Call me a slow learner. But over the years I've had to develop a series of defensive strategies to cope with the inevitable problems and hassles of hardware and software failure -- especially because I test a lot of hardware and software, and regularly make my PCs blow up. (In a figurative sense, of course.)
I just bought a new PC -- my best guess is it's maybe the 30th machine I've used as my day-to-day personal system at work or at home. With each new machine I've used, I've tried various tricks and techniques and eventually developed a set routine that ensures that the system runs right from the start, stays rights for as long as possible, and can be made right with minimum fuss when things inevitably go awry.
Some or all of these tips -- learned the hard way from painful experience -- may help you. Yes, a few of them may be overkill for normal users who don't abuse their PCs the way I do, but others are universal and can help anyone.
In any case, here are the steps I take when I get a new PC or when I want to recondition an older machine. Check them out, and then join in the discussion. I'll be glad to answer whatever questions I can about the steps listed below, and then I'd also love to hear from you: What tricks or techniques do you use? What tips can you share? What steps do you take to keep your system running smoothly?
Setting Up A New System 1. Open the cover: You'd be amazed at what can come loose during shipping! Ensure that all cards are seated, all cables connected, 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, 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 it boots fine, right click on "My Computer," select properties, then the Device Manager tab. There should be no problems indicated (by yellow exclamation marks or red Xs). If there are, see 2a.
2c. If Device Manager shows no errors, exercise the system and try everything -- ensure the sound card and speakers work, the printer prints, etc. Poke around the system and make notes of things like the BIOS settings, the network properties, and so forth but make no changes to the system setup yet. Simply ensure that everything works, and make note of any special settings. If you uncover problems, see 2a.
3. If everything works, make a full backup of the system, even if the manufacturer has included a "Recovery CD" or similar tool. Often, those vendor kludge CDs will restore the system to a working state, but not to the same state it was in when it arrived on your door. I use PartitionMagic to safely create a large new partition on the systems' hard drive, and then use Drive Image to copy the original factory setup to the new, empty partition. (A firm believer in overkill, I'll also eventually burn that factory setup image to CD for long-term safekeeping.) But in any case, having a full backup by whatever means you choose means you can get back to your PC's factory-fresh state when you need to.
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