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How to clean install Windows the right way

Eric Geier | March 22, 2016
Performing a Windows reinstall can make your PC feel like new, but you'll want to do some prep work first to avoid losing precious data and software.

Also browse through your main hard drive (typically the C drive) to see if you’ve saved any personal files or documents in unusual places.

Prep programs for reinstall

Consider making a list of all the installed programs you want to reinstall later on the clean Windows installation. To refresh your memory on what programs you have currently installed on your PC, take a look at your Start Menu (or Start Screen in Windows 8 and 8.1) or navigate to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features.

For each program, figure out how you’d reinstall it. Is it offered free via its website? If you purchased it, do you have a disc or can you log in to the site where you purchased it to download again, and do you have any required product key to activate it? You’ll want to answer these questions before wiping out the programs during a clean install.

For commercial software you’ve purchased, such as Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, you may be able to retrieve the product keys stored on your computer using a tool like ProduKey or Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder. After reinstalling Windows, you may be able to download a setup file or a trial of the same version of the software and then activate it using that retrieved product key. Some software, such as Microsoft Office 2013 and later and some antivirus programs, allows you to log into its website to download the setup file and get the product key.

You can get more details on how to download and reinstall Microsoft Office from the Office website.

For each program, check to see if you need to save or export additional data for restoration after you reinstall Windows. Some programs also store data in the cloud, which typically allows you to simply log in to restore your data after reinstalling the software on your clean Windows build. For instance, Chrome and Firefox each allow you to sync your data to an online profile. The syncing stores your bookmarks, saved passwords, and settings online.

If you don’t use your web browser’s syncing option, you may want to manually save your bookmarks before wiping your system. Internet Explorer’s bookmarks are saved in the Favorites folder of your user directory, which we already discussed how to back up. Also consider exporting your saved passwords if you’re not utilizing a browser sync option. WebBrowserPassView is a quick and easy way to round up passwords stored by all the popular browsers.

If you have Windows 8, 8.1, or 10, consider signing into a Microsoft account if you haven’t already. Microsoft accounts let you sync your Windows apps (moderns apps, not traditional applications) and their settings, your Windows theme, your Internet Explorer settings, your saved passwords, and other miscellaneous Windows settings across multiple computers. Signing into Windows after the clean install with that same Microsoft account should restore these settings, making restoration a breeze.

 

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