When setting up a new PC, it is easy to get caught up in the project and forget the important aspects of the initial set-up. There are certain steps that I always follow when setting up a new system. Some of these steps can be done after the fact, if you forget to do them during the initial setup of the system. But others involve starting over, so it is important to try and remember to do them early in the process.

1. Configure adequate partitions
Setting up the partitions on a new hard drive is especially important if you’re installing any products from the Windows NT family (NT Workstation, NT Server, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows 2000 Server). My recommendations for configuring partitions for a Windows NT family install (assuming an 18.5-GB hard drive) are:

  • Primary partition of 2.0 GB for system files only
  • Secondary partition of 6 GB for applications
  • Third partition of 10.5 GB for data only

2. Create an adequate system partition
If you’re installing any of the Windows NT/2000 products, allow plenty of space on the System partition for the operating systems and its paging file. I generally recommend at least a 2.0-GB partition for the system partition.

3. Install enough RAM
Having adequate RAM is as important as having adequate partition sizes. My recommendations are:

  • 128 MB for Windows NT Workstation
  • 256 MB for Windows NT Server (512 MB if you’re running Exchange or SQL Server)
  • 128 MB for Windows 2000 Professional, although 256 MB is preferable
  • 256 MB for Windows 2000 Server (512 MB if you’re running Exchange or SQL Server)

Having sufficient physical RAM will lessen paging. (This is when Windows NT runs out of physical RAM and starts using “virtual memory” or hard drive space. Check out this site for a good description of the paging process.) RAM prices are currently at all-time lows, so there is no excuse for frugality on RAM.

4. Plan for expansion by installing enough hard drive space
If you’re installing any of the Windows NT/2000 products, I recommend a minimum of one 18.5-GB hard drive. For future expansion, I strongly recommend two 18.5-GB drives. My home system, running Windows 2000 Professional, has two Western Digital “Caviar” 40-GB drives. Hard drives, like RAM, are cheap right now, so having enough storage shouldn’t break the bank.

5. Configure adequate paging files
For each partition on your system, you should set up a separate paging file. On the Internet, there are all kinds of formulae for calculating paging file sizes, but I usually use the formula: physical RAM X 2 + 128. Using this formula, a machine with 256 MB of RAM would need a paging file of 640 MB per partition.

6. Buy a 17″ monitor with new systems
When buying an entire system (with monitor), I recommend getting a 17″ monitor. It often costs relatively little and can make all the difference in your end-user’s happiness and satisfaction.

7. Choose the right file system
Choosing the right file system is particularly important when installing Windows NT or 2000. Click here for an explanation of the FAT, HPFS, and NTFS file systems. I recommend formatting your system partition with NTFS, the applications partition as FAT32, and the data partition as NTFS. While NTFS creates security, there are many applications I have found that will not install correctly on anything but a FAT partition.

8. Use an external modem
When buying a PC that comes with a modem, ask for an external one. In my experience, external modems cause fewer headaches than internal ones and are considerably more reliable in the long term.

9. Avoid the PC Anywhere disaster
This is a tip aimed squarely at Windows 2000 Professional users who plan to install PC Anywhere. If you install a PC Anywhere version earlier than 9.02, the PC will not boot properly. There is a workaround, however. You can install a version earlier than 9.02, but before rebooting, run Live Update and apply the patch to take your copy of PC Anywhere to 9.02. Click here for more information from Symantec’s knowledge base.

10. Don’t forget the Admin password
During the installation of Windows NT (all flavors) or Windows 2000 (Server and Professional) you will be asked to name a password for the Administrator account. A common mistake is forgetting this password before setting up any other accounts on the machine. If this happens, you will not be able to access the Administrator account without reinstalling the operating system.

Common configuration mistakes

Let us know what steps you take to avoid making mistakes when configuring a new PC. Post a comment or write to David Williams.