Protect your privacy and build a backup
Setting up your new PC isn't as easy as pressing the power button then letting your computer handle the rest, though that's what manufacturers would have you believe. In reality, the process can take several hours. You have to take into account time spent reviewing privacy settings, removing unwanted software and creating backups.
It may sound arduous when all you want to do is play with your new toy, but taking the time to do it properly is worth the effort. Not only will these steps help you organise your operating system to suit your needs and preferences (rather than Microsoft's), they can improve computer performance and protect your valuable information in the event of a data disaster, which is an all too common occurrence.
We've put together a step-by-step guide to setting up a new Windows 10 PC, to coincide with the large number of Windows desktops, laptops, 2-in-1s and other devices that are making their way into Australian homes, particularly over the Christmas and sales season.
What you'll need
You're going to be creating backups and downloading updates in the following steps, so it's important to have the following on hand before starting:
- An external hard drive, 500GB or larger: you'll use this to store your system backups and images.
- A USB thumb drive, 8GB or larger: to create and store a system recovery drive which can completely restore your computer.
- 10GB or more of data on your internet plan for the month: your new PC isn't likely to be running the latest version of Windows 10, so you're going to have to download a bunch of system and security updates, as well as software. While this probably won't amount to 10GB of data (it'll be closer to 5GB), this allows plenty of breathing room for unexpectedly large updates.
Lastly, set yourself up in a clean, comfortable workspace that you can occupy for a few hours. Creating backups, installing software and downloading updates can take a long time depending on the speed of your internet connection, so you don't want to start playing with your new laptop somewhere you'll be in anyone else's way, such as on the dining room table.
- When you turn on your new computer for the first time, you'll need to enter some details and change some settings. These encourage you to set up a Microsoft account and ignore the privacy options, but you don't need to do this if you spend a bit more time working through the custom settings. Note that you can click the button in the bottom-left corner to open accessibility options if you're having trouble reading the text.
- After picking a language, keyboard layout (US for English speakers in Australia) and accepting the legal documentation, connect your computer to the internet using Wi-Fi or Ethernet. You can skip this, but we recommend connecting so you can download updates straight away.
- Next, you'll see a screen called Get going fast. Do not click Use Express settings; instead, select Customize settings. You can find it hidden towards the bottom left corner of the screen. This will open up the privacy customisation menu, here, review each setting and decide whether you want to leave it on or off. Before making your decisions, read our rundown on Windows 10 privacy.
- If you can't decide on a particular setting at this point, or you want to research it a little more before committing, continue the installation for now. You can turn these settings on or off after you've finished setting up your computer. That said, we do recommend that you consider turning off the first two settings under Connectivity and error reporting, as we feel that leaving them on could pose a security risk to your personal data.
- Next, you'll be asked to log in with your Microsoft account, or create an account if you don't have one. There are certain benefits to having an account, such as the option to sync data between devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone), and set up extensive child protection settings. However, it isn't necessary. If you don't want to create an account, click Skip this step. Here, you can create a local account with a simple user name and password that will work with or without an internet connection. After this, the manufacturer (e.g. Toshiba, Acer or Asus) may give you the option to set up an account with its brand. Whether you do it is up to you, but we don't see any real benefit to joining.
Get up to date
- A series of system and security updates are likely to have been released since your computer was built, boxed and stored in a warehouse. Windows 10 typically starts installing updates as soon as you log in for the first time, but it's also worth running a manual scan to catch any that the auto-update may have missed. Go to Settings > Update and Security, wait a few seconds while your PC searches the Microsoft servers, then download and install any available updates. You can also initiate a manual scan by clicking Check for updates.
- At this point, you would usually prepare backup tools, but we're going to make a few changes before putting together a system safety net.
Slim down your system
New computers usually come with a bunch of preinstalled software from the manufacturer and Microsoft. Some of it is useful, but a lot of it is of dubious value, which is why it's colloquially known as "bloatware". These can take up valuable storage space and system resources, so it's worth spending a bit of time removing the less-than-useful programs.
You can do this one of two ways:
- With an automated program: These scan your system and identify bloatware. You can choose to keep or remove software based on the scan's recommendation. We tried The PC Decrapifier and it worked well, but Revo Uninstaller is also popular (although it isn't available for free).
- Manually, using the Control panel: Should I Remove It is an extensive database that lists common bloatware with an explanation, and suggestion as to whether you should remove it. The site also includes user ratings and the number of users that have removed each program. If you go to Control panel > Programs and Features, you can browse the list of installed software, then cross check it in the Should I Remove It database. It's also available as an automated program, similar to PC Decrapifier.
- Microsoft overhauled the settings in Windows 10, making them accessible to users with limited technical knowledge. However, advanced options typically found in the Control Panel have been retained, so you can still dig into the nitty gritty if you know what you're doing. Spend some time exploring each subsection in the Settings menu, particularly Power & Sleep, Notification & Actions (both under System) and Personalization. Most include a short, but detailed explanation, with a link to the Microsoft website for more information.
- Ease of Access in particular has some useful tools that can improve accessibility for users with reduced dexterity and physical or visual impairments, such as text magnification and a virtual keyboard. Display has some similar features including contrast and text size settings, which are especially important on a high resolution screen as these tend to make text quite small. Most of these aren't turned on by default, however, so if you need this setting adjusted, you may need to enlist the help of a friend or family member during this step in the set up.
- Lastly, don't be afraid to check out the advanced settings. "Advanced" is used as a blanket term, but you'll often find that they're nothing more than a list of extended options. Additional power settings, for example, gives you greater control over power saving options, but uses simple dropdown menus.
- You should spend some time in the Privacy settings as well, as there are a handful of active data collection options which you may consider invasive. We've put together a detailed privacy guide in our Windows 10 hands-on review.
Prepare for an emergency
Now you've put together a basic, bare-bones version of Windows 10 with your preferred settings, so it's time to create your backups. That way, you can roll back to Windows in its current state, in the event of hardware/software failure such as update errors or virus infection, for example.
- The first step is to create a system image. This is a snapshot of your computer, which you can roll back to later. Grab the external hard drive, plug it in, then go to Control Panel > Backup and Restore and click Create a system image. The next window will include two dropdown menus, click the one underneath On a hard disk and select the hard drive you inserted earlier. Hit Next, tick the drives you want to image (we suggest all of them), click Next again then Start backup.
- Now it's time to make a backup, which is similar to a system image, but is used to restore files, documents, data and so on, rather than your entire system. Go to Control Panel > Backup and Restore then click Set up backup. Select the same external hard drive as the backup location (create a folder named System Backup), then either let Windows select which files to back up, or manually select the hard drives, folders, subfolders to duplicate. When you're done, uncheck the box that says Create a system image (as we did that earlier), follow the remaining steps then click Save settings and run backup.
- Next, you'll need to make a recovery drive. This can restore your operating system when it won't boot up, similar to the CD/DVDs you used to get with a new computer. Insert the 8GB thumb drive, then go to Control Panel > Recovery > Create a recovery drive then follow the prompts. Note that this will format the contents of the thumb drive, so move your important files off before you start.
- The final step is setting up a regular backup schedule for your important files, folders, media etc. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Backup, click Add a drive and pick a place to store your duplicates. Scheduled backups occur every hour, two, six and so on, so you need to make sure your storage location is connected when a backup is due. Once you've selected the drive, click More Options to set the backup frequency − we recommend once every 12 to 24 hours − add folders, create exclusions and cancel backups.
- It's also worth familiarising yourself with the system recovery section of the PC, so you can repair or restore your computer using the tools you just created. There are just over half a dozen repair options which you can find under Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. You can access most by clicking Advanced startup, which opens a hidden boot menu. Here, you can scan your PC for errors then let Windows try to fix them, boot from a separate drive (e.g. a recovery drive), create startup settings (e.g. boot into Safe Mode) or launch a system image. This should be your first port of call when you're facing computer problems.
- Older versions of Windows required an installation disk for a full system restore, but Microsoft changed this with the launch of Windows 8. Now you can restore your PC to factory settings by clicking Reset your PC. Remember, this will delete the contents of your hard drive and should only be used as a last resort.
Create additional accounts
- You'll need to set up some secondary accounts if someone else is using your computer. To do this, go to Settings > Accounts and click Add someone else to this PC. Once again, Windows will suggest that you log in with your Microsoft account or create one, but you can get around this. Just click I don't have this person's sign in information followed by Add a user without a Microsoft account. Here, you can create a typical account with username and password.
- There is one caveat, however: you will need a Microsoft login if you want to set up a family account. This is useful for parents, as family accounts include unique child protection settings that can sync across multiple Windows devices when you log in with the same details. Microsoft has put together a comprehensive guide on creating family accounts.
Grab some software
- You're on the home stretch – now all you need to do is tweak the system to your liking. The first step is to try some of the new software included with the operating system (that isn't bloatware), such as the new Edge Browser, which replaces Internet Explorer.
- If you want to install well-known third-party software such as Firefox, iTunes, VLC Media Player or Dropbox, head over to Ninite. This is a one-stop shop for free, legal software; all you need to do is tick the apps you want and download the installer, and Ninite will handle the rest.
- It's worth investigating whether you need to purchase third-party anti-virus software as well. The inbuilt Windows Defender should be suitable if you're using your computer for basic tasks (emails, simple web browsing, etc.) but you should review its features under Settings > Update & Security > Windows Defender, just to make sure. We've also reviewed third-party antivirus software.
- Lastly, you will need to change the default program for certain file types if you're using third-party programs (e.g. VLC instead of Windows Media Player for your music files). You can either go to Settings > System > Default apps, and click the icon under each category to chose a default app, scroll down for a more detailed list of options under Choose default apps by file type, or set them using the traditional method. To do this, right-click the file type on your desktop, then go to Properties > General > Change... and pick a program from the list. If your preferred program isn't there, click More apps > Look for another app on this PC to find the software you're after using Explorer. That's it! You're computer is ready and you can start exploring Windows 10.