Nobody ever wants something to go wrong with their computer, but sometimes technology gets the better of us all. When something goes awry with your Windows Operating System, fixing it can be as simple as rebooting or as drastic as reinstalling the entire operating system. Should you ever need to perform the latter, this guide will help you through the process.
Why would I need to reinstall Windows?
The most common reason is viruses. Whether you accidentally visited a contaminated web page, downloaded a bad email attachment, or obtained a virus in some other manner, the infection can be so severe that it requires you to completely reinstall your operating system in order to get rid of it. A malicious program that has affected your registry, access to the internet or antivirus programs, or damaged the critical files of Windows will often mean that a reinstall is necessary.
What will happen to my files and programs if I reinstall?
Any settings that you have customized will be removed. This includes things ranging from the theme you use to your Windows update settings. You’ll have to set them again after you reinstall. Depending on the method you choose to reinstall from, your files and programs may be preserved, but just in case, it’s a good idea to back them up before you begin. You can move your files to an external hard drive, CDs, flash drive, or use an online cloud storage service.
Method 1: Use a Windows Recovery Disk
If your PC came with a Windows recovery or installation CD when you purchased it, turn off your computer, insert the recovery CD, and turn the computer back on. The computer will load the CD and on-screen instructions will guide you through reinstalling Windows. You’ll be prompter to enter your Windows Product Key. This is a 25-character string of numbers and letters that identifies your computer. It’s easy to locate – it’ll be on the back of the computer, the bottom of the computer (if it’s a laptop), or on the case that the recovery CD came in. You may be prompted to choose whether to preserve your files and programs, but often the only option is to erase them and start clean, so making backups beforehand is very important. After you’ve gone through the process, Windows will begin reinstalling.
Need more help? Check out our article – how to create a Windows Repair Disk
Method 2: Use the Hidden Windows Recovery Files
If you got your computer as a gift, moved houses, or misplaced a lot of the documentation that came with your computer, chances are you don’t have a Windows recovery CD. But even without one, you can still reinstall Windows – it’s just a little more complicated. Computers that came without a CD have the recovery files stored on a hidden partition of the hard drive. Getting to them may take a bit of patience. When you reboot your computer, the first screen you see before Windows loads will have options at the bottom. You choose the options by pressing the F* keys (F1, F2, F3, etc.). One of the options will be to boot the recovery files. Press the corresponding key to do so. Every manufacturer has a different screen and uses different keys for the various options, so if you don’t see the option on your screen, contact your PC’s manufacturer to find out which one you need to press. You’ll be given the option to “return the computer to factory condition”, which means that everything on the hard drive will be wiped and Windows will be reinstalled, so make backups before you begin this process unless you’re willing to lose all your files!
Method 3: Use the OEM Disks
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and most computers that you buy pre-built from major stores use an OEM version of Windows. It’s cheaper for the manufacturer to use the OEM versions, but the catch is that an OEM version can only be installed on one computer. Often this information is placed in the motherboard, which can mean big trouble if you need to reinstall Windows. OEM Windows computers don’t come with the installation disks that you would normally use to reinstall Windows (see Method 1), but they do sometimes come with their own recovery disks. Large OEM manufacturers aren’t obligated to provide these disks, but often they do and the disks are just misplaced. If you have your OEM recovery disks, then simply insert them into your CD drive and reboot. On screen instructions will guide you from there. You’ll probably need your OEM key; this will either be on the CD, its case, or the back or bottom of the computer. You’ll lose your files and programs, so be sure to back up before reinstalling from your OEM disks.