Tip & How-To about Computers & Internet

How to Maintain your Computer: Big Cleanup (Windows)

In my previous tip, I gave you my schedule for computer maintenance. Hopefully it'll serve you as well as it's served me. However, I didn't get to mention the big cleanup that I do. This one is the most involved, and will take a long time to explain, so settle in. Be sure to read this ENTIRE tip before attempting it, as it involves several things that can be devastating to your computer if done improperly. You have been warned.

Yearly or Bi-Yearly cleaning:

You'll need: That external drive again, make/model of your computer, recovery disk (if applicable) or recovery partition (if applicable) or operating system disk.

This cleanup is the biggest, but it's also the most important and the most dangerous. It involves restoring your computer back to factory settings. This means that you lose EVERYTHING on your computer, which is why I mentioned backups in my last tip. Depending on your materials, this is done different ways, but it all starts out the same.
I suggest doing this every year, but it's a tedious process so it's understandable if you do it every other year, but I wouldn't put it off too much longer than that.

The first thing to do is to make another image of your harddrive (Tip located here). This will serve as your backup in case anything goes wrong. Next, look through your programs again and make sure you have the installers/product keys/cd's for ALL of the ones that are still installed (by this point, you should have weeded out or kept backups of the rest of the installers). If you miss something, that's ok, you can always get it again later. If you can't find a product key for something you might have an issue. You may need to find the receipt to request a new one.

Next, make sure ALL of your data is backed up. Put everything on the external drive. The more you put, the easier it is to get it off again. I suggest (in addition to the image) to download the system rescue cd and copy your entire C drive to the external drive. I'll make a tip for that as well.

Now, go online and visit your computer manufacturer's website. hp.com, dell.com, gateway.com, etc. Search around on the site for the support and downloads section (it's different on every site, so I can't even give you general guidelines. It'll be visible there though, with some searching you can find it). When you find the Driver Download page, you'll have to put in your model number and operating system. Download all of the drivers and put them on your external drive (or better yet, on a USB stick or a CD). You might need them later, and you might not be able to get online to get them, so it's good to have them.

Finally, before we format/reinstall, MAKE SURE ALL YOUR DATA IS BACKED UP!!! When I say format, I mean gone. Forever. Double check. Triple check. There have been too many times when horrible things have happened for me to say check once and be done with it.

Now here's where our paths diverge. Depending on whether you have a rescue cd, a rescue partition, or an operating system CD.

Rescue CD: Usually comes with the computer when you purchase it. Open the disk drive and put the CD in, then reboot your computer. It should boot to the CD drive automatically. If it goes into Windows again, just restart again and try hitting buttons at the BIOS screen until you get the boot menu (usually it's Esc, Del, F7, F2, or F1, but it'll say on the bios screen as it's booting). This will boot the recovery CD. Then, follow the prompts to restore the computer to factory settings. Do not repair it, restore it.

Rescue Partition: This is becoming more and more common. To get to the rescue partition, press F8 when booting over and over. Typically you'll have to hit it AFTER the BIOS screen, but BEFORE windows starts to load. You'll get the windows boot menu, and there should be a Recovery or Rescue or Restore entry in there (NOT safe mode). Boot to that, then follow the prompts to restore the computer to factory settings.

Operating System Disk: This is the hardest, but it will be the most rewarding. Make sure you have the product key for the operating system, then boot to the CD just like was explained in the rescue cd section. It will boot to the windows installer. Follow the prompts just like before, but when you get to the screen where it asks which partition you want to install it to, DELETE ALL THE PARTITIONS, then SELECT THE FREE SPACE! This will give you the cleanest installation possible, but you'll also be missing all your drivers. Then, follow the prompts to install Windows. When asked, input the product key and the rest of the information.

Now everyone should be into Windows. For the OS disk people, open up your driver folder (where you installed all the drivers for your system way back before the format) and install the drivers for the WIFI and LAN, so that you can get on the internet.

Next, run windows update. When it's done, you'll have to reboot. Run it again, then reboot. Run it AGAIN, then reboot. Run it until you have no updates left. OS disk people, if you're still missing drivers, install them from your folder and keep running windows update.

After you're all up-to-date, re-install your antivirus from the installer file you backed up. Update that, then reboot again.

Now you have a new, clean, shiny, empty windows installation to play around with. It's just like getting a new computer! Go back through your backups and replace all your data, re-install all your programs, and get everything back to the way you like it.

Then you're done! As you use the computer you'll find that you forgot to install a program, or you lost a license key, both of which can be remedied. But think, you just got a "completely new" computer. Yes, the hardware might be outdated a bit, but it'll run like a champ. Even if you have to buy a license key for Office at about 200 dollars, you're making out great.

If you follow this guide, you'll have a computer that lasts for ages. As I might have mentioned, my computer is nearing 8 years old. The hardware (namely the mouse) is failing, one of the USB ports doesn't work, but it'll run nearly every new game that I want it to. It'll play movies, get me online, do everything I want it to do. It's not new and shiny, it's scratched up, but I've made it last. If you follow the instructions, barring any strange incidents you can do this as well. Best of luck!!

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