That's because a lot of
it is just that: useless crap. The vendors install it under the guise
of helping you out, but mostly they do it to get money from the
software makers. A few vendors, like Sony and Dell, offer some options
to avoid crapware, but usually just for small businesses. Boutique
manufacturers, like Velocity Micro, do a better job of providing a
clean system.
Cut the Crap

What can you do to decrapify your new PC? Download and run the free PC
Decrap- ifier ( It will hit the flotsam you
might not want, from AOL installers to Yahoo! Toolbar, but it won't
get them all. If you can identify more crapplications it missed, try
Revo Uninstaller (, a free utility that does
more to fully eradicate errant software than the built-in Windows
control panel.

This is a good time to kill anything you don't want that's part of
Vista itself. Load up the control panel called Programs and Features.
Click "Turn Windows Features on or off" at left. You'll get a User
Account Control warning; click Oka. Uncheck anything in the list you
definitely don't want, such as games, Tablet PC Optional Components,
and so forth. If you don't know what an item does, hover the mouse
over the name for a description. If you still don't know what it does,
best to leave it.

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 . . .

3. Activate Shields

If you're willing to pay to protect your system from malware, and get
some extra firewall protection to boot, we recommend you install our
Editors' Choice security package, Norton Internet Security 2009. Its
defense against spyware and viruses is extremely effective, and impact
on system performance is minimal.
Danger, Will Robinson!

If you don't want to pay, you can set up a pretty good one-two punch
with AVG Anti-Virus Free 8.0 ( and another Editors'
Choice, ThreatFire 3.5 ( The former uses virus
signatures to detect problems; the latter uses behavior analysis. Thus
they don't conflict, as two anti-malware programs running on one
machine usually do. (Keep in mind that ThreatFire can be almost too
effective, and should probably be turned off when you're installing
new software. Otherwise it may see the new program as a threat.)

Everyone on a broadband connection needs a software firewall to
control which applications on your PC can access the Internet. The
firewall in your network router is not enough. When it comes to free
firewall software, Comodo Firewall Pro
( remains our top pick.

4. Download Updates

At some point your PC will tell you there are Windows Vista updates
available. If you haven't already, feel free to grab them. You may
have an icon in the system tray at the lower right, or you can select
Windows Update from the main Vista menu at the lower left (choose All
Programs to find it).
Get The Latest

Depending on which version of Vista has been installed on your
computer and when, you could have quite a few updates—big updates—to
download. Let this process run its course. Walk away. Eat some
leftovers, go out for a mocha latte, watch an Adam Sandler movie. It's
going to take a while, and the Sandler movie will seem to last

When the downloads are done, run Windows Update again. Updates tend to
beget updates. Three times should be sufficient. By now you've got a
truly pristine system.

5. Ghost the Machine

After something catastrophic happens, some techies would just as soon
reinstall from the original CDs to get a fresh start, but that means
going through all those updates again. Instead, back up your pristine
system completely right now with the full, updated OS, so you can
restore everything quickly after a disaster.
Save Your Image

Make a complete drive image (aka a ghost) of the C: drive. You can
make images with Norton Ghost 14, Acronis True Image 11, or a freebie
like DriveImage XML ( If you've got Vista Business or
Ultimate, use the built-in tool called Complete PC Backup to do the
job. Store the image on an external drive, if you've got one, and burn
it to a DVD.

6. Transfer Files

Vista makes this relatively simple with the Windows Easy Transfer
utility. It works with the methods we'll discuss (disc, network, and
transfer cable) to move not only data files and folders but also
settings from your old Windows system to the new. It even re-creates
your user accounts, if you want that. It does not move your old
applications. To take advantage of Easy Transfer, your old PC must be
running Windows 2000, XP, or Vista.
Old to New

You can always use old-school sneaker-net—putting files from the old
PC on a CD, DVD, or thumb drive, then copying them over to your new
machine—but if you've got a lot of files, this could take minutes or
days. That really big external hard drive with a USB connector you
bought for backup is an option. A better solution might be to reuse
the old hard drive. A USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE Adapter (about $20) can turn
an old drive into an external drive for use on your new PC.

But as you know, the home network is your slickest alternative—once
you have it set up right. Go into the System control panel, click
Advanced system settings, and then go to the Computer Name tab under
System Properties. Click the Change button. Make sure the new computer
has a name that's unique among the computers in the house, and that
the Workgroup name is exactly the same for all the computers in the
house. Otherwise, they can't see each other to share. Go into your
software firewall and check that it's open to other PCs on your
network (and that the firewalls on the other computers are open to the
new PC, as well). Find the folder containing the files you want to
share, right-click on it to get Properties, and tell Windows to share
the folder. On Vista systems, the folder should now show up in the
Network and Sharing Center when you click View computers and devices.

You might be tempted to buy a migration utility to move your old
stuff. Or you might succumb to Microsoft's pitch for a special USB
cable (from Belkin) to use with its Easy Transfer utility. Neither
option is worth the money, especially for an action you'll likely take
only once. An option that might be a good buy is a cable with software
that lets it do much more, like IOGear's USB Laptop KVM Switch
( It not only handles file transfers between computers
but lets you switch instantly from PC to PC, using a single monitor
and keyboard/mouse. At $129 it's not cheap, but it is one way to
ensure that both your old and your new computers remain useful.

7. Prep for Data Backup

No doubt you've heard this a zillion times, but in case this advice
hasn't taken, I'll repeat: A simple backup regime is great for peace
of mind. Online backup services like MozyHome ( make
it painless. You can start with a free account that stores up to 2GB
of data. Perfect for your unfinished novel or other small projects.
(You can get unlimited online storage with Mozy for $4.95 per month.)

If you've got multiple machines, consider one of the many new services
that synchronize files between computers and add online backup in the
middle, so you can get to files when you're at someone else's PC.
Dropbox (www.getdropbox .com) is an up-and-comer that supports sync
between multiple Windows, Mac, and even Linux PCs. Basic service is
free and gives you 2 gigs of online storage; it costs $9.99 a month to
get 50 gigs.

Local backup of your data gives you more control. One option is to
partition your hard drive into multiple drives—C: for the system and
programs, D: for data, E: for items you don't need to back up. That
way, you can tell Vista's built-in Backup and Restore Center control
panel to look at one drive only. Buy an external hard drive that's at
least 1.5 times larger than the data partition (a 500GB external drive
to back up your 300GB partition, for example) as a target drive. Now
even huge video and photo files are no big deal to back up. Simply put
them in the same spot every time—always "D: for data" (for example)—
and let the software do its job.

8. Geek Out Firefox

Firefox is our PC Magazine Editors' Choice Web browser for good
reason. It's fast, friendly, and infinitely configurable. Sure, you
could go your whole life using Firefox and never change a thing, but
once you install a few key extensions, you'll wonder how you ever
lived with Internet Explorer or how Google's Chrome will ever measure

Here are some key add-ons worth trying (in the Firefox menu bar, go to
Tools, then Add-ons, and search for them in the Get Add-ons tab):

• Cooliris: Turns browsing into a full-screen 3D experience.

• DownThemAll!: Download manager handles multiple downloads at once.

• FireFTP: If you need an FTP client, get one that stays within

• Foxmarks: If you use multiple PCs, you can synchronize the bookmarks
on each one.

• Greasemonkey: Using scripts from, it can change the
look and feel of almost any site.

• IE Tab: If you absolutely must view a site in Internet Explorer, do
it within a Firefox tab.

• ScribeFire: If you blog, ScribeFire makes it easier.

• Tab Mix Plus: Take complete control of the tabs in Firefox.

• Update Notifier: Never let your Firefox extensions go un-updated

If you used Firefox on your old computer, you probably want the same
settings, bookmarks, and extensions. Back up the old Firefox using
freeware MozBackup (, save the file to your
new PC, and use MozBackup to restore. It also works with Thunderbird
to back up e-mail.

You have your own list of favorite utilities, but we recommend
installing these programs no matter what browser you use: QuickTime,
Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Media Player, and a PDF
reader (try the free Foxit Reader from; it's
faster and smaller than Adobe Reader).

9. Place Your Programs

This is one area where you're on your own: We can't decide what
software you want or need. But if you're configuring this new machine
for someone else, remember that no PC is complete without at least an
office suite, a photo-editing tool, a media manager, and something for
e-mail. And there are free alternatives for almost any program you
might need; 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 PC. Make a listing of the
programs there using an online word processor like Google Docs so you
can access the list from any computer. Keep in mind that you'll also
want to carry over the settings and log-in info for software like e-
mail and IM clients.

Gather those monstrosities known as registration codes for your
software. Record them somewhere permanent and accessible. Write them
on the discs themselves or keep them in a notebook, or whatever method
you have for preserving data you know you will need again.

Some software is limited to a certain number of machines. For example,
iTunes will play only songs you've bought online on up to five PCs. So
check that the software is de-authorized on the old PC if you won't be
using it there. Uninstalling might be all it takes.

10. Tune-Up Time

Windows Vista on the right system is very fast, but first you have to
decide: Do you want a system that's fast—or good-­looking? Here are a
few steps to tweak your new PC's performance in favor of speed, not

• Set the desktop to a plain, one-color background. Big photographic
wallpaper can slow load time.
Clean Screen

• If you're not into desktop widgets along the screen's edge, or maybe
prefer those from another source (like Google), turn off Windows
Sidebar. It takes up space on your desktop. Go to the Windows Sidebar
Properties control panel and deselect Start Sidebar when Windows

• Aero is the name for the fancy graphics interface in Vista that
delivers things like transparency in windows. Cool as it looks, Aero
can slow down your system. In the Personalization control panel,
select Windows Color and Appearance. In the next window, click Open
classic appearance properties. Change the color scheme to something
else, such as Windows Standard, and click Effects to turn off menu
shadows and the ability to see windows as you drag them.
Glitz vs. Speed

• Go to the System control panel, click System Protection, and on the
Advanced tab, click the button in the Performance box. If you turn off
every option under Visual Effects (like animated controls, fading
menus, and shadows under your mouse cursor), it should speed things

• The network icon in the system tray shows a subtle animation to
indicate you're online; right-click and select "Turn off activity
animation" to stop it—unless you like incessant reminders that you're

• If you've got a very fast USB thumb drive, insert it and activate
Windows ReadyBoost. This cache can help a bit with performance while
the drive is inserted.

• Adjust the power settings, especially if you've got a laptop that is
unplugged while in use. The "high performance" pre-sets will drain
juice faster.

11. Review Hardware

Starting out with a new PC is the perfect opportunity to reassess the
hardware attached to the old PC. Before you start plugging things in,
consider carefully how much you need them. Do you really need that old
flatbed scanner now that the pictures you take are digital? For some,
the answer will be no. Same with items like ancient USB hubs (you
probably have more ports on your new box, and you don't want a hub
that doesn't support USB 2.0) and low-capacity portable hard drives.

Old hardware moved to a new PC means you need the latest drivers. Hit
the manufacturer's Web site for your scanner, printer, camera, media
player, and so on, and download what you need. DriverMax
( can back up drivers for when you need them
Keys to Happiness

That mouse and keyboard that came with your new system should be
considered suspect. PC vendors aren't known for including highly
ergonomic input devices with their commodity systems. Consider instead
the Microsoft Wireless Laser Desktop 7000, which comes with a
rechargeable wireless mouse and ergonomic keyboard. Consider them even
if your new PC is a laptop, especially one you don't move around much.
Your wrists will thank you later.

12. Register Everything

It's no guarantee of great technical support, but if you register your
PC with the manufacturer, as well as 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 you know that
time will come. Getting a vendor to honor a warranty might depend on
knowing when you bought or received the product.

Registering online is relatively painless; you're on the Web anyway,
so you might as well. 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. Keep in mind that 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?

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