Congratulations! You got a new computer!
Of course you want to jump right in and start using it right now, but if you can hold on a bit, there are a few tasks you might want to do first. When all heck breaks loose later and the machine dies, the software crashes, or you get a massive malware infection, the steps you take now can save you lots of time and grief later.
Every day, people lose data, precious memories, and valuable time because they didn’t take a few simple steps to prepare.
And by far the best time to prepare is at the very beginning.
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1. Disconnect that new computer from the internet
I know you’ve already connected; you just couldn’t help yourself, I’m sure.
I’m the same way.
But until we’ve made sure of a couple of items, let’s pull off the highway for a moment.
2. Save the installation media
First, collect all the discs and other media that may have come with your machine (if any), and put them in a safe place. If you don’t, then someday, maybe years from now, you’ll desperately need one and be unable to find it. Manuals are important, too, but they’re easier to replace later.
This is also a great time to ensure you have installation discs, not just recovery discs. Installation discs contain a full copy of Windows, so it can be installed from scratch. Recovery discs do not, and often rely on information saved on the hard drive — which is fine, until the hard drive itself dies and takes all that information with it.
You may not have received installation discs. Heck, you may not have received any discs — everything could be pre-installed. That’s why this next step is critical.
3. Make a system image backup
Using Macrium Reflect (the free edition should do) or a similar tool, take a complete image backup (sometimes called a full system backup) of your entire machine. Make sure your backup tool supports what’s called a “bare metal” restore: the ability to restore to a machine that has a completely empty hard drive. This usually requires you to create “bootable rescue media” to be used by that software.
This step is particularly important if you were not given actual installation media, since it serves as an alternative.
Even if you did get installation media, a backup image taken now can be more convenient should you need to reset the computer to the state it was in on the day you got it.
The reasoning here is simple: this backup is an image of your machine as you got it. It’s a true reset to factory settings. Should you ever need to start over and reformat/reinstall the machine, this image backup can be restored to the machine instead to return it to the exact condition it’s in right now, in a single step.
4. Set up regular backups
While you’ve got your backup software out, take the time to schedule regular automated backups.
Exactly what that looks like depends on your needs and how you use your computer, but in general, setting up something that backs up your machine daily to an external hard drive is good practice.
If you’re not sure what to do, I have backup recommendations.
5. Check the firewall and connect to the internet
Now that we’ve got our backup in case anything goes wrong, it’s almost time to connect.
First, however, we want to double check to make sure you have a firewall that is enabled. In most cases, if you’re connecting through a router you’re done. That router acts as a perfectly adequate firewall and protects you from random things that would otherwise attack your machine the moment you connect to the internet.
If you don’t have a router (which is rare these days), simply make sure Windows Firewall is enabled. It should be already, by default, but it’s well worth checking.
Once you’ve confirmed a firewall of some sort, connect.
6. Install security software
Your computer may have come with security software pre-installed, but you don’t have to use it.
Quite often the solutions pre-installed by the manufacturer aren’t the best. Sometimes they’re just fine; other times, not so much. Do a little research and decide.
Then either make sure the pre-installed security software is configured and enabled properly (scanning and updating itself automatically), or download the alternative you choose and set them up instead. Make sure to uninstall the security tools you’re replacing.
In Windows 10, honestly, Windows Defender is just fine, and should be enabled and configured properly by default.
If you’re unsure, I have security software recommendations.
7. Update, update, update
Take the time now to update Windows, in particular, and all of the other applications and software installed on your machine.
Make sure automatic updates for Windows are enabled. If “Microsoft Update” is offered, enable it to receive updates to all Microsoft applications installed on your machine, as well as the operating system. Check for updates repeatedly until there are no more updates available.1
Keeping your software updated is important to keep your machine safe from malware that exploit bugs in the software on your machine, known as “unpatched vulnerabilities”. Updates are regularly issued to fix those bugs, thereby patching those vulnerabilities.
8. Back up again
Once your machine is completely up to date, take another image backup.
While the image backup taken in step 3 is perhaps the most important, it’s this backup that’ll be the most convenient. Why? Because if you ever need to use it, you’ll have already performed steps 4, 5, and 6, and will have a head start on step 7. You won’t have to update nearly as much as if you started with the machine returned to factory settings.
There’s an argument that you don’t need both, but I prefer caution. This is the backup you’re most likely to use, while the backup from step 3 is an additional safety net.
Of course there’s always more, but this is a good start towards basic protection. These steps will help protect your investment, your data, your time, and your peace of mind.