# Tuesday, January 22, 2013

This past weekend, I rebuilt my laptop. I decided to reformat my hard drive so I could get a clean start from all the mess left behind installing and uninstalling software. I like to do this about once a year to keep my PC fresh.

I spent a little time preparing for this radical move because I wanted it to go smoothly and I did not want to lose any data.

The first thing I did was to make sure I had a Windows install disc and a valid license key. I have an MSDN subscription, so for me this meant downloading the ISO, burning a DVD and retrieving a license key from MSDN. For you, this might mean digging out the original install disc that came with your PC or buying a copy of Windows. However you obtain your Windows disc, do yourself a favor and pop the disc into the drive on your computer and verify that it can be read. If this is your only computer, it may be tough to get a new disc after you start the rebuilding process.

The next step before starting the rebuild is to take an inventory of the current state of your computer.

  1. Make a list of the files on your hard drive that you want to save.
  2. Document the settings of your favourite apps.
  3. Make a list of the applications you want to keep.

Files to Save

If you already have a comprehensive backup strategy for your computer, you can skip this step. But my experience is that most people lack such a strategy.

You won't get another chance at this, so make sure you find all those critical files that you don't want to lose. Look through Windows Explorer and make a list of the folders to back up and any files in odd folders. Open your favourite application and check the "Recent File" list. Most of my really important documents are in Dropbox, so they are automatically synced to other computers, so I don't need to explicitly back these up. My list looked like the following:

  • My Videos
  • My Music
  • My documents
  • C:\Install
  • C:\Development
  • C:\Utilities
  • search for *.PST files (1.5GB)

I do a pretty good job of keeping my work in some clearly-defined folders. But, Outlook has a tendency to create PST files wherever it wants without asking me, so those tend to be in cryptic locations. Before I began my rebuild, I copied these folders to an external hard drive.

Document Settings

I always have trouble remembering server names and other account settings for the e-mail accounts in Microsoft Outlook, so I write these down before I begin wiping my computer clean. It's a good idea to check out the settings and preferences of all your favourite applications and document anything that you might have trouble remembering. Sometimes these settings are saved to a file that can be easily backed up. Are there any passwords that your computer is caching for you? You will need to re-type these after your rebuild, so make sure you can remember them all. If you are the type to save web page bookmarks, open the bookmarks folder and save this file.

Apps to Install

I always make a list of apps to re-install. The list consists only of apps that I am currently using. Over the last 12 months, I've installed a lot of crapware and this is a chance to rid myself of these programs in one fell swoop. Look at your Start Menu and Taskbar; Check out the services that Start automatically; and take a look through Windows Explorer. List the programs that you use frequently. Do you have the install bits? Is it time to download a fresh copy?

My list looked like the one below

  • PowerIso
  • Visual Studio (2008, 10, 12)
  • Office 2010
  • SQL Server 2008R2, 2012
  • Filezilla
  • Spotify
  • Browsers (Chrome, Firefox, Opera)
  • Tweetdeck
  • Dropbox
  • Fiddler
  • Pluralsight Offline Player
  • Camtasia Studio
  • Live Writer
  • Tweetdeck

I use other applications, but I could wait until I need them before installing them.

Some of these apps (e.g., MS Office) have large installation files that are only updated every few years. I will generally keep a copy of these installation files on an external hard drive. Others are smaller and updated frequently and it is generally better to download the latest version when you are ready to install the app. A few years ago, I purchased and downloaded some video editing software from an online vendor. When I lost the installation files, the vendor would not allow me to download a second copy. It is for this reason that I now save such files in an "Install" folder.


When you are done installing Windows, it becomes a simple thing to copy back your files to the original location and to re-install your applications. I almost always get an immediate performance both from rebuilding my laptop; and a little planning can reduce the stress of this project.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 3:11:00 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)