How to Build Your Own Computer, Part Five: Tweaking Your New Computer

Congratulations, you’ve successfully selected parts, assembled your own PC, and installed Windows! Now you can get to…whatever it is that you want to get to, I guess. Do gamers still “pown noobs?” Is that still a thing?

Actually, before you jump in to [noob farming and/or ranching/a 12-hour Pinterest binge/watching every Cracked video ever/reading more How-To Geek], you probably want to take a few minutes to update and protect your shiny new PC. Here are a few steps you should take before doing anything else.

Check Your Hardware

Before we do anything else, check to make sure that all that hardware you installed is actually being detected by Windows. First, press the Windows button on your keyboard, then type “About.” Click the link to “About your PC” that appears in the Start menu.

You’ll see the PC’s name, the processor model and speed, and the amount of RAM detected by the system. The RAM is particularly crucial here: make sure the total matches what you installed. If it doesn’t, you may have a faulty RAM DIMM or one of them may not be properly seated. Shut down the PC and check the RAM on the motherboard.

Next, press the Windows button and type “This PC,” then click the first result. Here you’ll see a list of all your account folders and the computer’s installed drives; make sure that the number of drives and their storage amount is the same as what you were expecting.

To check for other hardware components, like the graphics card or the front USB panel, press the Windows button and type “Device Manager” then click the first result. This window has a nested list of every single component installed in your computer, including all the little stuff on your motherboard you probably haven’t even thought about. If you’re looking for something specific, just check under the relevant label. For example, graphics cards are listed under “Display Adapters.”

RELATED: How to Find Drivers for Unknown Devices in the Device Manager

If anything is connected, but not recognized or installed with an appropriate driver, it will show up with a yellow icon and sometimes be labelled “Unknown device.” You’ll need to track down a driver for it.

Keep Windows Updated

Yes, updating Windows is time-consuming and boring. It’s also one of the most important parts of keeping your computer running well. And since Microsoft updates the operating system more frequently than they do the Windows ISO or the Media Creation Tool, you probably need some updates right off the bat.

Luckily, this is a really easy process. Press the Windows key on your keyboard, type “updates,” then click on the first result in the Start menu, “Check for Updates.”

This is the Windows Update section of the Windows 10 settings menu. Just click “Check for updates” and the OS will call out to Microsoft’s servers and download the latest necessary files, then install them. You may need to reboot in order to actually apply the larger updates.

RELATED: How to Set “Active Hours” So Windows 10 Won’t Restart at a Bad Time

Windows 10 has a nasty habit of rebooting itself without your permission if it’s sat too long with un-applied updates. Here’s how to solve that problem.

Set Up Your Antivirus and Anti-Malware Software

RELATED: What’s the Best Antivirus for Windows 10? (Is Windows Defender Good Enough?)

Back when I started building PCs, everyone seemed to have a different recommendation for anti-virus and firewall programs. But things have gotten a lot simpler since then. Microsoft has developed its own built-in antivirus solution that comes free with Windows, and it’s actually pretty great. It’s called Windows Defender. You don’t even need to do anything to keep it working—Windows Update will keep its list of harmful viruses, trojans, and other nasty stuff updated automatically, and it will alert you if it detects anything. You can check out this guide for more on how to use and configure Windows Defender though, if you like.

RELATED: How to Allow Apps to Communicate Through the Windows Firewall

Likewise, the built-in firewall for Windows (also under the “Defender” brand name) is more than adequate. And like Windows Defender, it it’s up and running by default, will update itself in the background, and third-party applications will alert you if they request permission to access outside servers as you go along. For advanced firewall management, check out this guide.

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All that said, while Windows’ built-in tools are pretty good, we also recommend installing Malwarebytes Anti-Malware as well. It’s a bit more aggressive than Windows’ built-in tools, especially when it comes to stopping browser exploits and things like that. Think of it this way: Windows Defender is designed to stop malware you put on your system, Malwarebytes is designed to stop malware before it even gets to your system.

If you want always-on protection—and we highly recommend it—you’ll need to pay for Malwarebytes Premium for $40 per year. You download Malwarebytes for free and run occasional scans, but Malwarebytes’ real power comes from its anti-exploit protection. You can get a beta version of anti-exploit for free  to run alongside Malwarebytes’ free version, and this will at least get you some—but not all—of the protection of the premium version.

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Secure Your Drives

RELATED: How to Set Up BitLocker Encryption on Windows

If you’re keeping any personal information on your computer at all, you’ll want to encrypt your storage drives. Encryption is a security measure that allows you, and only you, to access that data. Anyone without your password or other identifying information won’t have access to it even if they steal your computer or drive—the only option they’ll have is to completely wipe it.

Windows 10 Pro has a built-in encryption tool called Bitlocker. It’s really easy to set up: go to the “This PC” folder in Windows Explorer, right-click on any drive, and then click “Turn on BitLocker.” You’l then be asked to create password (it can be different from your Windows password) or use a flash drive as an unlock key.

Note that the cheaper Windows 10 Home release doesn’t include BitLocker features. If you want extra protection, you’ll need to either upgrade your license (available from the “About your PC” settings menu) or encrypt your drive with a third-party program like VeraCrypt.

You’re Done!

Now you can do more or less whatever you want with your PC, safe in the knowledge that it’s about as secure and clean as it can be. You’ll probably want to start by installing the Chrome or Firefox web browser (if you didn’t already do that before installing drivers…heh). You may also want to check out these essential Windows articles for more ideas:

You can see even more Windows tweaks and guides at our Windows portal. Enjoy your new PC!

If you want to jump back to another part in the guide, here’s the whole thing:

Michael Crider has been covering technology on the web since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order. He wrote a novel called Good Intentions: A Supervillain Story, and it's available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter if you want.