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 to install a fresh version of Windows on to it – is the ultimate choice for anyone looking to revive a slow PC or resolve a major, non-hardware issue. Here we’ll step you through the entire process – if you’re simply looking to repair an existing Windows install, turn to our guide on page 70.
Before you begin, make sure your PC is fully backed up by following the ‘Back up Windows 10’ tutorial on page 43 of issue 148. A full reinstall really is destructive – nothing left on your C drive will exist once you’ve finished.
If you’d like to transfer selected program settings from old installation to new, download the portable CloneApp tool (www.mirinsoft.com) to your backup drive. Once complete launch the tool by right-clicking CloneApp.exe and choosing ‘Run as administrator’ and go through its list of 247 supported apps to see if yours are there. If any are, tick the box beside each one you want to save the settings for. If any apps aren’t covered – or you want to back up additional settings – then choose Custom where you manually specify the files, folders and Registry keys where your program settings are stored. You should also follow the step-by-step guide on page 71 to ensure you have the latest installation media for your target version of Windows. This will ensure a cleaner, more up-to-date installation from the off.
It’s also worth sourcing networking and graphics drivers now rather than relying on Windows. Consult your PC or motherboard manufacturer’s website for these, or visit your Wi-Fi adapter or graphics card manufacturer’s site – download them to your backup drive.
Uninstall any products that require activation – this should deactivate the licences and allow you to use them with your new install. Be sure to have product keys and program installers to hand.
flash drive. Check the step-by-step guide on page 71 for some pointers. The 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 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. You’ll see a checklist of tasks to be performed – sit back and wait. When Windows reboots, you may a ‘press any key’ prompt to boot from CD or DVD. Ignore and 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. Windows 8.1 users will get an Express Settings prompt – 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 configure itself based on your choices and you’ll see a series of messages appear on-screen. When all is ready, you’ll find yourself back at the familiar Windows desktop screen of a fresher, faster, smoother-running PC.
“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.
Make sure you’ve got network and graphics drivers sourced.