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How should I set up my computer? (Part I)

In previous articles I discussed the process I used to select a new computer for myself, as well as what to do when your new computer doesn’t work.

Well, my replacement computer arrived and it appears to be working nicely. In fact, I’m writing this article using it right now. Kudos to Dell for getting it right – the second time – and for their customer service folks help along the way.

Now the hard work begins.

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I’ll pick up where things started to go bad as I described in What if my new computer doesn’t work?. After completing Windows XP Setup, the computer needs to reboot.

This time it worked.

While leaving the machine plugged in only to power, and not to my network, I:

  • Reset the administrator password – This isn’t the account I just created, this is a separate account called “administrator”. Setting or changing its password is always a good idea, because the administrator account has all privileges an account can have. So anyone who can log in as administrator can do anything they like to your computer.Right click on My Computer, select Manage, in the resulting application expand Local Users and Groups, select Users, right click on Administrator, and select Set Password.
  • Set the Network Workgroup – Even though Windows Setup may have asked for something like this earlier, it did not actually set the Workgroup name, and that may make it difficult to see other computers on your LAN later.Right click on My Computer, select Properties, click on the Computer Name tab, update your Computer Description if you like, and then click on the Change… button. Here you can update the Computer name, as well as selecting the Workgroup your computer belongs to. Select the same Workgroup name here for all your computers you want to be able to see in your Network Neighborhood.

At this point I’m ready to connect to my LAN. I first verify that my firewall is on, even though I’m behind my router, mostly because this new machine has no protection other than coming with Windows Service Pack 2. There are a couple of ways to do this, so we’ll go to Control Panel, Security Center, Manage the Security Settings for Windows Firewall, and select On.

I plug in my network cable, and I’m connected to my LAN. I like to see what’s going on, especially at this stage in the game, so I also turn on the notification area icon for each network connection: Control Panel, Network Connections, right click on Local Area Connection, Properties and make sure Show icon in notification area when connected is checked.

Now I can connect to another server on my LAN that has some of the first software I’ll install. I use a command prompt to connect and enter NET USE * \\COMPUTERNAME\SHARE followed by Enter (where COMPUTERNAME and SHARE are the name and shared folder I’m connecting to). In this case Windows doesn’t really know who I am yet, so I’m required to enter a user name and password that will work on the remote computer in order to connect.

My first install: anti-virus software – Computer Associates eTrust AntiVirus. After a reboot, my very first step is to run eTrust and have it download the latest virus signatures. I then run a virus scan, which comes up clean.

My second install: anti-spyware software – Spybot Search and Destroy. Among other things I select “no desktop items” (I hate a messy desktop), and choose not to have quick launch items (I use the quick launch area for things I run more frequently). I have Spybot install IE protection and system settings protection.

I run Spybot, let it take a registry backup, and immediately search for and download all available updates, including the latest spyware database. In Spybot’s Advanced mode, I select tools, IE tweaks and select both lock hosts file and lock IE start page to prevent some of the more common spyware tricks. I also select the Immunize option which protects against a wide variety of other issues. Finally, it’s time to actually run a spyware scan by selecting Search and Destroy. Not to surprisingly, it identifies DSO exploit, which I let it fix.

Now it’s time keep Windows itself updated. I turn on automatic updates: Control Panel, Security Center, Manage the Security Settings for Automatic Updates. Personally, I like to control when things actually get installed on my machine, so I select Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them.

Even though I’ve turned on automatic updates, visiting Windows Update isn’t a bad idea either; not only to get the critical updates now, but any other updates, including some hardware drivers, that may have been released since my computer’s disk was imaged.

At Windows Update, I select Custom Install, which once again allows me to see and control the various steps in the process. However, while I’m doing this, Automatic Updates pops up and notifies me that it the critical updates have already been downloaded and are ready to install. I let it install and reboot.

Back to Windows Update, the following non-critical updates were available to me:

  • Windows Media Connect – I elect to hide (not install) this.
  • Windows Media Player 10 – I select this to be installed.
  • Windows Journal Viewer – I hide.
  • XP HighMAT Support – I hide.
  • SmartCartBus Reader Update – a driver update that I select to be installed.

I hit install. Along the way Spybot warned me that registry changes are being requested, and would I like to allow or deny the changes? Since this is in response to an update that I’ve explicitly initiated, I allow each change.

I’m up to date, I have virus and spyware scanning software installed and ready.

Since I’m behind a NAT router, at this point I feel it’s safe to turn off the Windows Firewall. Control Panel, Security Center, Manage the Security Settings for Windows Firewall, and select Off. At this point I also want to stop the security center from nagging me about not having a firewall. So in the Security Center I select Recommendations within the Firewall section, and then check I have a firewall solution that I’ll monitor myself.

So far all I’ve really done is made it safe to connect to the internet. Incredibly important, but not very exciting. The next installment, I’ll start customizing some of the aspects of Windows XP itself.

The Setting Up Series:

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31 comments on “How should I set up my computer? (Part I)”

  1. It is sad but true that a lot of work is required to correctly set up a new computer and this article was *just* on the preparation of getting online. Some comments:

    I like to turn off windows automatic updates at first so as not to have it interfere with other initial setup tasks including those Leo will describe in his next article.

    The procedure described here for changing the Administrator password works, I believe, only with XP Pro, not with XP Home. For the Home edition, boot in safe mode, logon on as user Administrator and change the password.

    If your new computer is not going to be on a LAN in your house/office/apartment, then you get a bit of safety by disabling File and Printer Sharing. It is an option of the network connection profile.

    If you have a broadband connection make a note of the lights on the “modem” when things are working well. That is, which ones are on, off and blinking and what color they are. Keep this information with the modem (under it or taped to it). When something goes wrong, this is your baseline to compare with.

    Michael Horowitz

  2. I have read all your articles on setting up a computer but none of them seem to help me, I am looking for information on how to move or set up a new computer i.e. my computer has just arrived and I need help in how to set the machine up like connecting all the wires and some safety tips on how to do it safely. thanks for all your help, Frank

  3. Each time I am on the internet, using my computer, and I type in a letter a whole list of words appear. How do stop this from happening?

  4. It depends on where you’re typing. Chances are it’s internet explorer’s auto-complete feature, which you can turn off in its options.

  5. “In this case Windows doesn’t really know who I am yet, so I’m required to enter a user name and password that will work on the remote computer in order to connect.”

    I set up my own network in my home, a wireless router. I can see each computer on the other but when I try to enter I am asked for a user and a password. I have not entered any passwords on my network(other than WEP) so I am not sure what user and password they could be asking for.

    As far as I can tell, I have allowed file sharing and have the work groups set up correctly because they see each other in the workgroup folders.

    Help, please.
    Thank You.

    John Sowinski

  6. hello Mr.

    my computer Screen is scrolled,jumped, shakable so these type of action taken by my system Desktop, so what is the problem,please solve my & my system problem.
    thaking you,
    waiting for results

  7. I’m not sure I understand your problem, but taking a guess: I would reboot into safe mode, and choose a lower resolution for your display.

  8. Hi Leo…I purchased some memory and now have a total of 512 Megs (2-256 Meg slots), running Windows XP. I also have 2 physical drives (plenty of room on each), one of which is partitioned into 3 logical drives (one of these is my OS).

    1. What should I set my page file to? I heard the rule-of-thumb is 1.5x your physical memory, so 766?

    2. Should I set a seperate page file for each logical drive, or just use one? Should each by 766?


  9. I’d just set up the one, but honestly … I typically just let the OS do whatever it wants. 768 (1.5 * 512) seems like a fine number. The 1.5 rule is a good rule of thumb unless you have LOTS of memory (in which case you need less VM), or are typically exceeding the VM’s capacity because of the programs you run.

  10. my pc was working and i put it dowm for about 2 month.I open it and I saw something like mouse waste in the pc.I power the pc and is not coming on.I swapped the power supply in a different pc and is working.The next day, I power the pc again and its works.three days later, I power it again and power is not coming on.Please help me to solve this problem up.Than you.

  11. I have followed these instructions and just get I am not autorised messages even though I am a full administer on all three of the computers I am attempting to connect you. All three are also part of the workgroup but do not see each other. local connection properties are also configured. I am using windows xp and ie6 behind a belkin router with two behind a lynsys at a different address – no joy in four months of trying

  12. I have followed these instructions and just get I am not autorised messages even though I am a full administer on all three of the computers I am attempting to connect you. All three are also part of the workgroup but do not see each other. local connection properties are also configured. I am using windows xp and ie6 behind a belkin router with two behind a lynsys at a different address – no joy in four months of trying

  13. I setup my computer and ddv copy too slow due to IDE in primary and secondary the transfer mode shown NOT APPLICATE and these should be ULTRA DMA2. I unstalled and rebooted computer but still same. Please tell me I can I do to resetup. Thanks Mag.

  14. Some “geek” told me it was unwise to surf as an account administrator since “someone” in cyber conceivably could gain access to my computer and play havoc. Trouble is, when I get a software update notice, I have to switch users from a non-administrator to administrator and by that time the update message is gone. Any truth to the geek’s comment and, if so, what do I do? Thanks

    Hash: SHA1

    In an ideal world your geek friend is correct. It is safer to surf in a Limited
    User Account (LUA) than to surf while logged in as administrator. But the
    practical reality is what you experience: too many times you need admin
    abilities to do what you want to do.

    The practical answer is “simply” not visit questionable sites when logged in as
    admin. That’s not always practical, but it is, in fact, how I run.

    Alternative might include enabling fast user switching so you can switch
    between two accounts – one admin, one not – quickly, or to surf within a
    sandbox or virtual machine. Less practical, but potentially safer.

    Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


    Hash: SHA1

    I’m not aware of a function that will restore lost files simply by resetting a
    date. What feature is it you think will do this?


    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  17. Hi Leo. I cannot launch Windows Media Player as a WinXP Power User. Only when logged in as the local Administrator OR by doing right-click | Run As and supplying the local Administrator credentials will the darn thing run. Not sure what the problem is. Tried tracking down the issue using Sysinternals’ tool “Process Monitor” but that’s like finding a needle in a haystack. HELP! Thanks, West.

  18. I am the owner and administrator of my computer running vista but it will not let me make changes such as uninstall flash player – can spend hours searching and asking but I find the more words used to explain stuff the less people know

  19. in my company about 20 computer are running through wireless network workgroup but one laptop is not joining the workgroup it has windows xp sp2 i have done all things that i know but it didnt works can somebody help me
    please help me fast its very urgent

  20. Leo, thanks for all the good tips you’ve provided me in the past.

    I’m getting prepared to set up a new PC for a friend — and am realizing how little I know or remember about this process.

    Having NO experience with Vista (which I have never even seen and which is on her new PC) I ask: have you updated this article to include Vista (if there are any differences). If so, I can’t find it. Thanks again.

  21. Thankyou so much I love being able to get every question answered I tried your suggestions and the very first time it worked this is so awesome.

  22. Hi Leo,

    My wireless routers working fine but my laptop refuses to pick teh router up….my laptop will not allow me even to log onto the router through internet explorer .. what should i do to allow access to router thus internet? Please help


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