Top 10 "To-Dos" After Building a Computer
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Thinking about building your own computer? It's not a bad idea! It's the best way to make sure you're getting what you want and it's also a great way to get some experience with your PC and with computers in general.
Building your own PC helps you understand the components of a computer and how they work together; and at the same time, it can be a very satisfying learning experience. But if this is your first attempt, make sure to check out these top 10 "to dos" to know what to do after building a PC!
1. Get Organized!
You have just built your PC, but now what? All the puzzle pieces have been put together; all input and output devices such as monitor, mouse, and keyboard are connected and all that is leftover is a mess of packaging, documentation, and driver disks. Now it's time to clean up!
Your first instinct may be to throw all the packaging away. Don't! Aside from the cellophane wrapper stuck to your shoe, there is very little I recommend throwing away. The leftover boxes, static proof bags and bubble wrap just so happen to be useful for storing things. All your computer parts are being used at the moment, but since you put everything together yourself, you won't be voiding any warranties by taking it back apart and making upgrades. Which, more than likely, you will do.
Do what you can to consolidate space by putting smaller boxes in bigger boxes and stacking them neatly in a closet. When you make those inevitable hardware upgrades, the original packaging is the best place to keep the used parts alive. And you never know, your used parts may come in handy for a friend, or you may even end up using them towards building another computer.
With the packaging out of the way, you are left with the hardware documentation, receipts and driver disks. These leftovers can all be stored in a folder for organization and easy access. Should anything break and you need to redeem a warranty, it's nice to have the receipts handy. And when you need to install drivers for the hardware, you don't want to have to dig in all the boxes that are neatly put away either. I also recommend making a list of manufacturers and model numbers of all the hardware used to build the computer.
2. Configure the Computer's BIOS Settings
With everything organized and cleaned up, the next step in your PC build is to give life to your new computer. The first time you power the machine on you will need to set up the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS). The BIOS is an array of low-level configuration settings that tell the computer how to use its hardware. The BIOS settings are stored on a microchip called the complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS).
Accessing the BIOS settings is performed by pressing a key or combination of keys during the computer's power-on self-test (POST). The key used to access the BIOS settings varies between BIOS manufacturers. Usually when the computer is turned on it displays a prompt with instructions on how to access the BIOS setup; if not, consult your motherboard's documentation.
Nowadays, there's usually not much you need to do with the BIOS. Unless your hardware documentation specifies settings that need to be changed, you should only need to set the date and time, boot order and power-saving settings. You will be installing the operating system next so you'll need to adjust the boot order to boot from the CD-ROM before the hard drive.
It is important to know how to access and manage your BIOS because at a later step you will need to update and manage them again.
3. Install the Operating System
With the BIOS ready, insert your operating system disk. The procedure for installing the operating system varies from one operating system to another. The odds are, you will be going with a Microsoft operating system and the rest of this article assumes that.
When installing the operating system you will be given a series of prompts to guide you through the process and allow you to select which operating system components to install. Then you wait for an hour or so for the installation to copy all files and reboot to the installed operating system.
4. Install Drivers for Your Hardware
Once the operating system is installed, your computer will be set to run the most basic hardware such as your mouse, keyboard and limited video capabilities. In order to unleash the potential of the hardware used to build the computer, the operating system must be taught how to use it. That is where the drivers come in.
A driver is a program used for defining the operating parameters and instructions of a piece of hardware. The latest versions of Windows will generally install the drivers automatically, but if you have older hardware, or an older version of Windows (like XP, 7, and 8) you will likely encounter the Found New Hardware Wizard upon the first boot of a Windows operating system.
The Found New Hardware Wizard is not as user-friendly as it makes itself out to be. Instead of following the defaults, or having Windows search for drivers and automatically install them, choose the option to install manually and choose to install from a list or specific locations. Before selecting anything from the list, insert the manufacturer's driver disk, click the “Have Disk” button and browse to the driver directory on the disk, which should contain files with the .inf extension.
Once the driver location has been selected the list of manufacturers and models should be narrowed down to the hardware being installed. Confirm the installation with the rest of the wizard prompts and reboot if necessary.
Repeat the process for every Found New Hardware Wizard that comes up, until no more hardware is detected. The Device Manager should indicate any hardware that is not installed with the Found New Hardware Wizard, which is accessible through the computer properties dialogue on the Hardware tab for recent Windows versions.
5. Secure Your Computer
Before you expose your computer to the potential threats of the internet, it's a good idea to secure your machine. This means installing antivirus, antispyware, and firewall software. If you must get your security software from the internet, it's best to do so from an already protected machine and copy the installation software onto your new machine.
If getting the software from another machine is not a possibility, you should be able to get away with connecting and getting the software. Be sure to install it immediately, update definitions and following up with a full scan. You can usually get away with connecting before securing, as long as you make securing the machine your first priority.
6. Connect to the Internet
Once you have your security applications installed it should be relatively safe to connect to the internet. Connecting to the internet depends on your network configuration, ISP, and operating system. Most computers that are put together today will be using newer versions of Windows and broadband connections. In this case, the process to connect is not much of a process at all and usually involves plugging in an Ethernet cord or selecting which wireless network connection to use.
7. Install Security and Operating System Updates
The first thing you should do after connecting to the internet is update the definitions for your antivirus and antispyware applications. Updating these definitions is important because the biggest threat to your computer's security is not last year's viruses and malicious software, it's the new ones. Old threats aren't usually a threat at all due to the fact that the threats are usually eradicated by antivirus and antispyware applications as they are introduced. Malicious software tends to spread like wildfire, but so do anti-malware updates, until everyone is protected against them with the latest definitions blocking their ability to spread.
Once your security applications themselves have been updated, you should secure the computer further by installing the latest service packs, updates and security patches for the operating system. Windows usually updates itself automatically, downloading updates in the background, then giving you a notice that the computer needs to be restarted to install the update. The notice may give you the choice of updating immediately or in X hours. You may also just see a choice in the Shutdown dialogue asking if you want to “Update and shut down” or “Update and restart.”
Now that you have your security up, it’s time to check on your BIOS again. While your BIOS has gotten you to this point, it’s important to see if there are any updates from the manufacturer. These updates can improve compatibility with certain hardware, such as your CPU and memory. Make sure to take time to read the release notes and see if the update will affect your build. If it adds features or updates that are useful to your system, update and install it. Once your BIOS have been updated, you might need to configure your settings one more time.
8. Install Applications
So far you have covered the essentials of setting up the computer. The computer is secure, updated and able to realize the potential of the hardware installed. Now it's time to load it up with all your favorite software:
Office application suites
Media players and codecs
Applications for whatever else it is you want to do with your computer
Many applications have a feature to update over the internet or have a website you can go to for updates and patches. Sometimes updating software requires you to register it. If you paid for the software, you should always register it. Sure you are helping the business with valuable marketing data, but it also helps them improve their product, the product you're using.
Depending on your computer and the products you bought there might be pre-installed applications and programs on your computer. This is the time to make sure that you get what you want out of your computer. While adding the applications you need for your computer, take time to get rid of the junk you don’t need. Find your favorite web browser, and make sure your toolbars, applications, and menus are set up how you want them.
9. Personalize Your Computer
Now the only thing missing from your computer is you. You have just put together the most powerful tool we have at our disposal and it is all yours! So make it yours and decorate a bit! Change your desktop, taskbar and Start Menu preferences. Make it easy to find shortcuts and hotkeys with the shortcut properties for your most commonly used applications and clear out the ones that get in the way. Set up a system to store and retrieve your files by coming up with a directory structure to organize them.
Make sure to set aside a way to transfer files and information from your old computer to your newly built computer. Chances are you had your previous computer for a while and there’s a lot of content on there that you still want access to. Either by using cloud storage or an external hard drive, set up a way to give your old files a new home.
10. Plan a Backup Strategy
You've poured your time, money and soul into building your computer—it would be a shame to lose your work. The last but not least "to-do" after building a computer is backing it up. Before you can perform a backup, you must have the media and a plan. Once you have that set up, do it on a regular basis. I recommend making sure to back up your information once a month at the very least. If you use your computer daily and it’s full of important documents for your work or family, I suggest backing up daily.
Backing up is a question of how much time are you okay with losing? If you’re okay with losing the past month of pictures, documents, and work that you’ve done on your computer, then back it up once a month. Whatever your limit is, inexpensive high-capacity flash drives and external hard drives have greatly reduced the costs of backup media, and software to schedule automatic backups when you’re not using the computer is readily available so you don’t lose something important on your new computer!
Learn more about your computer with Pluralsight's CompTIA A+ (220-1001 and 220-1002) video training!