Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

Summary: Think of the long walk of setting the PC up as part of the gift you're giving someone.

TOPICS: Hardware

'Tis the time of year when a lot of PCs are bought  to be given away as gifts.

If you're reading this blog, then chances are that if you're buying (or building) a PC for yourself, then the setup and configuration of that PC is something you actually like to do. Hell, maybe you even like it, or look forward to doing it. I know I do. But if you're giving a PC to someone else (mother, father, significant other, brother, sister, grandparents, friend), then chances are that the recipient of that kind gift isn't the sort of person who can set up a PC for themselves. They might have no clue where to start. Heck, they might be daunted, even frightened, by the task at hand.

The purpose of this post if to offer a blueprint of the things that I feel are important to set up a PC that you're giving as a gift. I'm not going to help you pick a PC, but I will show how to turn your gift into an even better gift!

Think of the long walk of setting the PC up as part of the gift you're giving someone.

Let's get going!

Image creditalancleaver_2000

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Check for a DOA

First things first - check it works!

The first thing to do is to check the PC to make sure you've not bought one that is DOA (Dead On Arrival). While DOA PCs are nowhere near as common as they once were, it's still worth checking to make sure you've not bought one. It'll be a lot quicker, easier and pain-free to get the problem sorted out now than it will be during or in the days following the holidays when everyone else is dealing with their dead PCs.

Get these problems solved as soon as possible.

Along with checking that the PC isn't a DOA, check also to see if there are any visible signs of damage, missing bits, that you have all the discs and cabling, and check for any dead or stuck pixels on the screen (if you find any misbehaving pixels, check the manufacturer's website for their policy on this).

So get that system fired up and make sure it works!

There’s nothing more annoying than buying (or building) a new PC and just when you’ve got it all set up and ready to go, something fails and you have to send it back for repair. I can tell you from experience that this is a real pain in the rear!

To prevent this sort of headache, I always recommend giving new systems a thorough stress-test to shake out the bugs before you spend too much time on the system. Yes, it takes some time and effort, but it is well worth it in the long run as you can usually identify (or even push over the edge) components that were likely to give you problems in the short to medium term.

Image credit: cibomahto

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Remove that crapware!

Buy a commercial machine, and chances are that it's choked with crapware (collective name for trialware and other unnecessary junk software). I've seen quality PCs that have been reduced to junk by the crap that the OEM installed on the system (crap that the manufacturer was paid to install on your new system).

Do the gift recipient a favor and remove this crapware before they even set eyes on it.

Get rid of it with PC Decrapifier. This tool removes a huge amount of crap.

Even if this is all you do to that new PC, you'll be doing the recipient a huge favor.

After running this tool, if you want to completely get rid of all traces of crapware off the system, you can then optionally give it a sweep with CCleaner.

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Create a 'standard user' account

Friends don't let friends run stuff from an Admin account in Windows. Access to the Admin account is useful, but the average user (the kind of person you're setting up a PC for, and will probably be providing tech support for later down the line) doesn't need that sort of power all the time.

So, do yourself a favor and set up a standard user account for the recipient and an Administrator account for those times when it's needed. I suggest making a note of the user names and passwords and sticking them to the PC so the user is good to go as soon as they get the system out of the box!

Note: I know sticking a password on a monitor is considered by many to be unsafe, but writing down passwords isn't that big of a deal in this situation (even Bruce Schneier recommends it) and it's far better to be using password that's written down than not using one at all!

I'm not going to tell you how to set up a standard account on Windows 7 - because I'm assuming you know already - but if your memory needs a refresh, check out this link (clicking here will not drain any geek points you have!).

Image credit: Microsoft

Another nice tip would be to set up the desktop with a nice picture - something you know the recipient will like, or something meaningful to them. It's a small gesture, but remember, the thought counts!

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Install 'no nag' antivirus

Next up, install some protection from the bad guys. Don't ever give someone a PC and trust him or her to install security software. Not only is that market a minefield for uninitiated (a minefield that can lead them directly to malware if they are unfortunate enough), but people just don't do it. They forget.

So do them (and yourself!) a favor and install security software.

I also suggest installing something that isn't going to nag them in a year or so, telling them they need to renew their license or whatever. It's just too much hassle. My download of choice is Microsoft Security Essentials because it updates automatically and it is 100% nag-free.

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Install an alternative browser

I'm a big believer in freedom of choice, but I also believe that people sometimes need help making the right choice.

One area I feel people need help in making the right choice is their web browser. Most people use Internet Explorer not because they choose to do so, but because they think it's the only option open to them. I suggest installing an alternative browser onto the new system and making it the default. My personal preference is Google Chrome, because I like the background auto-update feature that doesn't bother people. It just updates.

Chrome is my personal preference, but you might prefer Firefox or Opera or Safari or something else. That's OK. Pick the one you think is best (or the one you know the best, as you'll inevitably be asked questions later by your chosen giftee!) and install that.

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Freebie software

Make the PC an even better gift by installing some cool freebie software onto it. There's tons of free stuff out there, but here's a few of my favorites:

  • Paint.NET - Image editing
  • OpenOffice - Word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, graphics and database applications
  • VLC Player - Music and video playback
  • Thunderbird - Email client
  • Skype - Communication
  • Pidgin - IM client (a good alternative with more features is Trillian)
  • FoxIt - PDF reader (safer and easier to update that Adobe's Acrobat PDF reader)
  • ImgBurn - CD/DVD burning
  • KeePass - Password manager for storing passwords safely

An easy way for you to download all of these applications is from Just pick the apps you want and click a button and the site does the rest.

Note: You can do an awful lot of cool stuff with Ninite. Check out this awesome piece by Ed Bott for more details.

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Updates, updates, updates!

Now that you've checked the PC over, stress-tested it, got all the crapware off of it, created user accounts, installed security software and put your browser of choice on there, it's now time for the updates!

First, Windows Updates. We could be a while, so a cup of coffee (or beer) might be in order.

Once that's done, time to make sure that everything else is updated. Any applications you installed should be up to date, but stuff can be lurking that's old and insecure.

A great way to make sure that people keep up-to-date with patches is to install the Secunia PSI 2.0 scanner. This tool not only identifies programs that are insecure or in need of updating, but can also automatically update many of the commonly used applications. This will offer you great piece of mind that this system will remain fully patched for years to come.

You can also run a scan online using Secunia’s Online Software Inspector (OSI) here.

If the system is going to be used for gaming, then checking to see if there are updated drivers for the graphics and sound system might be a good idea.

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After giving the PC ...

Once you've handed over the PC, and it's been unwrapped and unboxed, next comes the setting up!

Image creditxJason.Rogersx

There are a few steps to this stage:

  • Set the hardware up and the peripherals.
  • Connect to the network/Internet.
  • Download and install any drivers needed for peripherals.
  • Copy data and settings over from existing PC to new PC. Easiest way to do this is using Windows Easy Transfer.
  • Consider backup. If the PC is a replacement for an old PC, perhaps the old system can be retrofitted to store backups (this is however beyond the scope of this piece).
  • Address any specific issues.
  • Sit back and let them enjoy their new PC. You did good!

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Topic: Hardware

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  • You forgot Windows Live Essentials

    Its an important part of my PC, makes managing and sharing photos easy and provides tools such as Live Writer for blogging, Windows Live Mail is also nice too.
    • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how


      Good points.
    • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how


      Good point. WLE is a great set of tools. I use WLM as my mail client and WLPG to manage my large collection of photos I've taken over the years.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • ditto

      @adacosta38, WLE is great, and setting up messenger can help with getting questions answered. Also installing Team Viewer (or other Remote Desktop tools) can be a benefit if they do happen to screw something up.
      • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

        set up a separate account as non admin and let them use it. keep the admin password for yourself so that you can remote in if problems.
  • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

    I don't like registry cleaners. They have a tendency to wreck things you don't want them to. I'll have to look at that decrapifier though.
    • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how


      Neither do I, but CCleaner is an exception. If anything, it's a great HDD sweeper, and I use it quite regularly on my machines. It's nice too as it can write over "free" space on the disk, further securing any potential data leaks.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

      @Aerowind I use CCleaner several times a day (IT help desk) to clean up temp files and registry. Zero issues, in my experience. You are right though, I have used other registry cleaning software before I learned about CCleaner, most did more harm than good.
  • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

    Either you really hate it or you just forget it, but you missed IE9. Not only is it decent option to others, it is easier to update from default browser on Windows 7

    Also, windows live essentials is working like charm

    Basically by using what Microsoft provides recently, the PC couldn't be better
  • An excellent article

    "Remove that crapware!<br><br>Also remove Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader and Oracle Java as they are the prime targets of malware miscreants. Google's Chrome browser, recommended later in the article, is a very good choice and includes the Flash plug-in and also provides transparent updates to the Flash plug-in. The FoxIt Reader, recommended later in the article, is also a very good choice for PDF viewing.<br><br>"Updates, updates, updates!<br><br>Change "Windows Update" to "Microsoft Update" and it will automatically keep MSE, Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software updated as well.<br><br>"After giving the PC <br><br>Create a system image using the Windows built-in Backup and Restore. If the PC gets borked, you will be glad you did.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

      @Rabid Howler Monkey

      [i]"Also remove Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader and Oracle Java "[/i]

      Yeah, and while you're at it, set up a Dvorak keyboard so they can type faster.

      Get real. They'll need Flash Player, Adobe Reader and Java. Sure, those can be pains with the nagging and at some point when they update Java they'll probably unintentionally install a browser toolbar. But if they're not installed they will keep getting nags from their browser and other software.
      • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

        Java can go, few people need it. Adobe Reader 10 actually should stay, it's sandboxed. Flash Player is an inevitable, so the main thing would be to move to Flash Player 11.
      • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know h

        @Rick_R and @mechBgonII The Chrome browser 'ships' with the Flash plug-in loaded, fully enabled and (according to some) fully sandboxed, meaning that one can remove the Flash Player version pre-loaded by the OEM and safely consume Flash content on the web. Also note that the Flash plug-in gets updated transparently with Chrome. None of the other web browsers keep Flash updated.<br><br>The Chrome browser also 'ships' with a light, PDF viewer plug-in loaded, fully enabled and fully sandboxed. Using this plug-in, one can safely view untrusted PDF files served by web sites as well as stored locally on the PC (e.g., an email attachment). FoxIt Reader is a fine alternative to Adobe's Reader (and it's not the only alternative either) for viewing PDF files obtained from trusted sources locally on the PC.<br><br>@Rick_R And Sun's JRE? I am in agreement with mechBgonII that it is best to remove it. *Unless* the recipient of the PC has an actual need to run Java applications and/or applets. And, if so, help the user to whitelist those sites where Java needs to run inside Chrome.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

    Can't thank you enough for this article. I'm forwarding it to several others - and it's going to save me a lot of hassle.
  • If you're not building it yourself, shop at the MS website

    All the systems MS sells on their site are microsoft signature, which means they come without any crapware, with Windows Security essentials already installed and configured. There's a few more items on your list you might want to ad, but this way you've already got a lot of your work cut out for you.
  • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

    Great article. I will be keeping this all in mind for the new system for myself as well.
  • Big missed step

    Great article!
    Since this is an article for those like me who can set up a computer we are giving as a gift for another who cannot guess who they are going to call for help? I do all the steps you mentioned when I set up a new one and agree on MSE CCleaner etc.

    However since we are doing favors and we are usually setting up a Windows 7 machine these days how about doing a full system image using Windows 7 excellent built in system image tool. Once it is cleaned up and set up doing an image now with all the updates done and crapware removed and all apps installed and before a user can abuse it, image it!

    Just click on start and in the search box type "backup and restore" and click on it in the results. On the backup and restore page that comes up select make a repair disk and have a blank CD handy to make the disk following the prompts, when made label it "Win 7 Boot disk/repair disk," and put it away for safe keeping in an envelope.

    Next with some blank DVDs usually 3 or 4 but having 5 or 6 on hand is better in case. Click on "Create a system image" in the menu on the left. In the page that comes up select "On one or more DVDs." and then follow the prompts labeling each DVD as prompted to label them until done.

    Those of us who make images used to pay for Ghost and then later Acronis for me until Windows 7 came out with this excellent program. Most will immediately say that making disks is a bad idea and it is faster to make an image on an external drive, and they would be right, except that this set is not to be used dependent on the owner to not accidentally erase it on an external drive or forget to keep it up and replace the old image with a new one weekly or so like I do.

    Since we are setting it up we need to make the disks and keep them as a super restore set that will restore it not to factory, but to the cleaned up state with all apps installed that we can use to restore it fast if they get an infection that can't be removed, or the hard drive fails. Then you don't have to start from scratch.

    I keep an image of every computer I clean up, set up, or work on for family and my work network for easy restarts.

    I do insist that the users do daily backups of some critical data to thumb drives. Like Quickbooks or Quicken data that is backed up in seconds to a USB thumb drive after every session. Also weekly system images to external drives used for just images and storage.

    But for that gift that will likely come back to me, I make the image cleaned, and then make a quick copy of the disks for me to keep on file just in case, and I give the originals to the proud new owner.

    But they don't realize that the restore set is really for us.
    • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

      @derekgore <br>Could the "Win 7 Boot disk/repair disk" and the "system image" be put on a USB thumb drive instead? (I am preparing to 3 notebooks to be given for X-mas).<br>subsequently, how would I make them (the notebooks) bootable from the usb?
      • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

        Making thumb drives bootable requires some older DOS files that can be found in a boot disk for thumb drive set up program by HP with basic Dos files to boot.

        However the idea I posted was to have the equivalent of the restore disks that you can make that has the cleaned image on it with all programs and Windows updates done as a permanent restore set for emergencies. thus using optical disks and giving them with them. Regular images should be made to an external drive weekly or more or less often.

        The win 7 repair/boot disk can be put on a USB thumb drive sure you just load it as a cd iso and it will do the same as a CD that is bootable. You do need to go into the BIOS at startup and change the boot order to USB drive first, cd/dvd second, and your hard drive third.

        However the image of the whole drive for backup will be as large as the drive itself in most cases with some compression going on but usually not more than 10-20%. Most average user images will be 30GB in size or larger so the image won't fit on all but the largest and most expensive thumb drives. Then it is better to use a larger external drive like 500GB or 1 TB.
  • RE: Giving a PC as a gift - How to set it up for someone who doesn't know how

    I'd suggest in lieu of Windows, try openSUSE (or another contemporary Linux flavour), which is guaranteed to have better stability, safety and reliability in the long term, and thus fewer headaches for you, the defacto IT support person.

    if they are a seasoned Windows user, or they're likely to need to use Windows only apps, you can either install them with WINE, or go with Windows 7.

    on any platform, TeamViewer is an essential tool, but there are others out there that are comparable;

    If you don't have the cash to cough up for MicrosoftOffice, I find LibreOffice better than OpenOffice, mainly for the cleaner interface;
    AVG leaves MSE for dead, but there are many other free alternatives;
    NuancePDF and Bullzip PDF for viewing and making PDFs from any program are streets ahead.

    you should look at IObit SmartDefrag and IObit Malware fighter for ongoing protection, optimisation and crap removal, but a limited user account is indispensable.

    make sure you setup Windows backup to create an up-to-date image once or twice a month.

    Chrome/Chromium is brilliant and fast, but there are a small percentage of websites that don't work with it -- for that I install the latest IE (with full security / scripting + flash blocking / minimalist homepage), to ensure it remains the secondary browser, and only for when Chrome is misbehaving.