Radify Your New Laptop / Notebook Computer






Laptop / Notebook Configuration Guide

I've been fielding questions regarding how I go about setting up a new laptop, which comes with the operating system already installed. [I have the Dell 600m.]

For more detail along these lines, see the Windows XP Installation Guide. I always recommend the Professional version of Windows XP.

The problem with laptops is they come from the manufacturer with only a single partition, which makes it more difficult to create a back-up image.

I'm going to try to keep this guide short-n-sweet, unlike some of my other guides, so I will simply outline my procedure, omitting the details.

My laptop came with a 60-GB hard drive, so that's the size I'll use here. My laptop also came with a CD burner and a USB floppy.

Many laptops no longer come with a floppy drive, unless you specifically order one. If your laptop didn't come with a floppy drive, you can order one from Newegg cheaper than you can buy from the manufacturer.

This guide was thrown together hastily. I'll dial it in when I have more time. As always, your comments are welcome.

Image Factory Configuration

Laptop Notebook computerWithout connecting your new laptop to the Internet (don't plug in the network cable), boot the machine and make sure everything is working okay. You should be able to get to Windows and explore your files. If you have problems here, you need to talk to your manufacturer before doing anything else.

Connect the floppy disk drive and Insert a Ghost boot floppy disk into the floppy disk drive. You will need to make this Ghost boot floppy on another machine (such as your desktop). Put a new CD-R in the CD burner and reboot the machine. You can also boot off the Ghost program CD.

Create a back-up image of the factory-installed system partition (Disk-to-Image). Select your CD burner as the destination. I name this image "factory" (factory.gho). Make sure you VERIFY the image.

This way you can always go back to the original factory configuration, should you have problems. Carefully label these CDs, along with the date, and put them away somewhere safe.


Upon the next reboot, install Partition Magic and shrink the partition to 1/3rd it's original size. In our case, the 60-GB partition will become 20-GB. PM allows you to modify existing partitions without destroying the data contained on them (non-destructively). Start by performing this and only this operation.

Upon the next reboot, create another 20-GB partition in the space you freed up by shrinking the original 60-GB partition. Perform this operation by itself. Do not format if it asks. We'll do that later from within Windows itself.

Upon the next reboot, use the remaining space to create the 3rd and final partition. Again, don't format. We could do all these together, but we want to make it as easy for PM as possible. That is why we're doing one operation at a time.

If you have a newer DELL laptop, see this blogged entry titled:> DELL now includes back-up Ghost image in Concurrent DOS partition for a (simple) way to get around problems associated with having no free primary slots in the MBR.

Format New Partitions

You should now have 3 partitions of roughly equal size. Boot to Windows and see if you can see these new logical drives in Windows explorer. Right click on the first new partition you just created and format it as NTFS. This will take a while. After it's done, format the last partition as FAT32. Make sure you don't reformat the original C drive or you will cry.

I use FAT32 for the last partition because that is where I store my back-up Ghost images and Ghost works best writing to FAT32 because Ghost works from DOS and DOS supports the FAT32 file system natively.

Ghost can also write images to NTFS partitions, but I prefer to use FAT32 for the partition where I store my back-up Ghost images.


Install Diskeeper (or PerfectDisk, my new favorite) and defrag the C drive.

Back-up Image

With your Ghost boot floppy back in the floppy disk drive, reboot and make another back-up image. This time, select the last partition as your destination. Mine is labeled as drive-letter F, with the CD burner as D: drive. This is our first image to disk. Since space is a consideration with laptops, select "High" compression.

This is the same as your factory install config except for the re-partition, and the installation of both Partition Magic and the Diskeeper defragger. I label the name of this Ghost image "first". It's always obvious what this file is. This image will be easy to restore, should you ever have problems elsewhere.

After the integrity of this image is verified, you can decrease the amount of space reserved (hogged) by System Restore. With a back-up image handy *actually, we now have two, one burned to CD), 2% should be plenty. That's 400-MB on a 20-GB partition.

Remember, we still have not connected our new virgin laptop to the big, bad Internet, so we should be virus-free. Speaking of which ...







Install your favorite AntiVirus software. If you use Norton AntiVirus, as so many do, download the latest Virus definitions on *another* computer (not your laptop) and burn those virus definitions to a CD and update your virus definitions now (before you connect to the Internet). Personally, I prefer NOD32.

Install you firewall of choice. I use ZoneAlarm. Just the freebie, not the extra stuff. Sygate is also good.

Again, all these files need to be downloaded from *another* computer, and burned to CD, so you can load them onto your new laptop without connecting to the Internet. We want to be protected *before* we go online.

Install Windows XP Service Pack 2. (My laptop came with SP1 already installed.) You can download it here.

In other words, you don't have to connect to the Internet to install SP2. Newer computers have less trouble with SP2 than older computers.

Install Adaware and Spybot Search & Destroy. Update the Adaware & Spybot definitions files without connecting to the Internet.

You can now safely connect to the Internet and download any necessary Windows updates. Reboot as necessary. Also update your Anti-Virus software as necessary from online sources.

Install Norton Ghost and update it, so you can use the Windows interface if you prefer. (I still recommend using the Ghost boot floppy.)

Then defrag and create another back-up image. I label this image "second". (second.gho) Here I use the Windows interface to make sure it works. Verify the integrity of this image.

Personalize Windows

Here is where I tweak Windows to my personal preferences. This takes time, such as setting up email accounts and folder options. I also prefer the Classic look. Most of this info is included in the last two pages of the Windows XP Installation Guide. One I'm using a familiar interface, I can cruise thru the remaining program installations.

Here you might also consider uninstalling all the extra krap that often comes installed on new computers, programs the manufacturer installs as part of contracts they hold with these software vendors, programs you often don't want or need.

I called Dell when ordering and asked them not to install all that unwanted krap on my new laptop. They said they were contractually obligated to, and that I could uninstall them if I wanted.]

Install Small Programs

Install all your smaller programs like Winzip and Winamp. I also update my chipset drivers here, along with any other new hardware drivers. Save your big programs for later, such as Photoshop and Office. Anything that needs most of a CD, waits until later, after we make an image containing all our small programs.

Games get installed last, and on the middle partition, not your C drive. Any program, such as Encarta, which contains multiple CDs, also gets installed to the middle partition. Your downloads also should all go to your middle partition, so as to keep your C drive slim.

Also, install NO burning and ripping programs until at the end. After installing all your smaller programs, defrag and make another back-up image. I label this image "small" (small.gho).

Install Large Programs

Install all your large programs. All games and multi-CD programs get installed to the middle partition to minimize the amount of data on our system partition.

After you're done, reboot and run a registry cleaner (such as Registry Mechanic or Norton's own WinDoctor. Then defrag and make another image. I label this image "large" (large.gho). Always use high compression.

Install Burning & Ripping Programs

Now is a good time to install your burning and ripping programs. I save these for last as they seem to generate the most trouble.

Afterwards, defrag and burn one more Ghost image to CD, like the *first* image you made, except do C partition to image. I label this image "last" (last.gho).

This way you'll be prepared if your hard drive dies on you. You'll be able to replace the broken drive and restore the image and be back up and running in no time. (Suh_weeet!) Put these discs someplace safe.

Middle Partition

Nothing but Ghost images go on the LAST partition, but what goes on the MIDDLE partition?


I might've forgot some minor points, but you should get the overall gist of how I do this. Again, the key is downloading all the necessary files ahead of time (while waiting for your laptop to arrive) and burn them to CD, so you can install all the necessary programs without having to connect to the Internet. (And a nice, stiff double-cappuccino doesn't hurt.)

You can also use this approach with a Desktop computer, but it's best to install a 2nd hard drive with them. You can't do this (install a 2nd hard drive) with most laptops (notebook computers).

If you have an older laptop, which is already messed up, or if you need more space, consider getting an external drive that supports both Firewire and USB, such as this one, which comes in 500-gig size, for back-up purposes. If you're looking into getting a new hard drive for your laptop, consider a zippy 7200-rpm puppy, such as the Momentus 7200.1 (price here).

Hope you find this helpful. The end. Forums.