If you have been running Windows XP for a couple of years or more you may find that it is not running quite as quickly and smoothly as it was when you did your first install. I am constantly 'evaluating' software and uninstalling and reinstalling beta software on my computer and have always gradually become more and more disappointed after nine months to a year with the performance of my PC. So I regularly do a backup and reinstall all my software, including Windows.
Please note that this is completely different than doing the standard things to troubleshoot and fix individual problems such as system errors or application errors. These things are better fixed by using a system Restore which is a great new feature to Windows XP.
For anyone that has reinstalled their operating system a few times the process seems pretty straightforward as they have found all of the gotchas the first few times. I have lost mail and contacts but not much else over the years by following (or not following) a system to reload my operating system and software. The purpose of this guide is to give you a checklist to follow so that a reloading of Windows goes smoothly the first time.
The steps are as follows:
1. Backup all data
2. Document your current system drivers and software
3. Delete the Windows and profile directories
4. Reload Window
5. Reload software and data
6. Get some sleep
1. Backup data
There are two methods of the process of reloading your operating system. The first is to just delete the system files and the second is to backup the files to CD or DVD and then format the hard drive completely, my preference is to delete the system folders and work from there as the actual formatting is not needed as much now as it was in the past.
It is very important to be sure to get a backup of all of your data. My current practice is to create a folder in the Root of the C: drive called "backup for reload" and copy all of my files in there.
The first few times that I reloaded my machine I either saved all of the data to another hard drive so I could format my main drive or I would just create a folder to save my data in that was in the root of the C: drive and just deleted the Windows directory.
One thing to be aware of is that a new install of Windows is going to delete your current profile where your data is kept, you will be warned in the install and I am warning you here as well!
First of all Windows likes to keep all of your documents in your "My Documents" folder and even though the icon is on the desktop the folder is actually in the following location: c:documents and settings . The documents and settings folder is quite important as it does have all of the files that are associated with you as a user. Other folders in documents and settings are "Favorites" "Application Data" and "Local Settings".
If you use Outlook Express for your mail you will want to back up its folders. Open up Outlook Express and go to tools to options to maintenance and there is a button called "Store Folder" this will tell you where the folder is that holds all of your mail, usually located in "c:/documents and settings(logon name)/ local settings/ Application Data/ Identities/ Microsoft/ Outlook Express. Hard to find spot but important.
If you are using Outlook for your mail and contacts my policy has always been to search for all .pst files on your PC this will give you your main as well as archive folders and maybe even some long lost mail from before.
I also do a search and put the following in the search box *.doc;*.xls;*.ppt;*. mdb;*.pub this will search for all office documents on the PC, when I get the result I only backup the files that are not in my documents and settings for my name or in the my documents folder.
How big is your "Backup and Reload" folder now that you have all of your data in it? Can you back it up to a CD? Or two, or a DVD? This would be a nice time to do that save to a CD so that in the event of a catastrophic failure of your hard drive you can go back and reload your data later.
2. Document your current system drivers and software
So often when I am working on a computer I find that after a format and reload of Windows that I am missing a network card driver or a video driver. Before you turn off the computer to format it or delete the system files make sure that you have a copy of all of the drivers, realistically the only drivers that seem to change are the video drivers.
What other drivers might you need? Well If you have the CD that came with the motherboard then you will probably only need to download the sound card, video, monitor, modem drivers and you can find the type of hardware by right clicking on the my computer and going to properties and then depending on your version of Windows look for the device manager.
I do not tend to format my drive I only delete the Windows directory and the Documents and settings directory when I do a reload so I can then find the files later still sitting on the hard drive. My preference is to create a folder called mydrivers in the root of the C: drive so that after you reload Windows you will have a central place to go to find the drivers. Now just go out and download the drivers that you need.
3. Delete the Windows and profile directories
Now, this is where you have to take a deep breath before you get started as when we delete files we are not going to be able to get them back. When I delete files on the computer before I reinstall Windows I do not delete all of the files or format the drive.
The only way that you can delete what you want is to use some kind of a boot disk that does not load Windows from your hard drive. I use the Ultimate Windows Boot CD and after I boot the drive up I move some data instead of deleting.
More often than not I will have missed some important file so I create a "backup" folder that contains all of my data. I drop my current "Documents and Settings" folder into this backup folder and then also any applications from the "Program Files" folder that may have some of their own files. This would include databases like Act or Maximiser and Tax software or book keeping software like Quicken. Most of the data files for applications are kept in the "My Documents" folder.
In the install of Windows you will need to have at least 2 gigs of free space so make sure that you have freed up enough space to do the install.
When I am deleting folders I am most interested in deleting the "Documents and Settings" and "Windows" folders, as this is where you will find user settings as well as the registry both good and bad. If you are really aggressive you can also include the "Program Files" folder so that after you have reloaded Windows you can have the default settings for each application. I also delete any files that are sitting in the root of the C: drive.
4. Reloading Windows
Now that you have deleted the unneeded files and directories you will have to give yourself an operating system to reload all of your software into. I prefer Windows XP now although if you have a bit of an older computer Windows 2000 will probably be fine and takes less system resources.
Just a note here, Windows 98 is a bad choice and there are a few reasons why. Windows 98 is not supported anymore by Microsoft so it does not have any new security fixes or drivers being written for it.
One other issue is that the underlying file system that Windows 98 supports is FAT32, if you are loading Windows 2000 or XP you will likely want to take advantage of NTFS but the only good way to do this with a fresh load is to format your machine, this will delete all of the data that you have on your PC now.
If you are moving from Windows 98 there will be a spot in the install asking if you would like to format or convert the drive to NTFS, I would avoid this as you can convert after you have switched your PC to Windows XP in Disk Management from the Computer management application in Windows.
The rest of the install should go smoothly and after you have finished you will have a nice new clean install of Windows with only the recycle bin on the desktop and no applications. Perhaps the desktop is only 256 colors or the size is not quite right but this is where you will fix that problem by reloading your drivers.
Go to start and right click on the "MY Computer" icon and select properties, go to the hardware tab, now find the device manager and anything with an exclamation point or a red X will need a new driver. Right click on the icon, select update driver and walk through finding your drivers.
If you can not find the driver in the lookup then you may have to go back to the mydrivers folder and run the executables for the drivers which may quicken the process of loading new drivers.
5. Reload Software and Data
Now the slow torturous part of the Windows install begins. I always do this reloading of Windows because my computer has gradually slowed down from all of the software that I have loaded up and pledge never to do again, I have proven time and time again that I don’t live up to the pledge.
The only software that I load first is Office XP and setup my personal settings and mail folders from Outlook (check around for this documentation as it varies with your version of Office) and I also install my commonly used utilities. I keep my software install disks close by and just load software as I need it over the next few days.
6. Get Some Sleep
Congratulations. This process is very long and occasionally we do lose data that was missed in the backup but after you are done you have a computer that is at least as good as the day you started using it.
There are fewer errors, less hiccups and the computer is fast and responsive. Although it takes a long time I am more than willing to do it as long as I cleared some time beforehand as the difference in working with the computer for some time after is a real treat.
Bill Nadraszky is a Computer support specialist that has worked with various versions of Windows for 15 years. You can get up to date information on computer support at Xpert Tech Support
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