This article will explain what you need to know before you repair or reinstall your copy of Windows XP. Re-installation of your operating system (OS) should be one of your last resorts for fixing a problem with the software on your computer. The process can be tricky and can cause more problems than it solves if you don't understand what you are doing and why. There are two different but related topics this article will cover: repairing an existing installation of Windows XP, and a complete format and reinstall of Windows XP.
Note: This article covers Microsoft Windows XP Home and Professional editions only and should not be used if you are attempting to repair or reinstall Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows 98, Windows NT, or Windows 95.
DISCLAIMER: Support through IT Services Support for repairing or re-installation of Windows XP is limited. This article should not be considered a complete guide on how to install or repair Windows XP. If you need the assistance of a repair service to repair or reinstall Windows XP for you, we recommend the MSU Help and Repair Center, 120 Computer Center.
Difference Between Repairing and Reinstalling Windows
When you repair an installation of Windows XP you install Windows into the same folder as the old installation. All the files in your Windows folder are overwritten. This may change some of your settings, program short cuts, and location of your My Documents folder, but all other folders will remain intact. For more information about this click here.
On the other hand, when you do a re-installation (also called a clean install) of Windows you first format the hard drive and then install Windows. When you format your hard drive all the information that it once contained is erased and wiped clean. This is why you should first try to repair Windows before attempting to do a clean install.
Reasons for Repairing or Reinstalling Windows
Knowing why you are repairing or reinstalling Windows is more important than knowing how to do it. This is especially true of reinstalling Windows, which will require you to erase all the information from you hard drive. You don't want to go through the trouble if it is unnecessary or if doing so isn't going to solve your problem in the first place.
For advice on determining whether you need to repair or reinstall Windows is by either contacting IT Services Support at (517) 432-6200 or by bringing your computer to the Help Desk Service Center. If you describe your problem to the consultants they can best recommend if a repair or re-installation is right for you.
One reason you may need to repair or reinstall Windows is because it will not boot properly. This can happen for the following reasons:
- A file Windows requires to run properly is either deleted or corrupted. Files can become corrupted if they are improperly moved or modified.
- A program that is set to run at start-up causes an error resulting in the computer crashing.
- There is an error in the Windows Registry or it has been corrupted. The Windows Registry is an important file that is frequently modified. If it is modified incorrectly, it could cause your computer to stop booting normally.
- A hardware failure during start-up causes your system to crash, esp. a hard drive failure.
- The installation of a Windows Update was interrupted or improperly installed.
If your computer does not boot properly you will need to determine whether the cause has to do with your installation of Windows (hence needing a repair or reinstall), or with some other factor. To do this you will need to see if you can load Windows properly in safe mode. When you start Windows normally your computer loads many programs and services, and safe mode loads only the bare essentials. If your computer will load in safe mode, but will not load normally, then the problem is likely a program or service that is running at start-up and not with your installation of Windows.
Another reason for needing a repair or re-installation is when all other attempts at removing viruses and/or spyware from your system fail. In cases like this a clean install is necessary as opposed to a repair. However, it is important that all other remedies are exhausted before trying a clean install. For information on viruses, spyware, and general computer security, please check out tech.msu.edu/SecureIT.
Preparing to Repair or Reinstall Windows
The purpose of repairing or reinstalling Windows is for it to fix the problem, not to have it reoccur or cause new problems. It does no good to reinstall Windows to fix a virus problem if doing so leaves your computer more vulnerable to getting viruses. Before you begin a repair or reinstall you will need the following items:
Windows XP OS CD-ROM (with the Product Key) that you either purchased or came with your computer when you bought it.
Note: You cannot borrow someone's copy of Windows XP. After installing Windows XP you may need to activate your copy. If you use someone else's copy and they have already activated theirs then it cannot be activated again.
Note: If you did not receive a Windows XP OS CD-ROM with your computer when you purchased it, your manufacturer may have given you "recovery CDs" instead. Recovery CDs contain an image file of your hard drive, a snapshot of all the contents of your hard drive (including preloaded programs and Windows XP) when the software on your computer was installed. Using the recovery CDs will completely wipe out all information on your hard drive and return it to the original state of when you purchased it. If this is the case you cannot do a repair or re-installation of Windows - you will have to use the recovery CDs. Please see your computer manufacturer's instruction manual on how to use the recovery CDs.
Drivers for your computer's devices. Devices can include your graphics card (it's what your monitor plugs into), sound card, network card, modem, wireless card, or USB controller. Windows needs software called drivers to run these devices. Your Windows XP OS CD-ROM contains many drivers for devices made by popular companies and will install the devices automatically if it can find the right drivers.
However, if it cannot then you will need to install the drivers yourself from an outside source. For example, Dell Computers (and many other manufacturers) include a special CD-ROM that contains all the drivers for your computer. If you do not have the drivers for your devices you will need to search for them on the manufacture's website and burn them to a CD-ROM. If you do not do this some of these devices may not work including your ability to connect to the network or dial-up.
- Windows XP SP2 on CD-ROM. After you do a repair or reinstall you will also need to reinstall the latest update from Microsoft called Service Pack 2 before connecting to the Internet. This will help ensure that when you connect to the Internet you will not be susceptible to certain viruses that exploit vulnerabilities in Windows that were corrected with SP2. You can pick up a copy of SP2 at IT Services Support or by ordering a copy from Microsoft free of charge by clicking here.
- A copy of your anti-virus software. Examples include Norton Anti-Virus and McAfee VirusScan. It is highly recommended that you purchase a copy if you do not already own one. Anti-virus software can be purchased from the MSU Computer Store. If the reason for the repair or re-installation was because of viruses, then you will need to protect yourself before connecting to the Internet.
Repairing Windows XP
Now that you have everything prepared you are ready to do a repair installation of Windows XP. Follow the link below from Microsoft for step-by-step instructions. After you are finished with the repair, install the rest in this order: Windows SP2, device drivers you may need, and your anti-virus software. If the repair operation fails to correct the problem, you may need to try a clean installation, or your problem may be hardware related (see below if you think this is the case).
Reinstallation (Clean Install) of Windows XP
If you choose to do a clean install of Windows the first thing you must remember to do is create backups of all your important information (if possible). This process will erase all the information currently on your computer and is irreversible.
Follow the link below for step-by-step instructions on how to reinstall Windows. The process involves reformatting your hard drive then the install. When formatting it is recommended that you choose "Format the partition by using the NTFS file system" when prompted. For additional information about formatting options click here. After you are finished with the re-installation, install the rest in this order: Windows SP2, device drivers you may need, and your anti-virus software.
If Reinstallation Fails to Correct the Problem
Re-installation of Windows XP only fixes problems related to the installation of the operating system. As mentioned above, one of the reasons why a computer won't boot properly is because of a hardware failure. A re-installation of Windows XP will not fix this problem. To remedy, the faulty device must be either removed or replaced. For example, if the hard drive is physically damaged you will not be able to reinstall Windows and will need to have your hard drive replaced first.
If you believe that this is the case, we recommend that you bring your machine to the MSU Computer Help and Repair Center, 120 Computer Center.