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Revitalize Your PC: Making a Used Computer as Good as New

written by: Jesma•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 6/3/2009

It can be hard to buy a used computer and make it feel like its your own, instead of the previous owner's. Eliminating their old documents and settings and adding your own personal touch is just the beginning.

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    If you have recently acquired a used computer from a friend or family member, or perhaps purchased a used computer online, you are now in the position of taking that used machine and making it your own. Buying used has its benefits - namely, the lower cost - but if you can't make the old machine "new to you" then what fun is it?

    In this article we'll discuss the steps of stripping the old owner out of the machine and making it yours, in every way. All of your own favorites, your own desktop, your programs, your life. We also discuss ways to eliminate any virus or malware threats, and deal with the possibility that the computer may contain illegal software.

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    Customizing Your New Used Computer

    We're going to make the relatively safe assumption that the used computer that you have recently acquired is running a licensed version of Microsoft Windows. In this case, all you have to worry about is making it your own. In most cases the previous owner will have removed their private information - photos, documents, etc. - but just to be absolutely sure you don't stumble upon something ultra-private that you never wanted to know about someone you do, or do not know, lets go ahead and delete all the personalization folders. To do this, go to My Computer -> Local Disk -> Documents and Settings. There will be folders here for the default administrator account and every user account on the computer. Deleting everything inside of these folders will wipe out all documents, photos, and music, as well as Internet Explorer favorites, Start Menu personal settings, Desktop personal settings, and other user specific information.

    You will also want to create your own user accounts and delete the old ones. This is a rather self explanatory process, and can be done by going to Start -> Control Panel -> User Accounts.

    Start Menu customization can be done by clicking "Start", right clicking the menu, and selecting "Properties". Desktop customization can be done by right clicking any blank desktop area and selecting "Properties". Taskbar customization can be done by right clicking the bar and selecting "Properties".

    Programs that are installed on the computer that you will not use, or that are not licensed to the computer (most software is licensed to individuals and organizations, not computers, and is therefore illegal for you to use) can be removed by going to Start -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs.

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    Avoiding Threats

    There is a good chance that any used computer you get will have some form of malware on it, whether it's a dangerous virus or minor performance sapping adware. Most of these problems can be safely removed by installing your own virus protection and adware/spyware removal tools. Sometimes, though, a badly infected computer may be almost impossible to recover. You may also have to contend with the very real possibility that the computer contains some software that was downloaded and/or installed illegally.

    In situations like this, your safest and best bet is to completely wipe the hard drive and install the operating system over again. If the computer did not come with a Windows disk and/or license, this means that you will have to purchase one. Once the new operating system is installed, you're free to customize away without worry - it'll be a lot like having a brand new computer.

Guide to Buying Cheap & Used Computers

Article series that discusses buying cheap, used computers on a budget. Looking at buying computers from online retailers and auction sites, and how to spot the scams so you don't get stung!
  1. Revitalize Your PC: Making a Used Computer as Good as New
  2. Buying a Used Computer: Craigslist or eBay-style Sites?
  3. Buying Used Computers from Family & Friends