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You have a new PC or laptop. Here's how to set it up the best way

Set aside some time to get your new Windows 10 PC or laptop up and running.

Alison DeNisco Rayome Managing Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
Expertise Home Tips, including cooking, cleaning and appliances hacks Credentials
  • National Silver Azbee Award for Impact/Investigative Journalism; National Gold Azbee Award for Online Single Topic Coverage by a Team; National Bronze Azbee Award for Web Feature Series
Alison DeNisco Rayome
7 min read

Got a new Windows 10 PC or laptop, and want to make sure you get the setup right? Don't worry, we're here to help. While new PCs rarely come out of the box fully optimized, the process isn't as intimidating as you may think. Whether it's a Dell XPS 13, a Lenovo Yoga C930, a Razer Blade 15 Advanced, one of the other best laptops of the year or a simple budget-friendly machine, we'll get you up and running the right way. 

Setting up a new PC or laptop takes some time, but it's relatively easy to do, and lets you customize your device exactly how you'll like it, right off the bat. Doing everything right -- and in the right order -- the first time around will also save you from security problems and other headaches down the line. 

Here's everything you need to know to get your new PC or laptop set up. 

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What you'll need

To set up a new personal Windows PC or laptop, carefully unpack it from its box, and connect your external keyboard and mouse if you have them. There will be instructions in the box if you need them. 

You'll need the device's charger, and a Wi-Fi or Ethernet connection. Make sure you have a piece of paper or, better yet, a password manager handy, so you can write all of your new usernames and passwords down (trust us, it's easier than trying to remember). If you do use a piece of paper, make sure you keep it locked up after you're done, so no one else can access your account. That may sound counterintuitive, but having your passwords on a single physical notebook or piece of paper keeps them locked down to a single source you can monitor the location and security of, so it's not as archaic as it sounds. 

If you saved any files from your previous PC or laptop to a backup drive like a USB drive or external hard drive, you'll want to have that handy too. Hopefully you have a lot of that material in a cloud drive already, which is even easier. 

Setting up a Windows 10 machine should take you under an hour, though it could be longer depending on how fast you move and what you're customizing. Allotting a few hours for the task is the safest bet. 

Read more: 6 things you should know about backing up your PC

Set up your Windows 10 machine: The first things you need to do

I tested this process on a new Asus ProArt StudioBook. Your process should generally look the same, but may vary a bit depending on who made your laptop or PC. 

Push the power button. You should see a Welcome screen that takes you to your desktop. 

First, connect to the internet. Go to Start > Settings > Network & Internet, and choose how you want to connect (Wi-Fi, dial-up, mobile hotspot and so on). If you have a touchscreen PC, use a long tap (analogous to a right-click) on the networking icon in the system tray in the lower right of the screen.

Next, check for Windows updates. Go to Start > Settings > Update & Security, and under Windows Update, click Check for updates

Even though your machine is new, Microsoft continually updates Windows to patch security issues and make the machines run better, so you want to make sure you're using the latest version before doing anything else. Depending on how many updates there are, this could take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or so. This may require one or more restarts, so just stick with it. 

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Once you're running the latest version of Windows, you'll want to install antivirus protection. Your PC or laptop may have come with a trial version of McAfee, Norton or another antivirus software that you can use (here are the best antivirus options for Windows 10). You can choose to purchase another version too. 

Really the best thing to do is remove those preloaded security apps right away. They can be system hogs and nagware, always nagging you to upgrade or resubscribe. Here's the Norton removal tool, and here's the McAfee one. You'll get better results removing with these than trying to do it yourself. 

If you don't have a specific reason to be concerned (like you're a nuclear scientist or travel regularly to China or Russia) you can rely on Microsoft's Windows Defender Antivirus software that's already built-in with Windows 10 and turned on by default -- no need to set anything up.

Next, you'll want to uninstall bloatware -- the trial versions of software you don't want or need that come preinstalled in most PCs, also known as crapware or junkware. The easiest ways to do that are by downloading uninstallers like PC Decrapifier and Should I Remove It. You can also do this manually, by going to Start > Settings > Apps. You can see the full list of apps on your computer, click any you don't want, and hit Uninstall. Watch for any app or service shortcuts preinstalled on the home screen. Those companies usually paid your PC maker to put their icons there, right in front of your face. 

After that, add a password, if you weren't prompted to do so already. Go to Start > Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options, and click Password > Add.

Then, you can set up Windows Hello to unlock your device with your face and/or fingerprint if your laptop has a scanner. Go to Start > Settings > Accounts > Sign-in options, and click Windows Hello Face, or Windows Hello Fingerprint. You'll follow the prompts and use your computer's built-in webcam or fingerprint scanner to set this up for faster and easier sign-in. You'll need an infrared camera to use facial recognition. 

Windows 10 PCs come with Microsoft Edge as the default browser. If you prefer another option, like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, download and install it from its website. Then, go to Settings > Apps > Default apps, and scroll down to Web browser. If you click Microsoft Edge, you should see a list including the option that you downloaded, and the choice to make that the default. Brave is also a good choice to cut down on tracking and cookies, and it's based on the same Chromium base as Chrome

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Personalize your device

Make your new PC or laptop your own by customizing it. Go to Start > Settings > Personalization, and choose your desktop background, color scheme (including dark or light mode as a default), themes, fonts and what you see in the Start menu and taskbar. 

Set up Microsoft's assistant, Cortana. Cortana acts as a personal assistant similar to Siri. It operates via voice command and can help with tasks like scheduling and reading or summarizing your email. Go to Start > Settings > Cortana, and turn Cortana on and off, and control when and how you use the assistant. For example, toggle yes if you want Cortana to help when you say, "Hey Cortana," and yes if you want speech and typing personalization turned on, which helps the assistant get to know your patterns. 

If you want to transfer files from your old computer to the new one, plug in your USB or external hard drive. A Windows notification will pop up letting you know that the drive has been connected, and prompting you to set what happens when you plug in a drive in the future (the options are always take no action, or always open the drive in File Explorer). 

To see your files, go to Start, and in the search box type "File Explorer" (there should also be an icon for the File Explorer app pinned to the taskbar at the bottom of the screen -- it looks like a manilla folder). Open the app, and you'll see your USB drive appear on the menu to the left. Click it, and download the files you want. 

Read also: How to create a full system backup in Windows 10

Finally -- and whatever you do, do not skip this step -- back up your new computer and save all of your apps and settings, in case you need to install Windows 10 again later. Go to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Backup. You can use File History to back up your files to an external USB or hard drive and restore them later. 

If you have a PC and don't want to use Windows, you can also install the Linux operating system -- an open-source OS that typically runs faster with far fewer chances of malware infections. For more casual PC and laptop users, however, Windows 10 will work just fine. If you have any Linux-installation questions, that generally means it's not for you. 

Want more information on how to get the most out of your Windows 10 device? Check out six simple security changes all Windows 10 users need to makeWindows 10 November 2019 update -- everything you need to know and how to place and receive Android phone calls on your Windows PC now.  

Watch this: How to take Windows 10 screenshots