How to properly set up your new computer

Published on January 14, 2023

So you’ve got a new computer. Awesome! That humble metal box is the key to a wide world of potential. 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.

But a new PC isn’t like a new car; you can’t just turn a key and put the pedal to the metal. Okay, maybe you can—but you shouldn’t. Performing just a few simple activities when you first fire it up can help it be safer, faster, and better poised for the future. Here’s how to set up a new laptop or desktop computer the right way, step by step, regardless of whether you’re running Windows 10 or Windows 11.

Add software to your new computer.
Why would you discard all of the garbage and clutter? To make room for your personal belongings, foolish. New hardware is always accompanied by software that matches!

Install your favorite browser
Browsing the web in an unfamiliar browser is like dancing tango in someone else's shoes. You can do it, but it's not pretty. If Edge isn't your thing, here are direct links for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.

Chrome has been our top choice for years, but the Chromium-based version of Microsoft Edge beat the longtime champion in our latest round of web browser tests. If you don't mind ditching Chrome, Edge is the best browser you can use right now, and better yet, it's the default browser on Windows 10.

Set up security for your new PC
Now that you've put on your more comfortable clothes, it's time to get your safety ducks in line.

Windows comes with Windows Security enabled by default unless your laptop or desktop includes a third-party antivirus trial. Windows Security is a solid solution, very easy to use if not overly detailed, great for detecting malware, and probably good enough for most people. However, it's not the most comprehensive anti-malware solution out there. You can't even schedule a scan!

Back up your new computer
After all of that, your computer is finally ready to rock: It's secure, current, free of debris, and loaded with software specifically designed to meet your specific needs. The end is near! We're not done yet.

Run Windows Update on the new PC

The first step is by far the most tedious. Unless your copy of Windows is fully patched and up to date, you shouldn't be poking around the web. Now for the bad news: This could take minutes or hours, depending on how long your PC has been on the shelf. Either way, it has to be done.

Microsoft releases new Windows patches at least once a month. Large "feature" upgrades to Windows 10 and 11 have historically been about twice a year, but will slow down to once a year in the future, with new features arriving throughout the year. Unless your computer is fully patched, you may miss out on important security fixes and noteworthy new features.

First, make sure your PC is connected to the Internet. In Windows 10, open the Start menu and go to Settings > Update & Security > Check for updates. Your system will check for updates and find some. Download and install it, then restart your computer.

On the plus side, Windows will download and install new updates as they become available in the future. You just have to get over this initial hurdle.

Update your new PC's drivers
This step is not for everyone. Few things can cause more trouble in your computer faster than a driver that refuses to cooperate for any reason. If your desktop computer is already built and only intends to perform basic tasks, such as surfing the web, working with Office, and other simple tasks, you should not bother installing drivers and continue as usual. Windows Update should have automatically updated your hardware with new drivers anyway.

Clean your computer of bloatware
With your defenses in place, it's time to get rid of the junk on your PC.

If you built your own Windows PC, you can skip this step. Straightforward Windows installations don't create excessive junk on your hard drive. But box PCs from big-name PC makers are inevitably filled with bloatware.

The easiest way to clear the junk is to type "Add and Remove Programs" into the Windows Search box and select the option that appears at the top of the results. Go through the list and uninstall any unnecessary programs. Don't remove the hardware manufacturer's apps -- leave only Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Microsoft, HP, or Lenovo software, for example -- but be sure to remove any bundled software you see. Some of the most common preinstalled apps are Antivirus Trials, Dropbox, Candy Crush, Netflix, Spotify, “App Collections” and others.

If you decide to do a clean install of Windows to clean up the platform and want to keep certain software (such as Office) out of the way, be sure to note down the product key before starting the process by using a tool like Belarc Advisor to find it. However, browsing the app list and rooting out the main culprit should be enough for most people.

At this point, you're essentially ready to launch. Sure, there are other responsibilities you should take on, such as transferring files from your old PC and saving the product keys for Windows and other software (again, Belarc Advisor is excellent for this), you can complete these at your own pace. Now, enjoy the pleasure of owning a new PC, take comfort in the knowledge that it's fully optimized, protected against attack, and recoverable in the event of disaster.