“To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.” Margaret Fairless Barber
I thought the above quote was very apropos for the subject of refreshing Windows itself. First of all, we need to look ‘backwards’ in that we are reverting to the very first day in a PC’s life, the state it would have been in when you brought it home (assuming a new PC). “Restore” is also appropriate because we are restoring our PC back in time, and hopefully, restoring its speed and rendering it more useful looking forward.
The reasons for reinstalling Windows can be varied. Perhaps your PC is slow and you think it may be time to start fresh to see if you can regain the ‘zip’ your computer had way back when. Or, you may have installed software that has caused problems which uninstalling it and/or trying system restore did not solve. Virus infestation is another reason many have had to reinstall Windows.
With that thought in mind let’s look at 3 ways you can refresh Windows.
- Restore to manufacturer’s settings.
- Wipe and reinstall.
- Do some Spring cleaning.
Now, let’s examine each one in more detail.
Restore to Manufacturer’s settings
Sometimes this is called ‘system recovery’ and all the files needed to restore Windows reside on a (sometimes) hidden partition on the hard drive. This recovery partition, along with the recovery software which is manufacturer-dependent can be accessed either at boot-up by pressing one of the F keys (F1 for instance), or can usually be initiated within Windows itself. For instance, on my Lenovo ThinkPad, I can hit the ThinkVantage button on my keyboard at boot up or I can start the Rescue & Recovery software from Windows. It would be similar with HP, Toshiba or any other major brand.
Note that choosing this method of recovering/reinstalling Windows will result in all your installed programs and data being destroyed. You will definitely need to backup your data and have any program CDs (Microsoft Office, etc.) and downloaded installation files at hand on another media (like a USB stick or external hard drive).
One drawback to this type of recovery is that you will need to install tons of updates, both for Windows and for any other software that came installed on the PC. This is very time consuming, so be sure you set aside a large allotment of time to get your computer updated once the recovery is finished. You’ll need a working high speed Internet to accomplish this task!
Wipe and Reinstall
This option is more of a solution for those that build their own PCs since most brand name computers come with recovery software instead of actual Windows discs. A more manual version of step #1, it assumes you have all the tools (Windows CD, etc.) needed to get Windows installed and working. In fact, you will need hardware driver files specific for your PC and any hardware you may have upgraded since you bought it, such as a video or network card. You can get all of these from your PC’s website. Just be sure you get the correct ones for your model. These days,
This is cleaning up/out your PC without reinstalling Windows. Ideally, this should be the first step to take before reinstalling Windows. By cleaning out junk files, unused programs and then performing a defragmentation may return a noticeable amount of speed to your PC. Windows comes with Disk Cleanup (at left, click to enlarge) to get rid of junk files, a program uninstaller (in Control Panel) to clear out any programs you no longer use or need and a defragmenter to tidy up the hard drive after all those unnecessary files have been removed. As you can see by my example of Disk Cleanup, I can get rid of almost 1 GB of files! You might also want to see what programs are running at startup. Perhaps there are some that do not need to run at startup and these can be prevented from automatically starting and using up Windows memory. Note that this does not actually uninstall the program; it just prevents it from running when Windows is started. Look in the Startup folder in the Windows start menu under All Programs.
After cleaning out files and programs and then running Disk Defragmenter, reboot your PC and see if it is any faster for you.
There are also some third-party programs you can try. I recommend a good defragmenter like O & O Defrag. It has many more features than the one that comes with Windows and will arrange your files more efficiently as well. Another is Acronis True Image Home. It can make complete backups of Windows as well as your files (photos, emails, etc.) making it much easier to restore Windows to a time when it was working well. One other tool I will mention is PC Pitstop’s PC Matic which automates disk cleanup, defragments and controls startup programs and much more. You can read our PC Matic review here.
Hopefully this article has given you some direction on what to do if you find your PC is slowing down and it is time to freshen Windows up!
Do you have any favourite ‘speed-up’ tips to share? Please post them below. Thanks!