If you’re look­ing to wipe the slate clean, or need to re­cover from ma­jor is­sues, the nu­clear op­tion is al­ways best



Win­dows from scratch— wip­ing your sys­tem drive clean to in­stall a brand-new (and fresh) ver­sion of Win­dows on 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 cloggedup com­puter. In this sec­tion, we walk 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 our sec­tion on the Win­dows Me­dia Cre­ation Tool on page 32 for tips on how to do this. This en­sures a cleaner, more up-to-date in­stal­la­tion from the get-go, 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—in most cases, they should be built in, but not al­ways. Con­sult your PC or mobo man­u­fac­turer’s web­site for these, or visit your Wi-Fi adapter or graph­ics card man­u­fac­turer’s site, and down­load them to your backup drive.

Other things to con­sider: Unin­stall any prod­ucts that re­quire ac­ti­va­tion at this point—this should de­ac­ti­vate the li­censes, and en­able 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 are 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 ap­pears—you need to se­lect the one on which Win­dows is cur­rently in­stalled. By

de­fault, it should be de­tected and se­lected, but ver­ify it’s cor­rect be­fore click­ing “For­mat” (click “Ad­vanced Drive Op­tions” 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 get an “Ex­press Set­tings” prompt—be sure to click the op­tion to cus­tom­ize these, and make sure you 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’re then 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 now con­fig­ures it­self based on your choices, and you’ll see a se­ries of mes­sages ap­pear. Even­tu­ally, you’ll find your­self back at the Win­dows desk­top.

Win­dows 10 users can launch a re­pair in­stall di­rectly from the Me­dia Cre­ation Tool.

Make sure you’ve got net­work and graph­ics driv­ers sourced.

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