BOOT CAMP 402 (13/12/05)

Ten things to do with a new PC, part 2


The first few hours in the life of a new computer can play a vital role in determining its long-term reliability. Following on from last week’s initial health checks, setting up the Internet connection and ensuring your new Windows XP PC is up to date we turn our attention to configuration, software installation and backup.



Windows is a general-purpose operating system and Microsoft has taken a fairly conservative approach to its default settings. This means there’s plenty of opportunity for new owners to fine-tune the system, but we’ll begin with some basic adjustments some of which should have been carried out by the vendor, but it doesn’t hurt to check. Time, date and time-zone settings can be found by double-clicking the clock display on the Taskbar, change as necessary then go to Regional and Language settings in Control Panel to make sure keyboard language is set to English (UK) -- assuming you live in the UK


Next, in Control Panel click the Mouse and Keyboard icons and set your preferences for mouse motion, pointers and keyboard actions then make sure the correct keyboard has been selected. In Power Options set the Power Scheme for your PC type and set monitor and hard drive standby times match your pattern of use.


The last job is to set Virtual Memory. This is an area of the hard disc set aside by Windows for storing frequently accessed data and again Microsoft has taken a cautious approach that can slow down a busy PC. In Control Panel double-click System, select the Advanced tab, and click Settings under Performance then the Advanced tab. Under Virtual memory click Change. Make sure your main drive (normally C:\) is highlighted, click ‘Custom Size’ and in the Initial Value box enter a value between one and a half and twice the size of your PC’s RAM memory. For example, if your PC has 512Mb of RAM enter 750 or 1000Mb, and in the ‘Maximum Size’ set a value greater than the Initial size (e.g. 1000 or 1500Mb). Click OK and exit all of the boxes. Reboot and set a new System Restore Point. Get into the habit of doing this after making any significant changes to your system and before installing any large applications.




It’s time now to install any peripheral devices, such as your printer and scanner, external drives and so on. After each one reboot and ensure that everything is still working properly. If you plan to fit any internal hardware (extra drives, memory card reader, expansion ports etc.) now would be a good time to do so.




Once that’s done it’s the turn of the major applications, word processor, office suite, image or video editing programs etc. As always reboot after each new installation and when you have finished set another Restore Point.


If you are keen to get going you can also set up your email accounts. See Boot Camp 309 for details of how to import Outlook Express messages, Address Book and settings. You can also copy your Internet bookmarks from your old PC to your new one simply by copying the Favorites folder and pasting it into the same location (usually C:\Documents and Settings\<yourname>). If you are using Firefox open it on your old PC then go to Bookmarks > Manage Bookmarks then use Export on the File menu to create a file on a floppy or memory stick. On the new PC repeat the procedure but this time use Import on the Bookmark’s File menu. Finally copy across any large data files from your old PC -- see also this week’s Top Tip -- and when you are happy everything is working properly set a new Restore Point.




You are now almost ready to start using your new PC but before you go any further this is an ideal opportunity to organise your backups. Windows XP has a decent backup utility built-in, which is reasonably easy to use and does a good job if configured properly. There’s a simple to follow guide in Boot Camps 376 and 377




You will probably want to customise the appearance of Windows so right-click an empty area of the desktop, select Properties and the Appearance tab. Your PC’s audio settings may need adjusting so go to Sounds in Control panel, select your preferred sound scheme and check speaker type and layout. The Windows XP section of the Top Tips Archive has details of how to switch off the many irritants and annoyances in XP, like Balloon Tips, Windows Messenger Service, Splash Screens and set Windows Explorer to open on your C:\ drive. There’s one last major job and that is to defrag your new hard drive, to optimise the Windows filing system, and remember to run defrag at least once a month








Over time the files on a PC's hard disc drive become disorganized - 'defragging' the drive restores order and speeds up data access



Random Access Memory, a computer's working memory, where programs store data and information when they are running



Facility in Windows ME, 2000 and XP that records key system files, which can be used to restore Windows to a previous known good configuration



If you are upgrading from an a Windows 9x PC or another XP machine you can use the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard to copy across setup data, Outlook Express messages, file associations plus data and files in specific folders like My Documents, My Pictures, Fonts and Desktop. You need to use a link cable or network to connect the two PCs together but that’s all explained when you start the Wizard, which can be found by going to Start > Programs > System Tools > Files and Settings Transfer Wizard  





© R. Maybury 2005, 0712

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