An introduction to the Windows Control Panel

On computers running Windows, the Control Panel is a central location where various utilities can be accessed that help you manage or customize your computer.

By familiarizing yourself with the Control Panel, you can learn easy solutions for common problems, change settings for various aspects of your PC, and perform important administrative tasks. Basically, the Control Panel is a critical tool that can improve your experience as a user and allow you to get more out of your computer.

Where is the Control Panel?

On Windows Vista and 7, the Control Panel is accessible as a link in the Start Menu.

On Windows 8/8.1, it can be accessed by searching for it from the Start Screen. Alternately, you can right-click on the Start button and select it from the resulting context menu.

control_panel01
Found in the Start Menu/Start Screen on a Windows PC, the Control Panel provides many options for customizing settings.

Changing the view

The Control Panel can be displayed differently depending on personal preference. By default, you will see it in Category view. It can also be viewed in Icon view (with a choice for either large or small icons) by changing the “View by” setting in the top right corner of the window.

It is generally easier to find specific Control Panel utilities using Icon view, which is what we’ll be using here. An example of what the Control Panel looks like while in Icon view can be seen below.

It’s easier to find utilities by name using Icon view.
It’s easier to find utilities by name using Icon view.

Different application developers and PC manufacturers include custom utilities here, so your Control Panel might look different than this example.

What can you do with the Control Panel?

The following are the most commonly used utilities found in the Control Panel. They are most easily located using Icon view (see above for more information).

  • Backup and Restore: This utility allows you to schedule automatic backups for your PC. If you have an external hard drive or a large USB flash drive, this is an easy way to keep your files backed up.
  • Display: Ever wanted to make things appear larger on your screen? You can do that and more with this utility. Screen resolution, scaling, and multiple monitors can all be configured here.
  • Keyboard and Mouse: These separate utilities let you customize your input devices. Some of the more helpful settings are double-click speed, mouse pointer speed, and button configuration for left-handed users.
  • Power options: Important settings relating to power and battery can be found here. You can configure how quickly (if ever) your computer or monitor powers off due to inactivity.
  • Programs and Features: This utility lets you see what software is installed on your machine. It also lets you uninstall programs.
  • User Accounts: Want to add another user that will have its own documents, settings, and profile?  You can do that here, as well as change passwords and configure other user-related settings.
  • Windows Update: If you have Automatic Updates configured, you normally won’t need to use this utility. However, if you ever want to manually check for and install updates, this is the place to do it.
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