We still get an adrenaline rush whenever we complete a new build or unbox a fancy new system. All we want to do at that point is plug it in, punch the power switch, and make a beeline for our Steam library where plenty of gaming goodness awaits. But here’s the thing—if you want to get the most out of your shiny new PC, there are some things you should do at the outset.
Sure, you could ignore our advice and ride off into the sunset, but your PC might not perform at its peak. Worse yet, if there is a hardware issue, it could fly under the radar undetected until the most inopportune time. That’s a headache you can do without. By going through our new PC checklist, you can greatly reduce the chance of that happening, as well as make sure you are getting the most out of your system.
Check The BIOS
This one can be a little scary if you’re brand new to PCs, and if that’s the case, you might want to enlist the help of a more experienced friend or family member. Whether you go at it alone or with someone else, it might be a good idea to check for any BIOS updates from your motherboard manufacturer’s website (navigate to the support section). You don’t necessarily have to install a newer BIOS version, depending on the release notes. However, BIOS updates can sometimes improve compatibility with certain hardware, such as your CPU and memory. If there is a newer version available that adds features applicable to your setup, go ahead and install it. Otherwise, you may want to leave it alone.
Grabbing Windows updates is sort of like filing taxes—nobody really enjoys the experience, but it has to be done or else it could come back to bite you in the backside. An unpatched PC is susceptible to any number of threats on the web. Beyond the added security, Windows updates can also improve functionality of certain devices and services, as well as add new features and functionality.
Unfortunately, sometimes this can be a long process. If you bought a new PC, it depends on how long ago it was actually built. And if there is major update available, like the recently released Fall Creators Update for Windows 10, it could even take upward of an hour or more, depending on your Internet connection.
Microsoft likes to force automatic updates, but to initiate the process manually, head to Settings > Update & security and click on the Check for updates button. A reboot (or several) might be necessary, so plan accordingly.
Clear Out The Clutter
In the old days, new PCs often came loaded with performance robbing bloatware. This annoying practice is not as popular as it used to be, but it hasn’t fallen completely by the wayside, either. That is one of the many perks to building your own system—no third-party bloat.
If you decided to buy instead of build, head to the Control Panel and start uninstalling programs and utilities that you don’t want. Not everything in there is junk, though, so pay attention to what you’re removing. You might also find that some pre-installed utilities are actually useful, such as software to control your PC’s onboard audio.
Another option is to use PC Decrapifier, which allows you to choose multiple programs at once to uninstall rather than removing them one at a time.
Install The Latest Drivers
Windows does a good job of recognizing many different types of hardware, but specialized drivers by the hardware manufacturer can boost performance and unlock features that might otherwise lay dormant. Take a gaming keyboard, for example. If it has dedicated macro keys and fancy multi-colored backlighting, you might need a driver and even a software utility from the manufacturer to use those features.
This also applies to your motherboard, and especially your graphics card. Grab the latest chipset drivers for your motherboard manufacturer’s website, and be sure to install the latest GPU drivers from AMD or Nvidia if rolling with a discrete graphics card, or AMD or Intel if using integrated graphics. Repeat the process for your GPU whenever a new game comes out that you are interested in playing. Both AMD and Nvidia are good about releasing new drivers that are optimized for the latest titles.
Go Over The Edge And Get A New Browser
Not all browsers are created equal. Sure, they will all get you from point A to point B on the web, but if you’re not digging Edge, the default option in Windows 10, there are several alternatives available. The most popular ones are Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
If you are concerned about privacy, you might want to try Brave. It’s a newer browser option that purportedly blocks website trackers and, by default, replaces ads on websites with ones that don’t negatively impact page loads. Check out this blog post for more info.
Grab Your Favorite Utilities With Ninite
Do you use a lot of different programs on your PC, such as TeamViewer, 7-Zip, and VLC, to name a few favorites? If so, head to Ninite and start checking boxes. Unlike PC Decrapifier, which works its mojo by removing programs in one fell swoop, Ninite works in the opposite direction by streamlining the process of adding multiple applications to your PC. It’s incredibly convenient, and also well configured—it knows to install 64-bit versions of programs on 64-bit machines, it grabs the latest stable version of an app, and it doesn’t install any toolbars or other junk that app makers sometimes like to bundle with their installers. Basically, Ninite does what you do, only faster and with less clicks.
Benchmark Your Hardware
Benchmarks are not just for bragging rights, they can also root out faulty hardware and let you know if your parts are all performing the way they should. This is sort of like pressing the pedal to the metal in a new car—if it spits and sputters, then the dealer has some explaining to do, and might even have to replace some parts (if not the whole thing). The same is true of a new PC—burn it in and see where the dust settles.
The best way to do this is by benchmarking individual components. For gaming, the GPU is the most important piece of hardware. 3DMark is great for testing your graphics card. There are two things you want to look for here. One is artifacting, which can be indicative of a bad GPU or graphics memory, and the second is the benchmark score. You will want to compare this with other similar setups. A lower than expected score can be caused by using outdated drivers, insufficient cooling, or even not enough wattage being supplied to your graphics card.
You should also test your CPU, storage, and Internet connection. Check out our “How To Benchmark Your New PC for Free” guide for plenty of free benchmark recommendations.
Your best bet against malware is to use safe computing habits. You know, things like never opening unexpected email attachments, typing URLs directly into your browser instead of clicking on links, and using secure passwords. However, safe computing is like safe driving—you can’t account for every possible scenario, and you’re susceptible to other people’s mistakes. Take a legitimate website that’s been hacked. Just visiting a compromised website can infect your PC.
One option at your disposal is to trust the built-in security tools that Microsoft provides with Windows (if you’re using Windows). Windows Defender is not a fleshed out security solution, but it does an adequate job of batting away malware.
If you want something more robust, there are plenty of third-party alternatives, including both free and fee-based options. It’s really not necessary to pay for protection, but if you want additional bells and whistles, Internet security suites are the way to go. Otherwise, some popular free options include Avast, Avira, AVG, BitDefender, and Comodo.
Add Another Layer Of Protection
Antivirus programs are good at providing a first line of defense, but they sometimes let things through. That is where Malwarebytes comes in. Malwarebytes performs a deep dive on your system to root out stubborn malware, including what are called “potentially unwanted programs” (PUPs) that might have piggybacked on an installer for some other program. Install Malwarebytes and then scan your PC with it every few months, or anytime you have cause to believe your PC is infected despite a clean bill of health by your AV software.
You should also scan for rootkits on occasion. Rootkits are especially nasty because they hide deep in your system and are often difficult to remove using standard AV programs. Malwarebytes offers a rootkit scanner (here) that is in beta. You can also find rootkit scanners from Sophos and Kaspersky (TDSSKiller).
Formulate A Backup Plan
The excitement of a new PC should not overshadow the need for a backup solution. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention will prevent you from smashing your keyboard in frustration from losing all of your data, or something like that. Don’t wait until it’s too late to think about backups.
There are plenty of ways you can go about this. One is to periodically backup your data to an external hard drive or NAS box. Another is to take advantage of cloud-storage sites like Google Drive or Dropbox. You don’t need to go nuts here, but at the very least, make sure your most precious files—work documents, family photos, and so forth—reside somewhere other than your PC.