The Windows XP Reinstall Checklist

This is a list of common practices that one should follow for the reinstallation of Windows (specifically XP here, but many items can be ported to other versions). The list is broken into three sections: precautions you should take for when you need to reinstall (you WILL need to at some point), things to do just before reinstalling, and things to do after reinstalling. The order is somewhat chronological; however, you may need to do some items before others given your particular circumstance. This list is by no means complete or all-encompassing.

If you have an OEM system (meaning some company manufactured it for you) and enjoy being anally raped by preinstalled crap, you should use the reinstallation procedures and discs that are provided for you by the OEM.


  • Keep a storage of all the drivers and critical programs you download. This always helps to streamline the reinstallation process. Some drivers for various hardware may become difficult to find, as well. If the hardware you have isn’t supported by the manufacturer anymore, try a driver site like
  • Make a special partition that’s at least 4GB just for Windows Installations. (XP needs 3GB minimum to install, but many programs and installers force you to use the system disk. Future versions of Windows may also require more space.) This will help during future reinstalls of Windows by minimizing the amount of data you have to erase and format.
  • Use the TweakUI program from Microsoft to change the paths for My Documents, Desktop, etc, to a drive or partition other than the one Windows is installed to. This is also to help prevent the loss of data.

Before Reinstalling

  • If you can’t boot into Windows normally, but can get into safe mode, do so and use it to backup files. You can also make any necessary boot disks for MSDOS (possibly with CD-ROM or NTFS drivers) or driver disks for SCSI or SATA drives. Use “Safe Mode with Networking” if you need to download any of these from the Internet. If you need special modem or NIC drivers, get those saved now, too.
  • If you can’t get into Safe Mode, try using a “preinstallation environment” or “Live CD” like Bart PE.  Windows-based Live CDs usually require you to make your own in advance.
  • Consider backing up the registry before you reinstall. You never know what settings you might need when you get back into Windows. To do so, run “regedit”, go to File>Export, and select the entire registry. For easier use, you may want to backup selected portions of the registry that are no bigger than 20MB (most text editors can’t handle loading anything much bigger). And remember, noobs: never restore the entire registry; that defeats the purpose of reinstalling Windows.
  • Consider making a list of services you’ve disabled if you actively manage your services.
  • If possible, backup all the data from the Windows partition (or drive, if you didn’t make a special partition) to another drive or optical media. This is just in case you had something stored on the Windows partition that you need later, such as rare drivers, a font, etc.
  • Physically unhook any hard drives you don’t want erased (accidentally) during the Windows installation; you can unhook either the power or the data cables. This also keeps your drive letters in order.
  • Don’t forget to enable the necessary boot device in the BIOS. If your BIOS supports CD-ROM booting, enable that. If it only has Floppy booting available, you’ll need a floppy boot disk with CD-ROM drivers; you can find specific boot disks for most versions of Windows around the Internet.

After Reinstalling

  • Reconnect any hard drives you’ve disconnected.
  • Go into the System Properties control panel (Win+Break) and change any necessary settings, such as Workgroup, Virtual Memory, disabling Error Reporting and Remote Assistance, etc.
  • Install WinRAR, 7-Zip, or your favorite archival program for easier installation of some drivers and programs.
  • Install chipset drivers for IDE, AGP, etc. (usually for older computers).
  • Install drivers for any other onboard devices, such as NICs, SATA, Audio, etc.
  • Go to the Computer Management console (run “compmgmt.msc”) and browse to Storage>Disc Management and put your drives in their correct order if they aren’t already; they won’t be if you unhooked any earlier.
  • Install the latest version of DirectX.
  • Consider making a restore point here, and then install Video, Audio, Mouse, Keyboard, and any other peripheral drivers.
  • Change start menu settings. Restore old start menu from backup.
  • Set optimal display and audio settings from respective control panels.
  • Setup networking components like IP address, gateway, DNS server, ICS, mapped network drives, network accounts, etc.
  • Do Windows Update or apply saved updates, applying service pack(s) first.
  • Disable unnecessary services.
  • Install TweakUI and restore special folder paths and other settings (full list of special folders is in the registry key HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Folders).
  • Install essential resident programs (ones that you need running all the time), such as PowerStrip, UltraMon, Steam, etc.
  • Install essential editors and players like Paint Shop Pro, Audition, MS Office, Media Player Classic, Winamp, Firefox, etc.
  • Install codecs like DivX, AC3, WMV, Real (Alt), Quicktime (Alt). Consider getting them in a codec pack like the K-Lite one.
  • Disable MSN Messenger (unless you actually use that crap).
  • Install other programs as you need them.

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