Laptops

We show you how to check when your laptop was last used. Plus: when was your PC first used?

If Little Red Riding Hood was around today, it's likely that at least one of the three bears would be asking: whoi's been using my laptop? The privacy of our computer equipment is critically important, as our PCs are windows into our online selves. The contents of your laptop may well be more valuable than those of your wallet.

If you share a computer, or you share the space in which your laptop resides, you may wish to know when your laptop was last used. If you are a parent and you suspect your child is midnight surfing you definitely will.

In this article we'll look at ways of seeing when your PC or laptop was most recently used. Then for completeness we'll look at ways to ascertain when your laptop was used for the very first time.

How to tell when your laptop was last used

If you want to check up on your laptop's most recent time in use in order to keep an eye on your kids, we recommend installing parental control- and monitoring software. Read our article 'How to keep your kids safe online'.

Here are some other great ways to check up on your laptop.

The first thing to do is to look at 'Recent places'. Go to any Desktop window, and look for the 'Recent Places' icon on the lefthand side. Click it, and in the subsequent window below the 'Date modified' header. This will tell you when someone last visited a folder on your PC. We'd also suggest a quick search of web-browser history might catch out less tech-savvy sneak thiefs.

It's also worth checking for recently modified files. In Window 7 check the "Recent Items" selection in the Windows Start menu.

Event Viewer Windows LogsAny savvy PC user can avoid being caught by the above tricks. But if the application they used wrote any log or error files, or otherwise changed any file at all on your computer, you'll be able to spot those by opening Windows Explorer, clicking on the C: drive (Local Disk), and clicking in the search field and selecting "Date modified". This works in any version of Windows.

For further cast-iron evidence you could check the Windows Logs - these hold a lot of data about what's happening with your laptop.

In Windows 8, search for 'Event Viewer'. This will bring up the Event Viewer panel, from which you can select the Windows Logs. In Windows XP and Windows 7 go to the Control Panel, Administrative Tools, Computer Management, Event Viewer.

In both cases, open the folder for Windows Logs.

Look at the Security Log. This will show you any time someone tried to log into- our out of your Windows account. More importantly it shows every time your laptop was rebooted. Of course the person using your laptop outside of your knowledge may not have rebooted your PC, if they have any sense. Turn to the Application log and look at the 'Date and time' column. This will tell you what applications were being used, and when. Which should be a pretty good guide as to when your laptop was last used.

How to tell when your laptop was first used

This is more tricky, but there are some things you can check.

For one thing you can work out when you first installed software, given that it is likely you installed some programs on day one. Go to Control Panel, Programs and Features, Uninstall a program. Filter by the "installed on" column and find the earliest program.

You can also go to Local Disk (C:) > Windows, and filter by Date modified. The oldest files were set up when the OS was installed. Of course, this may tell you only when the PC was first installed. In our case it told us only that we installed Windows 8 in August last year.

Failing that the best we can think of is to search your email for a receipt for your laptop, or check your social profiles for a mention such as 'Got my new laptop today!'

If you have any more clever ideas I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

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Visit Windows 7 Advisor and Windows 8 Advisor for more Windows advice. Or email our Helproom Editor for bespoke advice.