Out of the Box Tips: Set Up Your New Laptop Like a Pro
You pull your brand-new laptop 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 notebook is not really ready--or truly yours--until you do some tweaking. Here are ten things you should do with your new PC.
Step 0: Upgrade to Windows 10
If your computer came with Windows 8.1, you should upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft's operating system before you do anything else. Your laptop may already have a Windows 10 update alert in the system tray; if so, you can use that to initiate the upgrade. However, if you don't have the alert and you have a 4GB or larger USB drive, you can follow our instructions for an easy upgrade.
Step 1: Run All Windows Updates
Your computer is probably going to download a series of Windows 10 updates on its own so why not get it over with by forcing them to install manually?
1. Type "updates" in the search box.
2. Click "Check for updates."
Windows will start searching for and downloading updates, but you don't have to wait for this process to complete before moving on to your next task.
Step 2: Adjust Your Display Scaling
Today many laptops come with high resolution displays that are sharp and colorful, but have so many pixels that your icons and fonts may appear a little too small out of the box. Conversely, your laptop may have icons and fonts that are larger than you need them, potentially wasting screen real estate. You can control the size of desktop objects using a Windows feature known as display scaling. If on-screen content is too small for you, you can turn the scaling up to 125 or even 150 percent. However, if you'd like to fit more on the display at once, you can turn that number down to 100 percent. Here's how.
1. Right click on your desktop and select Display Settings.
2. Move the slider under "Change the size of text, apps . . . " to the left or right. Moving left decreases the scaling percentage so you have smaller objects while sliding to the right enlarges everything. You cannot get any smaller than 100 percent. You will notice an immediate change to the size of some menus.
3. Reboot your computer or log out and log back in.
Step 3: Unhide File Extensions and Hidden Files
By default, Windows 10 treats you like an untrustworthy teenager, hiding extensions (ex: .docx, .xls, .jpg) and making system files completely invisible. But seeing the three or four-letter file extensions is particularly important because they let you know exactly what type of file you're looking at. It's not enough to know, for example, that "my-family-vacation" is a picture file; you should know whether it's a JPG, a GIF or a PNG file before you decide to print or share it. By the same token, a myreport.doc can be read by Microsoft Word from 2003 and before but myreport.docx requires newer software.
1. Open File Explorer. You can get there by clicking on the yellow folder icon on the taskbar.
2. Click the View tab at the top of the window.
3. Toggle on "File name extensions" and "Hidden items." You will need to hit "View" again after you check the first one.
Step 4: Configure Cortana or Turn Her Off
Microsoft's built-in digital assistant offers a number of neat features, such as the ability to set reminders, find files by semantic search, answer questions using Bing's knowledge base, perform some voice commands and give you alerts for things like weather and sports scores. If the idea of having a digital assistant appeals to you, you need to activate Cortana and give her some information about you. If not, you can speed up your searches by turning her off entirely.
To activate Cortana:
1. Click in the search box.
2. Click Next
3. Click Use Cortana.
If you aren't logged in to a Microsoft account, you'll be prompted to sign in, but you should already be logged into Windows 10 with that account (unless you went out of your way to create a local account).
4. Select the notebook icon in the left menu bar that appears when you click the search box.
A list of icons appears.
5. Click About Me to enter your name and favorite places (such as work and home).
6. Click Sports to tell Cortana what teams you follow.
7. Click Connected Accounts to give Cortana access to data from other accounts.
If you want to disable Cortana:
1. Click the Notebook icon and then Settings.
2. Slide "Cortana can give you suggestions" to Off.
Step 5: Install Your Browser of Choice (or stick with Edge)
Microsoft's new Edge Browser is fast, lightweight and definitely worth considering. However, if you're used to using Chrome and Firefox and you have accounts and / or extensions set up in them, you'll want your favorite browser right away. To set your new browser as the default, follow these steps.
1. Download and run the browser installer of your choice. Chrome is at https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/desktop/
2. Navigate to settings. You can get there from the Start Menu.
3. Click System.
4. Select Default apps in the left pane.
5. Click the icon under Web browser. It may say "Choose a default" or it may have the icon for the current default browser.
6. Select your browser in the pop-up menu that appears.
Step 6: Set Up Keyboard Shortcuts for Everything
You can save a lot of time -- at least several minutes a day that add up over time -- by using keyboard shortcuts rather than rolling your mouse pointer across a screen to open a menu or double click on an icon. In addition to memorizing the most important built-in Windows keyboard shortcuts and specific shortcuts for your favorite apps (ex: CTRL+ T opens a new tab in your browser), you can and should set up hot keys that open your favorite programs. Here's how.
1. Open the run dialog box by hitting Windows + R.
2. Type "explorer shell:AppsFolder" into the box and hit OK.
3. Right click on the app you want and select Create Shortcut.
4. Click Yes when prompted. A new icon appears on your desktop.
5. Right click on the new shortcut and select Properties.
6. Enter a key combination using CTRL + ALT + a Character in the Shortcut key box. You can use letters, numbers or symbols. We suggest using letters that represent the program you're launching (ex: CTRL + ALT + W for Word).
7. Click OK.
Step 7: Copy or Sync Your Files
What good is your new computer if it doesn't have your most important data on it? There are several possible ways to move your documents, photos, videos and other key files over from an old computer. These include
- OneDrive Sync: If your important files are stored in OneDrive, they will automatically download to the new computer once you log into the new PC with your Microsoft account.
- Dropbox or Google Drive: These services work just like OneDrive but don't come preloaded with Windows (unless your laptop manufacturer put them there). If you were using them to store files on your old computer, install them on the new one.
- Copy files manually. Select all the files under your Documents, Music, Videos and Photos libraries, copy them to an external drive (ex: Flash drives) and then copy them over to the new machine. This is a bit tedious so we recommend using Cloud storage if possible.
Step 8: Uninstall Bloatware
Most PC vendors put lots of third-party, preloaded software on your computer. From 30-day trials of antivirus software to casual games (ex: Candy Crush) you may not want to play, all of this bloatware is sucking up system resources. To uninstall bloatware:
1. Navigate to Settings. You can get there from the Start Menu.
2. Select System.
3. Select Apps and Features from the left menu.
4. Select an app you wish to uninstall.
5. Click Uninstall.
6. Click the second uninstall button that appears.
Step 9: Change Your Desktop Theme
If you're happy with the wallpaper and color scheme that your computer came with, by all means keep it. However, most people will want to personalize Windows 10's look and feel by changing themes. Here's how:
Right click on the desktop and select Personalize.
The personalization menu appears.
To change your desktop wallpaper:
1. Select Picture, Solid Color or Slideshow from the Background menu.
2a. If you picked "picture," select a photo from the list or browse for one on your hard drive.
2b. If you picked, "solid color," select one of the available shades.
2c. If you chose "Slideshow," decide which folder you want the show to draw from. It defaults to your pictures library.
To change the color of your taskbar, window title bars and Start menu:
1. Click Colors in the left nav.
2. Pick a color or toggle "automatically pick" to on.
3. Toggle "Show color on Start, taskbar..." to On.
Rather than tweaking the colors and wallpaper separately, you can choose from a pre-existing theme.
1. Click Themes in the left pane.
2. Choose a theme.
Click "Get more themes online" if you want to download additional options.
Step 10: Disable the Time-Wasting Lock Screen
Unless you enjoy staring at an attractive photo when you first boot or wake your PC, the Windows lock screen serves absolutely no purpose. Every time you start up, you have to swipe or click on the lock screen photos before you can enter your username and password, but why not just go straight to the login prompt? Here's how.
1. Open the registry editor by hitting Windows + R and typing "regedit" into the run box.
2. Click Yes if prompted by User Account Control.
3. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows by opening the folder tree in the left window pane.
4. Right click in the right pane and select New->Key. Then rename the key Personalization. Skip this step if a Personalization key already exists under Windows.
5. Open the Personalization key.
6. Right click in the right pane and select New->DWORD (32-bit) value. Rename it to NoLockScreen.
7. Set NoLockScreen to 1 by double clicking on it and entering 1 in the dialog box.
8. Close the Registry Editor and reboot your PC.
Image Credit for Cover Image: Lukiyanova Natalia / frenta / Shutterstock
Windows 10 How-tos