How to Wipe a Computer Clean to the Original Install

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Circumstances will arise when restoring a computer to its original factory configuration is the best way, and sometimes the only way, to correct a serious Windows problem or cure a particularly nasty viral infection. There are also times when a clean start is needed to prepare a computer to be gifted to another person or a charitable cause. Starting over is easy to do with a little careful thought and preparation.

Things You'll Need

  • USB flash drive
  • All installation or set up disks
  • All software keycodes and/or licenses
  • Access to the Internet
  • Back up your personal documents. Insert a flash drive into the USB port. Right-click on "Start" and then click "Explore." Browse through all your hard drive files looking for any personal documents that have value. Transfer these files to the flash drive. Back up your email files, too. Check with the email software maker's website to find out what kind of email-related files to search for and save.

  • Open C:/Program Files. Take a screenshot of the contents of this directory by pressing "Alt"+"Print Screen." Go to "Start," "Accessories," "Paint" and open a window. Click "Paste" and drop the saved screenshot on the work area. Save or print this picture to remind you what software you had on your hard drive. If you want to restore any of these programs, you will have to do so manually. You cannot save programs to a flash drive and transfer them to another machine.

  • Take inventory of all the installation or set up disks you have on hand. You must have the correct version of the Windows set up disk, as well as a set up disk for MS Office and other major software titles. These set up disks are usually associated with keycodes, found on the software packaging. Software purchased online often has an authorization or license code that is required for free reinstallation. You must locate all the set up disks and their proper keycodes and licenses before continuing this process!

  • Download a free utility called Everest (see Resources). Run the utility and record the make and model number of all the devices Everest finds on your machine, including any driver download websites.

  • Shut down your computer. Place the Windows set up disk in the CD tray and reboot. When prompted, press any key to boot from CD. Follow the Windows set up instructions carefully. Do not turn off your computer until the process of reinstalling Windows is completed.

  • Rebuild any drivers that may now be missing from your computer. Go to "Start," "Control Panel," "System," "Hardware," "Device Manager" and look for any devices flagged with a yellow caution sign. These devices are missing drivers. Refer to your Everest device list and download drivers from manufacturer websites, or go to the computer maker's website and download driver packages for your make and model.

  • Reinstall any software programs, virus protection, and personal documents as desired to finish the project.

Tips & Warnings

  • Windows Vista saves some of the old hard drive contents in a special folder on the new installation. Delete this folder before giving the computer to someone else.
  • After you begin reinstalling Windows 98/2000/XP, you will not be able to recover the data from the hard drive except through a professional recovery operation.

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