Windows 10 is a behemoth. Even after you’ve gone through the tedious process of preparing your system to install Windows 10 and sitting through the long installation procedure, you still have more work to do: setting up the operating system how you like it.
Here are some of the bare minimum things you’ll want to do after installing a clean slate of Windows 10. If you want to skip some steps, that’s your call, but we recommend all of the following for the best experience possible.
1. Update Windows 10
I know, there are so many reasons to hate Windows Update.
Updates always happen at the worst times. It never seems to respect what you’re doing. Buggy updates can render your computer unusable for days or weeks. Everything about it is messy. But these days, Windows Update is a necessary evil.
You may have heard horror stories about the Creators Update and Fall Creators Update, and you may think you’re better off disabling updates altogether, even in light of the nifty new features you could be enjoying.
But there’s one big reason why you should update: bug fixes and security patches. You do not want to leave your computer vulnerable to exploits and loopholes. Staying up-to-date with patches will minimize some of your risk of catching nasty malware.
To install Windows Updates:
- In the Start Menu, search for windows update, then select Windows Update settings.
- Click Check for updates to see if any updates are available. On a newly installed copy of Windows 10, you’ll likely find many pending updates.
- Wait for the updates to download and prepare.
- When prompted, click Restart now to apply the updates.
2. Install the Latest Drivers
A device driver is a piece of software that interfaces with and controls how a particular device works when connected to the system. In other words, drivers allow Windows to communicate with hardware without knowing how the hardware itself is programmed.
Drivers are provided by hardware manufacturers, and like most software in the world, drivers are never perfect. Sometimes they’re buggy. Other times they simply go out of date, such as when the operating system updates, and lose functionality or performance.
Keeping drivers updated is important for two reasons: one, to make sure all hardware features stay available, and two, to make sure your hardware runs at optimal performance.
We’ve written two entire articles on this, including how to find and replace outdated drivers and taking back control over driver updates. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Fortunately, Windows 10 made driver updates relatively painless, so don’t ignore them!
3. Install Essential Software
Even though Windows 10 comes with a lot of bloatware, none of it is very practical. To get your system set up for day-to-day use, you’ll want to install some real software. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some of our best starting points.
Install Antivirus Software
Door locks may not be 100 percent effective at deterring burglars, but does that mean you’re going to stop locking your door at night? Of course not, and the same holds true for antivirus software: imperfect but still a good idea.
On the one hand, Windows Defender is better than nothing. On the other hand, you can do better.
We recommend one of these free internet security suites to keep your system protected. In addition, we recommend downloading the free version of Malwarebytes and running it once every week or so. Keep it installed because it’s crucial for malware detection and removal!
Install Web Software
I don’t think Microsoft Edge is that bad, but it still has some serious issues that need to be addressed. As of this writing, we can’t recommend it for use as an everyday web browser.
Instead, you should look into the new Firefox Quantum browser. Rebuilt from the ground up, Firefox Quantum boasts lightning-fast performance and smooth usability. If you don’t like Firefox, then Opera should be your next consideration. And if not Opera, then Chrome is always a strong fallback (but Chrome comes with its own set of issues).
Install Media Software
Music and video, the two most important forms of entertainment today. If you’re happy using Spotify and Netflix, then you don’t really need to install anything. But if you still prefer to download music and videos, here’s what you need.
Nothing beats VLC Media Player. It’s free, open source, time-tested, packed with features, and has great performance even on lowly machines. Want something a bit flashier or maybe even more lightweight? Check out these alternative free media players.
As for music, foobar2000 still remains king after all these years. It’s completely free, extensible with plugins, highly customizable, extremely lightweight, and supports almost every format. If you want more eye candy though, consider these alternative free music players.
Install Productivity Software
Only you can decide what software actually makes you more productive. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa. That being said, here are some apps that generally lead to more productivity. Feel free to pick and choose among them.
- Email clients (Thunderbird vs. Mailspring vs. Sylpheed)
- Office suite (Microsoft vs. LibreOffice vs. WPS)
- Notes and notebooks (OneNote vs. Evernote)
- Cloud storage and sync (Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. OneDrive)
- PDF reader (Sumatra vs. SlimPDF vs. PDF-XChange)
- Archive extraction (WinZip vs. WinRAR vs. 7-Zip)
- System search (Everything vs. Lookeen vs. Listary)
4. Change Default Windows Settings
Windows 10’s out-of-the-box settings aren’t optimal for anybody. Sure, the system might be usable, but you probably won’t have a good experience. The best thing to do is get it personalized right away so you can settle in and not worry about it later on.
Change Default Applications
Windows 10 comes with default apps for handling day-to-day activities, but they aren’t very good. Once you’ve installed the apps you intend to use (did you heed our recommendations above?), you can set them as default with these easy steps:
- In the Start Menu, search for default app, then select Default app settings.
- Select your preferred apps for Email, Music, Photos, Video, and Web Browsing.
- Below that, click on Choose default apps by file type to associate various programs with other file types, such as PDF, DOCX, TXT, etc.
Disable Unnecessary Startup Items
After installing Windows 10 and a bunch of third-party apps, some of them may have sneakily set themselves up to run at startup. Unfortunately, this can slow down your system and force you to wait several long minutes every time you reboot your machine.
To disable unnecessary startup items in Windows 10:
- Open the Task Manager with Ctrl + Shift + Esc.
- Click More details to switch to the advanced view.
- Click the Startup tab.
- Right-click on every app you don’t want to start automatically and select Disable to prevent it from launching on startup.
Optimize Appearance Settings
Surprisingly, Windows 10 doesn’t look half bad. The interface is modern and the animations are pleasing, which is great if you like eye candy. But these appearance features impact system performance — a lot more than you might realize — and disabling some of them can actually make your system feel smoother and more responsive.
To optimize Windows 10 appearance settings for your system:
- In the Start Menu, type adjust appearance and select Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows.
- Under the Visual Effects tab, select either Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer (which will strike a healthy balance between eye candy and performance) or Adjust for best performance (which will disable all the performance-heavy features).
- Click OK.
Optimize Power Plan Settings
Windows 10’s Power Plan settings allow you to tweak various aspects of the operating system that involve power usage. This is essential for laptop users, but can also prove important for desktop users (e.g. how long before the screen turns off when idle). We recommend the “High plan” for desktops and the “Balanced plan” for laptops.
You can then tweak your power plan using these steps:
- In the Start Menu, search for power plan and select Choose a power plan.
- Select the plan you want, then click Change plan settings at the right.
- Click Change advanced power settings.
- In particular, you should edit the settings under the Hard disk, Sleep, Power buttons and lid, Processor power management, and Display categories.
- Click OK.
Tweak Privacy Settings
It’s true: Windows 10 does collect all kinds of information on how you use the operating system. Some are okay with this, but maybe you feel it’s a violation of privacy. The good news is, Microsoft lets you turn a lot of these features off. The bad news is, you can’t turn everything off. No matter what, some of your data will find its way to Microsoft.
Find out more about what exactly gets collected in our article on Windows 10, privacy, and telemetry. As far as which settings you should tweak?
- General privacy settings
- Telemetry privacy settings
- Microsoft account privacy settings
- Cortana privacy settings
- Windows Store privacy settings
As you can see, you have a lot to tweak. See our article on managing your privacy in Windows 10 to learn more about how to tweak these settings, including which third-party apps can speed up the process and make your life easier.
Other Windows Settings to Consider
In addition to the above, you may want to think about using a local account instead of a Microsoft account for general operating system use, customizing the Action Center and its notifications to be less intrusive, and personalizing almost every inch of Windows 10.
5. Set Up Backup Methods
Imagine going through all of this setup only to catch a virus that wipes all of your settings. Or what if you wake up one morning and your hard drive is dead? Maybe a family member deletes an important file and you don’t realize until it’s long gone.
All of these hypotheticals point to one truth: you need to back up your data!
Never made backups before? That’s perfectly fine. Consult our guide to backing up and restoring data in Windows 10 to learn everything you need to know, including how backups work, where to store backups, how often you should back up data, what software to use, etc. Also, see our article on which files to back up and which to skip.
Now your Windows 10 machine should be ready to go! Are there any other post-installation tips that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!