XP Clean Install Guide

Note: This guide is over 2 years old. It is mostly still accurate, but some programs that I usually install have changed, they are not reflected in this guide. I will still leave it here in case it can help you. Good luck! If you run into trouble, you know who to call (and no, I don't mean Ghostbusters).

This page is dedicated to showing what a clean install of Windows XP entails. I've created this page for myself, so I can have all the important programs I need to install on clients computers daily or weekly. I've added the text in case it will help other people, I just need quick access to all these links from one place since I use them every couple days anyways. I will give a rundown on how to do a clean Windows install. All these steps assume you have a Windows XP installation CD. This does NOT mean a system recovery CD, this means a clean Windows XP CD. Many system recovery CD's wipe out all data on a hard drive before putting Windows back on. For me and my clients, losing data is not an option. Here is what I do. (I can do this for you at my shop.)

If the hard drive has existing data, then it must be moved out of the way. The easiest way I've found is to use Reatogo (this is like a Windows XP Live CD to run Windows from the CD, no hard drive required). I open My Computer and the C: Drive. Create a new folder called "Backup" or "Old Drive". Move all folders and files into it. Reboot, insert Windows CD. Run installation wizard, making sure to "Leave current file system intact" instead of formatting it.

Now you have a clean install of Windows. Next problem is to find the Chipset software and other drivers. Usually, if it's a brand name computer, this requires going to the manufacturers website to download all needed drivers and software. Reboot after each driver, once in awhile it is required. If the computer is a Sony, make sure you follow Sony's list and order of installing software or else you probably will have problems...

OK, now you've installed your Chipset software, Video drivers, Sound drivers, Modem drivers, Network drivers (including wireless drivers if needed).

Now, it's time to do a couple hundred megabytes of Windows Updates, in several waves with reboots in-between. Now manually install Internet Explorer 7 since they've stopped installing it automatically in Windows Updates. NOTE: It now looks like Windows Updates is again including IE7, so this manual download is not needed anymore (the last few fresh installs I did this week automatically downloaded IE7 with the updates). Now do more Windows Updates.

I would now install an AntiVirus program. An Anti-Virus program is a program which scans files on your computer (usually on-demand as each file is read or loads) and tries to find a match with any virus's it knows about. If you anti-virus software is outdated, then it doesn't know about new virus's. Anti-Virus software is meant to help protect careless or clueless people from being infected. It can't protect you 100% of the time, since it does have to learn about virus's after then come out. If you find that you are getting a virus on your computer, I would recommend you change the way you interact with the computer. Personally, I did once have a virus on my computer, it was in some files I copied on a floppy disk from a friend. I've had more in my Temporary Internet Files from back when I used Internet Explorer. Now I use Firefox, and have my IE locked down for the few sites where I do use it.

A couple months ago, one of my sisters friends was at my shop, playing some games online. Less than 10 minutes later, my Anti-Virus program popped up with a warning about a file that was trying to run was a known virus (they had downloaded the file and tried to run it since the site told them they had to in order to play the game). That's all it takes. I personally use AVG Free Edition on my laptop. I PREFER the free edition to the paid edition due to CPU usage and Memory usage. My AVG as I write this is using less than 20MB of memory. One of my customers uses AVG Internet Suite, it uses about 100MB of memory, and also uses almost 100% of the CPU for about a minute when booting the computer. For almost all people, I think the free AV software is good enough, combined with the built-in Windows Firewall. HOWEVER, consider the Anti-Virus program an extra layer of defence in case something gets in, don't think of it as protection. If someone is downloading unknown files and running them on your computer, there are lots of things it can do that won't be detected by most AV programs (such as adware/spywhere, some keyloggers, some rootkits). Only download and run programs from known reputable sources.


Now it's time to install other good software. I would recommend Google Pack. Or, you can download my already customized version which includes these programs (otherwise, with the previous link, you go to Google's page where you pick the software you want). **LINK NOT HERE YET, I WILL ADD THIS SOMETIME SOON**. If you don't have MS Office to install on the computer, I would recommend a free alternative like OpenOffice. If you only need a program like MS Word, then I would stick to AbiWord, it's MUCH smaller and faster. With the customized Google Pack above, you can also get the free StarOffice.

Firefox Extensions that I use: Download Statusbar - ColorfulTabs - Google Toolbar - Image Zoom - Web Developer.

My browsers homepage: Google Suggest

Now, you need some Malware protection. The 3 programs I would recommend for everyone (since they do active protection, and do work rather well), are: Spybot Search + Destroy, Spyware Blaster, and Windows Defender. These programs are good at helping to protect against malware installs, if you already have malware installed, then some additional programs may be required. You can find these and lots more programs at FileHippo's Malware page.

Now you have a fast, working Windows install. If your computer isn't running very fast, my first suggestion is to check and see how much memory you have installed in your computer. On your keyboard, press and hold CTRL AND SHIFT, now tap the ESC key, now let go of all keys. This opens the task manager. Goto the Performance tab (near the top are many tabs such as Applications, Processes, Performance, etc). Look next to the word Available. This is showing how many KiloBytes ( KB ) of memory are not yet being used.
As this picture shows on my computer, my total memory is 1538480 KB. Drop off the last 3 digits and change it to MegaBytes for 1538 MB, which is also known as 1.5 GB. I run lots of programs on my computer so I need more memory than the average person. I would recommend trying to keep the Available number at at least 100,000 KB when you have your normal programs running that you use.

Many computers come into my shop with limited memory, some have 256 MB, some only have 128 MB, and Windows shows maybe 15,000 KB free. This is because when Windows runs low on memory, it uses hard drive space (in your Pagefile) for whatever extra storage it needs. Windows tries to keep what you are actively working on in normal memory, but if your other programs have their memory in the Pagefile, when you switch programs, Windows has to first free up memory by putting other stuff in the Pagefile, then load your needed data from the Pagefile. The average hard drive can deal with about 20 MB/s, but it's usually slower than that.

The minimum memory I would recommend for Windows XP is 384 MB, and I would suggest at least 512 MB for better performace. The most memory I would recommend for anyone with a 32-bit Windows (XP and Vista) is 2 GB. If you put in 4 GB, you don't actually get the full 4 GB, for lots of strange technical reasons. My favorite web-browser Firefox can itself take up several hundred megabytes, much of this is do to the way it caches pages so you can quickly backtrack, and even un-close an accidently closed tab (which I do daily). I do find I do have to restart Firefox every few days, once it's memory usage gets up to 500 MB+ then I don't have much free memory and have to restart it. I don't restart my laptop very often, I even keep it on when traveling from my house to my office (in Sleep mode so the hard drive turns off and isn't too fragile)


The next step is to bring the old data and files back into the new Windows. Some things are easy (such as photographs, music, and normal documents). Some things are more tricky (such as e-mail, address books, e-mail accounts). Most programs do need to be reinstalled to function correctly.