How to do a complete fresh install of Windows 7 and all your apps in just a few hours

A guest post by Randy Miller
I am a Program Management consultant so I am really into developing and teaching processes and procedures. I also consider computers a hobby and I have kept up to date on the Windows 7 development and have done several fresh installs as knew builds came out.

This is a procedure I developed and use to make a complete fresh install of everything on a PC go as fast as possible. I am making an assumption that you are experienced in the use of Windows and installing third party applications.
Preparation is very important. I use a large external hard drive to backup all my personal files and prepare for the installation of all my apps after installing the OS.

Backup and Prepare:

1. Backup all documents in documents folders including, documents, music, pictures, etc. Put these all in folders named so you remember where they go after doing the OS install.

2. Backup your Favorites. I also use an online favorites storage website called Xmarks. You can also use Windows Live to store your favorites.

3. Backup any files that applications save to the C: Program Files folders. As an example I use an icon dock program that saves all the icons in the installation folder, I also use a movie database program that downloads and stores DVD cover art in the installation folder.

4. Download and backup hardware drivers. I have never had an issue with W7 not having a driver during installation but as a precaution I searched for and downloaded drivers for all my hardware. This was a lesson I learned while dealing with XP and it did not have drivers for my LAN or wireless cards.

5. Backup installation files. I copied all my installation CD’s and DVD’s to folders on my external drive. This makes installation after a fresh OS install lightening fast. This includes all downloaded freeware programs I use. In addition to speeding up installation it also serves as a checklist to make sure everything gets installed.

6. Backup product keys and serial numbers. I copy all keys, serial numbers, or other activation information to notepad files and store them on the external drive in their respective programs installation folder. I use notepad because you can open the files immediately after the OS fresh install without any other third party readers.

7. Download and backup Service Packs. I download and store any Service Packs for my OS or other apps and store them in the programs installation folder on the external hard drive. This really speeds things up because
you do not have to download them later. It also by passes a lot of incremental updates while using Windows Update. This is a huge time saver.

8. Make a paper check list of every folder your backups and installation folders are in.

Doing the OS installation:

1. I am not doing a how to on the installation or Windows 7 but I do suggest using the advanced installation option so you can format the hard drive and setup the partitions the way you want them.

2. Microsoft has installation instructions here: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/beta-installation-instructions.aspx (make use you use the “How to do a custom-clean installation” instructions)

3. This is also a good reference with screen shots: http://mygeekreview.blogspot.com/2009/01/installing-windows-7-step-by-step.html

Secure your computer:

1. Install your chosen Antivirus, Firewall, or Internet Security programs.

2. Update the database of these programs.

Update Windows 7:

1. Use windows update to make sure windows is up to date. You may need to do this more than once to get every update. Right now there are no Windows 7 Service Packs but in the future when they exist, install those from your backups before running Windows Update.

Setup Windows:

1. Now is a good time to adjust any basic windows settings to the way you like them. For instance, the first thing I do is use “folder options” to change the desktop to 1 click.

Copy documents to hard drive:

1. Now you are ready to copy all your documents to the hard drive from your external drive.

2. This may need to be done in several steps to get everything in the correct folders they belong in.

3. You will have to wait to copy the documents that belong in the program installation folders until those apps are installed.

Install your remaining applications:

1. Just go down your list of backup folders on your external drive and start installing your applications. Make sure you update each app using your downloaded service packs or using online updates. Do it now so you know it is done.

2. I install everything one after the other before I go back and do any formatting or personalization of the apps. If you do that now it will slow down the process. Just make sure it runs and update it.

Finish Windows personalization:

1. Continue setting up windows the way you want it, such as themes, power settings, screen saver, etc.

All this should be accomplished in a few hours. I average about 3.5 hours. I do not include personalization of the applications in this estimate because this can be very time consuming. Some applications may offer a settings backup utility so take advantage of this if they offer it and include those files in the backup phase.