Reinstall Windows

No matter which version of Windows you run, at times your PC will start to become unstable — especially if you often install and uninstall software or change hardware. System lockups or the dreaded Blue Screen of Death can spoil your day.

Diagnosing specific problems can be difficult, even with the help of Windows’ built-in diagnostics or popular commercial utilities such as Symantec’s Norton SystemWorks. It’s important to remember, however, that accumulated installed software — not hardware — is the most common cause of Windows headaches.

If thorny Windows problems have you stymied, consider ‘refreshing’ Windows. The more you use your PC, the greater the chance that some key Windows files have become corrupt. A fresh installation isn’t guaranteed to solve all your problems, but it’s an important first step. In general, the steps below work with all versions: 95, 98, 98 SE, NT, Me, 2000, and XP Home Edition and Professional.

1. Do a complete backup. Reinstalling Windows can make major changes in your PC, so back up your system before you begin.

2a. Start the reinstallation (if you lack a full Windows CD-ROM). Many computers manufactured in the last couple of years ship with a ‘Windows Restore’ CD-ROM (the exact terminology varies by PC maker - see here for a screenshot) instead of a fully-fledged Windows disc. The features available on the CD-ROM also vary. Some merely return your system to its original state, wiping out your data and all the programs you’ve installed. More com­mon is a disc with several options, in-cluding the ability to reinstall only the key Windows files. This is the option you should try first.

2b. Start the reinstallation (if you have a full Windows CD-ROM). If you upgraded to a newer version of Windows, or your PC came with a full Windows CD-ROM, reinstalling Windows should be easy. You don’t have to exit Windows to begin; just insert your Windows CD into the drive.

If you’re reinstalling Windows 98 and you have CD autorun enabled, the disc will display a screen that has no install option. To begin the install, go to Start-Run, enter D:\setup.exe (replace the D with the drive letter of your CD-ROM drive), and click OK (See here for a screenshot).

If you’re reinstalling Windows Me or XP, the installation screen should come up automatically as soon as the CD runs (see here for an example). If the screen doesn’t appear, or if you have CD autorun disabled, follow the directions in the paragraph above to run setup.exe.

3. Complete the rein­stallation. Read each screen carefully as it comes up. Though you’ll have fewer choices than you would during a new installation, some screens require your input (you’ll usually need to re-enter the registration number). XP users may have to activate Windows again. You may also have to reinstall some software. The entire process usually takes 30 to 45 minutes.

4. Check over and update the reinstallation. Make sure that all your programs run correctly and your data is intact (unless something went very wrong, it should be). Then run Windows Update (Start-Windows Update). Download and install all the critical system updates.

5. If it doesn’t work: if reinstalling Windows doesn’t solve your problems, it’s time to consider reformatting your hard drive and doing a ‘clean’ Windows installation. This approach requires making a complete backup, saving all your data, and reinstalling your applications. You’ll also need to have the original install discs with drivers for your hardware. The clean install process is complex and time-consuming, and we don’t have space to cover it here. However, this approach provides your best bet of getting everything running normally. Check out for more information.

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