Reinstalling Windows - Part 2: Nuking and Rebuilding 
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 at 3:48PM
Guy Techie in Technical

Sometimes things get so bad you have no choice but to nuke everything and start over.  Getting malware on a Windows PC can be one of those situations.  Of course, you wouldn't want to get rid of EVERYTHING.  After all, I'm sure you'd want to save your treasured photos and documents before you demolish your house.  If you read part 1 of Reinstalling Windows, you've already collected your things and placed them in a safe place.  You should have also gathered the software and operating discs you'll need to start the nuke and rebuild.  If not, please read Part 1 first! If you're confident you got everything, lets start Part 2 of this installment: Nuking and Rebuilding!


Nuking and Rebuilding

  1. Install a fresh copy of Windows.
  2. Update Windows.
  3. Install device drivers.
  4. Install your software.
  5. Restore your files.

1.  Installing a fresh copy of Windows is actually easier than you think.  It's the other steps AFTER install Windows that can cause many sleepless nights.  You start by inserting the Windows installation disc into your CD/DVD drive, then reboot your PC.  Make sure to boot to the Windows installation disc.  How to do this depends on the computer you have.  Some require you to hit a key to get into a special boot menu (F12 or F9 to go to boot menu or boot selection - can be called something different depending on who made your computer).  Some don't even have a one-time boot menu.  Instead, you have to go into your BIOS/Firmware setup to set your CD/DVD drive as the first boot device.

If you're stuck here, you use Google to find the specific method to boot to a CD/DVD for your particular model.

Once the Windows CD/DVD is booted, it may ask you to press any key to continue booting to the CD/DVD, otherwise it will continue to boot into the current installation of Windows that's already on your hard drive.  Microsoft did this so if someone accidently left their Windows CD/DVD in their drive and it's set to boot first, it'll just boot to Windows normally after a few seconds instead of booting into the Windows setup on the CD/DVD.

From here, installing Windows is pretty straight forward.  You can just follow the prompts and plow right through.  You can also follow my videos on how to install the specific Windows version you have.  I made videos for Windows XP and 7.  If you have Vista, the installation is similar to Windows 7.


How to Reinstall Windows XP

How to Reinstall Windows 7


 2. Don't forget to update your fresh install of Windows!  This is very important, since your fresh install is already considered outdated, as it came right off a CD/DVD that never changed since it was last created and stamped from the factory.  All the bugs and security holes that were found after your particular version of Windows was released are all there on a fresh install, so you'll need to start updating right away before you do anything else.

Another nice thing about updating Windows early on is that Microsoft does a decent job of detecting and installing the most used hardware on your PC with approved drivers.  This might make the next step (installing device drivers) easier on you.

Updating Windows require that your network card be recognized and have drivers already installed.  If your fresh install of Windows did not detect your network card, you'll need to install the network card driver first before you visit the Windows Update site.  Remember  that you downloaded this from Reinstalling Windows - Part 1 (read step 3), right?  Good!

While you can install all the device drivers now, I tend to just install the network card driver first so I can get all the updates before I start installign the rest of the device drivers.  I like to have a nicely patched Windows before I start doing anything else, and installing the network card driver (if it's not already detected and installed by Windows) is a necessary step to get updates.  After all, if you can't access the internet, how do you get your updates?

Please make sure you are behind some kind of hardware firewall at all times!  If you have a router, that's good enough.  NEVER plug your computer directly into a cable or DSL modem unless it's for troubleshooting purposes!  When you are connected directly to a cable or DSL modem, you're basically connected directly to the wide-open internet without any protection.  With a router, you have at least one layer of protection.  This is especially important since your unpatched install of Windows is very vulnerable at this state.

The most universal way of getting to Microsoft Windows Update is visit their site at  You may need to install and run the Windows Update Active-X add-on to continue.  If you have Windows Vista or 7, it will redirect you or give you instructions on how to update Windows.  This is because the newer Windows updates within Windows itself.  If you have Windows XP (or older), this web site is exactly the place where you'll be getting your updates, since XP and older did not have a built-in way of updating (at least not until XP SP2).

Just update everything!  If it requires  reboot, do it, and run updates again.  This is because some updates build upon other updates, so you'll have to keep updating, rebooting, and updating again until you don't get any more updates.  Wash, rinse, repeat.


3. Now, you can install your device drivers.  The ones you've downloaded from the manufacturer's site may not be the newest ones that Microsoft automatically downloaded and installed as a part of the Windows Updates.  If that's the case, you can skip them.  If you don't know which is newer, it's better safe than sorry, so install them anyways.

The order to install them usually doesn't break the system, but just in case, I install them in this order:

  1. Network driver (you probably did this already before you updated Windows).
  2. Wireless network driver (mostly on laptops)
  3. Chipset driver
  4. Video driver
  5. Audio driver
  6. External device drivers (printers, scanners, etc.)

When installing the drivers, reboot the computer if prompted before you install the next device driver.  While I had success installing everything in one go, I had enough computers go wrong when I don't heed the instructions that I will generally tell people to just go with what the prompts say to do.

You're nearly home free! 


4. It's now time to install the programs you use everyday.  The way I do this is install programs as I need them.  This way, you don't install programs that you realize you didn't need after all.  Don't go by a shopping list you made earlier!

Some suggestions that most people will need are antivirus, Flash (don't forget to uncheck Google Toolbar unless you want it), Java, office suite, alternative browser, and media codecs.

For a free antivirus program, I suggest Microsoft's own Microsoft Security Essentials.  For paid, I'd have to agree with Leo Laporte and say Eset NOD 32.

As for office suites, there are free ones such as OpenOffice, and even Google Docs (which is online-based - no install needed!).  Otherwise if you want to pay for an office suite, or if you simply must have it, there's the giant Microsft Office in the room.

Some people still prefer Internet Explorer.  If you're one of those people, you can get the latest version of Internet Explorer (Internet Explorer 8 as of this writing) if you don't already have it.  It may have already been upgraded already since Microsoft usually pushes the latest version as a part of Windows Update. So far, only Windows 7 comes with Internet Explorer 8, so you don't need to update it (until IE9 comes out anyways).  Of course, there are the "alternative" browsers that are arguably better than IE.  Three that seem to be talked about most are Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Opera.  While Apple Safari is now available for Windows, I don't recommend it unless you just want to play around with it.

Media codecs allows you to watch media content on Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center that aren't natively supported out of the box.  While most experts advise against codec packs (a single download with a bunch of codecs), and instead download individual codecs as needed, I've come to the conclusion that it's too time consuming to do so, and to make sure none of them conflict with each other.  The best codec pack I've ran into is Shark007's Vista Codec Pack and Windows 7 Codec Pack.  Which one to use is obvious, isn't it?  However, if you're using Windows XP, download and install the Vista Codec Pack.  If you have a 64-bit version of Windows, don't forget to also download and install the x64 Component Add-on.  It allows for the 64-bit version of Windows Media Player and Windows Media Center to use the codecs.


5. Now that you have a clean prestine Windows installed on your computer, it's time to bring your stuff back in and restore your files.  It's pretty basic - just copy your stuff back where they used to reside!  If you used to just place things willy nilly, this is a good time to start spring cleaning and organizing your files.

If you use programs that require you to go through importing data to get your stuff back, don't forget to do that, too!  As mentioned, programs such as Outlook, Thunderbird, and Quicken don't make it easy, but if you do your homework beforehand (you did read Part 1 of this article, right?), you should be okay.

Also, don't forget to bring back your web page bookmarks, too!



Reinstalling Windows after a bad malware infection will give you that squeeky clean feeling you can only get from a shower normally.  It's a lot of work, and takes a good chunck of your time, but the results are well worth it.  And you wonder why techies charge so much to do this kind of stuff!

Update on Monday, October 25, 2010 at 10:36AM by Registered CommenterGuy Techie

Someone asked about using a Windows 7 upgrade media to do a clean re-install.  To do this, I'll refer you to Paul Thurrott's excellent write-up on how to do so.  Personally, I like method #2 the best (after installing without a key, edit the registry so it will accept the upgrade key, then activate it).

Read his write up here.

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