Clean Install

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  • Title: Clean Install
  • Url: clean-install
  • Summary: My process for formatting and re-installing software
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Recently, I've been asked to perform a clean install on friend's laptop/desktop PCs. I reckon over the past few years I've installed an operating system over 100 times, of all different flavours. Off the top of my head, I've sat waiting for the following to complete:

  • Windows 98se
  • Windows 2000
  • Windows XP
  • Windows Server 2003
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows 7
  • Various Linux Distros (mainly ubuntu)
  • Smoothwall
Microsoft's Operating Systems are a firm favourite, apart from Millennium Edition - but I forgive them for that. Regardless of the Operating System in question, the process is pretty much the same for all:
  1. Copy all relevant files to another drive (network/external)
  2. Format the hard drive
  3. Pop-in the O/S CD/DVD and follow the instructions
  4. Restart
  5. Install the latest drivers (usually in a specific order)
  6. Restart
  7. Install updates
  8. Install software required
  9. Optimise
  10. Defrag
  11. Test
To elaborate, 1 should include all of the user(s) files which are located in C:\Documents and Settings or C:\Users by default on Microsoft Windows. I also grab any application specific files that would be needed, such as Save Games and configuration files. Then check for drivers that are lying around - Dell tend to put theirs in C:\Drivers or C:\DELL - so copy them to another drive too.

Step 2 is fairly straight forward and can be combined with 3 - as many Operating System installations allow you to format the drive(s) during the process. If you feel it's necessary, run a format utility on the drive to wipe them prior to installation - DBAN is good for this. The installation process can vary from 15 minutes or so, all the way up to a couple of hours. Microsoft seem to be doing better these days, as I've found the installation times with Vista and Windows 7 are far quicker than those of XP and older versions.

A restart is essential after installation. You may need to change the boot sequence within the BIOS on older hardware, to ensure it doesn't perform the whole process over again.

Once you're into your Operating System of choice, it's then a case of ascertaining which Drivers are needed. Usually, the more recent the Operating System, the less drivers you'll need to install - this is due to the vendors packaging many popular Drivers with the O/S.

You have 2 options whilst installing the Drivers - either restart in-between each install, or skip the restarts and wait until all are installed. The former is preferred, as it ensures each Driver is installed correctly and loaded prior to moving onto the next. It also allows you to resolve conflicts quicker if required.

Then you can move onto the updates. Linux/Mac fans would argue that they can get by without updates, but Microsoft users are veteran update installers. Choose wisely, opt for all critical and security updates, then trawl through the optional ones and ascertain whether or not you'd need them. I recommend Microsoft's Update website over the built-in Automatic Updates for pre-Vista O/S's, as it includes all Microsoft Updates, not just those specific to the O/S.

Step 8 is specific to your requirements, but if you've restored a PC to factory settings - now is the time to remove the excess crap that many Manufacturers install. Then add any additional software that you need. My current suite includes:

  • Adobe Reader
  • CCleaner
  • Combined Community Codec Pack
  • CuteFTP
  • CutePDF
  • Fiddler2
  • Google Chrome
  • Helicon ISAPI Rewrite Lite
  • ImgBurn
  • iTunes
  • Fireworks
  • Expression Web 2
  • Office 2007
  • SQL Server 2008
  • Notepad++
  • Skype
  • Tortoise SVN
  • Visual Studio 2008
  • WinMerge
  • XML Notepad
For my servers, it's usually just updates and then the software required for the Server's role.

Then move onto step 9, which for me involves running msconfig and removing startup programs not needed. Then look at all of the services and disable any unnecessary ones. Finally, tailor the settings to your needs, such as Folder Options within Control Panel and the Taskbar/Start Menu settings.

Finally, give the PC a Defrag. Afterall, it's just had a kicking in the hard drive department. Then it's a case of testing everything works as you'd expect and start using the machine.

Let me know if you do anything different and any interesting stories of your clean install encounters.

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