Out of the Box Laptop Tips
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: 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 in Windows 8 / 8.1:
1. Click the search icon on the start screen.
2. Search for Windows Update.
3. Click Check for Updates.
4. Click Check Now. The system will poll the Internet for updates.
5. Click View Details if the software finds any updates.
6. Check Select all important updates then click Install.
Step 2: 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. Depending on how many files you have on your old PC and where you stored them, copying them over could take a while. Services like Dropbox make the transfer easy if you've already backed up your old computer to the Cloud. If you haven't, we recommend using an external hard drive or USB Flash drive to move the files back and forth. Make sure you grab everything from your Pictures, Music, Video and Documents libraries.
Step 3: Get the Latest Browser(s)
Windows 8.1 comes with a fresh copy of Internet Explorer 11 that updates automatically. However, many users prefer Google's speedy Chrome browser or Mozilla's very flexible Mozilla browser. Download the one(s) you want so you can start surfing.
Step 4: 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:
- Windows Essentials: Microsoft's free software pack for the desktop UI features a great e-mail client, a competent video editor, an instant-messaging app, blogging software, and a photo editor. Though the company hasn't updated these applications for Windows 8, they're still better than the Modern UI equivalents that come preloaded.
- 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.
- WPS Office: This free office suite has a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application that can open and edit Microsoft Office-compatible files. Some new PCs come with a trial version of Microsoft Office 2013, but WPS is completely free.
Step 5: Pin and Create Hot Keys for Favorite Apps
Once you get your favorite applications installed, you'll want to make it easy to launch them. In Windows 8.1, you can pin shortcuts to both the Start screen and the desktop taskbar. We also recommend creating hot keys so you can launch apps without lifting your hands off of the keyboard.
Create a Hot Key: Right-click on any desktop mode shortcut and select Properties. Then, enter a key combination in the Shortcut Key box and click Enter. It's a good idea to use CTRL + ALT + a key so as not to conflict with other apps' shortcuts.
Pin to Taskbar: Right-click on a shortcut in the apps menu, Start screen or desktop and select Pin to Taskbar. The icon will take a permanent place on the desktop taskbar.
Pin to Start Screen: Right-click on a shortcut and select Pin to Start. The icon will appear on the Windows 8 Start screen.
Step 6: Uncombine Your Taskbar Icons
By default, Windows 8.1's desktop mode 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 7: 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 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 an old Word 2003 document and a more current Word document.
To remove these training wheels:
1. Navigate to the Control Panel. You can get there by hitting Windows + X and selecting control panel.
2. Select Folder Options. If you don't see the Folder Options icon, change the View by option to Large Icons.
3. Click on the View tab.
4. Select "Show hidden files, folder, and drives."
5. 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 8: 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, one of our favorites is the free KeePass Password Safe.
To use it
1. Download and Install KeePass Professional Edition.
2. 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:
1. 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.
2. Right-click and select Add Entry in the right window pane.
3. 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.
4. 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 9: Tweak Your Power Settings
Some notebooks come with a vendor-supplied power management utility, in addition to Windows 8'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 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.
Step 10: Disable User Account Control / Smart Screen Filtering
By default, Windows treats you like an idiot, popping up annoying warnings when you try to install software or change settings. You know what you're installing and don't need a digital nanny wagging her finger at you. To disable these warnings:
1. Search for "user account control" in Windows' universal search.
2. Click "Change User Account Control Settings."
3. Slide the slider down to "Never Notify" and click OK.
4. Search for Action Center and click its icon.
5. Click "Change Windows SmartScreen settings."
6. Select "Don't do anything" and click OK.
- 8.1 Worst Windows 8.1 Annoyances And How to Fix Them
- Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
- 12 Gadgets Ahead of Their Time