How To Do A Fresh Install of Windows 7

Blow away your hard drive and reinstall Windows 7 the proper way.

Brian Burgess, Executive Editor, BYTE

June 25, 2011

6 Min Read

BYTE--In this how to gallery, I'm targeting new Windows 7 users and those of you who need to reinstall Windows 7 to get rid of malware or another system problem.

Here's how to do a reinstall of Windows 7 the cleanest way possible, configuration-wise.

This will involve backing up your system, blowing it away with a serious drive wiper (like Darik's Nuke and Boot), and installing Win 7 clean right after.


Before you proceed further, check to make you have a recent, easy-to-restore backup of your entire system. This reinstall will flush everything on your drive, even typically hidden temp files.

If your system is destroyed to the point you can't even boot into it from C:, boot up from a USB Windows 7 USB flash drive or hit F8 on boot. Do the latter, and you will see the boot screen below.

Highlight Safe Mode and hit Enter.

Safe Mode is a bare-bones version of Windows with few of its drivers and plug-ins installed. Reserve it for times when you're troubleshooting and can't access your system normally.

Make sure to back up any important, non-backed up files and directories off the drive. You're about to blow out this drive's data.

Get ready with the disk reformatting tool you like best. Mine without a doubt is the one I show below--Darik's Boot and Nuke (DBAN). It's going to render this drive entirely clean.

A little more about DBAN for use before a new Windows install. It's powerful--and far more capable than the reformat utility built into MS Windows. By wiping the drive entirely, DBAN makes new Windows 7 problems less likely. No old files will interfere at system level with your new ones. I highly recommend DBAN before fresh Windows OS installs.

DBAN rewrites each sector on every hard disk it detects to near Department of Defense (DOD) security standards. Bulk and emergency data destruction, just for future reference, are great reasons to use DBAN, too.

Go ahead and download the DBAN ISO .

Then, burn it to a blank CD using the Windows 7 Disk Image Burner. Right-click the DBAN image, select Open with >> Windows Disc Image Burner.

Select the disc burner with the blank CD. check Verify Disc After Burning and click Burn.

DBAN will burn to disc now. Let Windows verify it of course and, when it's done, click Close.

The PC's CD tray will pop open. There's the fresh disc. Close the tray again and reboot the system with the DBAN disc inside.

On power up, select your boot device so that you're booting off the DBAN CD. At the prompt type: autonuke

The autonuke feature can take several hours--it rewrites every sector seven times. Run it overnight if you can.

NOTE: There is a faster, but less thorough disk wipe available as a feature in DBAN. In DBAN, hit F3 for a list of Quick Commands. Use the Quick Erase method, which overwrites each hard disk sector with zeroes in one pass. For a wipe that will take a few hours less, it still is more complete than any utility Windows has built in.

To reach it at the boot prompt type: quick

Once you have a clean drive, that's it. You're ready. Reinstall Windows 7.

Pop in your Windows 7 installation disc and navigate through the setup wizard.

You already know your computer is capable of running Windows 7. No need to read the What To Know Before Installing Windows section. Click Install Now.

Kicking off the Windows 7 reinstall. Here it goes. Select your language, time, currency format and keyboard input.

Read the End User License Agreement (EULA) if you never have--be an informed Windows user. : ) Then just accept the license terms. Hit Next.

When prompted for which type installation do you want, do NOT select upgrade. Select the below option--Custom (advanced).

Because you used DBAN or another utility to completely erase your hard drive first, click on Unallocated Space. If you have multiple drives in your computer, make sure you select your boot drive as the location to install Windows 7. Hit Next.

During installation, your computer will restart a few times with no interaction on your part. But keep your eye on it in case it hangs or suffers another unexpected glitch. The following three screens will display.

When you see the Setup is checking video performance screen, get ready. You're almost there.

Enter your User Name and Computer Name for this fresh-installed Windows 7 system.

Type in a secure password for your account twice and a password hint.

Enter the Product Key that came with your disc. If your system came with Windows pre-installed, use the product key displayed on a sticker on the case.

Decide if you want to protect your computer to improve Windows automatically with Use Recommended Settings, Install Important Updates Only. I recommend you do select that--at least for now.

Change your mind on this setting if you will, but wait until the install is complete.

Select the time zone you're in and make sure the time and date are correct. Don't forget to check Automatically Adjust Clock for your correct daylight savings time.

If your PC is on your home network, select that option. Or if the machine is at your work or on a public network, make another selection.

NOTE: The HomeGroup feature is only available on a home network hookup.

Next, Windows prepares your desktop.

Taste the success. You did it. If you need any updates right away--as in this instance, where sound card drivers need updating, Windows will grab them right away. But you're essentially done. Congratulations.

Reboot if the system requires it.

The system will prompt you to log back in and enter a password if you set one up. If you didn't set one up. just hit Enter.

And that's all there is to doing a fresh and clean reinstall of Windows 7.

Brian Burgess is the executive editor of BYTE. Follow him @mysticgeek. Got a comment or idea? Send it to him at [email protected].

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