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Reinstalling Windows - Part 1: Prepare for the Nuke

When you get a nasty malware infection, most techies would advise you to nuke everything and reinstall Windows. It's good advice, since a simple cleaning is anything but simple.  Even if you think you got every virus, ad-ware, or spyware cleaned out, you may have missed something which will come back to bite you later.

But how do you do do that? Leo Laporte of The Tech Guy fame makes it sound simple, as he give his callers on the radio a simple list of to-dos.  However, it's not a trivial thing!  It's usually something I'd recommend people to let a neighborhood techie work on.  Feed him or her, or offer her some cash.  After all, times are tough for us geeks, too!

Well, here are some basic steps to help you do it yourself and hopefully avoid bothering your local techie (and maybe save some scratch if he or she charges by the hour).  After all, even if you can't go through the whole thing, at least you'll have your stuff backed up!

Keep in mind that a lot of off-the-shelf computers (HP, Sony, Toshiba, Dell, etc) come with restoration discs.  They can restore your PC back to the way it was when you first bought it.  Some may cheap out and make you create those discs when you first turn the PC on.  The worst offenders don't offer any and just have you mash a key before it boots to go into a "restore mode".  Eitehr way, it may not be the best option, since most computers come with "bloatware", which is software that's unneccessary and wil bog you down.  However, if you're desperate to just get your computer working in the shortest amount of time, this is a good way to go. 

There's still a few off-the-shelf computers that come with a full-fledge Windows install disc that allows the customer to reinstall Windows from scratch.  This guide will show you how to do this.

Also, if you bought Windows Vista or 7 and looking to upgrade by doing a clean install, this is for you, too.


Prepare For The Nuke

  1. Back up your data.
  2. Take note of the make and model of your PC and/or gather a list of hardware.
  3. Download drivers for your PC or the individual hardware on your list.
  4. Find your Windows and other software discs.

1.  Back up you data (photos, music, documents, etc.) to an external hard drive, DVD, CD, or USB flash drive.  Most likely than not, your data is in your My Documents folder.  If you have other users on the computer, you'll have to log in as that user to get to their My Documents folder.  Make sure you export your web browser's Favorites or Bookmarks.  If you save anything on the Desktop, it's also a good idea to back them up, or move them to your My Documents folder so it gets backed up along with the rest of your files in that folder.  In Windows Vista and 7, it's simply called Documents.  Also, your photos, music, and videos are stored in their own folders, too, so look out for that!

Also, if you use any programs that does not have an easy way to just copy files for backing up (Outlook, Thunderbird, Quicken, etc), you'll want to use the program's built-in backup or export tools to get the data out.  You'll have to refer to the help files or tech support if you do not know how.

If you use software that requires activation, this is the time to deactivate them.  iTunes and Adobe is notorious for this!  If you do not deactivate them before you blow away your hard drive, you may not be able to activate the software until you call their tech support to authorize you again.  Don't you just hate all this copy protection hoopla?


2.  Take note of your computer's make and model or gather a list of hardware your PC uses, both internal and external. Notable items include video, audio, network, and wifi hardware. You might be able to skip this if your PC was manufactured in mass and have a model number, such as HP, Sony, or Toshiba. Build-to-order PCs such as Dell may still need his step, however.  If that's the case, all you need to do is to take note of the make and model and go on to the next step.

If you have a custom made PC that was pieced together part by part, you'll have to find out what hardware is in your PC.  You can use Device Manager to tell you this if your computer is still up and running.  If not, you'll need to do some detective work inside of you computer.  However, if that's the case, you're better off finding a willing techie.

Right-click on My Computer, then go to Properties.  From there, click on the Hardware tab, then the Device Manager button.  Look through the devices and take note of the make and model of each part.  The most notable is the Display Adapters, Network Adapters, and Sound.


3.  Download drivers for each hardware from the manufacter's site. If you own a big-box computer that have a model number, you can visit your manufacturer's site to download all your drivers in one place.  Even Dell owners may not be out of luck, since they may still be able to download drivers specific for their machine by using their unique Service Tag number.  This isn't always foolproof though, as I've been presented with drivers that don't pertain to my Dell before, even after giving them my Service Tag.

Make sure you download drivers that's relevent to your version of Windows.  Most manufacturers will provide drivers for versions of Windows that didn't come with the computer originally because they are trying to support people who upgraded to a different version of Windows.  So if you have Windows XP, make sure you download drivers for Windows XP.  Some drivers are unified, meaning they will work with several version of Windows (2000, XP, Vista, and 7 are the most popular).  Also make note if they are for 32-bit or 64-bit versions.

For those who own a custom computer that was pieced together part by part, that list of hardware you made earlier would help you in this step.  You'll need to go to each hardware manufacturer's site to download the driver.

Keep these drivers on a USB flash drive or external hard drive.  Don't keep it on the hard drive you're going to nuke!


4.  Find your Windows and other software discs and put them in a pile close by.  Windows XP usually comes on a CD, while Windows Vista and 7 comes on a DVD.  Also find all of the software that you wish to reinstall, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe, etc.  Don't worry about the free software that you can get online.  You can get those again after your PC is back up and running.

You may have discs for external hardware such as your printer, scanner, or web cam.  However, it's usually best to get the latest drivers from the manufacturer's web site.  In a pinch, you can use the drivers that's on the discs.  However, keep in mind that if you're upgrading to Windows Vista or 7, and your hardware was made before those version of Windows were out, it makes sense that the disc will not have the driver you'll need.


On to the nuke!

Continued on Reinstalling Windows - Part 2: Nuking and Rebuilding.

Reader Comments (1)

hey amazing article well written informative and guiding,Was just what my computer needed and it was free!! Big cheers!

December 22, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercomputers

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