The Windows 7 clean install survival guide

October 19, 2009

The Windows 7 clean install survival guideIf you are upgrading to Windows 7 from XP, or if you are upgrading from Vista but changing editions (for example Vista Home Premium to Windows 7 Ultimate rather than Windows 7 Home Premium), you will need to carry out a clean install. Unless you are going to partition your drive, this will mean reformatting your hard drive and wiping out all the data on it. Here are some pointers to minimize the hassle this causes.

Physically transferring the data

Getting your current files and programs up and running in Windows 7 is a lengthy process: twice as long as transferring from one machine to another as you will need to back-up, then restore the data. The options include:

Copy to an internal hard drive: if you have two separate drives, and enough spare space on the drive which doesn’t house Windows, this is the simplest option. As obvious as it may see, you’ll need to take care to then install Windows 7 on the correct drive.

Copy to an external hard drive: this is likely to be the best solution for anyone with more than a few gigabytes of data. If you don’t already have an external drive for backing up, it’s not a bad investment anyway.

Burn to disk: Aside from the blank discs, this won’t bring much additional cost, though it’s likely to be a bit slower than the hard drive method. On this occasion it’s best to avoid false economies and instead opt for decent brand-name discs and maybe even make two copies of each disc to protect against scratches causing problems.

USB drive: This is another cheap option, though you are fairly limited in the amount of data you transfer.

E-mail as an attachment to yourself: This really is a last-resort option and frankly if you don’t have a computer suitable for the other methods, installing Windows 7 on it probably isn’t a great idea.

What to transfer (data)

In terms of documents, the selection process may well come down to two options:

1)    Using your carefully organized folder structure, copy across the folders containing all the files you need to run on the new machine.

2)    Sling My Documents onto the back-up and sort it out later. If you choose this option, remember to check where your most commonly used programs store data as this may be in a dedicated folder elsewhere.

If you aren’t using webmail, you’ll need to export your e-mails. With Outlook Express, try going to Tools, Options, Maintenance and then clicking on Storefolder. Copy the contents of this folder to the same location on the new machine.

You may also want to copy across browser settings. With Internet Explorer, you can export your bookmarks to a file from the menu bar, then import this file on the new machine. You’ll also want to use Windows Search to find your Cookies folder/s and copy the contents to the equivalent folder on the new machine.

Firefox stores all your user data in a folder which you can copy across to the new machine. Full details for doing so are at

With both browsers and e-mail programs, it may be a good idea to upgrade to the latest edition before you back-up. This should avoid compatibility issues when you come to use your data on the new machine.

Within reason, err on the side of caution when selecting files to backup and transfer. Once you’ve done a clean install, you won’t get a second chance to recover your data from the drive, so it’s better to transfer too much than too little.

What to transfer (programs)

In virtually every case, you’ll need to reinstall programs in Windows 7. Before switching systems, go through the Start menu and list the programs on your machine. Then ask yourself for each program:

  • Do I really need it on the new machine?
  • If so, have I got an original disk?
  • If it was a download, do I have the registration code to get a new copy?
  • If I don’t have the disk/code, can I get them from the manufacturer?
  • How important are my user settings on the program? Do I need to make a note of them, or is there a back-up function?

After installing Windows 7

The order of priorities after you have installed Windows 7 should, in most cases, be:

  • Make sure your Internet access is working (Don’t begin surfing the Web yet)
  • Make sure you have your anti-virus software in place and up to date
  • Run Microsoft Update to get the latest patches
  • Install the software you need to use on a daily basis (most likely your browser if you don’t use Internet Explorer, plus any office software)
  • Restore data and documents relating to those programs

For most other applications, it’s usually easier to wait until you need to use them before reinstalling. This will save time on the day of installing Windows 7. It also avoids wasting time and space installing software you don’t need to use. However well Windows 7 proves to work, keeping application installations to a minimum is still the best policy for avoiding headaches.

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6 Responses to “The Windows 7 clean install survival guide”

  1. Ralph:

    Upgrading or installing any Operating system should not be such a long drawn out process. Of course…we ARE dealing with Windows here.

    If you need Windows a new machine with it on there. Otherwise stick with your current OS.

    Life is too short to be spending hours attempting to install something that should be a click or two and you are done.

    Windows should PAY its customers for having deal with this installation nightmare. NO ONE should need a “survival guide” to install Windows or any other OS.

    Let me see if I got this right… To upgrade, spend hours transferring their files to a external HD, deleting them on the OS, and reinstall them again later and reinstall antivirus. And customers are expected to PAY $129 on top of this extra work for the privilege of a “new” OS? Is this a joke?

    Not only are you paying through the nose for a operating system, but you need another software (anti-virus) to keep this software running right? Does anyone see a problem with that picture?

    How do other Operating systems fare? Upgrade a Linux OS…?, Just a simple click or two …or…. a simple cut and paste and step away from the computer come back later and then it is done.

    Maybe someday Redmond will get the installation/upgrade process hassle free…but by that time. Operating Systems could become irrelevant or a thing of the past.

  2. a non e mous:

    Life is too short, eh?

    What an absolutely inane statement! Life is the longest thing we will ever know!

    Perhaps you need to learn a little patient and humility…

  3. a non e mous:

    Oops, I meant patience

  4. KlausG:

    That is why I don’t care for these blogs – instead of commenting on the topic, the comments are about the lack of brainpower of previous commenters and the exact classification and definitions of where the commenter belongs – is it moron? – idiot? – retard? or what?
    Don’t bother to reply – I got to this to find information about windows 7 and changing my operating system – the first comment helped – I will not likely come back.

  5. anonymous:

    the fck is going on. or is it?

  6. Cesar Aciar:

    Dear Sir,
    I do rely strongly on expert advice as far as software installation is concerned. I found your intructions as to what to do when, as it is my case,installing a clean copy of Windows 7 Ultimate on my PC. I have been using Windows Vista Basic for a couple of years. Your information helped me a lot as to how to approach this task with the minimum of fuss. I may also add that the Internet is a wonderful aid to PC’s developement (as External Hard Drives are!!!!!!!) which allows knowledgeable people like yourself to share your expertice. Unfortunatelly the Net also allows loonies like the ones we see everywhere to empty their frustations on those whose good will allows to understand PC technology. I thank you again, Sir.

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