On occasion, I find myself attempting a tuneup on a computer that is beyond tuning. If your registry is corrupt, you have unnecessary programs run at start-up and check disk initiates every time you boot up, you have a problem.
If there are too many pop-ups to navigate the desktop — and even when you can, nothing happens when you click an icon — then a tuneup is not the answer. Sure, it could probably be fixed, but it would take longer than another option and you might miss something anyway.
When there are that many problems in a system and it is that unstable, it would take less time to reformat your hard drive and reinstall Windows than it would to attempt a repair. It also makes better sense. With the latter, you would not even be certain you fixed everything.
With a reinstall, you would not fix what ails the system, you would be erasing it. It will get rid of any malware and possible viruses, toss the trojans, the temps, clean the cache and give you a fresh version of the registry.
It may seem a bit intimidating to take on such a task, but it is really the more sensible choice. It is even more so now, with the release of Windows 7. It is a good time to upgrade from XP or Vista, a must if you still have the Millennium Edition.
The upgrade from Vista to Win 7 won’t hurt at all. You’ll even get to carry over your settings. With XP though, you’ll need to wipe everything. If you’re just replacing XP with itself, depending upon your choices, your data may also be saved. As much as I liked working with XP, this new operating system is a pleasure and I don’t have the regrets I had with Vista.
You will hear from the naysayers that Windows 7 is nothing but Vista with a fresh coat of paint. I say it is more. They gave it a better engine with more horsepower. It now runs like a race car instead of a jalopy.
Should you decide to go with a reinstallation, you first need to make sure to save what you don’t want to lose. I’ve had clients ask me where their address book was or that their Favorites or Bookmarks were gone after I wiped their hard drive. Sure they were. If you don’t save it, it won’t be there.
All it takes is an external hard drive or a couple of DVDs, depending on how much data you want to back up. You might just copy the entire My Docs folder. Alternatively, look for My Pictures, My Videos or My Music. Give the desktop a once over just in case there is a stray file or two out there.
You could use a wild-card search to be sure. For example, in the search box, type *.*jpg if you want to see all the jpegs in the system. Use *.*doc to find Word documents.
If you have a dedicated backup utility, now is the time to use it. Vista has a program to help you with the task. Pick and choose carefully what you decide to keep.
Tools like Norton Ghost or Acronis True Image will create an image or a snapshot of your hard drive, operating system and all.
But this, too, warrants caution. If you are reformatting because of problems with your system, you will be transferring the problems with an image, defeating the purpose of the reinstallation. You’d be better off just copying what you need manually, unless you created an image back before you had issues.
If you plan to upgrade to Win 7, then the image won’t do you any good. Just back up your files.
If you want a clean fix with the same operating system, it usually works one of two ways. PC manufacturers either ship a system restoration disk with the computer or include a rescue partition on the hard drive. If you didn’t get a disk, look for a D drive under My Computer. It should say either Recovery or Rescue.
Before you initiate a reformat, make sure you have something to put back on the hard drive in the form of an operating system; otherwise, you’re just creating a doorstop.
Start to finish should take two to three hours, again depending on how much you have to save.
It is important to note that you will have to reinstall any programs you had. You can’t copy a program.
Once you get going, Windows does most of the work. You’ll get the occasional question about time zone, computer and network name, but for the most part it is on auto pilot.
You might check out a web site or two to gain some confidence before you begin. Just Google, “Windows reinstallation” and choose.
There is no down side to this. Your system will be cleaner and faster than it has been in a long time. You can live with a corrupt computer, replace it or just reinstall Windows. Have a plan, back up what needs backing, take a deep breath and get to work.
Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville.
His column appears biweekly. Arthur welcomes your computer questions and ideas for future columns.