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Reinstalling Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7

If you have been instructed to reinstall the Windows operating system software on their computer by the IT Service Desk (Help Desk) or your department's IT support office, follow the directions below.

Before you begin, you will need the system software install media associated with the operating system you will be reinstalling. Typically, these are the CDs or DVDs that came with your computer, or were included in a system software upgrade purchase.

Why Would I Need to Reinstall Windows XP/Vista?

The Windows operating system typically does not need to be reinstalled. However, there are instances in which the files needed to run Windows properly might have become corrupted:

  • The user has installed and removed applications numerous times and a file that is necessary has been deleted or has become corrupted.
  • A virus, worm, or trojan (malware) has infected important files so Windows cannot operate properly.
  • The computer will not boot from the hard drive.

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How Do I Reinstall a Windows Program?

If a program (or programs) you are using is not working properly, try un-installing and then re-installing that program before re-installing the entire operating system. To do this, click Start, Settings, Control Panel, then double-click the Add or Remove Programs Control Panel. Highlight the program you want to remove, then click the Add/Remove button. If a message appears that refers to deleting shared files, always choose to keep the shared file(s); do not delete them. It is a good idea to restart your computer after removing the program. You can then re-install the program. If this still does not fix the problem, then proceed with the steps to re-install the operating system.

How Do I Back Up My Data?

Before you reinstall the Windows operating system, it is very important you have a proper backup of your data. Typically, your data can be found in your My Documents folder or on your desktop. You might also want to back up the folder that contains the bookmarks (favorites) of the web browser you use.

There are many different ways to back up the data on a computer. For example, you can back up data to your computer's CD-R/CD-RW drive, over the network to a different computer, or to an external hard drive connected to your computer.

Dartmouth offers a wide array of data storage and backup options for members of the Dartmouth community. Contact your department's IT support office.

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How Do I Check My Hard Drive Using Windows XP/Vista/Windows 7?

Chkdsk (Chkdsk.exe) is a command-line tool that checks volumes for problems. The tool then tries to repair any problems it finds. For example, Chkdsk can repair problems related to bad sectors, lost clusters, cross-linked files, and directory errors. To use Chkdsk, you must log on as an administrator or as a member of the Administrators group.

Right-click the Start button, then select Explore. In the window that appears, click on the plus sign next to My Computer, then right-click on the drive you would like to check – most likely C:. A menu will appear. Select Properties, then click on the Tools tab, then the Check now... button under Error-checking. Click the options desired, then click Start.

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How Do I Do a Quick Reinstall of the Windows Operating System?

Note: Reinstalling Windows is time consuming and complicated and, if not done properly, can result in loss of data or computer functionality. If you have questions about reinstalling or are at all uncomfortable with these steps, please contact the IT Service Desk (Help Desk) by sending e-mail to or by contacting your department's IT support office.

Reinstalling Windows requires the Certificate of Authenticity or Product ID number. This number can be found in the Introducing Microsoft Windows manual that came with the operating system, on the CD, or on a label on the computer case. (This number can also be found by clicking Start, Settings, Control Panel, System, then the General tab.)

Make sure you have a complete and recent backup of your files (My documents, Favorites, desktop files, application data files, etc.). Update the backup, if necessary.

You may not need to completely reinstall the operating system; you may be able to repair the existing copy of Windows. If you were unable to back up your documents, then you may want to try repairing the Windows operating system rather than installing a fresh copy. It is important to note that any problems with the computer that occurred due to a computer virus, worm, or trojan, or due to the age of your computer will remain on the computer, with new Operating System files replacing the old files. With a full installation, the hard drive is typically formatted which will remove any files that were compromised by a virus, etc., as well as mapping out any bad sectors on the hard drive.

For instructions on performing an in-place upgrade (repair reinstallation) of Windows XP, see How to Perform an In-place Upgrade (Reinstallation) of Windows XP.  For Windows 7, see Windows 7 - Repair Install

To perform a repair reinstallation for Windows Vista follow the steps below.

  • Back up your data. If you need help doing this, send e-mail to or contact your department's IT support office. 
  • Before you perform a repair or an in-place upgrade, have the Windows installation CD/DVD and the product key available. If you do not have these, you cannot reinstall Windows. If the repair reinstallation fails, you will need the Windows product key.
  • Many of the device drivers for your hardware components are integrated into Windows. However, devices such as printers, monitors, graphic cards, ethernet and wireless cards, sound cards, modems, external drives, and scanners usually have separate installation CDs. If you do not have all of the drivers for your hardware components, you can download the drivers from the Internet, then write them to a CD.
  • You should store the CDs and product keys for the programs in a handy location. You may need to reinstall programs if they do not work after you have reinstalled Windows.
  • With the computer booted up to your normal login desktop, open the CD/DVD drive and insert the Windows Vista disk. Auto-Play will prompt you to make a selection. Click Run Setup.exe. (If Auto-Play does not run, open My Computer, double-click on the CD/DVD drive, then double-click Setup.exe.)
  • Click Install Now to start the upgrade (repair reinstallation). You can have Vista go online for updates during the installation, or you can postpone the updates until after reinstallation. Postponing the updates will speed up the reinstallation process.
  • Do not enter a product key when prompted because you can end up in Reduced Functionality Mode.
  • Leave Automatically activate Windows when I'm online unchecked. Click Next.
  • When you get the Do you want to enter your product key now? prompt, click No.
  • Select which version of Vista you have, then check I have selected the edition of Windows that I purchased. Click Next.
  • Click Upgrade.
  • Follow the instructions until Vista is through installing and has rebooted to the final welcome screen on the Vista desktop.
  • Remove the Vista installation DVD and run Disk Cleanup; check Files discarded by Windows upgrade.
  • If you are prompted to reactivate Windows Vista, go to the  Windows Vista Activation FAQ web page.

If you need to do a full install, you will need to reinstall all the software applications on your computer, so make sure you have the original software CDs (Office, FileMaker, etc.), as well as device driver media that came with your computer handy. For instructions on how to do a full install, click Next in the right bottom corner of this page, or click on the appropriate link above for steps to follow for in-place upgrades.

Again, if you have questions about reinstalling or are at all uncomfortable with these steps, please contact the IT Service Desk (Help Desk) by sending e-mail to or by contacting your department's IT support office.

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How Do I Reinstall the Windows Operating System?

Note: Reinstalling Windows is time consuming, complicated, and can overwrite or erase your entire hard drive, so proceed with caution.

Before attempting to reinstall Windows, be sure you have backed up all your data (My Documents, Favorites, desktop files, application data, etc.) and have all of the CDs that came with your computer handy. This includes any application CDs (Office, FileMaker, CD-burning software, DVD software, etc.). If you are at all concerned about attempting this, please contact the IT Service Desk (Help Desk) at or your department's IT support office.

Disconnect your computer from the Ethernet network, and if you have a laptop with internal wireless network capability, disable your wireless card. If the wireless card can be easily removed, remove it from the computer before proceeding. Please call for assistance with this, if needed.

Restart your computer with the Windows Operating System (OS) disk in your CD drive. It should boot from the CD and start the Windows reinstall process. If you find your computer started (booted) from your hard drive — that is, you boot up to your normal Windows screen, reboot the computer again and press the [F12] key as the computer goes through the initial steps of restarting. You will then see a list of drives from which you can boot. Select the CD/DVD drive. There will then be a prompt to confirm that you wish to start from the CD/DVD drive. If your computer does not respond to the [F12] key, you will need to contact the IT Service Desk (Help Desk) for your department's IT support office and ask them to guide you through changing the boot sequence in the BIOS.

  • Reinstalling Windows over a pre-existing installation may take an hour or more. You will be prompted to agree to the license agreement, then you will be asked to select the type of installation. You can choose to repair the selected Windows XP installation, install a fresh copy of Windows, or quit the installation. If you choose to repair the current installed version of Windows, user profiles and most programs will function at the end of this repair reinstallation. During reinstallation, you may be asked questions about overwriting existing files. Typically, if you are asked to replace something with an older version, click No. This will leave all the files in their current place, reinstalling only the system files that are missing, of a different date, or of a different size than those on the CD.  
  • If you choose to install a fresh copy of Windows, we recommend you delete the existing drive partitions and reformat the hard drive. Reformatting a hard drive will remove everything from the hard drive and will take more time. You should only elect to reformat your hard drive if you have thoroughly backed up your personal files and have all your software CDs available for reinstallation. Partitioning your hard drive will also remove all software and personal files. Again, do this only if you are prepared to reinstall all your software and restore your personal documents from a backup. Reformatting your hard drive is the only way to remove some forms of computer viruses, worms, or trojans, as well as mapping out the bad sectors that normally occur as a computer ages.

For instructions on installing Windows XP Professional, see How to Install or Upgrade to Windows XP. Be sure to disable all network connections before you begin.

For instructions on installing Windows Vista, see How to Install Windows Vista. Be sure to disable all network connections before you begin.

For instructions on installing Windows 7, see Installing and Reinstalling Windows 7

Once you have reinstalled the operating system, you may also need to reinstall the hardware drivers that came with your monitor, Ethernet card, wireless, or other input/output devices. The software should be on media that came with the component. If you are unable to find it, you can download it from the Web site of the manufacturer of the component. You may need to do these downloads from another computer and copy the needed drivers on a CD or USB key to move them to your computer.

Before you reconnect or re-enable your network connections, you should run all the Windows critical updates while connected to a router or have firewall software installed on your computer first. This is because there are many viruses, worms, and trojans (malware) that are actively searching for unpatched computers so they can infect them or take them over for remote control by others. Windows computers are often attacked before they have finished starting up. For more information, go to Information Security web page.

If you are installing Windows XP Service Pack 2 or 3 (SP2 or SP3), it comes with firewall software already enabled. This does not mean that Windows XP SP2 and SP3 updates should be done with the computer directly connected to the Internet. The operating system vulnerabilities are serious enough that having a router shielding your unpatched computer is much safer. Windows operating systems of versions earlier than Windows XP SP2 do not have a firewall enabled at startup, so it is important that they be protected by a router or firewall software (Sygate Security Agent) while downloading and installing the critical Windows updates.

If you are working with an operating system that does not have a firewall enabled automatically (Windows XP SP1 and earlier), the firewall software should not be downloaded to your computer from the network, but burned to a CD or USB-flash drive and installed onto your computer. Failure to follow these instructions may result in your computer being compromised with computer viruses, worms, or trojans. It is extremely important that the computer not be put directly onto the network until the operating system is fully updated with the critical updates. The Computer Store has routers available for purchase, if desired. You can also download Symantec Endpoint Protection from the Windows Software Downloads page, copy the installer to a CD or USB-flash drive and then transfer it for installation to your computer. The IT Service Desk (Help Desk) or your department's IT support office can also help.

Once all of the operating system critical updates have been installed (you will need to run the Windows Update command in the Tools menu in Internet Explorer several times to be sure), the router should be disconnected, as Kerberos authentication attempts do not work properly with a router that has not been specifically configured to work with Kerberos. You can then download and install applications, by using Kerberos or Web Authorization, from the Windows Software Downloads web page. Applications such as Symantec Endpoint Protection are free to download and install for those affiliated with Dartmouth.

After installing the operating system updates, and after updating your installed applications (see Updating Your Applications), it is safe to directly connect the computer to the network.

If you have any questions, contact the IT Service Desk (Help Desk) at 646-2999, send e-mail to, or call your department's IT support office.

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Last Updated: 2/6/13