A full, destructive reinstall
If you’re looking to wipe the slate clean, or need to recover from major issues, the nuclear option is always the best one
Reinstalling Windows from scratch – namely, wiping your system drive completely clean to install a brand, spanking new (and fresh) version of Windows on to it – is the ultimate choice for anyone looking to revive a slow-running PC or resolve a major, non-hardware issue, such as those caused by malware or a clogged up computer, In this final section we’ll step you through the entire process.
Ideally you should have a recent and full backup of your PC, created using either File History or the Windows Backup and Restore tool before you begin, that way you’ll lose the minimum of content. A full reinstall really is destructive – nothing left on your C drive will exist once you’ve finished. You should ensure you have the latest installation media for your target version of Windows - see the ‘Reinstall Windows’ feature from issue 139 for details on how to do this. This will ensure a cleaner, more up-to-date installation from the off, thus saving you time bringing it fully up to date once the installation has completed.
It’s also worth sourcing networking and graphics drivers now rather than relying on Windows to provide them for you – in most cases, they should be built in, but not always. Consult your PC or motherboard manufacturer’s website for these, or visit your Wi-Fi adaptor or graphics card manufacturer’s site – download them to your backup drive.
Other things to consider: uninstall any products that require activation now – this should deactivate the licences and allow you to use them with your new install without any issues. Also, be sure to have product keys and program installers to hand.
STARTING THE REINSTALL PROCESS
A full destructive reinstall should always be started by booting from your installation media, be it a DVD or USB flash drive. The actual reinstall process doesn’t differ much across Windows 7, 8.1 or 10. You’ll be asked to verify your language, location and keyboard are set
correctly, then it’s a case of clicking Install Now. If prompted, enter your product key or click Skip if you’re running Windows 10 on a PC you upgraded during the free period. When asked what type of installation you wish to perform, choose the Custom option.
Next comes potentially the trickiest part of the process. A list of drives and partitions will appear – you need to select the one Windows is currently installed on. By default, it should be detected and selected, but verify it’s correct before clicking Format (click the advanced Drive Options button if it’s not visible). Click OK, then once formatted, verify the drive is still selected and click Next.
That’s the technical stuff pretty much done. You’ll see a checklist of tasks to be performed – just sit back and wait. One thing to note: when Windows reboots, you may see the ‘press any key’ prompt again to boot from CD or DVD. Don’t press anything if that happens, just let the installer continue.
SET UP POST-INSTALL
The post-setup prompt begins with Windows 7 users being prompted for their product key, then it’s a case of setting up a user account and you’re off and running. Windows 8.1 users will get an Express Settings prompt – be sure to click the option to customise these and go through them carefully.
Post-Creators Update, Windows 10 no longer gives you an Express Settings option. For now, confirm your location and keyboard, set up your network if required and choose ‘personal use’ when prompted. You can either sign in with your Microsoft account or click ‘Offline account’ > ‘Maybe later’ if you plan to stick with the old-style Windows 7 local user account.
If you opt for the Microsoft account option now is a good time to set up a PIN to speed up future logins (note: the PIN is tied, specifically, to this PC, and you can always bypass it using your regular account password should you forget it at any point).
You’ll then be asked to set up Cortana – this is where Windows 10’s notorious privacy settings come into play, so review all of the options carefully, flicking the slider to Off for any you don’t need or use.
That’s the end of the setup process – Windows will now configure itself based on each of your choices and you’ll see a series of messages appear on-screen. Eventually, when all is ready, you’ll find yourself back at the familiar Windows desktop screen.
“Next comes potentially the trickiest part of the process. A list of drives and partitions will appear – you need to select the one Windows is currently installed on”
Windows 10 users can launch a repair install directly from the Media Creation Tool.
Windows 7 and 8.1 users will find a large number of updates waiting to be installed after reinstalling.
Make sure you’ve got network and graphics drivers sourced.