So you just got that awesome new notebook and can’t wait to start playing with it. But if you’re serious about truly making this “your notebook”, there’s something you should do first: wipe it and reinstall Windows—even if you think there’s nothing really wrong with your system. Here’s why (and how).
Why would you want to reinstall?
Laptop manufacturers often have additional software pre-installed “for your convenience”; anti-virus trials, office suite trials, web update tools, and any other number of demo and utility applications are often available as soon as you first see the Windows desktop. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but that software can needlessly slow down your computer by wasting resources. At the very least it’s a waste of drive space. Most of the time such software is easily uninstalled, but in the case of pre-loaded antivirus software a clean uninstall may not be possible. In addition, the hardware drivers that manufacturers ship are often out of date. The same holds true with the pre-installed software.
How to proceed
To begin, you’ll need the following:
- A Windows 7 DVD, ISO, or USB stick
- The latest drivers for your laptop
- Media to back up your data (if needed)
The first thing needed is a Windows install source. For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume Windows 7 is your version of choice. If your laptop didn’t come with a Windows DVD, don’t worry—Microsoft has provided a resource for downloading an ISO (links below). The key provided with your laptop will allow you to activate Windows although you may need to activate your install via phone. I had to do this, but it took less than five minutes and was painless. If your laptop came with a previous version of Windows you’ll need to locate your install media or upgrade to Windows 7. And before you get any crazy ideas about OMGFREEUPGRADE, the key that came with your laptop will only work with the version of Windows that came with your laptop, although if your laptop came with a 32-bit version you SHOULD be able to change to the 64-bit version. If you want to upgrade to a different version, the Microsoft Anytime Upgrade feature should work for you.
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit ISO (Digital River)
Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit ISO (Digital River)
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit ISO (Digital River)
Windows 7 Professional 32-bit ISO (Digital River)
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit ISO (Amazon)
Windows 7 Ultimate 32-bit ISO (Amazon)
Fortunately the days have passed in which manufacturers would use obscure hardware and hide access to drivers from the user. Any good manufacturer these days has a support web site providing updated drivers and applications. It is important to know your model number and hardware. If the download list presents options for your hardware (different WiFi cards for example), use the device manager to figure out your particular configuration.
To help you get started, here are some links to the support pages of the most common manufacturers:
GPU drivers are an odd lot. The two discrete GPU makers, AMD and nVidia, formerly left official driver support to the laptop manufacturers, most of whom decided to leave their customers with little to no GPU driver support after the purchase. Fortunately this has changed for the better.
AMD’s Mobility Catalyst 10.3 drivers support mobile GPUs from the HD2400 and on unless the laptop manufacturer specifically requests to be left out (Sony, Toshiba, and Panasonic are on this list).
NVIDIA provides driver support for their GeForce 7000 series and newer GPUs. Users with older graphics chipsets can still use products such as MobilityModder to support their laptops.
If you downloaded the Windows ISO, you can either burn a DVD or use an 8+GB USB stick to install Windows. If you choose the USB stick, Icrontic has a pair of excellent guides to setting it up from both ISO and DVD, or you can use the official Microsoft application. Any of these methods will completely erase the USB stick, so back up your data first.
The second step is to put your drivers on a DVD or USB stick. When you format the hard drive, anything that was on that drive will be gone, including the drivers you downloaded. I would recommend against using an SD card or any other flash drive involving an internal reader on your laptop since often there are drivers required before those flash readers will work. Catch-22s are only funny on comedy shows, not so much when your laptop drivers are involved.
Next, if you have any data on the hard drive that you would be upset over losing, back it up. Flash media is fine for this since you will have drivers loaded when it’s time to restore your data. Any other media (CD, DVD, USB stick, network drive) will work as well.
Doing the Deed
Finally, we’re ready to install. Reboot your laptop and boot from your media of choice (you may need to consult your documentation to determine how to do this). Follow the prompts (an illustrated photo gallery is below this list):
- Click Install Now
- Accept the license terms and click Next
- Select Custom install (advanced)
- The first hard drive will be selected. There are a few laptops with more than one physical drive. If yours is one of them, the OS disk is usually the first one listed.
- Select Drive Options (advanced)
- If you want to partition your drive (“break” the space up into smaller spaces), now is the time to do so.
- Select the disk (usually Disk 0, Partition 1)
- Click Delete.
- Click New and choose a size for your partition. In the images you’ll see a 146GB partition was created. This allows plenty of space for Windows, applications, and your user profile (where your documents, pictures, and downloads go by default). There is also now a 100MB partition called “System Reserved”. This is for a relatively new (to the Windows world anyway) drive layout called GUID. It is a replacement for MBR, and is well beyond the scope of this article.
- Repeat the previous step for “Disk 0 Unallocated Space”. Go ahead and use the value Windows provides. It should be the remainder of your free space.
- Once you are satisfied with your drive layout, select the partition where you want Windows installed. More than likely you’ll want the partition just below the System Reserved Partition – in the image this is Disk 0 Partition 2. Select the partition and click Next.
At this point Windows will install, and within about 30-45 minutes (and an automatic reboot or two) setup will be complete. You are now 1/5 of the way finished.
Your drivers are the next step. Begin with the graphics driver since that will provide a larger and faster workspace (slow-performing and low resolution default video drivers are a pain). After that, begin installing your other drivers. You’ll likely need to reboot many times if you follow the prompts exactly. Once that is done, you’re 2/5 there.
Next is Windows Update. Thanks to Microsoft’s streamlining of the update process, it should only take one time to get all patches installed. Be sure to get the recommended as well as the optional updates (excepting all the unnecessary language packs, of course). You should reboot once after updating. While shutting down and on startup you’ll probably see a message about Windows applying updates. This is fine, and you’re now 3/5 done.
The final step is restoring your data. If you had any to back up, just copy it back where you want it. Congratulations, your laptop now has a fresh install, and you have finished! Go forth and compute knowing that your laptop has nothing on it that you don’t want.