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How to perform a clean installation of Windows 11

Are you getting random errors while using Windows 11? Do you think your computer has gotten compromised? A clean installation of Windows 11 may be just the ticket. Here is how to perform a clean installation of Windows 11.

How to perform a clean installation of Windows 11

When it comes to repairing Windows 11, trying to fix Windows may take more time than it is worth. At this point, you might want to look at performing a clean installation of Windows 11.

As a computer technician, I constantly have to weigh whether my time is better spent trying to fix Windows or using that time to perform a clean installation. It is usually six of one and a half-dozen of another.

Now I have had customers that had to get their current installation of Windows to work. It usually is because they have programs that they cannot reinstall because they do not have the original installation media anymore.

But if you have all of the installation media or links to download it and are okay with reinstalling all of your apps, then performing a clean installation of Windows 11 may be just right. Now there are a few things that have to be done before proceeding with a clean install.

1. Backup up all of your data. If you store your files on your local drive, use a good backup program, like the built-in Windows Backup. If you keep your data on the cloud, verify that you can access it from a browser.

How to backup your Windows 11 computer using Windows Backup and File History

On an external drive, you can also make a copy of your special folders (Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and Videos). The benefit is that you can access your files from any Windows-based computer. Once your data is backed up, you will need to get the installation media.

2. Download the Windows 11 installation media. To perform a clean Windows 11 installation, you will need the Windows 11 installation media. If you installed Windows 11 from a USB drive, it is a good bet that it may be a different version of Windows 11.

Or if your computer came preloaded with Windows 11, you will need to download the install media. Microsoft has a tool aptly named the Media Creation Tool that will create the installation media for Windows 11. All you need is a blank USB drive that is 8GB or larger. If you have an optical drive in your computer, you can also create an ISO image and burn it to a blank DVD.

Create Windows 11 Installation Media

What you can do with an ISO file

3. Make sure you have your Microsoft Account information. When the installation is complete, and Windows 11 starts up for the first time, you will need your Microsoft account username and password to complete the setup.

If you need help remembering your Microsoft account password (and it happens), this is the time to reset it. Follow the link below to go over to the Microsoft account webpage, enter your username, and when prompted for a password, select Forgot password?.

4. Inventory the software that is installed. To ensure that you can reinstall all the software currently installed on your computer, you should take a software inventory of your computer. Belarc Advisor is an excellent program for collecting the hardware and software inside of your computer, and it is free for personal use. Make sure you print out or save a copy of the report so you can use it after the reinstallation.

Belarc Advisor

5. Make a note of what edition of Windows 11 you have installed on your computer. When the time comes to reinstall Windows 11, you will be prompted for what edition (Home, Education, Pro, etc.) you want to install. If you select and install the wrong edition, Windows 11 not activate, and you will have to go through the installation process again.

To find out what edition of Windows you have, bring up a Run dialog box by pressing the Windows logo key Windows logo key + R. In the Run dialog box, type winver and select OK. Follow the link below for more ways to bring up the Run dialog box.

How to get to and use the Run dialog box in Windows

6. Prepare to wipe your drive. There are several ways to erase the contents of your computer's drive, and I will cover three (3) of them. Note: If you have more than one (1) drive in your computer, you must ensure you are erasing the correct drive. Turn your computer off and disconnect the power or remove any drive you do not want to get accidentally wiped clean.

I like performing a DoD (Department of Defense) wipe when clearing drives. The Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) has a few disk-wiping programs included. I like using Darik's Boot and Nuke inside of the UBCD.

Now the UBCD has some significant hurdles to overcome to use it, like changing the BIOS settings to allow your computer to boot from it. But if you want to ensure that your drive is completely clean before reinstalling Windows 11, this is the way to go.

Diagnose computer hardware issues with the Ultimate Boot CD

The second and third option for wiping your drive is using the built-in utility Diskpart or the actual Windows 11 installer. The following two (2) ways of drive wiping require you to boot your computer up on the installation media. You can do this using the Advanced Boot Options. Make sure you have the Windows 11 installation media connected to your computer before proceeding so that it will appear as a bootable device listed in the Advanced Boot Options.

How to get to and use the Advanced Boot Options inside of Windows 11

Once you get to the Advanced Boot Options, select Use a device and choose the media you created earlier. Your computer will restart and boot from the installation media. The first screen that appears in the Windows Setup dialog box. Ensure the language, time, and keyboard method are correct, and click on Next. The Install now screen will appear.

To use Diskpart: Select the Repair your computer link in the lower-left-hand corner and then Choose an option screen will appear. Select Troubleshoot, then Command Prompt and then type diskpart in the command prompt and then press Enter.

First, list the disk(s) currently attached to your computer by typing list disk and pressing Enter. From the list that appears, the disk with Windows should be disk 0. Type select disk 0 and press Enter.

To verify that this drive is the one with Windows installed on it, we need to list the partitions on the disk by typing list partition and then press Enter. From the list that appears, you should see at least three (3) partitions (system, primary, and recovery).

If disk 0 has these partitions listed, then this is the drive you need to wipe. If not, check any other drive listed using the list disk, select disk, and list partition commands.
An administrative command prompt with diskpart commands inside
Once you select the correct disk, type clean and press Enter. All partitions will be erased, and you will be ready to proceed with the reinstallation of Windows 11. Type exit and manually restart your computer to continue the installation.

To use the Windows Installer: During the installation process, you will be prompted to select the drive you want to install Windows 11 on. Usually, you would have only one (1) drive (Drive 0 Unallocated Space) that appears. But since you are performing a clean install, you will see all of the partitions that are on that drive (Drive 0).

Starting at the top, select each partition and then select Delete.
Deleting partitions in the Windows Setup dialog box
You will be warned about deleting all of the data on that partition. Click on OK and continue deleting all of the rest of the partitions until you end up with Drive 0 Unallocated Space. Select that drive and continue with the installation.

7. Install Windows 11. Boot your computer from the installation media, and at the Install now dialog box, select Install now. The Activate Windows dialog box will appear, prompting you for your Windows 11 product key. Since you previously activated Windows 11 on this computer, select I don't have a product key link at the bottom and select Next.

Since Windows 11 has been activated before on this computer, the first time you connect to the Internet after the installation completes, Windows will automatically activate. It is called Digital Entitlement.

On the next screen, you will be prompted to select the edition of Windows 11 you want to install. Highlight the edition and select Next. The next screen will be the EULA (End User License Agreement). Just check the acceptance box and select Next to continue.

The next screen will ask you what type of installation you want to perform. Select Custom: Install Windows only (advanced). The next screen will ask you where you want to install Windows 11. Select Drive 0 Unallocated Space and then click on Next.

At this point, Windows will start the installation. Once all of the files are copied over and the installation finishes, your computer will restart. From here, you will go through the steps to set up your clean installation of Windows 11. Remember to check the computer manufacturer's website for any system-specific drivers, and you should be good to go.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Doing computer repair for a living, I see quite a few computers that could benefit from a clean, fresh installation of Windows 10. Almost always, these computers started out running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and, at some point in time, were upgraded to Windows 10.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Then, of course, there are times that the registry has gotten corrupted or the hard drive has failed. But whatever the case, a clean, fresh installation of Windows 10 is always a great way to get your computer back to tip-top shape.

Now you might be thinking that just performing a reset of Windows 10 would work perfectly fine. And in most cases, you would be right. But if your computer originally came with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you could have problems. Let me explain.

When you bought your computer new, it came with a hidden recovery partition with all of the installation files for your version of Windows. If that version was Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, the data got replaced when you upgraded to Windows 10.

The recovery media issue with upgrading to Windows 10
The recovery media issue with upgrading to Windows 10

But the problem that I have encountered is the upgraded recovery partition sometimes doesn't work. So, when you try and reset Windows 10, it fails. A clean installation of Windows 10 fixes that issue. With a clean, fresh Windows 10 installation, you will know that everything will work.

The only down-side to a clean Windows 10 install is the fact that you have to reinstall all of the programs you installed. But if your system will not boot, then it is a moot point. You would have to reinstall them anyway.

Backup and inventory

So, the first thing to do is to backup your computer. You will need an external drive that is relatively large (I use 1TB, and 2TB drives myself) and a blank CD/DVD (system repair disk). Here is an article on how to use Windows 10 Backup.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

The second thing to do is to take inventory of the hardware and software inside of your computer. Use a program like Belarc Advisor to create a list of hardware and software on your computer.

Make sure you print a copy of the results. You can also save a copy to an external drive if you like. But a printed copy will work the best, as you can check off items that you install after the reinstallation of Windows 10.

Create the Windows 10 installation media

This step is relatively easy. All you have to do is download the Windows 10 media creation tool. It is a stand-alone program that does not require installation to run. Just double-click on the application, and you are ready to start.

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool options
Windows 10 Media Creation Tool options

You will need either a blank DVD or an 8GB USB drive to create the bootable installation media. If you run the media creation tool on the same computer as you are going to reinstall Windows 10 on, it will automatically select the recommenced options.

Clearing the hard drive

Now comes the time to wipe the drive or just the Windows 10 partition. If you have a Dell or HP computer, they have a diagnostic partition, so you may want to wipe just the OS partition only.

Keep in mind that if you upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, the recovery partition that came with your computer to restore factory settings no longer functions. Sometimes it might be better to wipe the whole drive clean and be done with it. But that is entirely up to you.

I like to use the disk wiping tools included on the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD). All you have to do is download the most current ISO image and burn it to a CD. You can create a bootable USB drive too. The instructions are on the UBCD website.

Now, since the UBCD uses a version of Linux, it may take a little work to get your computer to boot up. If your system has Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) enabled, you will have to go into the BIOS and disable it temporarily.

Installing Windows 10

Now that your drive is wiped clean, it is time to install Windows 10. If you are using a DVD, turn your computer on, eject the DVD tray, insert the Windows 10 DVD you created, and restart your computer. If you are using a USB drive, plug it in, and start your computer.

Since there is no operating system, your computer will search all available media for a boot record. Once it finds the Windows 10 media, the installation will begin.

During the installation, you may get a dialog box requesting your Windows 10 product key. Windows 10 is a little different from previous versions of Windows, in that the product key is not stored on your computer, but in the cloud. Microsoft calls it Digital Entitlement.

With Digital Entitlement, you do not need to enter your product key during installation. Just click on the I don't have a product key link on the bottom of the screen. Once the installation is complete, Windows will automatically activate the first time your system can get online.

From here, all you have to do is install the programs and features you want. Then sit back and enjoy your clean, fresh Windows 10 installation.

How to perform a clean installation of the operating system on a netbook

In my last blog, I reported on the new Acer Aspire One Netbook (Model AO571h) I had just purchased. It came pre-loaded with Windows XP Home. Since I need to connect to a domain, I needed Windows XP Professional on the netbook.

Typically, I check the hardware manufacturers web site(s) for the latest drivers and download them. Then I just wipe the hard drive clean and boot to the installation media. Once it finished installation, I immediately installed the specific drivers for the hardware installed, starting with the chipset.

But the netbook's hardware architecture is new, and a standard OEM version of Windows XP does not recognize the hardware correctly. I contacted Acer and was told that they do not support installing any operating system other than what was shipped with the computer. But their web site had the drivers for all 32-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista.

It became apparent that I had to add the chipset drivers to the Windows XP Pro cd. I extracted the chipset drivers and found the instructions for adding the drivers into the installation media. I then created an image file from the installation media and opened it up for editing. I added in the chipset drivers that I had downloaded and saved the file. I then burned it to a cd.

The netbook booted right up on the modified installation media, and the setup went flawlessly. I installed the rest of the drivers I had downloaded, and it's running beautifully on Windows XP Professional.

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