Getting a new PC or laptop is great. It should be faster and have more storage space than your old one, and may have a newer version of Windows (see Windows 10 review) - while at the same time removing all the clutter that will undoubtedly have accumulated on the old PC. Here we'll show you how to set up a new PC or laptop and transfer documents, photos, movies and music from your old PC. 

Also, the new PC won’t come with all your favourite software, nor will all the settings be just as you like them, so we'll explain how to install applications and transfer settings. Plus, we'll explain a great backup strategy so that all this good work isn’t lost should you suffer a disk failure. If you need some help connecting all the wires on a desktop PC, we have a step-by-step guide: How to set up a new PC

Set up a new PC or laptop: Power on

The first time you turn on a Windows 10 PC things will be a bit different from your old PC with Windows 7 or earlier. To begin with you’ll have to go through the first-time setup process.

Specifically, you’ll have to select your region and language, agree to the licence terms, personalise the colour scheme, choose a name for your PC, maybe choose a Wi-Fi network, decide whether to accept the so-called “express settings” or customise, and either log in to your Microsoft account, skip the step or, if you’re happy to, create a new Microsoft account.

How to set up a new PC

All of this is straightforward and while you can use Windows 10 without a Microsoft account, we recommend that you do use one. This will give you access to OneDrive for cloud storage and it also means that all your settings and preferences are stored in the cloud. See also: Best cloud storage services

If you use other PCs this is a major advantage since, whenever you log in, all your saved preferences will be retrieved and everything will look exactly as it does on your home PC.

Set up a new PC or laptop: Remove bloatware

In all probability your new machine will come preloaded with all sorts of software that you won't want. Some of it might just be useful but, for most people, the phrase “bloatware” is a good description because these trial programs use up space on your hard disk and might slow down your PC.

So, first of all, take a good look at what’s already installed. To do this, click the Windows logo, then the cog icon, then System, then Apps. Now, make a critical judgement on what you really need.

How to set up a new PC or laptop. Remove apps and bloatware

Certainly you should make sure your new PC is protected from malicious software but the trial version that came pre-loaded might not be the best bet and you might decide, for example, that the free AVG Antivirus software which can be installed via Ninite (see below) would serve you better.

When you’ve decided what to delete (and if you’re unsure of something it’s best to take the safe approach of not uninstalling it), head to the Control Panel (just type Control Panel from the Start Screen), select Programs and then Uninstall a program. Now, one at a time, select the programs you want to uninstall from the list of installed software and click on Uninstall.

Set up a new PC or laptop: Install apps with Ninite

We’ll show you how toinstall individual applications below – either new software or stuff you’d installed on your old PC – but, to set the ball rolling, it would be well worth using Ninite. This useful utility allows you to install your choice of several commonly used free packages and utilities in a single go. The website lists over 90 packages in 13 categories but, to give you an idea of the sort of thing that’s included, you can select alternative web browsers, compression/decompression utilities, free graphics packages, media players, anti-virus software, and even the OpenOffice suite.

How to set up a new PC

Just make your choice by clicking on the check boxes, download the installer and run it to install everything automatically in the background. What’s more, if you run it again later, Ninite will check if any of your packages have been update, installing the latest version only if necessary.

Convenient as it may be, though, don’t be tempted to select stuff that you’re probably not going to use. After all, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to rid your new PC with bloatware, only to then add a load more unwanted software.

Set up a new PC or laptop: Install individual programs

Ninite might be good for installing a good selection of utilities and free packages, but if you have expensive software on CD that you bought for your old PC and which you use regularly, you’ll probably want to install it on your new PC. Here we’re thinking primarily of large productivity applications such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop. The good news is that your licence will almost certainly allow you to install it on your new PC, so long as you don’t also continue to use it on your old machine, and most old software will be compatible with Windows 8.1. If you’ve lost the licence key then the software won’t install on your new PC but, fortunately, even if you can’t find the necessary documentation, there may still be a solution. Magical Jellybean and Belarc Advisor are free utilities that are able to extract the licence key from many (but not all) popular packages. Run the utility on your old PC to discover the necessary keys before attempting to re-install the software on your new PC.

In addition to what you’ve been able to install via Ninite and any software that you’ve re-installed from CD, there may be other software that you’d like on your new machine, much of it free. For example, if you hadn’t formerly bought Microsoft Office but want a means of creating textual documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more, why not look at the free LibreOffice which even provides compatibility with Microsoft file formats. Alternatively, if you’re happy to work in the cloud, why not give Google Docs a try. Similarly, if you don’t want to shell out on an expensive commercial package for photo manipulation, the online PicMonkey may well do the trick.

In addition to conventional applications and on-line services, Windows 10 also has its own app store: the Windows Store. The Windows Store icon (the white carrier bag with a Windows logo) is right there on the task bar at the bottom.

How to set up a new PC or laptop

Set up a new PC or laptop: Tweak settings

Windows 10 comes with quite a few new apps which are the defaults for playing music, viewing photos, emailing and more. On the whole, the old ones are still there and you can make them the defaults if you decide you don't like Groove, Photos, Mail and the other new apps.

To do that, go to the Control Panel, then Programs and finally Set Your Default Programs. Now, from the list of programs, individually select Windows Media Player and Windows Photo Viewer and, for reach, click on Set this program as default.

How to set up a new PC

You can also customise the new-style Start menu, pinning your favourite programs not just to the list, but also as a tile on the right-hand side. We explain how to do this in our Customise your Windows 10 Start menu guide.

Set up a new PC or laptop: Transfer files over from the old PC / laptop

You’ll certainly want to transfer your various documents, music, videos and photos from your old PC and the easiest way to do that is via Windows Easy Transfer. This utility must be present on both your old and new PCs and although it was only shipped as standard with Windows 7 and 8, if you’re transferring from a Windows XP or Vista machine you can download Windows Easy Transfer for free.

The utility allows you to transfer via a special cable, an external drive or a network – the external drive approach will be the easiest and, if you have to buy the necessary disk, you can also use it for regular backups which are highly recommended as we discus in the next section. 

It might be tempting to copy everything to your new PC but that’s not necessarily the best approach as this is an ideal time to remove some clutter. Do a good spring clean by copying only the folders you really need and even deleting unwanted files from those folders you do decide to keep. Remember to check the Downloads folder though, as there might be some stuff there you need but be sure to avoid copying across the accumulated junk such as installation files for old versions of software that you’ve downloaded.

How to set up a new PC: Sort out a backup strategy from the get-go

Having spent all this time getting your new PC setup exactly as you like it, it would be a shame if you had a disk crash or other mishap and all this hard work was lost. The secret is to make an image of your disk on an external USB drive, a networked drive or a stack of DVDs, that you can restore from later. Several third-party tools (Acronis True Image) are well respected or you could use the built-in Windows 10 facility which appears as “System Image Backup” in the bottom left corner of the File History window which is accessible from the Control Panel.

See also: Best portable hard drives to buy

 How to set up a new PC

If you do ever have to recreate your system from a system image backup, everything will be restored to exactly as it was when you made the system image. In other words, if the image was made immediately after you’d finished setting up your new system, any documents that were created or downloaded subsequently will be missing. For this reason, you also need to create regular backups of your files. Windows 10’s File History also permits this, allowing you to make regular copies, to an external USB or networked drive, of all the files in your libraries, desktop, contacts and favourites.