Langa Letter: System Setup Secrets For Windows XP - InformationWeek
Software // Enterprise Applications
11:38 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa

Langa Letter: System Setup Secrets For Windows XP

Fred's real-world, step-by-step advice for setting up a Windows XP-based PC in ways better than the defaults.

Setting Up A New XP-Based System

1. Open the cover: You'd be amazed at what can come loose during shipping! Ensure that all cards are seated, all cables are connected, and that all socketed chips are firmly plugged in. Nothing should be loose or flopping around, except perhaps some unused power connectors, and they should be tucked out of the way of fans or other moving parts. (Use care to prevent damage to the PC components either through excessive force or static discharge.)

2a. First boot. If the system won't boot or has any problem at boot, contact tech support. Don't waste time trying to fix a problem that shouldn't be there--that's what your new-system warranty is for.

2b. If the system boots fine, right click on "My Computer," select Properties, then Hardware, then Device Manager. (Or: click to Start/My Computer/View system information/Hardware/Device Manager.) You should see no items flagged with the yellow exclamation marks or red Xs that indicate trouble.

If you see such indications, don't try to fix them: Call tech support, get on record that your system had problems at delivery, and let the vendor suggest remedies. (See 2a.)

2c. Still inside Device Manager, click on View/Show hidden devices. A red X in a hidden device may or may not indicate a problem (some hidden devices may be disabled deliberately, because they aren't needed). We'll show you how to check for proper operation in a moment, but for now, just make a mental note of any such red Xs or other potential problems shown in hidden devices. Exit the Device Manager.

2d. Exercise the system and try everything--ensure the sound card and speakers work, the printer prints, etc. Pay special attention to any hidden devices you discovered in 2c. For example, if some hidden network adapters showed up as disabled or otherwise problematic in 2c, thoroughly exercise your network connection: Try logging into standard and secure sites; to your office network or VPN connection; try downloading files via both HTTP and FTP; etc. But no matter what you find, make no changes to the system yet: Simply ensure that everything works. If you do uncover problems, see 2a.

3. If everything's working OK, record and preserve the as-shipped system state. Make note of things like the BIOS settings (see "CMOS, BIOS, And Other Alphabet Soup"), the network properties, the printer settings, and any other special or customizable settings you find. One fast and easy way to do this is to use a digital camera--even the very cheapest kind will do--to take a snapshot of various system screens. This gives you an easy-to-reference visual record of how things were set up at the factory, so you can always revert to those settings should you need to in the future. Alternatively, you may be able to use the "Print Screen" function either directly, or by pasting the captured "Print Screen" image into a document and then printing the document. You can even just jot down the settings by hand. But the key is to make some sort of record you can refer to in the future.

4. Make a full backup or image of the system, and label this first backup "factory setup" or something similar. You should make this backup even if the manufacturer included a "Recovery CD" or similar tool. Often, those vendor CDs will restore the system to a working state, but not necessarily to the same state it was in when it arrived on your door. Similarly, the vendor-supplied Recovery CD may not be useful as a backup tool after you've modified your system or added new files or software to it. For complete coverage of backups and "drive imaging" tools, see "Drive Imaging" and "Fast, Easy Backups For Win98 / ME / NT / 2K / XP".

5. It doesn't happen often, but in the past, some vendors have accidentally shipped brand-new PCs that were infected with viruses picked up at the factory or from preinstalled software. So, before going any further, install and run a good, up-to-date antivirus program, and scan your as-delivered setup. If your system comes with anti-virus software preinstalled, do a scan only after you've downloaded the latest available version of the AV tool and its virus definitions. (See this; for more info.)

6. Make and test an emergency boot floppy or CD. Check to make sure you can restart you system from the disk and access your backup files from that disk.(For example, if you store your backups on a CD-R (Compact Disc-Recordable) make sure the emergency boot disk contains the drivers needed for you to access your CD.) For more info, see our two-part series on making your own custom boot CD: Part One and Part Two.

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