Why do a Clean Install ?
There are many reasons to do a clean install of Windows by formatting your hard drive. It can be good method to follow if you have recently been affected by viruses or spyware. If you have had problems in the past with your current install. Or if you have noticed your system is running slower than it used to and you are trying to increase performance by doing a clean install.
There is also an option in Windows that allows you to do a repair of your operating system, but sometimes this is not offered as an option depending on what version of Windows you are running. Also sometimes the problem may not be fixed by just doing a Windows repair. For example a virus may write itself to other parts of the system, including deep in your registry to avoid this type of recovery. A clean install allows you to rest assured that anything on your system will be completely removed so you do not need to worry about a virus propagating itself.
This guide will be broken into two sections. The first section will walk you through how to do a Format through DOS using a boot disk. [The old school way] The second section of the guide will walk you through doing a Format & Clean Install from your Windows Setup disc. [The easier, preferred method.] If you are just looking for a quick easy way to Format your hard drive and you have your original Windows installation disk handy, I would recommend skipping ahead to the second part of this guide for the “preferred method” of how to Format your drive.
There are several methods of how to do this but we are only going to cover the most popular way to perform this procedure. This method is solely for wiping all the information on the drive. After that you would need your Windows Setup Disk to perform the installation of your operating system.
To start you will need a boot disc for Windows. Since most people do not collect system discs we are going to point you towards an online resource that will help you set this up. There is a good site, where you can download the program you need. It can be found at the following link:
When you get to their main page you will see a link at the top that says:
“DOS/Windows9X/Me/NT/2K/XP Excellent Bootdisks“
Click on this link and it will take you to a page that has Windows 98′ and DOS boot disks. I would recommend the Windows 98′ OEM link which is the first link in the Windows 98 downloads.
When you click on the link it will open the save file dialog. I would recommend saving this file to your desktop so it is easy to find. Once the file has been saved go to your desktop and you should now see a new file called “boot98.exe”.
Double click the boot98.exe file and a “Batch Assistant” window will open up. The message will tell you to “Insert Floppy to Write”. Make sure you have a floppy disc that does not have important data on it, so you create you Windows 98 boot disk. I recommend formatting the disc, prior to trying to create it so that you will not run into any problems during the creation process.
You can format the floppy disc [click for more info] by clicking on “My Computer” and then right clicking on your “A:\” drive and selecting the format option from the menu. Make sure the drive you have selected is in fact your floppy drive to avoid wiping out data on any of your hard drives.
Once the format dialog is open, go with the default options and just double check to make sure the “file system” is set to “FAT” since we are working with a Windows 98′ disc making utility. Also make sure the option for “quick format” is unchecked so the system will do a more thorough job of wiping all data off the disc. Once you have checked these two options hit the “Start” option and wait for the progress bar to reach 100%. Once it is complete close out of the format dialog.
Once you have your disk clean go back to the batch assistant window and click the “OK” option to create your Windows 98′ boot disk. Once it is done writing the disc close down the program, and check you’re A:\ drive through “My Computer” to make sure you see data on your floppy disc.
You have now created a Windows 98′ boot disc that you can use to format all the data on your hard drive. At this point you would want to insert the disk into the system you want to wipe all the data off of, and then reboot that system with the disk in the drive.
Using Your Boot Disc to Format Your Computer:
When the system reboots with the disc in the floppy drive it will come up with a message:
“Searching for Boot Record from Floppy”
[Make sure your BOOT ORDER is set correctly so the system reads the disc]
Once it finds the disc and reads the information, it will come up with a message that says “Starting Windows ’98″
Once it has finished loading into the boot it will give you a prompt of two or three choices and you will want to select “Start computer without CD-ROM support”. We do not need CD-ROM support in this case because we are only focused on formatting the hard drive right now.
Once you make your selection it will come up to a prompt that says “Preparing to start your computer”. As the message indicates this may take a few minutes so please wait. Once it is done loading it will bring you up to a command prompt that looks like this:
From this point you will need to type in the format command, which is as follows:
A:\> FORMAT C:
Once you type this command in you will receive a system message that says:
WARNING, ALL DATA ON NON-REMOVABLE DISK DRIVE C: WILL BE LOST!
Proceed with Format (Y/N)?
Hit “Y” to proceed with the format. As the message above states make sure you have any data you need on the drive backed up prior to attempting the format. If you are ready to proceed hit ENTER after you have typed “Y”.
You will now see another screen with a progress message that says:
This message shows you the size of the drive you are formatting and the percent complete the operation is at. Once the operation reaches 100% it will go back to the A: prompt:
FDISK a Hard Drive:
At this point you can take it one step further if you like and do an FDISK on the hard drive. You don’t really need to do this but some people like to take this extra step to feel like they are working with a nice crisp drive when everything is complete. The FDISK portion of the process is not required when you do a clean format although some people have asked me how to do this so I am including it into the guide.
[NOTE: This part is also covered in an updated method, in the second portion of the guide. This is mainly a continuation of the boot disk method for doing an FDISK on your drive. The section that covers doing this from your original installation disk uses an easier, preferred method for performing an FDISK on your hard drive.]
Follow the steps below to perform an FDISK on your hard drive from the utilities that are included with the boot disk we created.
From the A: prompt type the FDISK command:
It will bring you to a prompt that displays the following message:
“Do you wish to enable large disc support (Y/N)?”
Once again type “Y” for yes, and hit the ENTER key.
It will then ask you:
“Should NTFS partitions on the drives be treated as large (Y/N)?”
Once again type “Y” for yes, and hit the ENTER key.
[This way if you are working with Windows 2000 or Windows XP you will make full use of the entire size of your hard drive.]
At this point it will take you to a menu that offers you several options for operations you can perform. You will want to select option #4 which is “Display Partition Information”
It should show you information that is similar to the following:
Partition Type Volume Label Mbytes
1 NTFS primary 2996
2 EXT DOS n/a 3153
[In this case the "Volume Label" part has been filled in by me. Not everyone has a drive label assigned, so if you do not this section will probably be blank. The volume label is mainly a name given to the drive that helps you identify it easily. If there is no drive label the n/a would actually just be blank.]
Once you have checked out the drive information you should have a better idea of the “TYPE” of drive you are working with. This way when you try to delete the partition, you know what option you will need to select from the main menu.
Hit “ESC” to go back to the main menu, and then select the option that says:
“Delete partition or logical drive”
It will take you to another menu where you can choose the following option:
#3 Delete Logical DOS Drive in the extended DOS partition
#4 Delete Non-DOS Partition
Depending on the “TYPE” of drive you have you will want to pick one of those options to delete the partition. If you are unsure just pick one and see if the next screen displays drive information. If it does not hit “ESC” go back to the main menu and select “Delete partition or logical drive” again, and then try choosing the other option.
Once you are at the correct screen you will also notice a message that says:
WARNING – Data in the deleted Non-DOS partition will be lost.
Since we formatted the drive earlier we do not need to worry about this part.
It will also have a prompt that asks you:
“What Non-DOS partition do you want to delete?”
At this point you need to “Select Drive #” and it will ask if you wish to continue. Type “Y” for yes.
You may also be asked to select by “Drive Letter”, and then “Enter Volume Label” and it will then ask “Are You Sure (Y/N)” Type “Y” for this also.
[The steps above may vary since people have different drive letters and labels but because we are at a point where there is no data on the drive you don't need to worry about working through trial and error to delete the partition. Even people who are familiar with the process need to do that at times, since a drive may be setup differently than what they are used to, especially when troubleshooting. Just be patient and you will eventually be able to delete your current partition.]
Once you have deleted the partition you will see your drive information disappear and you can now hit “ESC” to go back to the main menu and recreate your partition.
Recreating a partition is much easier than deleting it since it’s pretty much a two step process, and usually goes the same way each time.
From the main menu select option #1:
“Create DOS partition or logical DOS drive”
Once you have selected that, you be prompted for one more option and you should select:
“Create primary DOS partition”
Once you have made you choice you will see a message on the screen that says:
“Verifying Drive Integrity %”
This will show you the overall progress of the operation and once it is complete it will display a message that says:
“Do you wish to use the maximum available size for a primary DOS partition and make the partition active? (Y/N)”
Select “Y” for yes and you should see the message:
“Verifying Drive Integrity %”
Once this operation is complete you should see a message that says:
“You must restart for changes to take effect”
You have now run through a basic crash course on how to FDISK a drive from a boot disk. This step is not crucial to do when formatting a hard drive but since I have been asked about this so many times I wanted to include some basic information on the procedure for those who have never done it before.
It used to be that back in the day you needed to do a Format by running utilities through DOS. Because this was such a round about way to do such a simple task Microsoft finally included a utility right through the setup screen to make this process easier.
If you do not want to mess around with creating boot disks or working through a DOS prompt to format your drive this is the method you will want to follow.
Make sure your “BOOT ORDER” is setup correctly so that your CD-ROM will boot before your hard drive and insert your Windows installation disk into the system. Reset your computer and when it boots it should give you a prompt that says:
“Hit any key to boot from CD..”
You need to hit a key as soon as you see this message since it is only displayed for about 3 seconds before your system skips the CD-ROM. If you miss this prompt then reset the system and make sure you hit the key the next time the message is displayed.
Once you hit any key you should see a message on a black screen that says:
“Setup is inspecting your computers hardware configuration”
Once it is complete it will take you to a blue setup screen that says “Windows Setup” in the top left hand corner and should also display a message that says “Setup is loading files” at the bottom of the screen.
This may take a few minutes depending on how fast your system is, and once it gets past this point it will take you to a screen that has three options on it. You will want to pick the first option that says:
“To setup Windows XP now, press ENTER”
Go ahead and hit ENTER at this point to begin the setup process. You should see a message that says “Please wait” and once it loads into the next screen it will show you the Windows License Agreement. You will want to hit F8 on this screen to agree to the license and progress in the setup process.
F8 = I agree
It will show you the “loading” message again and then take you to a screen that has two options on it. You will want to select the option that says:
“To continue installing a fresh copy of Windows XP without repairing, press ESC”
ESC = Don’t Repair
The next page will show you partition information for the hard drive. This is the section I mentioned before that will take you through a simplified FDISK procedure for the system. Since you are following this guide to do a Format on your hard drive lets go ahead and delete the current partition to do the first step in wiping your data off this drive.
On the Delete Partitions screen go ahead and hit the “D” key to delete the current partition.
D = Delete Partition
It will bring up a message that says:
“To delete this partition press ENTER. Setup will prompt you for confirmation before deleting the partition”.
ENTER = Continue
Go ahead and press ENTER to continue the delete partition process. Once you hit ENTER it will take you to a confirmation screen that says:
“You asked setup to delete the partition” and will show you data on your drive:
C: Partition [NTFS] 76309 MB (75120 MB FREE)
“To delete this partition press L.
CAUTION: All data on this partition will be lost”.
L = DELETE
Go ahead and hit “L” to confirm that you want to delete the partition, and once you do this it will take you back to the main page.
It should now show you drive information that will look like this:
Unpartitioned Space 76517 MB
At this point you have deleted the partition on your hard drive and completed the first step in wiping off your data. From this point you will want to create a new partition and then the setup program will Format your new partition.
To create a new partition you will want to hit “C”
C = Create Partition
It will take you to a screen that has the following message:
“To create the new partition enter a size below and press enter”
[I would recommend going with the default size that the system enters automatically. You do not need to change this option unless you are creating Multiple Partitions which we will cover in another guide.]
ENTER = Create
Go ahead and press ENTER and the setup program will create a new partition and then take you back to the main page.
You should now see that there has been a new partition created on hard drive and the setup program will now give you an option at the bottom of the screen that says:
ENTER = Install
Hit ENTER and it will take you to another screen that says:
Format the partition using the NTFS file system (Quick)
Format the partition using the NTFS file system
I would recommend using the “Quick” option because it will take less time and get you to the reinstall portion of setup much faster. Since you already had data on the drive at one point you are able to use the quick option since the standard option is usually only used the first time a hard drive is setup and takes MUCH longer.
[NOTE: One thing to remember is that the standard format option is used when the drive is first setup. The main advantage is that it does a basic error check for any bad sectors on your drive, and is a little more thorough than the quick option. Both options will remove all data from your drive.]
Once you have highlighted the Format “Quick” option hit ENTER to continue with setup:
ENTER = Continue
You have now successfully preformed FDISK and FORMAT through the Windows Installation Disk. From this point on the installation will be the standard Windows install. Just follow the prompts and provide the necessary information [i.e. Windows Key, Date, Time, Time zone, Network Info, Computer Name, etc.] The installation Wizard will walk you through the rest of the setup process and you can reinstall your operating system knowing that you have a fresh clean hard drive to work with.
At this point hopefully any virus, spyware or corruption problems will be fixed and you should have no more issues. If you do experience any other problems after doing the clean install you may be running into some type of hardware issue with the hard drive itself and may want to look into contacting the manufacturer to find out about warranty info on the drive or doing an RMA [Return to Manufacturer] for replacement.
Good luck with your install, and enjoy your clean crisp hard drive and improved performance now that you are starting over on a clean slate.