Now that you’ve cleaned Windows of unwanted applications, you can reinstall the programs you do want. Start with your security software. Don’t try to install two programs at once, and always reboot the machine when prompted.
Once you have everything installed, take some time to make Windows your own. Choose a new wallpaper, change your power and screensaver settings and so on.
The final countdown
At this point, use backup software and an external hard drive to create an image of your internal hard drive’s contents. Should you ever need to reinstall Windows again, you can use this backup as your recovery tool. Again, we recommend EaseUs Todo Backup, although other good programs are available. Whatever you use, be sure to create an emergency boot disc with it.
Now it’s time to restore your data. If you used a Windows 7 retail or upgrade DVD, the data will be in a folder called C\Windows.old. If you used a manufacturer’s recovery tool, your files might be in a special folder, perhaps C\Backup. Otherwise, your data may no longer be on your hard drive.
If such a folder exists on your hard drive, open it in Windows Explorer and navigate to its User (Windows 7 and Vista) or ‘Documents and Settings’ folder (Windows XP).
If the folder doesn’t exist, you’ll have to get it from the clone or image backup. Create a folder on the internal drive called Backup (in C\Backup). Plug in the external drive with the clone, then copy the contents of that drive’s User folder (Windows 7 and Vista) or ‘Documents and Settings’ folder (XP) to C\Backup. Unmount the external drive (using the System Tray’s Safely Remove Hardware tool). Leave Windows Explorer open to the C\Backup folder.
You should now have a Windows Explorer window open and displaying multiple folders, one for each user account. For convenience, let’s call this window the ‘backup location’.
Open a second Windows Explorer window and navigate to C\Users (Windows 7 and Vista) or C\Documents and Settings (XP). We’ll call this window the ‘proper location’, because it’s where your data will eventually be stored.
Open the User folders in both the backup and proper locations. You will see additional folders, mostly the same ones, inside each. Drag the folders you want to keep from backup to proper: Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos. Their names may be prefaced with ‘My’. Windows XP users needn’t worry about the lack of Music, Pictures and Videos folders; they’re in My Documents.
Don’t move AppData (Windows 7 and Vista) or ‘Application Data and Local Settings’ (Windows XP), although you probably won’t see these hidden folders anyway. Use your own judgment about the other folders, but be careful when merging any folders.
Eventually, you’ll be able to delete your backup or Windows.old folder. Wait a few months until you’re sure it contains nothing that you’ll need again.
Reformatting and restoring a PC isn’t fun. You have to back up your data, reformat the hard drive, install Windows, track down drivers, reload programs, restore your data and pull out clumps of hair over the things you neglected to save. But when your PC becomes so sluggish or malware-infested that no optimisation utility can help, sometimes the only remedy is a wipe and restore.
A clean installation is also an opportunity to return your PC to its factory state, and then to make it better. You’ll be able to implement a backup system to thwart future disasters, organise your files, cut performance-clogging security programs to a minimum and – above all – ensure that if you ever need to reformat and restore again, the process will be a lot easier.