Turning a new PC into a personal computer is one of our hobby's great pleasures

Crochet PC by CrochetToysUkraine
Image via https://www.etsy.com/listing/689839173/crochet-pattern-computer-amigurumi (Image credit: CrochetToysUkraine)

Much to my bank account's dismay, nothing beats that new PC feeling. A clean SSD free from the detritus of years worth of installs, uninstalls, reinstalls, updates, panicked emergency restores, and space-sucking MMOs. A fancy keyboard untroubled by biscuit crumbs, tea spills, and the frantic keybashing of deadlines. An assortment of parts that look a lot like the ones I already have, only they cost twice as much and are probably not twice as powerful. USB ports that actually work all the time, instead of after a bit of wiggling and swearing.

It's all very neat and shiny and reliable… and a bit bland.

I don't really want a new PC, I want a new Personal Computer. Not a benchmark-melting monolith stuffed with components that have gamer-macho names like NEO VIPER XTREME, but something that feels like my own. For me the initial setup process is a huge part of that feeling, and one of the great experiences in PC gaming. If I'm going to spend every waking moment of my life dealing with Windows, then it may as well be Windows exactly the way I like it.

This lengthy ritual always begins on my old PC, amassing a bundle of files and folders that'll help make my new tech house a home. Then there's a quick interlude to find the USB stick I always manage to misplace, and I'm ready. After years of being irritated by a new PC missing something I use so often I forget it wasn't pre-installed, I've honed in on an essential file list:

  • A few of my favourite wallpapers
  • The browser I currently hate the least
  • Whichever mostly decent antivirus hasn't tried to scare me into upgrading to a premium package lately
  • My increasingly ancient pre-fiddled-with copies of Resident Evil and Dino Crisis 2, because I've had them both so long a new PC just feels weirdly naked without them

I'll also have a long list of things to download (Steam, GOG, WinRAR, VLC, etc.) once I've installed said browser I hate the least, my wi-fi password copied onto a random scrap of paper but always off by a letter, and a hot cup of tea on standby to keep me company through an infinite series of restarts.

It's a simple way to start, but no PC plan survives contact with Windows.

There's a Window's "welcome" message in a non-threatening, focus-tested font. Then a barrage of easily mis-clicked screens where it tries to "helpfully" wheedle as much personal information as possible (and maybe even some bank account details) out of me. No, I don't want to use any virtual assistant unless it's Clippy. No, I'm not going to tell you what I'm using my device for. No, I'm not going to pay for Office. No, you can't have the soul of my firstborn child.

Once I've dodged those claymores I can start getting on with the fun parts. A new background—I mustn't forget to change the lock screen too while I'm at it. Desktop icons completely hidden. Taskbar stays at the bottom but set to auto-hide.  I change the general colour scheme so every menu that does pop up is a nice shade of teal. This ultra-clean look means I always have to go wading through the depths of the search bar whenever I need to find the recycle bin, but it's worth it. With a pristine desktop, I'm never more than a quick Windows Key+D away from a high-res screenshot of an old Final Fantasy 11 stomping ground or something else that makes me just as happy.

Kerry's personal PC

(Image credit: Kerry Brunskill)

To the untrained eye this all looks an awful lot like someone sitting in front of a computer and clicking on things, but to me it's so much more than that. This is a new beginning, and I love stretching out this moment, excited by the possibilities ahead. A fresh PC in its newly-hatched form could be anything. A slick digital workspace, able to collaborate with people from across the globe. An artist's virtual toolbox. A director's editing suite. A scientist's research station. An entrepreneur's business portal.

I, uh, I… I'm just going to install Steam and then spend the rest of the day and most of the next copying countless GBs of files over from an external hard drive. And probably resetting the thing a whole lot as I try to make all those programs that are probably important (but nobody's really sure what they do) stop throwing pop-ups at me.

I'll just call an hour on Destiny 2 "a productive freeform collaboration with a variety of international partners in a dynamic environment" if anyone asks.

PC finally reset and back on track, I always entertain the idea of turning my keyboard into a mini rave. I give the RGBs and light patterns a few minutes to show off before casting them all aside in favour of my usual blue-to-yellow on keypress setting, vaguely echoing those old heat-changing Hypercolour shirts I used to long for 30 years ago.

Kerry's personal PC

(Image credit: Kerry Brunskill)

So much of the joy of setting up a new PC is entertaining what I could change, because I get to reminisce about why I made the decisions I did on my first or third or fifth PC. Like the day I got serious about keeping a clean PC-house after misclicking those irritatingly tiny "Add shortcut to desktop?" buttons one too many times. Or the time I went through every "rainbow in a blender" option in a keyboard's software until I finally found the one colour combo that wasn't distracting, but was still definitely mine. The simple pleasure of staring at a screenshot I love. What's better than a personal PC?

Other than not having to personalise a PC—not for a while, anyway. I'm done. I'm exhausted. I go to take a celebratory swig of tea, only to realise a little too late it went cold an hour ago. I have clicked until I can click no more. Can anyone but me tell exactly what's been changed or added? No, probably not. But that's not the point, is it? My PC—anyone's PC—doesn't have to be customised to hell and back. It just needs to be mine, to be comfortable and filled with everything I need to do the things I like doing when I'm sitting in front of it.

Now then, it's time for me to revel in the choice paralysis brought on by a new PC stuffed with games… or on second thought, maybe… maybe I'll just do today's Wordle instead. 

Kerry Brunskill
Contributing Writer

When baby Kerry was brought home from the hospital her hand was placed on the space bar of the family Atari 400, a small act of parental nerdery that has snowballed into a lifelong passion for gaming and the sort of freelance job her school careers advisor told her she couldn't do. She's now PC Gamer's word game expert, taking on the daily Wordle puzzle to give readers a hint each and every day. Her Wordle streak is truly mighty.

Somehow Kerry managed to get away with writing regular features on old Japanese PC games, telling today's PC gamers about some of the most fascinating and influential games of the '80s and '90s.