After years of struggling with your old, sluggish Windows PC, you’ve finally unwrapped a shiny new computer. Here’s how to get started tweaking your settings, installing programs, and beefing up security to keep it running like a dream.
Title image remixed from an original by Air0ne (Shutterstock).
Before you do anything, there are a few things you’ll want to set up first:
- Install Microsoft Security Essentials—Let’s not sugarcoat it: Because of its popularity, Windows is one of the more vulnerable operating systems, so before you do anything, you’ll want to put a few security measures in place. Microsoft Security Essentials is still the best darn antivirus we’ve used; it’s free, and it’s just as effective as anything you’d pay for. Head over to Microsoft’s site, download the suite, and set it to auto-scan and auto-update so you can stop fussing with it and get on to the fun stuff.
- Offload Your Computer’s Bloat—Unless you built your computer yourself, it’s likely the manufacturer’s stuck some unsightly, unnecessary, bloated crapware on your computer that will do nothing but slow your computer down from the start. To get rid of it, download previously mentioned Revo Uninstaller and uninstall the software that shipped with your machine.
- Change Up Your Theme—Okay, so it’s not entirely necessary to do this before anything else, but why stare at that bland Windows wallpaper when you could be watching a slideshow of different Ferraris as you set up the rest of your computer? Microsoft’s got some great themes over at its site, and there are quite a few others floating around the net as well. Grab some of our favorite wallpapers from our Wallpaper Wednesday series, and if you want to take it even further, check out our guide to fully customizing your desktop and setting up an attractive, customized desktop HUD with Rainmeter. Once you’ve got your desktop looking awesome, it’s time to get to know Windows 7.
Install Some Killer Programs
Now that you’re computer’s secure, speedy, and looking awesome, it’s time to install some great software. Here are a few places you can find our favorite Windows programs.
- Lifehacker Pack for Windows: Our List of the Best Free Windows Downloads—Looking for the best programs to keep you connected, get you organized, and amp up your productivity? Our annual Lifehacker Pack has a one-package installer for all our favorite Windows software.
- Superior Alternatives to Crappy Windows Software—Before you go downloading Adobe Reader, iTunes, and the other “default” programs that everyone uses, check out our list of alternatives to crappy Windows software. You might be surprised at what other options are out there.
- Most Popular Free Windows Downloads of 2011—Apart from our list of essential programs, there are also some really neat pieces of software we’ve featured over the past year. If you want to know the cool programs everyone’s talking about, our 2011 list of the most popular free Windows downloads and tweaks is the place to look.
- 50 Free Apps We’re Most Thankful For—This Thanksgiving, you guys voted on the best free apps around. They’re not all Windows downloads (though many are cross-platform), and it’s a list to be reckoned with—so if you’ve still got a few holes after checking out the Pack and most popular, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for here.
Adjust Settings and Tweak Your System
While we’ve already done a handy list of the top 10 things to do with a new Windows 7 system, here are some of the other things you might want to check out to customize your new PC.
- Get to Know Windows 7’s Built-In Features Inside and Out—We’re pretty big fans of Microsoft’s newest OS here at Lifehacker, and we’ve spared no expense at digging into every corner of Windows 7. Check out our complete guide to Windows 7 to get the lowdown, and make sure to master Windows 7’s shortcuts and explore its underhyped features as well. We’ve also looked deeply into Windows 7’s jumplist, library, and taskbar, and system restore features, to if you want to be a true Windows ninja, you’ll want to read up on those too.
- Set Up an Automated, Bulletproof File Back Up Solution—If you didn’t have a backup before, there’s no better time than now to get one set up. Never lose your documents, photos, music, and other files again. Set it up now, and forget it.
- Five Best Windows Tweaking Applications—If you just want to jump right in and start tweaking the heck out of your system, we’ve rounded up some of the best programs to help you do just that.
- De-Crapify Your Printer or Scanner Setup—If you’ve already installed your printer, chances are it’s usurped your machine by installing loads of crapware and bloated apps. Check out our how-to for cleaning it up and freeing those resources.
- Speed Up Your Computer’s Boot Time—Even if you have a brand new machine, it may not be optimized for the fastest boot time. These are some of our favorite tips for speeding it up so you can get up and running in seconds.
- How to Run Windows, Mac, and Linux Side by Side and Pain-Free with VirtualBox—If you ever need to use software from other OSes (or just want to test other applications), you can run Windows, OS X, and Linux side by side without ever rebooting your computer. Of course, you could also dual-boot Windows 7 and Ubuntu in perfect harmony.
- How to Break into a Windows PC (And Prevent it from Happening to You)—It’s unlikely you’ll want to break into your shiny new Windows PC, but while you’re tweaking your system, you may want to read up on how potential thieves will try to break in—and tweak your passwords accordingly.
- Tweak the Heck Out of Your Registry—The Windows Registry is one of the most mysterious, yet coolest features of Windows. With a bit of knowledge and some guts, you can tweak your computer to do nearly anything you want. Our Top 10 list has all the Windows Registry tweaks you could ever want.
- The Cleverest Geeky Windows Tricks Everyone Should Know—After you’ve become an expert on Windows’ well-known features, delve into our guide about some of the best hidden Windows tricks to make getting around the OS much faster.
- Windows Maintenance Tips: The Good, Bad, and Useless—Now that you’ve got your system up and running, the last step is to make sure you keep it up and running (and running fast). We rounded up all the most popular Windows maintenance tips and showed you which ones really help (and hurt) your machine. For more Windows maintenance tips, you can check out our Ask Lifehacker on the subject, too.
- Dual Boot Windows 7 and Windows 8 Side By Side—We got our first peek at Microsoft’s upcoming version of Windows this year, and it looks awesome—not to mention fast. We later took an in-depth look at the OS, from the Metro UI (which isn’t great without touch, but it doesn’t matter) to the desktop to the new Windows Explorer and the improved task manager. If you really want to dig deep, check out its lesser-known features while you’re at it. It isn’t quite ready to be your primary operating system, but if you’re curious, it’s worth checking out. If you don’t want to dual boot, you can always install it in a virtual machine, too.
We hope these tips have helped you get your computer up, running, and customized just the way you like it. If you’re already a Windows veteran and you’ve got some tips that we haven’t mentioned, be sure to share them with us in the comments.