Reinstalling Windows 10 from Windows 10: “Reset This PC”

My machine wasn’t completely broken, but it wasn’t well. Months of turning things on and off, installing and uninstalling, and just generally “fiddling” while researching and documenting Ask Leo! articles left this particular Windows 10 installation a couple of features short of a full package.

This presented a great opportunity to experiment with the “nuclear option” built into Windows 10: “Reset This PC”.

Surprisingly, there’s now what I’ll call a “light” nuclear option, in addition to the traditional “delete everything and start over” approach.

Read moreReinstalling Windows 10 from Windows 10: “Reset This PC”

How do I Repair My System if the Registry Can’t Be Loaded?

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My system, Windows XP Professional, won’t load. When I turn it on, I get this message, “Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \Windows\System32\config\system.” And I don’t have an installation disk. I read some of your material and it looks like I have the i386 folder in the right place but I can’t get to a command prompt. I have a rescue and recovery disc, but the only thing it will do is let me load the original backup created when I bought the system back in 2008, or bring the system back to its original factory state.

I really don’t want to do either of these two things. I researched the problem, and I could repair the five registry files with a series of DOS commands (from a Windows paper) if I can get to the recovery console and then just restore the system to a previous restore point. After reviewing the material, from Microsoft, I think I can do it. But I want and need to upgrade my system so it occurred to me to just buy Windows 8.1 and do a clean install and then restore my backup that I made about a month ago but I’m concerned that I might overlook something.

All of the programs that I use also have to be reinstalled or redownloaded and installed so I’m looking at perhaps hours and hours of work. So I really have two questions. The first one is there a handy informational guide to a clean install that will bring the system back to nearly what it was before but with a brand new system. If I decide to fix the system instead, can I buy a non-OEM installation disk for Windows XP Professional or does it absolutely have to be an OEM disk that is compatible with my machine?

Unfortunately, the file that’s missing or corrupt is actually the system registry or one of the major hives of that registry. On my Windows XP machine, it’s something like 30 MB in size, so it’s not something that you can just recreate with a simple command.

Or is it?

Read moreHow do I Repair My System if the Registry Can’t Be Loaded?

How do I reinstall software if I don’t have the installation discs or download files?

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I’d like to reinstall Windows XP on one PC and Windows 7 on another. Both have become very slow and I’ve done almost everything written about to speed them up. I have the original discs for them. However, what I don’t have are the discs for much of the software. I read your articles on that so I’ll be getting discs in the future. So, how can I reinstall Windows as well as the software on the PCs? On the XP PC, I really only want to keep Office 2007.

On the Windows 7 PC, however, I have the disc for Office 2007 Pro but not for several software packages that I bought and downloaded. One in particular was actually expensive – Dragon Naturally Speaking. I installed Macrium as you suggested. I wasn’t sure from your articles if I could somehow use the backup from Macrium to reinstall just the software. I found some freeware that allowed me to obtain the keys to some of the Microsoft software on the PCs but for no other legitimate third party software. Mainly, I want to keep Nitro PDF Pro, Wondershare Video Converter and Dragon Naturally Speaking. Everything else I can probably live without even if I bought it.

The very short answer to your dilemma is that strictly speaking you can’t do what you are trying to do. I’ll review how to prevent this in the future at least, and throw out a couple of ideas or straws you can grasp at.

Read moreHow do I reinstall software if I don’t have the installation discs or download files?

I don’t have installation media for Windows. What if I need it?

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I need to reinstall Windows, but I don’t have an installation disc. I never got one. What do I do?

It’s becoming more and more common to have a completely legal installation of Windows without installation media such as CDs or DVDs. This can cause some panic when you’re later instructed to make sure that you have media ready before installing some other software or hardware or if you ever find yourself needing to reinstall your system from scratch.

Let’s look at how to prepare for this day and what straws you may have to grasp at should you arrive unprepared.

Read moreI don’t have installation media for Windows. What if I need it?

Why Did I Get this Additional Driver Utility?

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When I was downloading a driver to put the sound back in my system,  something called “driver wiz” wound up on my system. When I went to the Control Panel to remove it, the command “move” or “remove” is no longer there –  just the word “change.” When you click on Change, it tries to install the program driver wiz. I found out that I’m not the only one having this problem. Can you help?

What you have is a classic PUP –  Potentially Unwanted Program.

Unfortunately, there’s rarely any “potentially” about it. The programs are unwanted. They’ve been getting more aggressive and people are saddled with all sorts of things that they really don’t want.

Let’s talk about prevention first.

Read moreWhy Did I Get this Additional Driver Utility?

Can I put everything but the operating system on an external drive?

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I’ve had so many problems with Windows 7 not responding that I’m now wondering if I wouldn’t be better off to reinstall and put the stuff that is normally backed up – programs, documents, and pictures – on a USB flash drive. That way, it would be easier to reinstall Windows 7 in the future and just plug in the USB drive to use the programs or documents. My laptop acts like it has a virus, but I have Avast AV real-time installed and I’ve done scans with several other online AV scanners. They’ve all found nothing. If I leave it idle for a little while, then it will not respond. I thought it was a Firefox problem, but IE also crashes. If I have everything but Windows on a USB stick, then I could reinstall Windows 7 anytime easily. Do you think this is feasible?

This scenario both will and will not work. Ultimately, it seems impractical and it’s not going to help your fundamental issue, which sounds like a hardware problem. I’ll talk about that first.

Read moreCan I put everything but the operating system on an external drive?

Why Did I Lose Applications After My Machine was Formatted?

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Using Windows XP, Home Edition, 32-bit. I had my computer formatted and the technician lost my Corel Windows programs and Veritas to burn music CDs. Is this normal for it to happen?

Well, yes and no.

It’s important to realize that formatting a computer erases everything that’s on that hard drive. You start with a hard disk that contains Windows, other applications, and data and after you format, you have an empty hard disk. That’s normal. That’s expected. That’s what formatting means.

What concerns me here is that the technician should have told you.

Read moreWhy Did I Lose Applications After My Machine was Formatted?

Installing software safely and with minimal impact

I’d wager that the number one cause of system stability issues, disk space loss, unexpected behavior, and even malware is the software that we actually invite onto our machine.

I’m not talking about opening the accidental attachment. That’s bad when it happens, but it’s not as prevalent as what I’m discussing.

No, I’m talking about the stuff that we actually ask to download – the stuff we seek out.

I’m talking about the software that we explicitly and intentionally install on our computers.

Installing software safely is all about taking a few steps to minimize the impact of what we’re about to do to our machines.

Read moreInstalling software safely and with minimal impact

What’s the easiest way to restore my machine to original factory settings if I didn’t get discs?

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Hi, Leo. In the past, manufacturers, particularly laptop manufacturers, such as Acer, used to provide a number of CDs that would allow the new user to at least do two things, for example: repair his operating system but retain all of his private data or secondly restore his computer back to what it was when he first started it up. In later years, those discs weren’t provided but the manufacturer would advise the user (in a manual that may have been overlooked) to create his own discs by using the software that was included in the installed package. Not only would the OS be included on those discs but all the other software and drivers that had originally been installed. Is there a simple program one can get ahold of that folks could use to create discs that can be used in this way?

The short answer is absolutely yes. Not directly in the way you describe, but to the same effect.

And anyone who knows me already knows what I’m about to say.

Read moreWhat’s the easiest way to restore my machine to original factory settings if I didn’t get discs?

How Do I Reinstall Downloaded Programs?

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I recently downloaded and installed an application. It works just great, but having no CD, how do I reinstall the program in the event of a disaster?

There are several possible answers to reinstall downloaded programs that depend on exactly what it is you purchased and where you purchased it from.

The good news is that there’s rarely a reason you would ever lose what you purchased, as long as you took a few precautions.

Let’s look at what those precautions might be.

Read moreHow Do I Reinstall Downloaded Programs?

How Do I Change the Default Installation Drive?

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Leo, I did what you did (referring to replacing my hard disk on my machine with a Solid State Drive) two years ago. I’ve had a minor problem ever since I made the switch. All the software that I install wants to install and use the C: drive, which is too small to hold all of that information. How do I change the default installation location from C: to F: which is my actual one-terabyte hard drive?

What you’re doing is kind of tricky. There’s no global setting where you can tell Windows, “Install new stuff here.”

It also depends on the program that you’re installing.

The other issue is that you’re somewhat defeating the purpose of the SSD by not installing your software on it. This is the drive where your machine can load files and access programs more quickly than if they were installed on a traditional hard drive.

In your case, there are two things that I suggest you do.

Read moreHow Do I Change the Default Installation Drive?

Does installing lots of programs destabilize my computer?

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I try to limit the number of programs I install on my system. It’s a 64-bit Windows 7 system with SP 1 and 12 GB of RAM. I do this because I feel intuitively that the more programs I install, the more quickly Windows reaches that corrupted state that we all know too well, and has to be reinstalled from scratch. I really could make good use of quite a number of programs I don’t have installed but I worry about hastening corruption. I do assume that I can load as many portable applications as I like without worry. Am I on the right track? Or is my thinking just incorrect?

Installing lots of software is usually not a terribly destabilizing thing. Sure, there can be bad software out there. It’s usually not the amount of software but the specific software that ends up causing problems after you install it. Obviously, the best approach to saving yourself from those kinds of scenarios is a good backup system.

Read moreDoes installing lots of programs destabilize my computer?

How do I reformat and reinstall Windows? (XP & Vista)

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In many of your answers you talk about “reformat and reinstalling Windows”. What is that? How do I do that, exactly?

(Click here for a newer version of this article covering Windows 10.)

“Reformat and reinstall” is the computer’s equivalent of erasing the chalkboard and starting over.

And I do want to emphasize the “erasing” part.

It’s conceptually very easy, but also somewhat time consuming.

And if not done with the proper preparation, you could lose absolutely everything on your computer.

Read moreHow do I reformat and reinstall Windows? (XP & Vista)

How do I reformat my machine if I don’t have a Windows CD?

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I want to format my laptop. It has Windows XP with service pack 2 installed. I don’t recall getting a Windows CD, so first how do I format and second can I do it without that setup CD?

The answer for most people is simple: no, you cannot. In fact, you should not if you don’t have the Windows setup CD.

Yes, yes, it can be done without the setup CD, but I’m guessing you won’t like what you end up with. Not at all.

Let’s be clear on exactly what it means to “reformat” a machine.

Read moreHow do I reformat my machine if I don’t have a Windows CD?