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Out of the Box Laptop Tips

Follow these steps when you take your new machine out of the box.


You pull your brand-new notebook out of its packaging and plug it in for the first time. Then you go through the Windows setup, and you're all done, right? Not really. Your laptop is not really ready--or truly yours--until you do some tweaking. Here are ten things you should do with your new system.

Step 1: Install/Activate Antivirus Software

You wouldn't walk through Times Square with your bank account number and PIN written on your T-shirt. So why would you start browsing the web on your new laptop without virus and malware protection enabled? Your new notebook almost certainly comes with a free 30- or 60-day trial of a popular security suite, but if you want to take advantage of that trial, you need to register. Registering typically involves providing your credit card number so that you can be billed for a monthly subscription if you don't cancel by the end of the trial period.

Microsoft Security Essentials AntiVirus Freeware

If you want to save money and avoid nagging ads, you can uninstall the pre-loaded antivirus program and install , which is not as comprehensive as some paid suites, but is free for life. Download it at

Step 2: Run All Windows Updates

No matter how recently your notebook left the factory, there are still plenty of important Windows updates you need to install. There's a good chance that the moment you connect your laptop to the Internet it will start pulling down updates automatically. However, to be on the safe side, you should manually get Windows Update started.

To manually download Windows updates:

  • Click the Start button. A search box will appear.
  • Search for Windows Update and click the icon for Windows Update that appears.
  • Click the Check for Updates link in the left panel. Windows will take a few seconds to check Microsoft's servers for available updates.
  • Click on the link which shows the number of important updates that are available (ex: "13 important updates are available"). Make sure all the boxes are checked and click Ok.
  • Click the link for the optional updates (if there is one). Then make sure you check off updates for any of your hardware (touchpad, network card, etc) so you have the latest drivers.



Step 3: Transfer Files and Applications from Your Old PC

Your new PC won't truly be yours until it holds all your important data files and favorite applications. Windows Easy Transfer, a freeware app from Microsoft, makes it simple to move files, pictures, settings, and even e-mail between your old computer and the new one.

Windows Easy Transfer

  • Install and Run Windows Easy Transfer on your old PC. If your old PC has Windows 7, Easy Transfer is already installed and you can launch it by clicking the Start button then typing "Easy Transfer" into the search box and clicking the icon. However, if your old computer is on Windows XP or Vista, you must download Easy Transfer from Microsoft.
  • Select External Hard Drive as your method of transfer. You can transfer files between the computers using either a USB easy transfer cable, your home network, or an external hard drive/USB flash drive. However, unless you happen to have an Easy Transfer cable lying around the house, the external drive option is your best bet.
  • Select "This is my old computer." The program will scan your old computer for data then show you a list of your accounts and the amount of data present in each.
  • Select the user account(s) you wish to transfer data from. If you wish to select which types of data are transferred, click the Customize button and deselect the types of content (e-mail, photos, documents, music) you don't want to transfer.
  • Click Next. You may enter a password to protect the backup files on your hard drive, but this is not necessary.
  • Select the external drive you wish to save your files to and click Next. Wait while the transfer completes and click Next to close the program.
  • Plug the hard drive into your new laptop.
  • Launch Windows Easy Transfer on your new laptop and click Next.
  • Select External Hard Disk, then "This is my new computer," then Yes to indicate your external drive is plugged in.
  • Select the backup file from your external drive. You will see a list of accounts to be copied over. Don't uncheck these.
  • Click Transfer. The program will copy your information, including your settings and wallpaper.

To transfer most applications, you will need to reinstall them, either by downloading them onto the new computer or running the programs on their original install CD or DVD-ROMs.

Step 4: Get the Latest Browser and Plug-ins

You shouldn't use a 2011 computer with a 2009-era web browser. Unfortunately, a number of Windows PCs still come with the outdated Internet Explorer 8 pre-loaded. Not only is IE 8 significantly slower than other browsers; it also doesn't support the latest web standards.

To find out which version of Internet Explorer you have, select About Internet Explorer from the browser's Help menu. If there is no Help menu visible in Internet Explorer, look for the About Internet Explorer option under the gear icon, though this probably means you have IE 9.

Windows Internet Explorer 9

If you have IE 8 pre-loaded, visit to download an update to IE 9. You may also want to try Google's Chrome Browser ( or Mozilla Firefox ( to see which you like best. Our tests have shown fairly similar performance on all three browsers.

Each of the major browsers has its own set of unique features. IE 9 has a clean look and lets you pin favorite sites to your task bar. Chrome opens faster than any other browser and supports cloud printing. Firefox has the most extensions and customization options.

After you've downloaded the latest browser, be sure you have the latest plug-ins for Flash, Java, and PDFs. Chrome updates Flash automatically and comes with a built-in PDF reader, but for IE or Firefox, you will need to download the latest versions of these plug-ins from and

You'll also want to remove unnecessary tool bars. The more tool bars in your browser, the less space is available to view your favorite web pages without scrolling. Right-click on any extra tool bars, such as the Bing bar, and make sure they are unchecked in your browser's view menu.

Step 5: Install Some Great Freeware

What would your new laptop be without free software? Now would be a good time to start installing some programs that will help you get the most out of your laptop. These include:

Microsoft Live Essentials: Microsoft's free software pack features a great e-mail client, a competent video editor, an instant-messaging app, blogging software, and a photo editor.

Paint.NET: The best free alternative to Photoshop provides a simple yet powerful image editing interface.

Filezilla: If you need to upload or download files from an FTP server, this is your best bet.

TweetDeck: The leading Twitter client allows you to see feeds in a user-friendly column view.

TweetDeck This free office suite has a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application. It can even open and save Microsoft Office-compatible files. Some new PCs come with Microsoft Office 2010 Starter edition, which features stripped-down, ad-supported versions of Excel and Word, but has full presentation editing and no advertising.

Step 6: Pin and Create Hot Keys For Favorite Apps

Pin Tasks to the TaskBarOnce you get your favorite applications installed, you'll want to make it easy to launch them. In Windows 7, you can avoid scrolling through a ton of folders and get quick access to programs in one of three ways.

Create a Hot Key: To launch a favorite program, right-click on any shortcut and select Properties. Then, enter a key combination in the Shortcut Key box and click Enter. Be sure to use a unique key combination that doesn't contradict those used in your favorite programs.

Pin to Taskbar: Right-click on a shortcut in the Start menu and select Pin to Taskbar. The icon will take a permanent place to the right of the Start button.

Pin to Start Menu: Right-click on a shortcut and select Pin to Start Menu. The icon will remain at the top of the Start menu, not buried in the All Programs folder.

Step 7: Uncombine Your Taskbar Icons

By default, Windows 7 combines an applications' windows into a single taskbar icon, with no descriptive text. This makes the taskbar look more like the Mac OS X dock, but it can be difficult to keep track of your windows or distinguish between a pinned shortcut and a running program. To get separate icons for every window, right click on an empty area of the taskbar, select properties, and select Never Combine from the Taskbar buttons menu.

Step 8: Unhide Extensions, Files, and Folders

Under the guise of protecting you from yourself, Windows hides certain files and folders from view to prevent you from accidentally erasing them. For example, AppData folder, which holds the default template for Microsoft Word and a list of sites/passwords for the FTP program Filezilla, is hidden.

Windows 7 also hides the three or four character extensions that appear at the end of all your filenames. If the extensions are hidden and you are looking at a folder of images you may not be able to tell the difference between a JPG and a GIF file or Word 2003 document that anyone can open and a Word 2007 document that requires a newer version of Office.

Remove these training wheels by going into Control Panel, selecting Folder Options, and clicking on the View tab. Select "Show hidden files, folder, and drives". Then uncheck "Hide extensions for known file types" and "Hide protected operating system files". Don't let the warnings spook you; if you're a cautious and responsible PC user, you won't need a nanny.


Step 9: Install a Password Manager to Store Your Logins

It's hard keeping track of your passwords these days, particularly with all the different websites you visit. In an attempt to keep all those credentials straight in your head, you may end up using short, simple passwords that are too easy for a hacker to guess.

A password manager can keep track of all your accounts, type in your passwords with a single keystroke, and help you generate complex passwords that nobody can guess. Though some notebooks come with their own password managers, our favorite is the free KeePass Password Safe.

  • Download and Install KeePass.
  • Create a new password database by first selecting New from the File menu, entering a file name, and then entering a Master password you will use to open the password database every time you boot your computer.

Once your password database has been created, add new password entries by following these steps:

  • Select a password group that corresponds to the type of password you'd like to store (ex: Windows, Internet, e-mail) or create a new group by right-clicking and selecting Add Group.
  • Right-click and select Add Entry in the right window pane.
  • Enter the title, username, password, and any notes on the Entry screen. If you don't already have a password, you can click the key icon to generate a secure password.
  • Click Add on the Auto-type tab and select the title of the window you wish to type the password into (ex: Facebook).
  • Next time you have that window open, you can hit CTRL + ALT + A to have KeePass enter the username and password for you.

Step 10: Tweak Your Power Settings

Most notebooks come with a vendor-supplied power management utility, in addition to Windows 7's power menu in the Control Panel. Use either one to create a custom power profile that meets your needs and work habits. It can save you valuable battery life.

Each vendor's power utility has its own set of menus, but to use the Microsoft power utility, launch Power Options from within the control panel, select one of the existing plans, click Change plan settings, and then Change advanced power settings.

In advanced power options, you will want to make a few key decisions, based on how you plan to use your notebook. Here are some of the most important choices you can make.


  • Display brightness: Set your brightness (from 0 to 100 percent) for use on battery and when plugged in. When plugged in, you'll want all 100 percent of your brightness, but a lower percentage is better for endurance when running on battery. The default brightness of 40 percent is a good setting, but you may want to tweak this until you find an even lower level you're can live with.
  • Sleep after: How many minutes of inactivity will it take before your notebook goes to sleep? If you pick too short a time, your system may go to sleep while you're staring at the screen thinking about what to write. Wait too long, and if you walk away, your notebook's battery will drain. We recommend an interval of five to ten minutes.
  • Dim display after and Dimmed Display Brightness: Windows 7 can dim your laptop's display after a few minutes of activity, lowering power usage without going to sleep. You can set the amount of time before the display dims and percentage brightness it dims to. We recommend you disable this feature altogether.
  • Turn display off after: After this period of time, your display will turn off. There's no need for this setting with sleep mode enabled because sleep will turn off your display.
  • System cooling policy: By default, your notebook is set to use passive cooling, instead of its fan, when you're unplugged. However, if your laptop gets hot, change this setting to Active.


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