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

Think of the long walk of setting the PC up as part of the gift you're giving someone.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

'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 Ninite.com. 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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