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.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stan Miastkowski

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?