Windows optimize

Video: Three critical things to do before reinstalling Windows

Whether you support your tech-novice family members or a corporate office, you will have to reinstall Microsoft Windows at some point. In this IT Dojo video, Bill Detwiler goes over the three things you need to do before reinstalling Windows to make the process go smoothly.

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.

But before you pop that Windows disc into your machine, take a few moments to plan your reinstallation process. 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.

For those of you who prefer text to video, you can go to the video player page for this IT Dojo episode and click "See Full Transcript," or you can also read Alan Norton's original article, "10 things you should do before, during, and after reinstalling Windows," on which this video is based.

You can also sign up to receive the latest IT Dojo lessons through one or more of the following methods:

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...

62 comments
becksdark
becksdark

I routinely run the Belarc Advisor on my machine. It generates an HTML listing of the complete makeup of your computer, including Processor, memory, architecture, installed OS, and all installed software. Damn useful when doing a reinstall. And it's free for personal use.

ochdgh
ochdgh

I wish that I had watched this BEFORE my recent reinstall of XP Pro. I can't wait until it breaks again! Thanks

cordell.james
cordell.james

Install anything but Microsoft windows. like Ubuntu. I can't believe Head line like this are still around I got off the Windows Merry go round years ago when Linux was still admittedly quite crap "front end wise" once I made the switch I never looked back. james

clmelson
clmelson

this was a good vid. you covered everything that i had to learn the hard way for the last 8 years. the best back up is storing your important files on any sorce other than the harddrive that your OS is on. ive had to reinstall my OS many times, always for doing something stupid like downloading somthing that i shouldnt have and catching a virus. I'c reccoment this vid to anyone just starting to learn about computers or the regular user.

jmearle
jmearle

How does Detwiler do it? He is in a data center but there is no background noise. What's up with that?

techrepublic
techrepublic

Before re-installing windows the 3 most critical things are: Don't, Don't and Don't.

mike21b
mike21b

But that was with Windows 2000. Win 95/98 was the worst. They'd last a year or so before bloat caused problems. XP is better but 2 years is about average. Yes, inept users change or delete key settings, but more often, the system slows down or a file (or registry) becomes corrupted. Reinstall is easier than tracking the actual problem. I haven't had a major loss of data for 10+ years on my own machines. Worst thing I've done is overwrote a file with garbage and had to recreate it, costing me 2 hours or so. Nowadays, WHS plus at least 2 PCs with synched data keeps me pretty safe.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

You never know when you will be hit by a blue screen.The blue screen will make any booting to the OS impossible.A hard drive total system restore program would always be the best.I could only get the Windows back up to work after installing a floppy drive to my my computer.The hard drive would be erased then then the OS,drivers and software installed---then a back up made.The restore would be after an erase.The partition size here is really important---80 gigs on DVD's is impractical.(Something is very wrong with computers.)

billcavazos
billcavazos

Running a virus scan before a restore is silly. Say it is'nt so Bill Ditwiler...

1DaveN
1DaveN

I run the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard (XP) or Windows Easy Transfer (Vista) as an extra precaution before formatting the drive. I just grab everything, and then if I use this to restore the data, I pick and choose what to put back once I've got the OS and other software reinstalled.

geojim55
geojim55

Great advice. I know from past experience that losing a customers favorites, or other information will leave them unhappy.

HomePageOnline
HomePageOnline

Once we re-install OS and all software and apps we image the new drive and keep it stored on a separate partition. If the users computer "starts crashing by itself" as it's usually the case. (IT folks know what I mean because the user NEVER is to blame) We just backup the current data files, bring the image back, run updates if any and restore data. Much quicker and simpler.

f3imola
f3imola

Super advice. I've done it many times and I had to learn this from making mistakes. This will help anyone having to do a reinstall.

reisen55
reisen55

1. Two physical drives. First drive is the OS and lower drive is literally EVERYTHING ELSE I NEED EVER. 2. Drivers are kept downstairs. 3. My Documents, Outlook PST files and Favorites backed up downstairs. Monthly revised and automatic. 4. GHOST image of an original, fully patched but simple build operating system drive is kept downstairs. 5. On my home network of 25 systems I "can" touch but only of which 4 are on most of the time, I have a fully redundant backup system in operation. My 2 cents

waaaqaar
waaaqaar

it is the one of the good video for initial users and other support persons as well; Thanks to Mr bill his way of briefing is very simple and understadable. Waiting for more like this one Waqar Attari

TMahaffey
TMahaffey

Several of your favorite apps store useful configuration settings in AppData. Firefox keeps all of your settings, extensions/addons, and bookmarks in AppData and transfer easily to another system. MS Outlook can be a big gotcha if you delete AppData.

Wally Bahny
Wally Bahny

Over the years, I've found the best way to re-install a computer from scratch is to simply buy a new hard drive. Now that storage is so cheap, I think it's better to have the peace of mind of that old hard drive that's still in its last used state than to accidentally have lost something.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Whether you support your tech-novice family members or a corporate office, you will have to reinstall Microsoft Windows at some point. In this 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://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/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. When you've had to reinstall Windows, what has been the most common reason? Take our Windows reinstallation poll and let us know: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=204.

Breezeserve
Breezeserve

It's a video trick called Chroma-Key, he justs sits at a table with a simple green wall behind him and using editing software you are able to remove the green and replace it with another image if you keep watching the video to the end you'll see what I mean, but it's most used in Hollywood type films, you can have a moving background or a static image behind without the subject in the foreground disapearing, they use green because it's the most furthest away from human skin tones.

PTelly
PTelly

Try using Ubuntu! I have had to reinstall windows many time, from drivers,service packs,corrupt registery etc. Been using Ubuntu quite a bit for the 1.5 years and much more reliable. Trying to migrate friends and family also.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Hi Bill, Run an anti-virus scan with the settings on high/thorough before doing a full backup. This will minimize the chance that you will copy infected backup files to your new clean install.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

The reason to perform the scan prior to the reinstall, is to catch any virus infected files before they get moved to clean drive.

BRS
BRS

I use Driver Magician to Make a copy of all the non windows drivers. With the ever increasing number of peripherals\and the fact that some people like to hang on to that "old" Printer, to have the drivers all in one place does save an awful lot of time.

The DOBC
The DOBC

You would probably want to keep a copy of that image somewhere else in case the hard drive dies. All things die, and electronics are no exception.

butkus
butkus

That's if your hardward (MB) doesn't fry.

larkam2358
larkam2358

I just saw the video for "Three critical things to do before reinstalling Windows." No mention was made of streamloading, i.e., creating a self-installing disk that would contain all data, programs, settings, updates, etc. from CD or DVD. This would seem to me to be the ideal solution. There are a number of free and shareware solutions. Perhaps this could be discussed at a later time.

MeadowsPV
MeadowsPV

Data backup: Depending on the number of user IDs on the old machine, One might remember / consider this handy utility. Drivers: There are several freeware utils on the web that will archive you system's drivers, making it easier to manage the installation process. Of course, the absolute minimum drivers to get the Windows Setup running will need to be on a media that the setup process can access. Now a 'plug' Folks; The Windows Home Server is the best thing 'since sliced bread... Buy it. Use it .. You will love it. [ Bare Metal Recovery in almost no time .. or Restore from a knonw good backup is a piece of cake] .. It will even Backup/Recover Small Business Server 2003.. HTH

Companies live and die on thier emails. All of the .pst and the .ost files for Outlook are in the user/local settings/Microsoft/Outlook folders under the user profile. If somthing should go wrong or if the server is not set in Cached Exchange mode you run the serious risk of loosing a lot of personal email folders and data.

brian
brian

I bought a spare drive for each class of laptop I support. Handing the user the replacement system, plus the old drive put in an external cage (for easy access to old data) saves me time hunting down the bits myself. (Dragging and dropping My Documents to a new box is a godsend in itself.) Once they're satisfied, I label it with a post-it containing the user's name and date of changeover, and it gets shelved until the next crisis. If the new crisis is "too soon" (under 30 days) I go buy another drive and cage for the next one. Otherwise, shampoo, rinse, repeat. FYI - my environment is 90% laptops, so I really only carry 4 spares. That puts me in the $600 range in IT expenses. There is something to be said for the Southwest Airlines support strategy.

pdr5407
pdr5407

I think that was an excellent suggestion. With the low prices of drives now, and it also simplifies the process. All the user's files, documents, and settings are already on the old drive that can be used as a backup or second drive. And the new drive may have a faster data transfer speed and more onboard memory.

anachron
anachron

Sadly it is posted right now, not some years ago when I had to create such an algorithm myself :( IMHO it will be great to make a more detailed blog post describing some ways to simplify the task, like making automated/unattended installs, integrating drivers into Windows distribution and using various data and registry backup solutions.

svarnc
svarnc

After extensive cleaning, still could not get rid of malware. Had to re-install. Changed virus programs and have not had the same problem again....

brian
brian

One of my big concerns is that some people will wipe out their bootable "diagnostics" partition. I highly recommend having that reinstalled (or left pristine if not MBR related.) I've resolved so many hardware problems with those basic OEM diags that they're worth the trouble to keep. It is very useful when "outsourced" support won't believe the motherboard is bad without a specific error code. Using original OEM media for the reinstall usually will reinstall that partition as well.

big_wave55
big_wave55

I use Belarc Advisor to take an inventory of the computers before reinstall. Will give you the keys, all the software installed, type of hardware, etc. Any others out there?

blarman
blarman

Registry corruption - either die to a plethora of misc software, driver contention, or malware infections - are the single biggest problem for me. And there is no good fix except reinstallation. I've tried several registry repair tools like RegClean, but no program is going to be able to positively identify every registry setting and account for it. In the end running these tools almost invariably nukes one or more installed programs' necessary registry keys along with many of the undesirable keys (Real Player, malware, and other startup items). On a side note, BelArc Advisor is a great software tool to scour your hard drive for a complete list of installed software and their product license keys. Running it before any proposed wipe gives a full list of all the software I need to make sure I find and backup prior to wiping/restoring.

Breezeserve
Breezeserve

Sure is a difficult task, an imaging system would be good but some imaging systems don't work correctly, especially when you have different hardware for each system, I've been though this process quite a lot of times, but a good thing to do is to take regular restore points, and after re-installing use the backup utility to create a bkf file and an ASR or Automated System Recovery disk, the problem with this is that you need to have a floppy drive, Microsoft should really update their utility to support CD media, however it works for me, I have to backup 3 different systems and this is the only way I can do it, but another time saver is if you have a server or domain in your environment with Windows deployment services installed, you can use that to re-install windows and if your server has SMS or system management server, you can use that to re-install software and updates, however it does take a lot of time to set up these services. Many different ways but still a difficult task.

mjs1138
mjs1138

I can't say enough good things about Acronis True Image. Especially the F11 recovery feature from the secure zone. When my daughter was recently posted to Ukraine for Peace Corps I set up her original / fully updated laptop -- which she uses in all sorts of places like internet cafes -- with this feature. She has used it already and gives me and her great peace of mind.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Thank you for the video. Some comments: I prefer to use a password protected, 128 bit encrypted Excel spreadsheet to store my IDs and passwords. One advantage to this is that you can copy and paste the information in the spreadsheet into forms, login pages, etc. I keep the name, IP address (internal IT IP addresses) or URL, logon ID, password, answers to security questions, and notes (contact names and how to contact) in the spreadsheet. I also keep my software keys and my multiple email account addresses in this spreadsheet. It comes in very handy when it comes to a reinstall and I use it at least a couple of times a week to copy and paste email addresses or other information into emails or Web pages. I agree with creating and using an image for corporate Windows installs with the following caveats: The image should be Windows + service packs (if any) + security updates The image should not include specific drivers Creating an image with some basic apps can be problematic not the least of which is that the image begins to age from the moment it is created. For this reason, the image should not include any additional apps unless the image is routinely updated. The application software program files will have to be written to the Program Files and Program Files (x86) directory on the system logical drive and included in the image file. I prefer having my program files on a separate logical data drive. It is never discussed and I doubt if any end users are aware that by restoring an image with apps pre-loaded they are not given the opportunity to read the EULA and accept or decline the terms. This would not apply for software with a corporate-wide or site license agreement. There may be a legal issues associated with this type of software deployment. For those of you using OS imaging in a corporate environment I would be interested to hear exactly what you are imaging and how often you update the image if it contains basic apps. I made a copy of my \Users\Pecos profile directory with plans to test copying it over to the new install but when I discovered that the directory contained 15,191 items and was 812 MB I decided not to bother doing the test. A new install of Vista Ultimate created a directory with 313 files that was only 20.4 MB. I decided it was preferable just to start from scratch and use the user profile created in the install and not carry over the baggage of the old user profile. Of course, be sure to pull all of your personal data from all user directories before doing the reinstall. Unless you are certain that the drivers contained on the CD that came with your motherboard and components or with your prebuilt computer are the latest it is worth taking the time to visit the OEM Web sites or the computer manufacturers Web site. Find and download the latest drivers. This is especially critical if the OS is relatively new or for new or cutting edge technology. One comment about software RAID - Vista includes basic RAID drivers for some software based RAID controllers including Intel's Matrix RAID. This allows you to see your RAID volumes during installation. However, I tried loading and running Vista using the drivers included with Vista and decided to reinstall using the RAID drivers from the Intel Web Site. I don't remember why I decided to reinstall using the Intel drivers but unless you want to experiment I would recommend loading the Intel Matrix RAID drivers when prompted during the reinstall. Reinstalling Windows is more complex than most Windows users realize. Bill Detwiler did a good job in the video of making the steps necessary for a reinstall simple and easy to understand - well, as simple as reinstalling Windows can be. I want to thank him for including the article in the IT Dojo video series. I should introduce myself. I am the author of the original article, '10 things you should do before, during and after a Windows install', upon which this IT Dojo video is based. http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/window-on-windows/?p=794 I will be popping in and out to answer any questions and participate if I have something to add to the discussion. Edit - remove HTML tags

john
john

Like several other IT folk, I couldn't think to count the number of times I have reloaded a computer. I use Windows, Mac and Ubuntu. Each operating system is a good system. But some software doesn't get along with other software. I've had issues with each of these 3 OS's and have had to re-install, but once reloaded and updated, they all run like a champ. I tend to reload PC as a rule of thumb if working on a clients computer. If at work, I reload workstations when a handful of new software is available since the last image load. Though I do prefer Mac and Ubuntu, I can't entirely fault MS for having to reload more often, it's the applications that seem to cause the real issues, aside from malware of course :-P

reisen55
reisen55

The data center is clean of cables and junk all over the place too. I have seen a data center look as good as they do in advertisements. Ever see those huge work desks with about 25 computers under them and NO CABLES ANYWHERE????? And he looks soooo happy!!! Not stressed nor burned out. Kinda like watching those home repair people build a porch in mid-August and not sweat or have seven beers while working. (We just punched down the floor with 1,208 nails in over 2 hours and look as clean as when we started).

mamies
mamies

I use Ubuntu on my desktop at home as well, but some places it is just not viable. You take half the people I work with or infact know you give them an interface that doesn't look like windows and they freak. People are used to Windows XP at the moment and are having a hard enough time trying to migrate to Vista let alone a completely differant layout. I understand you can customise the layout but then that just creates more and more effort. Some drivers are a pain to install as well, it is not totally plug and play yet but most importantly when something does go wrong with it, everyone that goes near that computer will be able to tell, it can leave a hell of a mess. Saying all this I think Ubuntu is a great choice for people to migrate from Windows to a Linux system. Its one of the easiest to use and can look very pretty without all the hardware of Vista

JCitizen
JCitizen

on the user reviews! I'm glad it works for you though.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I like to download and install the latest drivers. It helps to keep the 'ghosts out of the machine'. I am running Vista Ultimate and hardware manufacturers were slow at the get-go with their drivers. Thanks for the tip about Driver Magician. I might try it to see how well it works.

reisen55
reisen55

Yes, indeed which is why I use redundancy in the first place. I have a special niche interest in redundancy as it relates to disaster recovery. Participated in One of the first, and largest, recovery projects of them all. Aon Used to be on the 101st floor South Tower World Trade Center I was there too. 1500 stairs down. So I have a good working knowledge of when things to go hell and how to fix them fast.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I assume you mean slipstreaming? I looked into this while writing the '10 things you should do before, during, and after reinstalling Windows' article. For Vista you need a freeware app like vLite and the free Microsoft Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK). I gave up on the project when I discovered that the Windows AIK download is 1.37 GB. (http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=94BB6E34-D890-4932-81A5-5B50C657DE08&displaylang=en) That won't happen be happening on dial-up. If I can get hold of a copy of the Vista SP1 Windows AIK I would like to go through the slipstreaming process and see what the learning curve is and see how long it takes to create a slipstreamed disc. I am running Intel Matrix RAID 0 and RAID 1 so the RAID driver could be slipstreamed right into the installation DVD. And as you say, including the latest updates would be a real plus not only for ease of installation but also for security reasons. Edit: Incorrect terminology - changed streamlining to slipstreaming.

mike21b
mike21b

I use it at home and at the office. I don't like Microsoft (as a corporation) much, but they hit a home run with WHS, although no one was at the ballpark watching the game. Everyone who dismisses it haven't tried it.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

How do you loose important email folders and data when you blow away a user profile on a workstation when you are in an exchange environment? The email is stored on the exchange server not in a pst file on the workstation. If you have pst files on a workstation that is not being backedup you are asking for trouble.

butkus
butkus

E-mail for any business or admin person. But the address book, that's in a different directory. Have to have the address book. If you're going to reinstall.. and you're not on a server. Clone, then just replace the HD if you need more space. Then the old one is a safety backup. Cloning is well worth the price of the cloning software. I cloned a bunch of PCs in my Education setting. Ten minutes to change a few settings, they were good to go. One thing the video forgot to mention. If you are going to clone, add any extra memory or cards before you clone. XP/Vista came up with "your PC had major changes..." when I went from a 512K machine to a new clone with 1 Gb. It had to "update" itself on the MS site. I added memory to the cloned machine and now that the hardware matched, no problem. Acronis True Image: wonderful. Need the newest version for Vista.

bgdovic
bgdovic

Even if you're in a cached Exchange server environment, remember that Outlook keeps it's Archive on the local users machine in the \local settings\Application Data\ by default. If you're dilligent in archiving your old emails, you'd hate losing those as well.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

Wow, that's about all I have to say about purchasing new Hard Drives to solve this simple problem.

AiR_GuNNeR
AiR_GuNNeR

Looks like I posted under an existing post as a reply..sorry about that. I'm building a new system and have been migrating over all my applications and data for the past week. The first problem came about that the XP installation did not recognize the SATA controller on the newer Intel motherboard, (setup as a regular IDE controller, non RAID). I ended up using a great utility called nLite that will integrate drivers, patches, service packs, etc.. into the XP installation disk. It will create a new image file and even burn you a new install disk. I also ordered new hard drives to be setup in a Stripe1 raid later. I planned on installing everything on my 150gig Raptor drive, and taking the image and setting it up on the RAID setup. Travel forward a week in time...All my applications were installed, drive partitioned, service packs in place, etc..My mistake was thinking I could upgrade my system to Strip 1 raid later. I transfered the image to the newly installed raid system and only get blue screened now. It boots off of the new HD in non-raid mode fine. Even safe mode won't boot...hohum..looks like I'll be doing it all over again.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Those are some very good ideas. Thank you for the suggestions. It took me almost 20 years of reinstalling Windows to be able to write the article upon which the video is based. :-) Sorry it took so long but I am glad that you liked the video.

RDGO_Tech
RDGO_Tech

Can you list what Virus Programs you WERE using previously; then list which ones you changed over to?

jdn
jdn

When reinstalling Windows, don't forget to backup the keys for the EFS encrypted files (or other types of encrypted file systems). They cannot be recovered from ANY backup media without the key(s) and will be lost forever after a reinstall - this overlooked item gets IT people fired.

JCitizen
JCitizen

as your post is so well ordered that you mean to copy the private data from the Excel sheet straight into your password vault utility. Of perhaps you encrypt your Excel sheet and name it with some innocuous ID, so crackers can't simply lift the information from your hard drive. I like to do the same thing except I don't leave the document in my hard drive but on removable storage. Please correct any ideas or ignorant statements you feel I just made. Criticism is welcome. I love computer/network security, and I doubt I am over doing it despite admitting I am paranoid about this subject. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion!

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

unless you are one of the millions of field-based workers who need access to archived emails but only login to the corporate network once a week to upload your timesheets...

jason.may
jason.may

True, losing archived e-mails is always bad, thats why we use e-vault. It automatically sucks the e-mails out of exchange to a SQL database for the user and replaces it with a shortcut. This way you'll never lose the e-mails.

SgtPappy
SgtPappy

....storing pst or any data files on a workstation is bad bad bad.

Wally Bahny
Wally Bahny

It's not about replacing the hard drive for replacement's sake, it's about ensuring that you don't lose data -- especially when it's not your computer, so you don't always know where the data is.

JCitizen
JCitizen

but that is a fake identity I use on TR; I always wanted to work there,so I picked it with "tongue in cheek". =) My Symantec solution has a vault built in,but I am forced into using it for now, and would rather use something like your's or Comodo's iVault. I still feel Symantec doesn't not really have the customer's total security in mind as of yet. This AV suite seems very unstable so far; and too many inactive trojan files are left behind after scanning.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Thank you for participating in the forum. Yes, I use an Excel spreadsheet with an innocuous name (NOT Password.xls) and password protected. For convenience sake and data redundancy, I have the spreadsheet stored on a RAID mirrored array volume. Tomas Sobek suggested I take a look at KeePassX, a free password 'safe'. I have learned the hard way that you have to manually save the database. I also changed the default setting under Extras->Settings->General tab to 'Automatically save database on exit and workspace locking'. I am not sure that I will like it better than the Excel solution, but I will use it for a while before I come to that conclusion. Antarica, huh? It is pretty cool to be chatting with someone from way down there. Very cool indeed.