How to Delete Everything & Reinstall Windows


There are several circumstances under which you may want to wipe your Windows PC and give it a fresh start. The more obvious is if you're selling or giving away your PC and want to ensure no personal data remains. Another is if you've installed and deleted a lot of applications. While in theory removing an application should remove all traces, in practice detritus tends to remain. In the latter case, wiping the hard drive clean and then reinstalling the operating system will pep up a sluggish system and free space for more data as well.

Things You'll Need

  • Windows installation disk with product key
  • Recordable CDs or external hard drive (optional)
  • Hardware driver disks (if supplied by computer vendor)
  • Ensure there is nothing on the computer you will want again and back up any data you want to keep to recordable CDs or an external drive. Note any information you require to connect to the Internet, such as username and password. Locate your Internet service provider setup disk, if you have one. In the next steps, all your data will be lost.

  • Examine the Windows installation disk or disk envelope and find the product key. If the key is on the disk, copy it to a piece of paper.

  • Insert the disk. If the installation routine begins, cancel it. Running the installation at this point will not delete all your data.

  • Restart the computer, leaving the disk in its drive. The installation disk should take over at this point. If it does not, change your boot sequence so that the PC checks for a bootable disk before using the hard drive's start-up routine. Check your PC manual for model-specific instructions to change the boot sequence.

  • Step through the installation. Depending on the version of Windows you are reinstalling, you may have options such as deleting the Windows partition and creating a new NTFS partition (do these for a totally clean installation). The installation routine will ask for your product key and walk you through every subsequent step. It may cause several reboots.

  • Reinstall your security software (antivirus, firewall) and update the OS to incorporate any patches that Microsoft released since your installation disk was burned--before you got the computer.

Tips & Warnings

  • Windows may request hardware drivers if it doesn't recognize some of your peripherals. The devices won't perform properly, if at all, until you use the hardware driver disks to supply them.
  • This task requires Windows installation media, not the "system recovery" disks sometimes provided by computer vendors.

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