Don’t Install PC-Craptastic Crapware, Instead Re-install Windows

PC Craptastic BoxIn the free advice department, let me suggest that you not install additional, questionable software to fix your buggy, slow, infected Windows computer. Over time you may have installed and uninstalled various (free, trial, bloatware) applications, clicked links you shouldn’t have, opened email, downloaded, and shared files you shouldn’t have, etc.

The answer to a slow and infected machine is not to install even more dubious software. Instead, the answer is the opposite.

Re-install Windows, Have a Plan

Format the hard drive, and re-install Windows and only the applications you really trust and use. I do this about once a year on my main desktop. It’s not too tough but you have to have time, a plan, and a few things on hand. I have multiple computers, including warm/cold spares, tablets and smartphones, so I’m not lacking for backup communication devices during the time it takes to rebuild my main computer. I also rebuild my spares and test machines, but these rebuilds are not as time-sensitive as rebuilding my main workstation.

Completely Erase or even Replace the Hard Drive

Recently, I’ve begun using Darik’s Boot And Nuke (DBAN, www.dban.org) to completely erase/delete the contents of the hard disk before formatting, partitioning and installing an operating system. Since I have multiple computers, and some of them are several years old, I may have had several version of Windows, or even Linux, on them. Fully wiping the hard drive with something similar to DBAN helps ensure that residual files do not interfere with your fresh install. If your hard drive is reaching the end of its expected life, you could replace it.

Installation Media & License

There are some complications to re-installing Windows of course. Since Windows was most likely installed by the OEM, you may not have the installation media (DVD), or the Windows license key. I keep a copy of the operating systems that I install (Windows XP Pro, 7 Pro, 8.1 Pro) as well as Microsoft Office on DVD. I also keep applications on my shared drive. You can extract the embedded OEM Windows license key using a tool such as Belarc Advisor. Your OEM machine probably has multiple partitions including a recovery partition. Before proceeding with flattening the machine, decide if you want to keep these partitions and the OEM method of recovering/fixing your computer. For example, you may not want to wipe out the recovery partition while the computer is under warranty.

Before re-installing Windows, you might want to create a partition for backups/recovery. After installing Windows and additional apps and updates, you can create a custom recovery image and save it to this partition.

Open the Desktop Box

If you have a desktop versus a laptop, now is good time to verify that all of the fans are working. You can also open the box and use a small shop vac to remove dust and spider webs. This is also a good time to replace the CMOS battery, the video card, memory… you get the idea.

Steps

  1. Obviously, you have to fully backup all files that you want to keep on something such as a USB thumb drive. Take your time on this step.
  2. Wipe/format the drive(s) with something aggressive such as DBAN
  3. Install Windows
  4. Install other applications such as Office 2013, Adobe Creative Suite, Google Chrome
  5. Connect to the Internet to download and install updates

Risk

Before performing any of the steps in the post, do your own research into the process. Consult a trusted friend. There are risks and you have to fully understand them before you follow the comments in this post. This process requires that you have a plan, have various resources on hand, and have the time to complete it. Although it’s a lot easier to simply install some random crapware/ransomware…don’t do it!

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