The Explorer: System Setup Secrets Updated for 2001 - InformationWeek

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7/22/2003
03:46 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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The Explorer: System Setup Secrets Updated for 2001

Fred's newest PC forced him to modify his time-tested ''system setup secrets''. Here's the scoop!

The "P" in PC stands for "personal." But most new PCs ship in a generic state designed to suit the lowest common denominator among buyers. New PCs are almost never tuned optimally for performance, and in fact, often arrive with a very safe, conservative settings that are designed more to minimize returns and tech support calls than to deliver all the performance of which the new machine is capable.

And, in the marketing free-fire zone that is today's PC industry, odds are your new PC comes bearing non-optional, preinstalled software ranging from productivity suites to online service subscriptions to chat software, and more. Instead of having a lean, clean new machine, your just-bought PC probably arrives already burdened with all manner of software complexities, and set up the way the vendor and its partners wanted rather than the way you might prefer.

Aside from the annoyance of not having control over your "personal" computer, this inbuilt initial complexity may make later troubleshooting much harder. After all, the best troubleshooting technique involves a stepwise simplification of your system setup until the troublesome element is revealed; but if your system's supposedly pristine state already is highly complex, you may already have too many variables at play for efficient troubleshooting.

Finally, whatever portions of your PC that haven't been modified probably have been branded: You'll see logos -- ads, really -- on your desktop, in your system tray, on the boot screens -- everywhere. Maybe some don't mind paying for the privilege of being a marketing target, but it bothers me: I consider it system-level spam.

Starting -- and Staying -- Lean and Clean
For all the above reasons, with each new machine I've personally used over the years (something like 35 to date), I've employed an evolving set of procedures on each brand new machine. These procedures ensure that the system runs right from the start, stays rights for as long as possible, and then can be made right with minimum fuss when things inevitably go awry. (I test a lot of hardware and software, often deliberately seeking "worst case" scenarios, and thus regularly drive my PCs to their figurative knees.)

For many years, my setup routine needed only minimal ongoing adjustments and tweaking as OSes and hardware evolved. But more recently, with the newest PC I bought, I realized that OS and hardware changes meant it was time for some major adjustments to my System Setup process. And so, today's article documents those changes, and updates the original "System Setup Secrets" article, which ran back in 1999.

Some or all of these tips -- learned the hard way from painful experience -- may help you get your new PC running right, or even restore a not-so-new PC to optimal condition. But I'll freely admit a few of the steps may be overkill for normal people who don't (ab)use their PCs the way I do. Still, most of the steps are universal and can help anyone.

It can take anywhere from a couple minutes to several hours to complete this process, depending on how many of the steps you choose to follow, and (to a degree) what your skill level is: Naturally, the more familiar you are with these kinds of operations, the faster you can go.

In any case, here are the changes and amplifications to the original "System Setup Secrets" article; you may wish to open that article in a second browser window so you can refer back to it was we move along today.

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