Installing Windows without formating the partition

Warning for the americans: The procedures described below will delete all your installed programs from Program Files and it is very likely that the programs installed anywhere else will not work.

Goal: Install a clean Windows – for whatever reason (viruses, crashes, slow response) without formating the partition

List of steps:

  1. Remove old Windows, programs and backup documents if necessary
  2. Install Windows, programs and restore documents


[Win XP] means the part is about Windows XP
[Win Vista & 7] means the part is about Windows Vista & 7

1. This is not for the clumsy 🙂 but I will try to be as clear as possible

You need a bootable live CD – Windows or Linux. Linux is free and I usualy use Ubuntu for its simple way of doing things.

Once you have the Live CD, you need to boot from it. In order to do so, the computer bios must be set to boot from CD first.

Once in the live session you have different paths to take to do what we set up for:

Windows Live CD: press the windows key (between Ctrl and Alt) together with E. This will open Windows Explorer. Navigate to the partition with Windows directory in there (usually “Local Disk C:”).
Ubuntu (or any other Gnome based Linux): go to places and select a partition (or a hard drive if there is only one partition). If you have a 100MB partition, don’t open it, it’s Windows Vista or 7 EFI partition. If you find a Windows directory, stay there, if not open another partition.

Remember the size of the partition you found Windows on if you have more than one partition.

Now the paths are the same:

  • Delete the Windows directory, confirm with Yes to all as many times as necessary.
  • In the mean time, go to [Win XP] Documents and Settings [Win Vista & 7] Users, than navigate to your username (or the one with the documents you want to save) and select [Win XP] My Documents [Win Vista &7] Documents (hidden files must be visible – on Linux they are by default) -> right click on the directory and select Cut. Go to the root of the partition (where you found Windows directory), make a backup directory and paste into that directory. This saves your documents. If you have documents on the Desktop,  repeat the procedure but this time right click on the Desktop folder – is the same on XP, Vista & 7. The Pictures and the Videos directory is in My documents on Win XP, but on Vista & 7 it has a different directory: Pictures is one and Videos is the other.
    WARNING: “My pictures”, “My videos” and “My documents” on Windows Vista and 7 are shortcuts not the actual directory and contents! DO NOT COPY THOSE ONES
  • Hopefully by now the windows directory is deleted. Make sure your documents, pictures and videos are safe. Now delete Program Files, [Win Vista & 7] Program data,  [Win XP] Documents and Settings, [Win Vista & 7] Users, if possible the files hiberfil.sys and pagefile.sys and any files that you find in the root partition where you found Windows.

Now you’re ready to move to step 2.

2. Installing Windows is as usual, but you don’t format the partition, you just select the partition you want to install to – by the size of the partition you found Windows directory on, if you got more than one partition.

Than you install the drivers. The most recommended way is to install the mainboard drivers, then reboot, then install the rest, normally rebooting after each one. But I usually am lazy and install all of them selecting “Reboot later” and reboot only when I’m finished.

Once all your drivers are in place – check Device manager for yellow exclamation mark(s) – a good practice is to do a Windows Update.
Install your programs: office, communication suites, picture and/or video editors, you know what you need.

Go to the backup directory, if you did the backup and reverse the actions you took to save the directories, but a safe and quick way is to select all (Ctrl+A), Cut (Ctrl+X) and go to the username directory in [Win XP] Documents and Settings; [Win Vista & 7] Users – and paste (Ctrl+V) – DO NOT OVERWRITE!.

If you saved the Desktop, you can delete the broken links – probably old programs that you did not install.

Enjoy your clean new Windows.

P.S. Don’t install toolbars, it will slow down your browser.


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