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Some people say that laptops aren’t needed anymore: they’re less portable than tablets and less powerful than desktop PCs, straddling a weird “worst of both worlds” line. But I still love them and I think they’re still useful, especially if you’re a student. Perhaps you agree.
So you’ve gone ahead and bought a new laptop for work, have you? Or maybe you’ve received one as a gift to get you through college? These next few years are going to be a joy for you — but only if you take some time right now to set it up properly.
Here are a handful of things you should absolutely do with a new laptop. A small investment of energy up front can save you tons of headache and frustration down the line.
1. Update the Operating System
Whether you bought the laptop from a brick-and-mortar store or off the internet, it’s likely been sitting around for several months. Your laptop will not be up to snuff if any updates were pushed during that time — and updates are more important than you might think.
- On Windows, turn on Windows Update. I know it’s annoying, and I know it always seems to trigger at the worst times, but it’s a small price to pay for security.
- On Mac, keep up with software updates when you’re alerted about them. Don’t postpone and postpone and postpone, otherwise you may find yourself victim to malware one day.
- On Linux, updates are more for usability than security, but still as important. Learn more about managing and updating software packages as well as updating the Linux kernel.
- On Chrome OS, everything is handled behind the scenes. Whenever you’re connected to Wi-Fi, Chrome OS checks for updates and downloads any that are found. To install, all you have to do is restart the device.
2. Remove Bloatware
Bloatware is preloaded software that’s unwanted by or unnecessary for the end user. These apps are rarely used, yet waste tons of valuable drive space. Windows laptop manufacturers are notorious for this whereas it rarely happens on Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS laptops.
It’s important to learn how to avoid bloatware, but if you’re reading this it’s too late. You already have the laptop in hand, it’s full of bloatware, and you just want to get rid of it.
The easiest way to clear third-party bloatware? Install one of these bulk uninstallers. They’ll scan your system for all installed apps and allow you to fully remove the ones you don’t want. Make sure you check an app’s importance before removing it! A Google search should suffice.
3. Install Antivirus Software
All laptops need antivirus software — yes, even Mac and Linux ones! It’s a myth that Windows is the only vulnerable operating system these days. If you let your guard down, you may find yourself a victim to serious attacks like ransomware.
That’s why we recommend installing antivirus software. If you don’t want a background service that protects you in real-time, at least get a manual tool like MalwareBytes and scan your computer for infections once per week.
- Recommended Windows antivirus software
- Recommended Mac antivirus software
- Recommended Linux antivirus software
- Chromebooks have built-in malware and virus protection
4. Install Antitheft Software
Laptop theft is one of the worst things that can happen. Not only do you lose the device, but all the important data on it — and once it’s taken, a laptop can be near impossible to recover unless the thief is extremely stupid and reveals himself.
Fortunately, Windows 10 has a built-in security feature called Find My Device that can locate your laptop if it’s ever stolen or misplaced. If you don’t like that feature, or if you’re on Mac or Linux, you can always use the free version of Prey (which also supports mobile devices).
In addition to antitheft software, see these tips for keeping your laptop protected.
5. Optimize the Power Settings
If laptops are all about portability, then maximizing battery life should be a priority. A few simple tweaks can mean the difference between six hours and nine hours per charge.
First, reduce the display brightness. Don’t bring it down too much or else it could cause eye and mental fatigue, but less brightness translates to longer battery life. On Windows, you can tweak the power options so the screen dims when the laptop isn’t plugged in. On Mac, you can tweak the Energy Saver feature to do the same.
Also consider utilizing the Sleep and/or Hibernate modes for your operating system. These can preserve a lot of battery life when you’re travelling with your laptop in tow.
Finally, stop using Chrome. It’s known for being a huge battery drain. Yes, there are ways to reduce its strain, but it’s still worse than other browsers. We recommend using Opera, which comes with a nifty battery saving mode.
6. Set Up Automated Backups
Imagine where you’ll be six months from now: your laptop is now full of documents, projects, presentations, and all kinds of other personal data. And then your laptop crashes. All of those files are lost — gone for good, nothing to be done about it.
Don’t let that happen. Set up a system of backups right now while you can.
Windows 10 has several native backup methods including System Restore, Backup and Restore, Recovery Drive Creator, and more. Mac has the Time Machine feature, but if you don’t like it, you can always opt for one of these backup solutions instead. Linux also has a number of nifty backup tools and utilities that’ll conveniently save your data.
7. Set Up Cloud Storage and Syncing
Cloud storage is an excellent way to make your data accessible no matter where you are, and it can even act as a kind of semi-backup system. What’s cloud storage? Basically, keeping synchronized copies of your files on a remote server.
If your laptop ever dies or gets stolen, your files are still on the cloud.
The three most popular services are Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. They each have their pros and cons, but all of them offer free plans so try them all and see which you like best. I’m partial to Google Drive, mainly because I rely on Google Docs every single day.
8. Minimize Heat Damage
Don’t forget that laptops are more susceptible to heat than both desktops and tablets. Desktop cases are large enough for good ventilation and tablets don’t have to worry about dust buildup, whereas laptops have poor air circulation and lots of spots for dust to accumulate.
Subpar ventilation plus dust clogs equals heat damage!
Excess heat can cause your CPU to underperform in an effort to produce less heat, which means slower system performance. Excess heat can also shorten internal hard drive lifespans and cause batteries to lose total charging capacities.
There are some ways to fix an overheating laptop, but before you reach that point, there are a few preventative measures to keep in mind.
- Get a laptop tray and stop using your laptop on carpet, on bedding, on the couch, and even in your lap. Always place on a hard, flat surface to minimize dust intake.
- Get a laptop cooler to improve air flow. If you can’t buy one for a while, here are a few DIY ideas for cooling a laptop. And yes, you need a cooler even with a tray.
- Install a temperature monitor so you can spot when your system is getting hot and shut down intensive apps (e.g. games, video editors, cryptominers) right away.
9. Customize System Settings
Now that all the maintenance-related tasks are out of the way, it’s time to make your laptop your own. Go ahead and tweak the system theme, desktop wallpaper, taskbar layout, etc.
Need some ideas?
- Personalize and customize Windows, including the new Start Menu options.
- Personalize and customize Mac, including icons, wallpapers, and the Dock.
- Make Linux feel like home, and even make Linux look like Mac!
10. Install Your Favorite Apps
Now that your laptop is clean and ready to go, it’s time to install all the apps you think you’ll need. But before you go downloading a hundred different installer files, consider using Ninite.
Ninite creates a custom installer file based on which of the dozens of popular apps you pick and choose on the Ninite site. You then install all of them using that one single installer file. Make sure to keep the installer file for later — you can run it again at any time to update all of the apps too.
But there are many apps that aren’t available through Ninite, so we also recommend:
11. Start Using a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) may sound daunting, but using one is simple: you just download and run an app. The app encrypts your connection, protects against eavesdroppers, lets you access region-blocked content, and makes it harder to trace web activity back to you.
Along with a host of other useful benefits!
But VPN usage comes with a caveat: avoid using free VPNs whenever possible. They can be useful, but there are other risks and costs associated with them — risks and costs that aren’t worth taking on, if you ask me. We recommend ExpressVPN or one of these other paid VPNs.
A Few More Tips for Your Laptop
With your laptop set up and ready to go, there are a few more things to know.
You won’t kill your laptop battery if you keep it plugged in all the time, but it will lose total capacity faster if you do. For maximum lifespan, it’s best to alternate between battery and AC power, making sure to never fully discharge the battery.
It’s also important to mind your laptop-using posture. It’s tempting to lay on your back or stomach, to slouch down, and to crane yourself into strange positions for moment-to-moment comfort — but poor posture can cause real bodily harm in the long run.
What kind of laptop did you get? How do you like it so far? Got any other first-time setup tips for new laptops that we missed? Share them with us in the comments below!
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