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A few steps immediately after you get your new computer can save you a lot of time, effort and loss of data later. I'll review my recommendations.

Congratulations! You've received a new computer!

There are some things you'll want to do to it before you start using it.

These are things that, later, when all heck breaks lose and the machine dies, the software crashes or you get a massive malware infection, will save you lots and lots of 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.

Disconnect From the Internet

I know you've already connected; you just couldn't help yourself I'm sure.

I'm the same way. Smile

But until we've made sure of a couple of safety items, let's pull off the road for a moment and prepare.

"Installation disks contain a full copy of Windows that can be installed from scratch."

Save the Installation Media

First, collect up 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 disks, not just recovery disks. Installation disks contain a full copy of Windows that can be installed from scratch. Recovery disks 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 disks, now's the time to get in touch with the vendor and insist on them - even if they cost a little extra.

Make a System/Image Backup

Using a tool like Macrium Reflect, DriveImageXML or similar, take an image backup, also 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 that will not boot because the hard drive is empty. 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, and can serve as an alternative should you not be able to get the installation media.

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.

Setup Regular Backups

While you've got your backup software out, take the time now 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.

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, by default, but it's well worth checking.

Once you've confirmed a firewall of some sort - connect.

Install Security Software

Your computer may well already have come with security software preinstalled, but you don't have to use it.

Quite often the pre-installed solutions aren't always the best. Sometimes they're just fine, other times not so much. Do a little research and decide.

Then either make sure that the preinstalled security software is configured and enabled properly, scanning and updating itself automatically, or download alternatives that you choose and set them up instead.

If you're unsure, I do have security software recommendations.

Update

Take the time now to update Windows, in particular, and if appropriate any of the other applications and software installed on your machine.

For Windows, at a minimum make sure that Automatic Updates is enabled. A more complete solution, however, would be to visit Windows Update, and consider the offer to use "Microsoft Update" to update not only Windows but all Microsoft applications installed on your machine as well.

Keeping your software updated is an important part of keeping your machine safe from viruses, spyware and other malware that exploit vulnerabilities discovered in the software.

Save the Product Keys

One more thing to save: the product keys or activation codes.

On the outside of your machine, or in or on the box that the software came in will be a product code that you may need to type in if you ever need to 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 that when you need to reinstall - perhaps a couple of years from now - you'll be able to find it.

Enjoy!

Of course there's always more, but this is a good start putting in some basic protection and setting up some safety nets that'll help protect your investment, your data and your time.

Article C4689 - December 24, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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18 Comments
Mary
December 26, 2010 10:48 PM

Re: System Imaging. Making an immediate system image is a good idea. But I'd suggest making a second system image (not just scheduling backups) right after installing security software, Windows/Microsoft updates, specific programs, apps, utilities, and configuring the machine with personal settings like themes, etc.

The original system image will return the machine to the exact state it was in when it left the factory. But that second system image will preserve the hours of personalization that everyone does. Then depending on how much the machine changes through use, other system images would be called for ... maybe once a month, or even once a week.

Frank D
December 28, 2010 9:52 AM

Leo, regarding your statement: "If you don't have installation disks, now's the time to get in touch with the vendor and insist on them - even if they cost a little extra."

A friend of mine buying a new HP desktop online on my advice asked for, requested, pleaded for, offered to pay for, a Windows installation disc and was turned down, refused, etc. with no options. He still bought the machine because it was the one he wanted.

What do you do in a case like this? Are you certain that your recommendation isn't outdated? Would you please comment?

Frank D

My recommendation stands - manufacturers need to hear that customers want (need) real installation disks. Ideally they would lose sales over it and that would motivate them to provide them somehow.

If you can't get them, then as soon as you can possibly do it - takek an image backup of the machine. Then save that (heck, make two copies for safety). If you need to reinstall just restore to this backup image to get the machine back to the state it was in when you got it.
Leo
29-Dec-2010

Jim
December 28, 2010 10:02 AM

I also tell everyone that gets a new PC and fortunenate to get systems disks to keep them inside, at the bottom of the tower to keep them safe and you will know where they are. Laptops, put them in a safe or a fire box or where ever you keep important documents.

I also make a complete backup onto a dedicated external HDD...thats came in handy. I dont do a backup to dvd's, that will take 10 blank dvd's for my system. I could use dvdrw's, but a lot less hassle using an external.

Stuart
December 28, 2010 10:04 AM

Well-timed article, Leo. And the advice is spot on, as usual.

Regarding Frank's comment about HP computers, I have had 3 HP computers over the years and every one of them came with a Restore partition that is used to create your own installation disk(s). I've had to use two of them, and they worked perfectly. But when my father-in-law's Dell computer had problems, the installation disk provided by Dell proved useless. So the availability of an installation disk, or the lack thereof, isn't necessarily the most important factor.

When creating installation disks, I would also advise using the best available disks, or making multiple copies on different brands (although you may be limited to a single copy). Some cheaper CD's and DVD's have questionable shelf lives, and this isn't the time to spare a couple of bucks.

Paul Gadebusch, III
December 28, 2010 10:13 AM

I also add removing any trialware, games and general bloatware that is installed to subsidized the cost of new computers. I have had success with PC Decrapifier, which does exactly as the name implies. Make sure to create a restore point in case you are overly aggressive in the removal. A free program that is in my kit whenever I install a new computer.

I'd recommend that as perhaps point #9 or so :-). Yes, removing crapware is something that makes sense, but in general it's an annoyance thing rather than a true safety/security thing.
Leo
29-Dec-2010

Michael Horowitz
December 28, 2010 10:56 AM

@Frank - there should be an application on the computer that can burn rescue CDs or DVDs from a hidden partition on the hard drive. These rescue discs, that you make yourself, can return the computer to the factory fresh state. They may be called recovery discs.

That said, I wouldn't bother.

Returning to factory fresh state will become useless after a few months. Far better to invest time/effort into learning how to make image backups and then making them every month or two. Image backups are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

DriveImage XML has many advantages but it does not, out of the box, offer a bare metal restore.

zaki.alakhdar
December 29, 2010 5:56 AM

I have a new laptop without intallation media, and I can`t make full backup image, becuase the hard disk is 250 GB of one partition, do you advice me to devide him or what is the alternative?

I don't understand why you can't make an image backup. I'd get an external hard disk and take an image backup placing it there. Partitioning won't really help long term.
Leo
29-Dec-2010

Henk
December 29, 2010 7:28 AM

The Windows Product Key that one can find with Belarc Advisor is unusable if you want to install Windows from scratch. In that case you need the Product Key from the sticker on the case of the laptop (or other computer)--and that sticker could very well be unreadable after some time. Write the Key down somewhere, e.g. on an extra sticker in the battery compartment! By the way, there is a method to use the original Key, but that's a different story.

John
December 29, 2010 8:58 AM

Very interesting newsletter. Very good advise.

Belarc Advisor has a problem with bench marking Windows XP, in as far as Outdated security is concerned. it does not seem to recognise service pack 3.

srenovo
December 29, 2010 9:12 AM

If the computer is an HP Pavillion (I can't speak for other brands BUT if they are consumer models I expect the same is true) and you want it to work well - use the recovery partition and system repair to reformat with a minimal install. After suffering with BSODs day after day and not being able to install and uninstall programs w/o editing the registry I started the process and up popped several choices one of which was MINIMAL INSTALL OF THE OPERATING SYSTEM. What a difference - it now works like a one expects a mobile I7 to work.

Just be smart and do it on day one not after two months of slow but steady decline in useability.

Frank D
December 29, 2010 9:39 AM

@Michael Horowitz: My friend and I have burned HP's rescue/recovery DVDs for our PCs. At least being able to return the PC to factory state can save from a disaster, and can also serve for passing the PC on to a future/other user. However, I still can't figure out why so much emphasis is placed on getting the Windows system installation disc if it's not readily available from the PC manufacturer, yet everyone seems to say that it's needed. There is a disconnect here.

As you suggested, both my friend and I have also invested in external hard drives as Leo recommends, and we make system images that can be used to restore to recent operating condition if the need arises. We created the required emergency boot disc and do a new image weekly, with an incremental update nightly (using EASEUS Todo Backup Advanced).

James Nell
December 29, 2010 12:34 PM

Nope sorry , Do not agree with the windows update advice.
I have had major issues with software not working after a Microsoft update. I keep my updates turned off and I stop the update service as well. Now my apps keep working and With F-Secure running in the background I never have any problems any-more , Except the ones I create . Like updating Nvidea drivers and suddenly my graphics apps don't want to work anymore.
Also Microsoft tends to install stuff that you dont need and then they run in the background and hogs the system.
Everything else is 100% .
My Win7 OS runs for years and not just months and Im on it up to 8hrs a day .
I decide if I want or need a Microsoft update not them. But I never do and my Machine is as clean and fast as if I installed Win7 yesterday.

If you're savvy enough to watch every thing and decide, update by update, what is an important security update or not then by all means go for it. It's too much to expect the average computer user to be able to do that. The far safer of the remaining options is to have windows automatic update enabled.
Leo
30-Dec-2010

Ken
December 31, 2010 11:27 PM

Leo, you suggest storing the system and installation disks in a safe place. I also make a disk copy of those disks and keep them at another location. And when I have needed to use those installation disks I try to use the backups so the originals don't get handled too often. Maybe I'm really paranoid but better safe than sorry.

indianacarnie
January 4, 2011 9:30 AM

I , personally, want the original installation disc's for multiple reasons foremost being ..... I re-install on a regular basis and want to be sure I have the original REGISTRY installed! Besides.... I'm "cheap" and if i'm paying for something (i.e. the O.S.) .... then I want it! :)
Also, about system images, on the two occasions I've had to use them my win7 only recognized one. 50% is not something I want to bet on.

Patrick
January 5, 2011 6:45 AM

Hello,

Re: availability of original installation discs

Most people, when purchasing a new (or second hand) computer get the machine with the OS and some application software readily installed. Also none of them will get any of the original software discs.

Everyone agrees that this practice is a bloody nuisance and it gives the consumer the feeling of “having been taken for a ride”, of having been cheated. After all, one might expect to get a full product for ones money. But no. Whenever you need some serious recovery (i.e. reinstalling your OS) you have to go to your local technician or purchase a (fairly expensive) special “recovery disc” which will only reset your OS to the manufacturer’s original settings and nothing more. You have to buy the full operating system seperately – or get some pirated version (which I am certainly not advizing anyone to do!).

For other applications there are loads of downloadable freebies. And of course one might argue that nobody actually obliges anyone to purchase any of MS’s OSs. But I dare anyone to ask a computerdealer to sell you a machine that runs some build of Linux OS without losing your 3 or 5 year warranty (hardware inclusive!). Armies if lawyers insist that MS has no monopoly whatsoever nor uses any monopolistic policies while every wellinformed consumer simply knows that this legalistic view is lightyears away from everyday reality.

So, what is really going on?
IMO… (and not mine only) something along the lines of the following...

Some big computervendor buys a large batch of machines from some manufacturer, software installed, planning to sell smaller batches of those to a smaller retailers. At the same time he purchases a number of licenses from the softwaredeveloper(s) to go with it, and reselling the mentionned licences along with them. Each time a machine changes hands, going down the chain of selling and buying until it reaches you, the enduser, the price goes up a bit. Your local retailer thus ends up with a machine and a licence for, say, 10 reinstallments (or one installment for a network of ten stations or anything in between). That’s why he can’t give you the original installation discs for free. He needs those for repairs, i.e. reinstalling your original OS.

Anyone who ever bought a machine together with the original OS discs knows that MS limits the number of times he or she can reinstall that specific set of discs (with Win XP that was 10 reinstallments per machine… I don’t know about these restriction on any higher versions)

The product registration code tells MS what the exact count is. Once you have exceeded that limit, you have about three options. Contact MS, explain about repeated crashes that necessitated installing the OS over and over again, and they just might reset that counter to 1. Or you might purchase their “recovery disc” (also with limited use, but I may be mistaken here). Or, finally, you might call on a good friend who might be willing to grant you the use of one (or more?) “reinstall-credits”. Mind you, once all credits are used up, you can still use the “exhausted” OS-discs, though you may be confronted with some strange computer behaviour and a permanent message urging you to purchase original, legitimate MS software (i..e.the recovery set)…

So, apart from what Leo correctly suggests, you get and remain stuck with MS or you move on to a better FREE OS cum applications.
For those who are financially in better doings (and sometimes better off softwarewise as well?): get addicted to Apple/Mac or conceive and create your own supermachine ;-)

Greetings to all
and that nothing but good and pleasant things may come your way in 2011.

Patrick.

Jim H
January 12, 2011 4:16 AM

I didn't quite understand James Nell's comments. I am obsessive about keeping things updated, Microsoft and otherwise. I have been online since years before we had high speed Internet available and I have to chuckle when I remember the power and performance of my early PCs. Since getting away from dial-up I have left my PCs on 24/7/365 only turning them off when power went out and my UPS shut them down. I have never had any update related problems other than one minor issue with a bug in a MS update some years ago. It didn't really cause me any problems but apparently there was a bug which was fixed and the update was re-released best I recall. As to the comment about them sending you stuff you didn't need, only critical updates are automatically downloaded and installed. Anything to do with software or extra features is under the optional software section on the MS Update page and you have to specifically select them to download them. Those I will pick and choose. Your comment about the nVidia drivers would have me bet you just downloaded and installed new drivers without manually uninstalling the old ones first. 90% of the time you can get away with it but that 10% of the time when it causes problems can be quite maddening. This is the voice of experience here and it was a lesson I learned and took to heart. I upgrade video cards routinely and can assure you the same holds true for ATI. Video drivers are the one thing I will uninstall before upgrading to a new version. Most importantly, the reason for upgrades and patches to begin with is problems with software and applications is that not every situation and computing environment can be duplicated and remedied before it is released. Problems often don't become apparent until the product is in the field. With security patches. bad guys are always trying to figure out ways to exploit things and are sadly too often successful. Every MS security patch prevents an exploitable aspect of the operating system or other software from being exploited by bad guys. What you say is akin to the guy who preaches it isn't necessary to change the oil in a car's engine, just add it as needed and swears because he had 50,000 miles without a breakdown he's doing the right thing. The risk isn't going to be visible until something really bad happens and then the chap is going to blame the make/model or something other than his own failure to do proper maintenance. And that's exactly what patches and updates are: maintenance. On the most basic level patches and upgrades are often necessary for newer software to function. I'm probably 3 or 4 times the age of a typical PC gamer but I can tell you that the latest video card drivers are a must for gaming. I also do a lot of music and video editing so there again, the latest drivers are a necessity for my software to be the most current. It's your right to choose to ignore upgrades and patches and put your machine and your privacy at risk, but something tells me you take your example and encourage others to follow it. I hope not.

Rich Hill
November 1, 2011 7:41 AM

Great advice. I did the image first thing. then went on to install stuff and was asked to set up a password to protect the laptop. Never had a laptop before, seemed like a good idea. Well somehow I screwed it up and after a reboot couldn't get back in. Only then did I discover I could have made a password rescue disk. The good news is the image installed, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Mark J
November 1, 2011 8:24 AM

@Rich
It good that you were able to restore from a backup image, but if you didn't have that, here's an article which shows how to reset a forgotten Windows Login password
I've lost the password to my windows administrator account how do i get i _back?

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