Windows

Poll: What is the most common reason for reinstalling Windows?

There are many reasons you might need 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. What's the most common reason you've reinstalled Windows?

In the following IT Dojo video, I go over the three things you need to do before reinstalling Windows to make the process go smoothly.

Original blog post:

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/itdojo/?p=203

There are many reasons you might need 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.

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

93 comments
barney.meyer
barney.meyer

I've never re-installed windows- too time consuming. All the listed reasons for re-installation are quite valid. In my office & home we have strict regime of Acronis images. Standard hardware and software setups mean that we can restore PC's or Notebooks to a known working state or back to the first clean install of a working system (Operating system and base software). Re-installation of windows and software setup can take many days. Acronis gets you up and running in under 1 hour, even if you had a complete disk failure or other disaster.

daniel
daniel

I have heard that at some point the Windows validation key will be rejected after it is reinstalled a few times. Is that true? Daniel

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If the copy of Windows is reinstalled too many times or major hardware changes within the machine, the serial number can invalidate itself. A serial number being shared around would look much like a machine with constantly changing hardware. I don't agree with the decision but I understand the basis for it. On the up side, if your a valid license owner, you just have to call and get a new serial issued. I'm told that it is a painless service call. Vista is effected. I thought later WinXP was also effected.

shryko
shryko

no part failed, but I was upgrading half the stuff in the case, so... I had to reinstall windows on the hard-drive, so that it would accept the new hardware. (gave the WGA fuss when I had tried to just run it...)

melekali
melekali

Why would anyone reload Windows just because the system slowed? Are you running Symantec? Get rid of it - resource hog. Are you running Zonealarm? Get rid of it - resource hog. Do you ever do maintenance on your system? Well, get to it with the right tools! Microsoft's RegClean is free and one of the best registry cleaners for a critical part of the registry. NTREGOPT is another excellent registry tool that optimizes the registry and is completely FREE! Perhaps you haven't defragged in 10 months? Do it! Also use CheckDisk to fix disk and file structure errors. I used to have a friend back in the days of Windows 95 who would come into work and announce how many times he had reformatted and reloaded Windows. Dave didn't have the first clue about proper disk maintenance. Don't follow in his footsteps - fix the problems instead!

bswanson27
bswanson27

The file explorer falls apart is my main reason for reinstalling Windows. In the process I went to the Pro version to skip the crap ware. Bswanson27@yahoo.com

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Do you guys actually have to re-install Windows all that often? Reading some of the posts, some guys make it sound like they have to do re-installs on a routine basis. In my own experience, a re-install is a rare exception. And at our office, and the offices of our customers, there are computers running Windows of various flavors that have been in operation for years without ever having had a re-install. My last work laptop I had for 5 years, never had to do a re-install, or even consider it. The desktop I'm using to type this post is 4 years old and has never had a re-install. So on and so forth. I simply don't see re-installs being necessary all that often. Especially not on systems people use in their work life. Granted, I see and deal with only a few hundred of systems. I presume some of you deal with higher numbers. Computer repair is not my primary job. It's simply a needed incidental skill. Since we install, configure, and program specialized software on customers' computers and sometimes there is an issue that we may be blamed for. In such cases I do the troubleshooting to determine the real cause of whatever problem, and will usually fix it whether it's our fault or not. (And bill the customer appropriately if its not our fault) So are there honestly that many cases out there where you guys are needing to do a re-install?

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I use to average every four to six months when Windows was my primary platform and I didn't have VMs to test software on. Enough install/uninstall and flakey apps will run your Windows install into the ground. These days, I spend most of my time on other platforms so my Windows VM and bootable install don't get reinstalled regularly. I may do my bootable install now just to clean up the system since it had some mess build up while trouble shooting hardware.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

About every six months on only one system, your own? I've gotta think that you're doing excessively risky things, or something wrong. And, please, don't give me the Linux/Unix argument. BTDT. I work with Linux systems, regularly. Have not a thing against Linux. But most of our business customers, by a HUGE margin, use Windows. Excepting network servers, where a sizable number prefer Linux/Unix.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Unless an organization leaves every user with admin rights, I would expect managed workstations to require rebuilds far less frequently. Rebuilding every machine in an office ever six months would be a clear indication that something is wrong. In my last position I saw maybe four of twenty machines need a reimage in four years. primary cause for reimage was hardware failure. They had the machines locked down pretty well user caused mess was limited. In my current position, we're managing forty machines with non yet requiring a reimage; I'm only a few months old at this desk but some of the machines who how long they've been running without reimage. An organization should have the benefit of limited privileged users, an authentication server to enforce user permissions and layers of robust network protection. Where I've seen regular reinstall is with personal machines; installing poorly chosen or popup presented software being a primary cause. There is a lot of really bad software to choose from the latest basement freeware special on download.com on up to Apple Quicktime doing everything it can to install iTunes and Safari along with itself. It's bad enough but then you add in the software with real malicious intent using every social trick get on a system (eg. the Antivirus 2009 trogan which has been in the news recently). At the same time, I know of a win2k machine that's taken a few malware hits and continues to run with no reinstall since initial delivery.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Sorry, Had been letting a discussion I'd been having elsewhere, with someone else, weigh on my mind when I threw that Linux/Unix thing in. From your other comments I gather you were doing a lot of experimenting and testing on your Windows system. In which case I might expect one to have to do some re-installs. Which is a different scenario than what I was picturing when asking about how often folks really had to do re-installs ... as I was curious about the frequency of needing to do that on normally used machines. For instance, machines used by an average office worker. Systems being used for testing, experimentation, etc are a different category. For instance, I have a separate desktop I use almost solely for testing purposes. It's the one I use for testing highly tweaked and/or modified versions of Windows. Since I play around with such things and subscribe to forums such as MSFN, Win-Builder, and so forth where folks with such interests hang out. So I apologize for allowing thoughts from one debate to get carried over into my response to you. In any event, I am still curious about how often IT folks, working with machines that get normal usage such as in an office environment, actually find that they NEED to do a re-install. Was looking for some feedback like "1 out of 100 machines per year ..." (1 per 50 per year? 1 per 25?) or something like that. Of course systems that someone is constantly mucking around with, experimenting with and so forth are gonna see a lot of issues. But I'm not inquiring about such.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

You might want to wait until there is some terrific lie from one of those FOSS crazy people before you respond as if there was one. I was simply answering the question of how often a single system can need reinstall. I also gave some indication of a ranged answer. When I was installing/uninstalling interesting apps regularly, running registry cleaners and testing out any reg tweaks I wanted to try out. The result is that between uninstall and temp crud buildup, registry crud buildup and overzealous registry cleaning, Windows would start needing a reinstall every four to six months. Installing/uninstalling games is a part of that also. As a time indication; this was back when it was easy to read and try out all the "new additions" on download.com. When I stopped mucking with registry cleaners and overtuning the system, life expectancy increased to between six and twelve months. Install/Uninstall of games and various programs still causing degradation as does the usual temp and crud buildup. When I stopped using Windows for anything beyond gaming and a few win32 only software titles, .. well.. I haven't had to rebuild that system yet other than an initial install on a fairly major new hardware upgrade. That was the one where I mentioned that I was considering a reinstall now only to clean up the crudd built up from testing the new upgrade components; in that case, I have some crufty old driver versions left behind by unclean driver upgrades. In a business setting, the machine should not need to be reimaged close to that frequency. If a users breaks a system then reimage it and see if they've been using shared storage like they should be. So, at the end of this, I'm still not sure what "Linux/Unix argument" your so concerned about having injected further into this thread than you've already done so yourself.

rockster
rockster

Well, I have been a PC user since the old Commodore system came out. I have gone from Windows 3.1 to W95 to W98 to XP and Vista. Never once have I ever reinstalled the Windows operating system. Seems to me that most users don't want to go to the trouble of tracking down a problem and just reinstall the OS. I like to try to find the problem and fix it and not go through all the hassles of reinstalling Windows. I use PCs every day and mine run from dawn till dark. Never replaced a hard drive or any system component. So, I guess I have been lucky buying good hardware and diddling with the software to keep things going. Now that I have bragged like this, my PC will probably go up in smoke in 5 minutes.

ehosto
ehosto

Re-issuing a machine to a different user.

rapotera
rapotera

The most common reason I reformat is to clear out all the garbage left in the registry from old programs that aren't installed anymore.

DataJanitor
DataJanitor

The usual reason I need to re-install is that the computer is being re-allocated to another individual within the organization.

proeme
proeme

I installed Windows XP onto a second HD for only one reason, i.e. my scanner driver had stopped functioning and uninstalling and reinstalling it did not help. This left me with a dual booting system making me choose between Windows XP and Windows XP. I was too happy with my Plustek OpticBook 3600 scanner to resign from using it. The scanner is really good but the driver provided by Plustek is a disaster because of its vulnerability. Shame on Plustek and iMpacct Corp!

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

The most common reason I end up needing to re-install Windows is as a result of damage done by malware, viruses, and poorly designed software that someone has opted to install on their system. Which have so borked up a system that I just cut my losses, decide I'm not gonna spend any more time trying to repair, and I just do a reinstall. That said, I very infrequently have to do a re-installation. In most cases a re-install is not necessary, nor do I consider it desirable. Since I want to track down the source of the problem and fix that. Then take the steps necessary to try to prevent a re-occurrence of that problem. Often enough, in fact in most cases I come across, the system got borked up due to something the user did. If I don't identify the root issue that caused the foul-up to begin with, it's likely the user will just be coming back to me again sometime later and we'll be going thru all this again. OFTEN the real solution is my telling whomever one of two things .... "Stop hanging around those web sites you've been visiting." i.e. The sites require download of special software, scripts, applets, etc to use all the features and THOSE items are creating the problems. Or the site has a lot of malware/viruses. Or ... "Do us both a favor. Stop listening to all your buddies who are giving you advice that you've just GOT to install and use this or that software, or add-on tool for some software you've already got loaded. Or who are telling yah that you really need to make this or that system change, registry change, and so forth to make your system run better ..... Because they're friggin IDIOTS !! Following their advice is what got you into this situation." Having a system become so corrupt or otherwise problematical that a reinstall is needed due to normal usage, hardware changes, installing a new Window update, or for many of the reasons others cite in this thread is so rare in my experience that I can't recall ever having had to consider it much less do it. In most cases I can handle a complaint of a malfunctioning machine simply doing some system cleanup, uninstalling some problematical software, shutting down some auto-launch stuff, putting altered system settings back to their default, etc.

r_kinlay
r_kinlay

I own Vista Business, need I say more???

robertstar20
robertstar20

I recently upgraded four computers by buying new CPU/Mobo, and installing them in the best computer -- then take the replaced CPU/Mobo, place in next best computer, and so on, all the way down. The Linux computer handled the upgrade without a whimper. The three Windows computers started bluescreening. Three Windows reinstalls later, everything was fine again. I was left speechless, a friend of mine warned me it would happen, but I didn't believe him...

garyleroy
garyleroy

I've migrated a Windows install many times without problems. You don't try it on a sick system to begin with, and it's wise to unload the different removable hardware as much as possible. In some cases, when going to a completely different board/cpu/etc., I've slipped in the drive just to see what it would do, and more times than not it dutifully installs the new drivers and works fine (will need activation though). To me this is somewhat of a miracle...you're blindly booting a system that expects to find certain hardware, loads drivers for such, etc., and you expect it to just boot up to the nice welcome screen? Different versions have different capabilities...3.1, nearly impossible; 95, not worth it; 98, possible but tough; ME, easy and almost always works; 2000, iffy and cranky; XP, easy and usually works; Vista, don't know.

speculatrix
speculatrix

to not wipe windows and replace with linux altogether! or, if you must run windows, do so on vmware, then you can seamlessly migrate the VM between hardware without needing to change a thing!

edems
edems

I may have messed up windows with registry cleaners. I had some slowness. But what through me over the brink was I received a .net update. And it would not install. It kept coming back and trying to install, and never would. I worked on it some with a Microsoft tech, but after a couple of days of detailed work, that was time consuming, I decided to just start oover.

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

I am a House Call technician for our Computer Club. I receive 4 to 6 computers a week. Malware, viruses, and Trojans are a problem. However, in our retirement community the largest cause of problems is grandchildren and children. After they leave the club member is lost. In the past 8 years, I have resorted to the re-installation of the OS three times. Remember, as a volunteer (read no pay), I have all the time that I want. Hours equals zero cost.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

Well, re-installing Windows systems follows a cascading set of circumstances. First and most common is virus/worm/rootkit/etc. damage; I don't know how many systems I have had to erase and re-install for this reason, say thousands (I was a tech at one time, and yes I know what I am doing, I was around doing this stuff before there were certs). The second is an immediate re-install because someone hammered themselves with a hardware install or software install some of these I could save, but as time has gone on I have found that many of these situations "nuke and pave" is the most time/cost effective way to deal with the issue. Then comes the machines that start to take a hour to boot (many causes most of which are bad poor kernel programming etc.) Once you work at Microsoft for any period of time you realize it is all about production instead of quality, almost the reverse of working at Apple.

garyleroy
garyleroy

You just killed any credibility you had, which wasn't much if you can't manage a Windows installation without having to redo it constantly. What does Apple have to do with anything in this thread? Apple is in its own little world, with its own set of devoted cult followers, founded and currently run by one of the most arrogant, self-centered, and uncaring (about people besides himself) jerks you can find (so obviously I don't mean Woz...). And you have the nerve to criticize MS in comparison?? Aside from that, there has never been an honest answer outside of Mac-only forums about the reliability or usability of their systems...they are machines that run themselves and never crash or give any problem, at least in "public". The truth is only known to those who actually use them, whether by choice or not, and a percentage of those are apple followers who are as blind as religious zealots. Vista junk? It has/had its issues, particularly with user interface and ease of use, but considering the intensity of attacks (maybe you should blame the attackers, not the 'attackee'), it's difficult to come up with something as widely used as Windows that works and will continue working. And Quality vs. production? Ever read ANY history of Jobs and Apple? Anybody can use quality stuff if you charge 3x what it's worth.

tom
tom

I usisk imaging, so the decision to reinstall (actually, rollback to a previous date) is made after a consideration of which is faster; fix the problem manually, or re-image, and considering what I might lose due to the re-image of the disk which is normall nothing. A re-image takes less than an hour for my system drive - so if I'm not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in about 45 minutes, I re-image the disk. UNLESS I want badly to know WHAT exactly went wrong; then I may spend a few hours on it. Cheers,

playtoy58_yahoo.com
playtoy58_yahoo.com

There are many reasons for reinstall,but that decision has to be made from machine to machine. 1. Malware or virus that will not go away. 2. Program that causes trouble and cannot be removed. 3. Reg problems. 4. System just will not boot.

clint.t
clint.t

I've only ever had to reinstall Windows when I've upgraded my machine, which works out to about once every 3 years. Sometimes this coincides with a new Windows release, sometimes it doesn't. I know it's fashionable to bash Windows, but I really don't see what all the fuss is about.

webcraker
webcraker

May be many reasons like if the system is too slow and we want fresh copy or viruses that can't be removed unless installing new windows or any problem that can't be solve normally

RipVan
RipVan

Common wisdom used to say to reinstall Windows every year. I thought that was because it was such a cheesy OS. During a class I was in, the guy explained how the drive was sectored off during the formatting process. He went on to say that the "border" could swing left or right over time. He called it "sector drift." I have looked that up on the net and didn't really find anything on it, and wondered if it was even an issue with the newer drives. There is also the issue of people with Linux who run it for years and don't seem to have such an issue, and it seems as if that would have affected them as well as anyone running Windows, so I'm not sure what to believe. But my Windows always did start to get odd system errors after a year or two, and a new install always seemed to freshen it up. That seemed like a logical explanation. My one Windows box (XP) seems to have hung in there longer than anything in the past, though. Probably up for 5 years, no strange errors or corruption as in the past. (Well, I take that back. Just recently I noticed it doesn't want to go into SAFE MODE.)

Chet_0729
Chet_0729

It used to be an issue. It is not as bad with modern drives. It also can not be corrected with a normal format. A good program that will refresh your drive at a lower level than you normally could is Spitrite from Gibson research. It can also be used to recover load data due to phsical damage to a hard drive. Unlike a lot of the "recovery" programs, it actually does work.

anthonysjunk
anthonysjunk

Removal of cruft built up with install/uninstall of software over a long period of time. Clarity is a good thing.

Cactus Pete
Cactus Pete

Any call to the OEM for support... pretty much used to be reinstall with the CD they provided.

jeff45
jeff45

Changing new motherboard drivers if Original Windows from old motherboard can't boot by transfer to new one, it's stuck..

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

And where I work the most common reason is malware. For me, this is almost always on laptops used by road warriors with two common characteristics: 1) The user has persuaded someone at higher echeclons that he needs local Administrator privileges (usually because he really wants to install some unauthorized application). 2) The user lacks the technical knowledge to properly wield the double-edged sword he's asked for. At home, I haven't reinstalled XP Home since I purchased the computer six years ago.

tracer
tracer

Normally I reinstall clean if the waste of time just prevents me to fix things manually or if I feel not sure I know exactly what what went wrong.Having upto date backup means I KNOW I can take a system and reinstall things more or less as they were and in most cases my backup together with users data backup can recover a system fast. Biggest problem in most cases is changed system drivers...

sleepin'dawg
sleepin'dawg

A real PITA getting it reconfigured and Microsnot wasn't exactly a hell of a lot of help in solving the problem. [b]Dawg[/b] ]:)

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I have a friend who doesn't use any Av or malware protection at all, doesn't ' believe in that stuff '. And yet every six to eight months he reformats. Apprently it is easier than removing spyware or sorting out issues, I suppose with no protection at all, it probably is easier after 6 months to just reinstall. I resinstall as a last resort, I think reinstalling is admitting failure to rectify an issue or just giving up. I understand that in a workplace it is a case of time and money, where it may be more cost effective to simply format and reimage than sort out issues. Just like working with cars, I hate to admit failure of 'give up', finding a solution and simply replace a bunch of parts or an engine to sort out a problem. But that to me is a fail. It is often more cost effective to rebuild an alternator than to replace it, such as witha BMW, where an alternator costs in excess of $350.00 and I can rebuild it with new brushes and bushings for less than $50 and an hours labour. A dealership will just replace it, money, money, money, but I consider that a cop out and mechanics lose the ability to be mechanics when they just replace parts. Thus the same is true for IT staff, rectify an issue instead of reformatting, reformatting is not IT support, it is a cop out in most cases. Call Dell, IBM, HP etc., if the tier one suport can't help they will tell you to reformat, but usually it is a problem that can be rectified without the reformatting. Refomatting is necessary sometimes and in some cases is a more cost/time effective solution, the rest of teh time it is just lazy and shows incompetence.

Churdoo
Churdoo

I can't say I've never done it because I have, but re-install is a very very last resort. Re-install is indeed an admission of defeat, and we all have our pride, and another reason I avoid it like the plague is that I just don't want to hear the whining of the end user because the icons on their desktop are in a different order, or some obscure settings in some obscure application are returned to default settings. We all know and we all have our checklists, with a little practice we can get a complete Windows re-install, service packed, drivers, latest critical updates, anti-virus / anti-malware, MS Office, your fav freebie readers and apps, My Docs, IE favs, Desktop, looking "pretty close" to the users' prior profile, etc. in 2-3 hours if you're not imaging. So by some comments, if it will take 3 hours to fix a problem, then a re-install is in order? I disagree. I will work longer, sometimes much longer than 3 hours to avoid re-install and therefore not risk inconveniencing the user, save my pride, and more importantly, I avoid the whining of the end user if they are the type to have monkeyed with a lot of UI and other settings. I am fortunate in that I deal with mostly business clients, and agree as some of you have suggested, and there are exceptions but in general, a workstation in the business environment simply is not subjected to as much abuse as a home workstation, and so the question of re-install is lower in the biz environment unless of course it is the policy of the company's IT to do so. In the times that I will re-install, it's either an HDD that goes belly-up and will not complete a Ghost image, or on rare occasion I will swallow my pride and admit defeat if the reg or system files have become so hosed either from virus/malware/or end user monkeying and I think that the system will not be stable even after some creative fixes. Just my 2 cents.

pbrownlee
pbrownlee

I was asked what I thought of troubleshooting M$ Windows and like OZ I hate to not fix an issue and re-formatting and installation is a B*tch, esp when trying multiple hardware configs. I don't dislike speaking to East Indians, it's just the whole DRM situation stinks for engineers and other hardware gurus. Yes, like any hardware changin prfessional I had to resort to key readers and Jellie Bean type ware for expediancy. This is just not the price I want to pay for an O.S.. Reason I hate M$ is it seems to be a policy of releasing no O.S. before it is verified as incomplete and vulnerable. Is it my paranoia to think this is by design for middle ware Co.s what is it a new form of golden parachute?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

[i]Call Dell, IBM, HP etc., if the tier one suport can't help they will tell you to reformat, but usually it is a problem that can be rectified without the reformatting.[/i] I was working on a Dell GX-520 that was rebooting spontaneously. The first question Dell support asked was "Have you reformatted the hard drive?" :_| Gawd, I hate level 1 support! X-( Edit: emoticon type. Oh!

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

The problem with running wide open and just reinstalling when the infestation gets too annoying is all the other machines that it's passed on too before the next reinstall.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

As noted its just a friend at his home, there's no way that should be allowed in a working environment.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

If it's a stand alone machine then at least it's only eating itself but if he has an Internet connection then he's knowingly regrowing someone else's attack platform. At least in a business, there is more than a Linksys between an infected machine and the outside. Around these parts, there is grounds for legal action if some other attack is traced back to his machine since the true originator will be using him as a bounch through. Researchers have to contend with this now even if they are running a honeynet. Responsible researchers will put Snort in line with the honeypot just to be sure anything malicious on the wire doesn't go back out. Actually, it would be interesting to drop an IDS on his network and see what turns up. he's probably collecting some interesting specimens unknowingly.

cbulla
cbulla

I use time limits as a deciding factor unless the configuration or setup is just to much of a hassle to wish to recreate. Generally speaking, I create base images, even for home machines, and should an issue prove to be overly time consuming to rectify, the effective solution is to reimage the machine and move on. I have to admit though, it is sometimes just good fun to pull out the shovel and start digging around looking for the root cause!

Joe_R
Joe_R

(Except never done it.) Regardless of the reason, if it takes less time to reinstall Windows than it does to diagnose and repair a problem, then the reinstall option is always the best one.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

Windows doesn't clean up very well. Once it's gummed up, for whatever reason, it means a reinstall.... 'Course we use a product to push out OSs (not images) and applications to machines, so it's far easier to just start over than fight with Windows to find out why it's borked this time around....

wiggledbits
wiggledbits

I find that malware and repeated install/uninstall gum things up pretty good. I have had XP machines run 3 or 4 years without problems by simply using defrag, check disk and common sense, as in, in the WinWorld if it is free (software) it is suspect. At work I use an open source package that allows me to drop in a CD make 4 or 5 menu selections then let it fly. After the install I wait for a few minutes for the WSUS server to detect the PC and drop it into a group for updates that I haven't had the time to add to the installer at that time. Of course prior to the new install I backed up the users files under their profile (if they disregarded IT by saving anything outside of their profile or a network drive it isn't my fault). So I invest about an hour of my time for a complete rebuild with all department applications and user files installed. Now if I could convince the "boss" that we need to restrict the users some I would have 1/2 or 1/3 of the reinstalls I have now. Anyway I find if I have to fight some malware or virus or piece of $!@# software it is less time to do a complete reinstall. I find no glory in beating malware or virus. I have better things to do with my time. And the machine runs better in the end for the user.