Bill Detwiler: Whether you support your tech-novice family members or a corporate office, you will have to reinstall Microsoft Windows at some point. And, it's really irritating when you realize after the install that you should have exported the client's Favorites list or documented specific network settings.
I'm Bill Detwiler, and in this IT Dojo video, I'll go over the three things you need to do before reinstalling Windows to make the process go smoothly.
There are many reasons you might find yourself needing to reinstall Windows. Perhaps the registry has been corrupted, the machine is experiencing performance issues, or you can't remove a particularly stubborn bit of malware. Whatever the reason, sometimes starting over with a clean install is the best option. But before you pop that Windows disc into your machine, take a few moments to plan your reinstallation process.
Now, before we dive into our list, let me cover a few caveats about the steps I'm going to discuss.
First, if you're working in a corporate environment, you SHOULD be using an imaging solution, such as Symantec's Ghost or Acronis True Image. These applications allow you to deploy a preconfigured Windows image without the hassle of a manual installation. If you're using an imaging solution, the steps I outline in this video may or may not be applicable.
Second, the specific steps I'll discuss here are designed for Windows Vista. However, the general concepts apply to all versions of Window.
Lastly, make sure you set aside enough time to do the prep, the install, and the cleanup. The night before your big sales presentation is not the time to reinstall Windows.
With those warnings out of the way, let's start with the things that you should take care of before you reinstall Windows.
Number one, document all your login IDs, passwords, and any special system or software settings.
Now, you can use a password-protected spreadsheet or specialized application to store your IDs and passwords, but honestly, I recommend a good old-fashioned pen and paper. Write them down and keep them in a safe place -- not taped to the monitor, under your keyboard, or on your desk's pull-out leaf.
Number two, back up any locally-stored data.
I recommend you reformat your hard drive and start with a completely clean slate. You'll therefore need to backup any data you want to keep -- documents, e-mail and contacts (if they're not stored on a server), MP3 files, Web browser favorites, whatever.
When deciding what to keep, it's a good idea to start with the Windows user profile folders. Depending on how much data each profile folder contains, you can copy the entire folder to a USB flash drive, external hard drive, or even a network share. I've used all three methods on different occasion. If you're concerned about copying too much data you can often exclude some files or folders, such as the ntuser.dat file and AppData folder.
You'll also want to dig through the rest of the drive you'll be reformatting for any data that's not stored in the user profile folders. When in doubt, back up the entire drive. At least that way, you'll know the data is safe.
By the way, now is a great time to do a little housecleaning and delete files you no longer need or want. I also recommend performing a full virus scan to lessen the chance you'll contaminate your new environment.
Number three, gather up all your application and driver discs.
Once you get Windows up and running, you'll need to reinstall all your applications and any updated hardware drivers. Now, if you're reinstalling Windows from the computer manufacturer's installation or system restore discs, these will often contain the drivers for the machine's original hardware and the originally-installed software.
If you've installed new hardware (other than RAM) you'll need to find the driver discs or download the appropriate drivers from the manufacturer's Web site. This is particularly important if you're running RAID and you're installing Windows XP or earlier as you'll need to know the controller's exact name and have the driver for Windows to properly recognize your drives. A quick look through the Windows Device Manager should give you names of your installed hardware.
One last note about reinstalling your applications, don't forget to gather the necessary product keys or activation codes -- including the one for Windows. If you can't find these codes, you can often use free tools, like the Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder, to detect the keys of your currently-installed Windows and Microsoft Office versions.
Now that you've documented all your logins and passwords, backed up your data, and gathered your drivers, application discs, and product keys, take a few moments to double check your preparations. There's nothing like realizing you didn't back up this year's tax returns after reformatting your hard drive.
If everything is in order, pop in your Windows disc and reinstall the operating system.
Once your Windows reinstallation is complete, you're only halfway through the process.
You'll need to install the latest Windows service packs, patches, and security updates. You'll also have to reinstall all your hardware drivers, applications, reconfigure all your network and personal settings, and restore all your backed up data.
You should also take this opportunity to create a system restore point once you've got everything running smoothly again.
Reinstalling Windows is never a simple task, but by allowing yourself enough time to plan and prepare, you'll have a much less stressful time doing it.
For more advice on reinstalling Windows -- such as the various methods for getting and installing Windows service packs and when during the process to create system restore point -- check out Alan Norton's original post, "10 things you should do before, during, and after reinstalling Windows," which is the basis for the video. I'll link to it from the IT Dojo blog.
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I'm Bill Detwiler. Thanks for visiting TechRepublic's IT Dojo.