How to Setup a System from Scratch? The Best Installation Order

Do you have a brand new computer on which you need to install and configure everything: from the operating system, to drivers, applications, plug-ins, etc.? Do you need to delete everything from an "old" computer and reinstall it all from scratch? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you are in luck! After setting up many computers (both old and brand new), I managed to create a checklist with steps you must go through, in order to have the best experience possible: without (too many) crashes, in the least possible time and in a secure way. This article shares the most optimized list of steps you need to go through, in order to have everything working correctly.

Step 1: Install the Operating System (Windows 7 and/or others) - Mandatory

First things first: you need to install your main operating system. If you have any secondary ones, those can be left till you finish everything you need to setup on your main one, to make things easier. Since you are reading us, you most probably use a version of Windows 7 so, to help you out, we published this roundup of installation guides which covers all the possible installation scenarios: How to Install Windows 7 - Complete Round of Installation Guides.

If you are lucky and your Internet connection works during the installation, don’t hesitate to configure things like your network connection (assign the right location profile to it) or your Homegroup.

NOTE: If you have a brand-name computer, this step is already done for you by the manufacturer. Lucky you! ;)

Step 2: Check if System Restore is Enabled & Create a Restore Point - Recommended

This step might seem surprising to many people but it doesn’t make it less important. If there’s a time when things are likely to fail, is when you setup your computer for the first time and install everything you need to use. To be on the safe side, it is important to double check that:

The default behavior of Windows 7 is to create restore points before you install updates, drivers and applications - if System Restore is enabled. If, during the setup process, something manages to mess-up your computer, you do not have to start all over again. You simply restore your system to a point when it worked and double check the steps which followed that point. What can mess-up your computer very fast? Good question with lots of possible answers, depending on your computer, your operating system, your knowledge and attention span. However, the most likely candidates are: installing incorrect or old drivers, security solutions (especially old and/or incompatible ones, multiple security solutions installed and used in parallel) and, sometimes, Windows Updates (e.g. Windows 7 incorrectly decides you need to install an update for some hardware component you don’t actually have - it happened to me twice, on two separate computers).

Step 3: Install ALL Important Windows Updates - Mandatory

If you have a network card which Windows 7 is able to detect and install correctly - you are in luck. You can go straight to installing Windows Updates. What updates must you install? The answer to this question is easy: all service packs (e.g. Windows 7 Service Pack 1), all updates marked as important and, from the list of optional updates, check the drivers Windows 7 recommends for your hardware components.

Why do this now rather than later? For a couple of very good reasons:

  • It secures your system immediately and you are less likely to have security problems when working on the next steps;
  • It installs the latest drivers for most (if not all) your computer’s component’s and you will be able to use all your system’s hardware capabilities sooner rather than later;
  • It eliminates the likelihood of having issues with installing and/or using software installed later. Some applications work properly only if a “compatibility update" is installed, while other work only on the latest version of Windows (e.g. some applications will not install on Windows XP with Service Pack 1 or 2, just on Windows XP with Service Pack 3).

NOTE: If your Windows 7 is not able to correctly detect and install the drivers for your network card, and you cannot connect to the Internet, then go to step 4 and install the drivers for it. If you are there, it is best to install all the drivers recommended in the next section, before going back to Windows Updates.

NOTE: If you are based in Europe, one of the updates that might get installed is the browser ballot which allows you to choose what browser to install on your computer. The choice is yours - you can install any of the main browsers at this step or leave it for later. If you are the geek type, wanting the latest beta or something configured your way, in your language, with your loved extensions, it is better to skip the ballot and take care of your browser installation(s) later.

Step 4: Install Missing Drivers for the Computer’s Components - Mandatory

This step and the previous one are tough to put in the correct order. It all depends on your computer and its actual hardware configuration. If you have drivers for your network card and Windows is able to connect to the Internet, it is OK to leave this as step number 4. If not, it should be step number 3.

Now... one important thing I would like to highlight: it is OK to have Windows Update recommend and install drivers for most of your computer’s components, but not for all. When it comes to video card drivers (especially ones for proper gaming) you should always go for the latest version found on the website of your manufacturer (it will be either AMD/ATI or NVIDIA). Some other components for which you will want to search newer drivers on the manufacturer’s website include: network cards (if you had trouble in the first place), printers and scanners.

Windows 7 will do a good job at finding and installing the latest drivers for most of your other components: mouse, touch-pad, keyboard, network card (wireless or Ethernet), sound card, web-cam, printer, scanner, motherboard related drivers.

To make sure you have not missed any component, check Device Manager and this tutorial:Find Missing Drivers & Hidden Devices with Device Manager.

Why do this step now rather than later? I’ll copy and paste one of the answers from the previous question:

  • It installs the latest drivers for most (if not all) your computer’s component’s and you will be able to use all your system’s hardware capabilities sooner rather than later;
  • You don’t yet have a security solution which might interfere with the installation of the driver or simply annoy you with requesting lots of approvals in order for the installation to be executed successfully.

The downside to doing this before the next steps? Unless you like Internet Explorer and use it as your main browser, you don’t yet have your favorite browser installed. All the driver searching is done either in Internet Explorer or on another computer.

NOTE: If you have a brand-name computer, this step is already done for you by the manufacturer. However, it is worth double-checking that all drivers are indeed installed. Also, you might want to search for newer versions, especially for your video card.

Step 5: Install the Preferred/Main Browser - Mandatory

If you are like me, you are not using Internet Explorer as your main browser. By this point you are surely anxious to get your hands on your favorite browser and start using it. So... what are you waiting for? Go get your main browser and install it on your computer.

Why now and not later? Generally, it is better to install your main browser prior to installing any browser plug-ins. It might save you the step of reinstalling a plug-in so that it has the proper version installed for your main browser. Also, you will be able to use it to download the stuff you need in the next steps.

Step 6: Install Plug-ins, Players & Run-time environments - Mandatory

In today’s Internet, there are so many technologies used, that you need to install quite a handful of plug-ins, players and run-time environments, in order to browse and use everything you want and without problems. What to install? Let’s see: Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader (or alternatives to Adobe Reader), Adobe AIR, Adobe Schockwave Player (lots of Adobe stuff isn’t it?), Microsoft Silverlight (luckily this is offered also as a Windows Update), Java and - finally! - NET Framework (this one comes as Windows Update too, no need to download and install it separately).

Why this now and not later? Well... getting these installed prior to having your security solution installed, might save you a few additional confirmation clicks.

Step 7: Make BIOS & Firmware Updates for Important Components - Optional (Geeks Only)

This step is for those with a bit more geek skills and confidence. One of the best way to make sure you get the maximum performance from your system, is to update the BIOS and/or firmware of the components that matter the most. I recommend you to look for BIOS updates for the motherboard and video card. Installing them can help you fix some bugs with your components, squeeze more performance out of them or improve their compatibility with other devices and hardware features.

As it says in the section header - this step is optional and recommended to those that know what a BIOS upgrade means.

Why now and not later? It is good to make BIOS updates without having any security solution installed and enabled. It simply eliminates the possibility of any conflict, no matter how minor.

Step 8: Install a Good Security Solution - Mandatory

You might wonder - why recommend installing a security solution so late? If you have installed all the important Windows Updates, you already have a pretty secure system. So, unless you browse to some shady websites before you get to this point, you are very safe. And waiting a bit more to install a security solution saves you the trouble of making additional clicks when installing and setting up the other stuff - depending on the solution you go for and its habit of asking you to confirm everything (or nothing). :)

Don’t know what to install in terms of security solutions? Don’t hesitate to check our Security for Everyone series of reviews. We covered all important security vendors.

Why do this now and not later? It is good to install your security solution before you start searching the Internet for all the software you need. This helps you stay secure in case you end-up on some shady website, offering you amazing deals or free security solutions you never heard of.

Step 9: Crap-Ware Removal - Mandatory for Brand-Name Systems

If you purchased a branded system from manufacturer’s like HP, Dell, Acer, etc. you won’t have to go through steps number 1 and 4 - as they have already been done for you. However, this comes at a price - the manufacturer has installed some software you will never need or use. Take the time to remove everything you do not need or want to use. Simply go to Add or Remove Programs (called Programs and Features in Windows Vista & Windows 7) and remove it all. If you don’t do it, it will drain some of the performance of your system, occupy hard disk space and simply annoy you.

Step 10: Install the Applications and Games you Need - Mandatory

At this point you have a very up-to-date and secure system. It is OK to start browsing the Internet to download and install all the applications you need. Go for it and don’t forget to leave your security solution turned on.

Step 11: Configure your Operating System, Drivers and Applications - Mandatory

This step doesn’t have to be last. Configuring things can be done in parallel with all the other steps, except step 4 - installing drivers and step 7 - BIOS updates, when you should leave things as they are until you finish those steps.

Things you should not forget to configure:

Conclusion - Lots of Steps, Isn’t It?

Wow... I finally managed to finish! A long list, right? Fortunately, you need to go through these steps only once. Dedicate a few hours, pay attention to what you are doing and everything will be fine.
Before you go, tell me - what do you think? Is this the optimal order of things? The best approach? I am looking forward to your input.