First things first: make sure you’re reinstalling or restoring Windows for the right reason. This will usually fix any software issues you may be experiencing: viruses, spyware, bad drivers, program update or uninstall failure, registry errors, etc.

It’s also a very good idea to reinstall or restore Windows if you’ve bought a second computer. However, this will not help if your computer has any hardware issues. Use the Hardware section of this site to first try to identify and fix any hardware problems.

Reinstalling Windows laptop step by step guide
Reinstalling Windows laptop step by step guide

All laptops come with some means of repairing or reinstalling the operating system and software. Some, like most Dell, come with a Windows CD and driver and software CDs. 

Others, such as Toshiba and Sony, come with CD/DVD kits for HD image recovery. All Macs come with reinstall DVD kits, and most others come with a hard drive recovery partition or a combination of CD and partition.

All computers that have a hidden recovery partition on their hard drive have a utility that will allow you to burn your own recovery CDs or DVDs. You can also purchase this kit from the manufacturer, usually for a nominal price that covers shipping and handling only. Of course, if you are restoring to a new hard drive, you must have these CDs or DVDs.

There are several steps involved in reinstalling/restoring software on your computer: backing up files, reinstalling the OS, installing any new or updated drivers, installing and updating antivirus, anti-spyware, firewall, etc. Windows update, installing and updating software, copy your files back.

Backup disk

If your hard drive is damaged and you are replacing it, you can try copying any files later, after everything is installed on the new HD. If you are reinstalling your computer due to a virus infection and Windows does not allow you to copy files.

You have two options: remove the hard drive and use an external USB port to transfer files to another computer, or create a bootable CD, start your computer from it, and use an external USB hard drive or flash drive (with enough capacity) to temporarily store files.

 You can also start the computer from a bootable CD and copy the files to another computer over the network, but this will take much longer. And of course, if you’re one of those lucky ones who has a recent backup, you can skip this step entirely.

Reinstall or repair Windows

If you are restoring from a CD, make sure your computer starts from it (usually press “F12” or “F8” as soon as you see something on the screen, or change the boot order in the BIOS). When recovering from a partition, refer to the documentation for starting the process (“F11” on Gateway, “Ctrl” + “F11” on Dell, etc.).

If you’re installing from a Windows installation CD, you have more options. Do not select “Restore my current installation” immediately after pressing “F8” to accept the license. 

This only works if your Windows files got corrupted after installing a new driver or new update, or after replacing the desktop motherboard. When reinstalling due to a virus infection, it is best to delete the current partition and allow the installer to partition and format the hard drive again.

At this point, you have the option of dividing your hard drive into two (or more) partitions. This is really a very good idea as you can install Windows to “C:” and keep all your files on “D:” so when you have to reinstall Windows you can format “C:” and all your files will remain intact on D:. 

Some laptops are installed this way by default – all Sony, some IBM, etc. You will typically need 8 to 10 GB for Windows and all your programs, and the rest for storage.

Reinstalling Windows laptop step by step guide

To do this, after deleting the existing partition (press “D” then “Enter” then “L”), create a new one (by pressing “C”) and resize it to 8000 for 8 GB or 10000 for 10 GB “C:” partition . You can leave the rest of the hard drive unpartitioned for now. Then install Windows and once it completes go to Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management then click on Disk Management then right click on the unpartitioned space on your hard drive and select Create Partition. 

Follow the instructions to create and format an NTFS partition. After formatting is completed, the “E:” drive will appear in “My Computer”.

If you want to change the drive letter to “D:”, right click on your CD/DVD drive (still in Disk Management) and select “Change drive letter and paths…”, then click “Change” then select anything after “F:”, then press “OK” and dismiss the warning. After that, repeat these steps for the second partition you just created (right click on it…etc) but select “D:” as the drive letter.

 After that, repeat the procedure for the CD/DVD drive, selecting “E:” as the drive letter, and close the Disk Management/Computer Management utility. It is best to perform this step immediately after creating a new partition or formatting an existing partition, as all references to any files currently on the partition will be changed.

Now go to “Control Panel -> User Accounts” and create a new “Restricted User” account (you can use any name and password for it). Then log out (Start -> Log out -> Log out) and log into the new account. Now go to “Control Panel -> Display” and select the second tab “Desktop”, then click on “Customize Desktop”. Now check My Documents, My Computer and My Network Places and uncheck Run Desktop Cleanup every 60 days, then click OK and OK again to save the changes.

Then go to “My Computer” and open “D:” (or “E:” if you didn’t change the drive letter), right-click on an empty space there and choose “New -> Folder” and rename the folder. in “My Documents”.

After that, right click on “My Documents” on the desktop and select “Properties”, then click on “Move” and select “My Computer -> D: -> My Documents” (the folder you created earlier) and finally click “Apply”. Windows will ask if you want to copy the content to a new folder, click OK again and OK to close the Control Panel. Now all your documents will be stored by default in the folder you created on the “D:” drive.

Drivers, antivirus, windows updates

If you have a separate driver CD (like most Dells do), install all drivers now. If you recovered from a CD or system recovery partition, all drivers should already be installed. But if you are still missing some drivers (check “Control Panel (click “Switch to Classic View” on the left) -> System -> Hardware tab -> Device Manager”)”, you will need to download them to another computer and copy them to a CD or flash drive and then install them on your computer. All drivers for almost all brands and models of laptops can be found on the manufacturer’s support website.

Useful Utilities

There is a very handy utility if you don’t know what drivers you need:  UnknownDevices.exe . You also need to download pcidevs.txt,  place it in the same folder as UnknownDevices.exe and run the utility. UnknownDevices will scan all the hardware on your computer (PNPID) and for each “Unknown Device” it will give you the chip model, chip manufacturer and device manufacturer which on a laptop is always the manufacturer of your laptop.

Once all drivers are installed, connect to the internet, install antivirus, anti-spyware, personal firewall, etc. and update them all. Then go to “Control Panel -> System -> System Restore” and move the slider all the way to the left, giving it 200MB of disk space.

 Windows System Restore is only useful in two cases: if a driver or Windows update is not installed properly and the computer does not start normally but still starts in safe mode, or if the registry files are corrupted and (once resolved) there are problems with the hard drive and memory) you want to restore the registry manually.

Now still in the “System” control panel, go to the “Automatic Updates” tab and select “Notify, but do not download automatically …”. Then click “OK” to save your changes. After that, an automatic update will appear pretty soon, telling you that two updates are available. Download and install them, then reboot when you’re done. 

Now automatic update will reappear and tell you that there are more than 60 updates available. Now it’s time to move on to “Advanced…” and uncheck any updates you can’t at this time, like the new (at the time of writing) IE7 or some controversial  “Windows Genuine Advantage” . Download and install the rest. Or, if you prefer, run Windows Update.

Install the software and copy the files back

At this point, I highly recommend downloading and installing  Firefox  or  Opera  and using either as your primary web browser. After that, install all your software and check for updates for it. And finally, copy all your files back to “My Documents” and to your desktop.

If you have backed up any emails, you will have to import them back after creating your email account.

  • For Outlook Express choose File -> Import -> Messages -> Microsoft Outlook Express 6 -> choose Import mail from OE6 store directory and click OK then navigate to the folder containing your .dbx files and click OK to import them.
  • Outlook: Select File -> Import and Export -> Import from another program or file -> Next -> Select “Personal Folders File (.pst)” -> Next -> Browse and select a copy of your outlook.pst -> Next -> Ready.
  • For Thunderbird: make sure Thunderbird is not running, then copy the folder to the same location “C -> Documents and Settings -> [your username] -> Application Data -> Thunderbird”.
  • You can import your bookmarks into Firefox or Opera from this program.

The Application Data folder is usually “invisible”. To see it, you need to temporarily enable “Show hidden files and folders” in Control Panel -> Folder Options -> View.

Reinstalling Windows laptop step by step guide

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