If your PC or laptop doesn’t work as well as it once did, or perhaps doesn’t work at all, reinstalling Windows could be the solution. That phrase might fill you with dread, but with our step-by-step guide to reinstalling Windows 7, your computer will soon be as good as new.
(We also have a guide to reinstalling Windows 8.)
It’s a fact of life that PCs invariably get slower with age. Even if you decide to give your computer a spring clean, defragmenting the disk and uninstalling software that you don’t use, rarely will it end up as good as new. However, reinstalling Windows will restore it to its former glory. Reinstallation might also be the only solution if your PC refuses to boot, system restore won’t work, and you’ve been able to discount any hardware fault. Reinstalling Windows is also necessary if you decide to swap your hard disk for a solid state disk (see how to upgrade your laptop disk to an SSD).
Here we’re going to show you how to reinstall Windows 7 from a DVD. However, some PCs allow you to reinstall Windows from a separate recovery partition on your hard disk and, in that case, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Alternatively, if you’ve lost your Windows 7 disc and your PC doesn’t have a recovery partition, take a look at our guide to reinstalling Windows without a disc.
How to reinstall Windows 7
1. Reinstalling Windows will result in all the data being lost from your hard disk so it’s essential to make a copy of everything you want to preserve. Depending on the size of these documents, you could use an external hard drive, a networked drive, or a stack of DVDs.
2. Later, you’ll need to activate Windows using the product key (five groups of five characters) so make sure you can find it on a Microsoft sticker somewhere on your PC. If there’s no sticker or it’s illegible, you can find it using Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder. (When you install it, be careful not to also install the optional search bar.)
3. Shut down your PC, put the Windows disc in the CD/DVD slot and start it up. All being well, it should boot from this disk. If it boots to Windows normally, you’ll have to use the BIOS menus to make your PC boot from a disk – see How to enter the BIOS for instructions.
4. Windows Setup will start and, on the first screen you should specify your preferred language, time and currency format, and the nationality of your keyboard. You’ll also be shown a screen on which you’re required to agree to the licence conditions.
5. You’ll now be asked “Which type of installation do you want?” and both options will be explained. Choose the “Custom (advanced)” option will take you back to the way your PC was when it left the factory.
6. Next you’ll be asked “Where do you want to install Windows?”. Sometimes just one partition will be shown, in which case just click on Next. If multiple partitions are displayed, select the first primary partition (usually the largest) before clicking on Next.
7. Windows 7 will now be installed and progress will be reported in the list of actions and the progress bar. This could take some time. Often it’ll seem that the installation has got stuck in the “Completing installation” phase so be patient.
8. Next, you’ll be guided in setting up a user account. Also, you’ll need to provide the product key that you identified in Step 2. This will be used later, when you’re online, to activate the new installation of Windows.
9. Follow the instructions to select security options (we suggest accepting the default setting), the time and date format, and perhaps to connect to a wireless network and join a Homegroup if these are detected.
10. Windows will now start but the desktop will look different and rather empty. Your next job, therefore, is to re-install the various applications that you use on a regular basis. Resist the temptation to reinstall everything or you’ll be heading for a cluttered system again.
11. Now go to Device Manager – search for it in the Start menu – and check that drivers have been installed for all the hardware. If you see and devices with an exclamation mark, go to the manufacturer’s website and download the latest versions. You should find the appropriate drivers by using your laptop’s exact model code; for a PC, you’ll need to know the motherboard make and model, and the model numbers of other key components such as the graphics card.
Even if you see no problems, it's worth installing manufacturer-specific drivers (rather than the generic Microsoft drivers which Windows will have installed) for components such as the graphics card, motherboard chipset, laptop touchpad etc.
Plus, there may be manufacturer utilities (especially for laptops) which won't be reinstalled with a ‘clean’ copy of Windows. For example, some laptops have utilities which prevent the battery charging to 100 percent, prolonging its life.
12. Now, using the backup you created in Step 1, copy all your files back onto your PC. You’ll probably also want to select your favourite wallpaper and make all the other changes necessary to customise your PC the way you like it.