Taking the Pain Out of Reinstalling Windows

Mike Halsey MVP
Mar 5, 2011
Updated • Dec 27, 2012

Sometimes there's nothing you can do when your copy of Windows is malfunctioning other than a complete format and reinstall.  This is always a pain, but how can you take the pain out of the process?  Here's my own guide to taking the pain out of reinstalling Windows from scratch.

Part 1 - Preparation

  1. The first thing to think about is do your files and data reside on the same hard disk or partiton as Windows?  How will you know. 
    1. If you click on your log-in name in the top right of the Windows Start Menu you can then right-click on any folder (your Documents folder is a good choice though any should do)
    2. Select it's Properties from the context menu that appears and see where its physical location is.  If it is C:\Users\ then formatting your hard disk will also wipe these files.  You can do two things it this point...
      1. If you have a hard disk or partition in your computer with enough space to move the files there you can select all these folders
        1. Right click on them and select Cut.  NOTE: This works on Windows Vista and Windows 7 ONLY.
        2. Navigate to the hard disk or paritition where you want to move them
        3. Right click and select Paste.  This will move all your files permanently away from your Windows installation, securing them in the event you're forced to reformat your windows disk.
      2. Alternatively you should make sure you back up all your files to a seperate internet or external hard disk
      3. If you are using Windows XP, back up your Internet Favourites in your browser
      4. If you are using Windows Calendar and/or Windows Mail in Windows Vista or Microsoft Outlook, back up your files
  2. The speedy way to install software is to have it all available on your hard drive (not the partition on which Windows itself is installed) and run it from there.  Installing software in this way will be much faster than running it from a disc.
    1. If you have spare hard disk space on a second hard disk or partition in your PC, copy your installers to it.  This could include your copy of Microsoft Office.
    2. You should go to websites such as www.apple.com/itunes, www.microsoft.com/security_essentials, www.ccleaner.com, www.spywareterminator.com and http://download.live.com to get the latest versions of any software you need in advance.  Store these on the same separate hard disk or partition.
  3. Are you connected to the Internet via Wireless?  If so you need to make sure you have a copy of your wireless LAN driver available.  Any other driver Windows should be able to download from Windows Update after reinstallation, but if you can't get online, Windows won't be able to check for drivers. 
    1. If you have the CD with your Wireless LAN driver on, keep this handy.
    2. If you don't have the driver download it from the manufacturer's website.  You can find out what driver you need in Device Manager by looking for your Wireless driver in the Network section and noting the make and model.

Part 2 - Reinstallation

  1. You are now ready to reinstall Windows in a trouble-free manner.  Reboot from your computer from the installation disc for Windows and reinstall, reformatting the hard disk or partition where Windows is
  2. When Windows is reinstalled, after it has installed your hardware drivers, run Windows Update to check for better drivers.  You may need to do this two or three times, rebooting after each set of updates
    1. Check in Device Manager for any missing drivers.  Right-click on them and select Update Driver to download the latest driver from Windows Update.
    2. For drivers that cannot be installed from Windows Update (which in Windows 7 should be zero) you will have to download the latest driver from the manufacturer's website or install it from the CD supplied with your PC
  3. If you have moved your files and data away from Windows using the steps above, repeat those steps exactly so that the reinstalled Windows can see your files in your user folders.  If not you can copy your files and data back from your backup
  4. You can now reinstall each piece of software from the store you created on your hard disk.  Try to avoid having too much software installed, and try to avoid having anything in that duplicates a feature already in Windows.  The less software you have installed, the more stable Windows will be in the long-term

That's really all there is to it, apart from printing this page out first of course!  Now you will have a cleanly installed copy of Windows installed.
The reason for writing this is that many people think that performing a clean reinstallation of Windows is an arduous task best done by professionals.  It really isn't very difficult and shouldn't take, especially with Windows 7, more then a couple of hours maximum from start to finish.  Happy reinstalling all.


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  1. close said on March 7, 2011 at 10:52 am

    A lot of good ideas here but, my way is the best way:
    1. install and set everything up to perfection.
    2. install shadowdefender, and sandbox pretty much all over C drive excluding some specific folders under user profile.

    thats it, no need to reinstall windows, no need to slap a clean image back on. As 99% of C: drive is sandboxed, everytime you reboot its all clean again.

  2. Steven Shaffer said on March 6, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    I have an even easier way than all of this, been doing it for about a year now. I created a 16gb partition and have found portable versions of as much of my daily use software as possible. Then I run them all from this partition. They run much faster being on the hard drive rather than a slow USB thumb drive and I don’t have to worry about losing them if I need to reinstall Windows, nor do I have to reinstall them after. I have acquired a large collection of portable software and sites of where to track down portable software. If there’s something I just can’t find portable I can almost always find another portable program that does the same thing. I also use Windows Live to sync the software on this partition between my desktop and laptop.
    Just an idea…

  3. justme said on March 6, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Before reinstalling Windows: go through your apps and check if there are some specific settings or data that should be exported to another partition or external hard disk, as example outlook adress book, itunes library file, calibre books and such.

    Make a list and double check – its way better than reinstall windows and then find out some app data are missing :)

  4. Abarajithan said on March 6, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Thank you very much everyone for the ideas. Really useful. Gonna try to backup C.

  5. Berttie said on March 5, 2011 at 11:15 pm


    I can reinstall Windows and about 50 applications in under 30 minutes.


    Well first Windows is the only thing installed on C:, everything else goes onto the D: drive and I have an image of C: which Norton Ghost can recover in about 10 minutes.

    I then have to reinstall the antivirus, firewall, Confetch DNS server, defrag app, Symantec SWV, and the printer driver. This takes about 10 minutes.

    Nearly every other application has either been virtualized using VMware’s ThinApp Client so the only thing I have to do is create a toolbar for the folder containing the links to these applications back onto the Taskbar – about 40 applications ‘re-installed’ in 30 seconds! I have a few apps that don’t function well with ThinApp so use Symantec’s Workspace Virtualization to virtualize these. Apps take a few minutes longer to re setup with SWV.

  6. Bob said on March 5, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    use ninite to install multiple software easily.

  7. Yoav said on March 5, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    1 – use nerobackup to create image of C on external drive
    2 – when computer doesn’t boot or gets messed up then restore image from external drive.

    This type of recovery is perfect and easy and takes 15 minutes. You get all your programs back just like before.

  8. dwarf_tossr said on March 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    1.) Re-install Windows.
    2.) Install only the bare minimum apps you cannot live without.
    3.) Restart and boot into Hyren’s boot CD.
    4.) Make image of windows partition with Norton Ghost.
    5.) Keep image some place safe, preferably on a separate storage drive.

    months later….

    6.) When you want to re-install Windows again, take 10 minutes to boot into boot CD again and apply the ghost image to system partition.
    7.) Pat yourself on the back for being so clever.

  9. Abarajithan said on March 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    But I should install 100s of softwares once again. Isn’t that so?

    And, Is there any way to backup all my Windows settings and Program settings?

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