Laptops

10 things you should do when you get a new Windows laptop

Before you take a new laptop on the road, make sure it's correctly configured, secured, and provisioned to meet your needs.

I recently replaced my laptop with a newer model, and I went through a number of steps to get it ready for use.  I thought it might be fun to share my list of things you should do when you get a new laptop.  Before I get started, I want to point out that I am assuming that applications and data exist locally on the laptop's hard drive. Therefore, some items won't apply to organizations that use VDI or that have corporate policies prohibiting data from being stored on laptops.

1: Make your own drivers disk

The first thing I usually do when I buy a new laptop is create my own drivers disk. Pretty much every manufacturer posts all the latest drivers on its Web site. I like to take the time to download all these drivers and burn them to a DVD so that I have them on hand for later.

2: Take an inventory of your applications

The next thing I recommend doing is to take an inventory of the applications on your old laptop. Start by figuring out if there are any installed applications you don't need anymore. Next, make sure that you still have the installation media for any remaining applications. If the new laptop is going to be running a different operating system from the old laptop, it's a good idea to perform a compatibility check while you're at it. You might even use this opportunity to upgrade to a new version of your applications. In any case, an application inventory is essential.

3: Determine how you will migrate any data from your old laptop

Assuming that your laptop contains data, you will need to come up with a plan for migrating it to the new machine. If you're working in a Windows environment, you might be able to use the File And Settings Transfer Wizard to migrate your data. Regardless of the method you use, however, the important thing is to know what data needs to be moved and to have a plan for moving it.

4: Take the time to document your old configuration settings

Another step I recommend involves documenting all your configuration settings. Of course, there are utilities available that will transfer the majority of your configuration settings from one laptop to another. But recording your configuration settings is important because your documentation can act as a checklist when you go back to verify that the new laptop is configured correctly.

5: Blank the hard drive

I realize that plenty of people disagree with me on this one, but I like to start things with a clean slate by blanking the hard drive on my new laptop. There are a couple of reasons why I do this. First, most manufacturers load up laptop hard drives with all kinds of unwanted software. It's easier to simply blank the hard drive and start from scratch than to try to manually remove every piece of unwanted software. Second, manufacturers typically create a recovery partition containing all the files that are needed to restore the system to its factory defaults. When you blank the hard drive, you are given the opportunity to repartition the system, which means you can make use of the space that was previously locked away in the recovery partition.

6: Install any available updates

This one kind of goes without saying, but once you have installed an operating system and any necessary applications on your new laptop, it is important to install any available software updates.

7: Look for any surprises

Once I have my new laptop all set up and ready to go, I like to use it heavily for a week or two. I will even use it instead of my desktop. I do this because I want to find any problems or missing software before I use my new laptop when I am traveling. After all, if a problem shows up while you're on the road, it can be difficult to do anything about it. Using the new laptop for an extended period of time before traveling with it helps ensure that everything is functioning properly and that there won't be any surprises the first time the laptop is used outside the office.

8: Activate Windows

Okay, I know that this one sounds silly, but it is important to take the time to activate Windows. I once got burned by not activating Windows. I happened to be traveling in a foreign country when my trial period expired. I got locked out of Windows and because of the way my computer was configured at the time (it's a long story), I couldn't access the Internet to activate Windows. Worse yet, I didn't have access to a phone to perform a telephone activation. Essentially, I was stuck without a laptop for the duration of my trip. Ever since that incident, I always activate Windows as soon as I am sure that everything on the laptop is functioning properly.

9: Perform a full security scan

Once everything is up and running, perform a full security scan on the laptop. If you have performed a clean installation, the odds are that you won't have any problems with malware. However, this is far from being a guarantee, so a security scan is essential.

To give you a more concrete example of what I am talking about, I recently purchased a USB microscope for a project I'm working on. The microscope was fairly high end and came from a reputable manufacturer. Even so, the driver disk that shipped from the factory had a virus on it.

This didn't prove to be a big deal because my antivirus software caught it right away. But imagine what would've happened had I installed the microscope driver as a part of the initial setup. The virus might have gone undetected until an initial security scan was run.

10: Secure your old laptop

The last step in the process is to secure your old laptop. This can mean different things depending upon what you plan to do with it. Sometimes, I will donate my old computers to charity. But if I do, I always remove the hard drives and replace them with brand-new drives. That way, I am absolutely assured that no data will be recovered from my old laptop.

About

Brien Posey is a seven-time Microsoft MVP. He has written thousands of articles and written or contributed to dozens of books on a variety of IT subjects.

45 comments
Sweet Persian
Sweet Persian

Have you ever been overwhelmed by a nerd. This is it. Get down to the nuts and bolts rather than blank the hard drive, configure settings, migrate data, inventory apps, ready a driver disk. I have a headache. Think I'll go enoy my brand new laptop right out of the box. Ooops. Gotta configure a password.

emcbridea
emcbridea

Two ways, loan your laptop to a teenager, it will come back totally unusable and disk unreadable or make friends with a funeral director and have the disk interred with a deceased person. Out of sight - out of mind!

Regulus
Regulus

Add a 2nd partition of at least 20g. (Larger is nicer) Mount a Linux OS on that partition. Most are no-cost and many include most other programs such as an office suite etc. They are also quite user-friendly. Ubuntu works well for me but there are many other options. RESULTS: (1)Your computer will boot to Linux unless you know to arrow down to Windows on the boot menu. (Intensely frustrating anyone messing around with it that doesn't know what (s)he is doing. (2) When MS goes belly-up (not if), the universe runs on linux accessable UNIX - not MS, so you can still access everything that still exists. (3) Linux can access and read virtually all MS file systems and files, so that even if your OS is 'dead', you still will most probably have all of your 'stuff'. And (4) a real 'Linux Person' could go on for hours here.....

TBone2k
TBone2k

I don't see much of anything here that is laptop-specific. It would be useful to more users if the title was changed.

tk.jose
tk.jose

Recently I purchased a dell laptop for my daughter and the only think I have done to make it useful for the kid was to install edubuntu on it. :-)

roborich
roborich

Re: ? Mail jfuhrman3@.. Very many thanks to you Mr Fuhrman. You have confirmed what I suspected that it must be something to do with the server, in my case BT. I shall discuss the problem with them. Thanks again.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

- mothball the disk - install a new Larger HDD (if larger is available) - starting the install from scratch if it has to go back to Mfg. for warranty repair swap out the custom install for the OEM HDD then your custom install and data are safe in your hands while it's out for repair .

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Put it on a CD.Create a restore point.Make a backup to restore when things fail.When you blank or erase the hard everything is gone so you must re install the operating system,drivers and software programs like the disk writer.There's lots of adjustments to make here so be sure that you know what you are doing.It's sort of a shame that new computers are so fragile but if you make it work you'll have it for a long time.(After a few weeks something will go wrong and the motherboard will need to be replaced.)

ManoaHI
ManoaHI

I believe that wiping the disk is the best way to not only crapware, but also ensure no viruses or malware is present. Yes, it is expensive to get a retail copy of Windows to re-install, Brien is talking about travelling with the laptop. The last thing you want to have is a laptop that doesn't work properly. If you're only occasionally taking your laptop wherever you go, but not travelling (like work or commuting to work) then not really necessary. For most of our travelers, laptops are provided by the company, it is wiped, Windows re-installed, updated then when everything is checked, the whole disk is encrypted.

fvazquez
fvazquez

All I do is keep all my apps and stuff in my external USB HDD so I still have most of Laptop HDD space free, and when getting a new Lap or Desktop I don't have to worry about what to install...

Gisabun
Gisabun

Blanking out the hard disk would be a probable senario a few years back but I think most manufacturers [probably not Acer] have learned not to put the rubbish in the new computers. If anything, prior to blanking would be to create a copy of the recovery DVDS just in case wiping the driver doesn't work perfectly. Of course you also need to have the media that corresponds to the version of Windows 7 installed. Finally by wiping the recovery partition, if something happens to your copy of Windows .... After installing Windows 7 and before you put anything on it, image it.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Unless you know exactly what drivers to install, and have a retail copy of Windows. If you just use the recovery discs, you will get back all the crapware.

whendersonii
whendersonii

As a point of clarification, in this article I believe that Brien Posey is using the term ???Blank the hard drive??? to refer to reinstallation of a retail copy of Windows as opposed to wiping the disc. I just wanted to put in my 2 cents regarding number 5, 'Blank the Hard Drive.' Personally I always blank the hard drive on my personal computers, but for friends/family/clients I just run PC-decrapifier and ccleaner. On my personal machines I make this recovery discs, run driver magician lite (DML), then blank the drive. DML is an absolute must as it allows you to back up only the .sys file and any files called by the .sys file. For those of us that like the minimalistic approach this is great because you end up with no manufacturers add-ons. I prefer this method way more than ???Making my own driver disc.

maj37
maj37

So what legal copy of Windows 7 do you install? The 3 systems I have gotten in the last year and a half, all from HP, have not had any Windows install media except the "put it back to factory state with the crapware disks" that each system let me create once. Having already paid for the copy of Windows included on the machine I certainly don't want to buy another one, just to avoid crapware. It is my understanding that most other "major" manufacturers use this same restore to factory setup.

boucaria
boucaria

There are a number of reasons you might want to "blank" a hard drive. Doing a full on format is sufficient for most reinstalls, however, what about a DOD standard use of KILLDISK or something like GDISK ? Seven to tweleve repetitions of KILLDISK seem to get the data to unretrievable status. And I have tried using my regular data restore software, which can go back ten generations. I must admit I am intrigued what they would use for retrieved an exploded shuttle drive, must include one hell of a jigsaw puzzle mode :-)

hectorj102
hectorj102

Darik's Boot and Nuke (http://www.dban.org/) is a much cheaper and, IMO, equally effective way to protect sensitive data. "DBAN prevents or thoroughly hinders all known techniques of hard disk forensic analysis." Just wipe with DBAN and re-install the OS if you are passing the laptop along to charity or whomever.

GrizzledGeezer
GrizzledGeezer

...a firewall and effective anti-malware programs are installed? I got a new Windows notebook Monday, and I'm /still/ thinking about to make sure that once I go on line, I won't be attacked.

tommy
tommy

Having cleansed the machine of manufacturers bloatware, configured the device to my needs and installed all the software I need on the beast I take a system image of the whole thing. Being able to recover the machine to a factory default setting is a valuable tool, but with a full system image of the device in it's 'ready to play' state, any requirement to take it back to new WITH all of your initial configurations in place and software installed will save hours of feeding the machine all of the application software again.

marcomar
marcomar

I guess this little article is aimed at those of us who actually take precautions with notebooks, nevertheless the average user, many whom I teach, would have the slightest about these procedures. I'm a teacher, an ICT coordinator who takes care of both kids learning as well as teacher learning and believe me 98% of both have no idea. This fact certainly challenges my teaching and learning curriculum.

roborich
roborich

I have a MS operated laptop and an Apple for away trips. I can receive emails on both but cannot send them, even though outgoing email is configured in exactly the same way as the in house Desk Top PC's. When first purchased and before leaving for UK and overseas trips both laptops received and sent emails when operated in house. Once on the road emails could not be sent and nor can they now I have returned to base. The problem is still not resolved. Checking email capability on a new laptop AWAY from home base might be another item on Mr Posey's list.

SensibleSupport
SensibleSupport

Well, laptops are used out and about, so more likely to be stolen. It always hits the news here in the UK when a government type organisation loses a memory stick or laptop, because they never take the simple step of encrypting the device. There are many software applications available that work well to do this, but I like TrueCrypt. Please make a donation if you try this and like it. I???m not sure I agree with blanking the hard disk (point 5 above). Yes you get a bit of bloat ware from most manufactures Windows preloads, but it doesn???t take that long to remove what you don???t need.

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

I always create the manufacturer's recovery DVDs. Good grief, it's tedious, but it means I always have a 'start again' option if my own format-and-install-without-their-crudware goes up the creek. Alternatively, or maybe as well, once the basic Windows setup is done - as soon as you get to a proper boot into Windows - take a drive image. Then I can get up to all sorts of interesting experiments knowing that I can go back to the beginning if I need to. P.S. All this applies to desktops too, surely?

tony
tony

I keep all old disks; then to dispose of them, I put on protective clothing including a dust mask and take an angle grinder with a metal cutting disk and cut a slot half way through i.e. from the outside to the middle. This ensures that the disk won't go round and there will phsyically be significant data missing. Only then do I take them to the recycling center. After all, they recovered something like 99% of a disk from the space shuttle that blew up over Texas (it did have something like 7 years data from a critical space station experiment on it).

Jonno-the-First
Jonno-the-First

Replace the old drives with brand new drives? The CIA amy think about doing this, or their axe swinging reformatter may re shape their drives, but if your an everyday level headed tech savy computer user a lowlever format on an old Linux computers will do wonders for your budget. Even so so drives are not now avialable for some older computers. I think you should throw that suggestion in your blender and eat your words.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I wondered about that myself. Why limit the article title to laptops?

Hal_9001
Hal_9001

Just purchased an Asus laptop ... it was full of (and started) much crap.

Brien_Posey
Brien_Posey

Sadly, at least some manufacturers still put a lot of garbage on new systems. If that isn't enough, they also tend to put it in some drivers. For example, a few days ago I installed a printer driver onto a new system. The driver was over 300 MB in size (for a print driver???). There was no custom install option. Once the installer finished it had installed a bunch of nagware, the Yahoo toolbar, and several other things that I didn't want. There were Control Panel options for removing the individual components, but a reboot was required after almost every component that I removed. I don't want to publically state who the manufacturer was, but this company makes printers and laptops. If they include that much garbage in a printer driver I can only imagine how much unnecessary / unwanted software is installed by default on their desktops and laptops. It's just easier to start fresh than to try to manually clean up a factory installation.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

aka: bloat / crap / sponsor-ware I just cleaned out an HP system and it's a win 7 SP1 install and helped a friend clean out his win 7 SP1 Fujitsu Lifebook both were packed with rubbish

jfuhrman3
jfuhrman3

As noted in other comments, you will need a copy of a retail CD installation of Windows. When asked for the Product Key use the one on the sticker that is on your PC. For laptops this is usually on a Windows sticker on the bottom of the laptop, for desktops the sticker is usually on the side or on the back of the case.

IT2MD
IT2MD

I too, would like to hear from the author (Mr. Posey) about re-installing a legal copy of Windows 7? This is a GREAT article, but #5 left me with a question mark. Thanks

jfuller05
jfuller05

Boot and Nuke should be enough. I think it's nice of Brian to install a new drive into the PC (a newer drive will last longer of course), but I don't think it's needed for security reasons.

trib77
trib77

I totally agree with this. Also, SP1 for Windows 7 took me HOURS to install on several machines, so for anyone reverting back to a version prior to SP1 is going to waste a lot of time reinstalling that. Now, I have a slipstreamed Win7 SP1 disc installed on a reference PC, and used open source Clonezilla to image it. I can restore it back to a clean state in 10-15 minutes, without needing several driver installation discs, or waiting for updates to take place

grayknight
grayknight

would probably work, though not all ISPs have a secondary port. I have my own domain and their email servers can handle different port numbers and they always work regardless of how I connect to the internet.

jfuhrman3
jfuhrman3

Your problem with e-mail away from home is not either laptop's problem. Your problem is using the SAME settings as your HOME desktops. Your ISP won't allow devices that are not on their network to send email through their mail servers. This is true of almost every Internet Service Provider and is why they provide web based clients. This helps keep SPAM from being 'relayed' through their mail servers and is a MUST for mail server configurations. I have worked in IT for over 25 years and configuring mail servers that are on the Internet always have configurations applied to them to prevent unwanted email being relayed or sent to them.

andrew232006
andrew232006

Wouldn't that allow someone to remove and image most of the disk platter? If I was very concerned about someone recovering my data I'd use a file wiping utility for two passes. But I don't believe even NASA or the CIA could recover data from a drive that has been wiped with one pass.

Brien_Posey
Brien_Posey

I'm sorry that you feel that I should "throw that suggestion into a blender and eat my words". I really do install brand new hard drives (albeit cheap ones) into any computers that I donate to charity. Call me paranoid, but I sleep better at night knowing that my data is safe. I would just remove the hard drive and leave it at that, but I want the charity to be able to use the laptop without having to incur the expense of a drive.You are certainly free to disagree with me, but this is how I personally do things.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Cough, cough, ... HEWLE-cough cough-ACKARD. Excuse me. Try checking this unnamed manufacturer's web site for downloads of just the drivers without all the bloatware that's included with the printer CDs. System drivers from this same manufacturer can be more of an issue. This company is notorious for swapping components within the manufacturing run of a model, then grouping all the drivers together. Try figuring out which one of three NIC drivers you need to download.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

an installation done with a Retail Discs won't accept the OEM Key on the COA sticker provided by the Mfg. to use the OEM supplied COA For that You need an OEM System Builder Disc: - (For Distribution Only With a New -PC or required hardware) Retail has its own COA key set Enterprise / VLK also is a separate COA key set (all pre-installed use VLK) OEM System Builder Discs have a separate COA Key there is also a Refurb. category which also has a separate COA key set one installation type will not accept a COA key from a different set

grayknight
grayknight

but it would not be worth the effort for most data.

draco vulgaris
draco vulgaris

The heads fly on an extremely thin layer of air. Opening a hard disk without a doing it in a Class ?? Clean Room generally means you can kiss the drive and the data goodbye! A particle of cigarette smoke between the the disk and the read/write head is enough to destroy the the disk and the read/write head! There is a "DOD Erase" pattern that can be written to disk N times that will make it extremely difficult to recover any data.

gikstar
gikstar

I suspect that most users are not Tech Republic subscribers. I also suspect that most of us that read these Blogs are techs in some form or another and not the 'average' user. It is up to us the 'techs' to educate the 'average' users and be there for them when they need us, such as providing the OEM disk for their Nuke & Pave... ok, some of us will not provide that service for free, and that's ok too.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Where is the average user supposed to get a retail installation disc? Leave the OEM install in place and run CCleaner or similar app instead.

grayknight
grayknight

will work with any type of key, at least from what I can tell.

Hal_9001
Hal_9001

So, if what you say is true, AND most of us "average" users do not have the special discs or keys ... Is #5 worthless to the "average" user?

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