Congratulations! You’ve received a new computer!
Of course you want to jump right in and start using it, but there are a few tasks you can do now that will reap benefits later.
These are things that, later, when all heck breaks loose and the machine dies, the software crashes, or you get a massive malware infection, will save you lots and lots of time and grief.
Every day people lose data, precious memories, and valuable time because they didn’t take a few simple steps along the way to prepare.
And by far the best time to prepare is at the very beginning.
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 safety items, let’s pull off the road for a moment and prepare.
2. Save the installation media
First, collect all the CDs and DVDs that may have come with your machine, 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.
This is also a great time to ensure that 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.
If you don’t have installation discs, now is the time to get in touch with the vendor and try to get them. Unfortunately, installation discs are getting more and more difficult to get, so this may not be possible.
3. Make a system image backup
Using Macrium Reflect or a similar tool, take an image backup (sometimes called a full system backup) of your entire machine. Make sure that this is a backup tool that supports what’s called a “bare metal” restore – the ability to restore to a machine with a completely empty hard drive. Usually this requires that you also create “bootable rescue media” to be used by that software.
This step is particularly important if you were not given actual installation media, as I mentioned above, since it can serve as an alternative. Even if you did get installation media, a backup image taken now can actually be more convenient in the future 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. 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 that it’s in right now.
4. Set up regular backups
While you’ve got your backup software out, take the time to set up a regularly scheduled backup.
Exactly what that looks like will depend on your needs and how you use your computer, but in general, setting up something that backs up your machine daily is good practice.
If you’re not sure what to do, I have backup recommendations.
5. Enable the firewall & connect to the internet
Now that we’ve got our backup in case anything goes wrong, it’s almost time to connect.
First, however, make sure that you have a firewall and that it’s 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, simply make sure that the 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 well have come with security software preinstalled, but you don’t have to use it.
Quite often the pre-installed solutions aren’t the best. Sometimes they’re just fine; other times, not so much. Do a little research and decide.
Then either make sure that the pre-installed security software is configured and enabled properly, scanning and updating itself automatically, or download the alternatives that you choose and set them up instead. (You uninstall the pre-installed anti-malware tools if they are replaced by an alternative.)
If you’re unsure, I do have security software recommendations.
Take the time now to update Windows, in particular, and all of the other applications and software installed on your machine.
Minimally, make sure automatic updates for Windows are enabled. If “Microsoft Update” is offered, enable it, so that you’re receiving updates to all Microsoft applications installed on your machine, as well as the operating system.
Keeping your software updated is an important part of keeping your machine safe from malware that exploit bugs that exist in the software on your machine known as “unpatched vulnerabilities”. Updates are regularly issued to fix those bugs, thereby patching those vulnerabilities.
8. Save the product keys
One more thing to save: the product keys or activation codes.
On the outside of your machine, or in/on the box the software came in, will be a product code that you may need to type in if you ever reinstall that software. It’s just as important that you keep this code in a safe place as the discs you’d be using.
One approach to getting the product keys for most of the software that’s preinstalled on your system is to download and run Belarc Advisor. This tool will generate a report of many aspects of your machine, including the Windows Product Key, and the product keys for many of the installed applications. You can print this and save it, or simply record the information elsewhere.
Just remember to keep it in a safe place so that when you need to reinstall – perhaps a couple of years from now – you’ll be able to find it.
Of course there’s always more – but this is a good start towards basic protection. Setting up these safety nets will help protect your investment, your data, your time, and your peace of mind.