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How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Doing computer repair for a living, I see quite a few computers that could really benefit from a clean, fresh installation of Windows 10. Usually it is a system that was upgraded to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

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 that had all of the installation files for your version of Windows. If that version was Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, the files 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. And with a clean, fresh Windows 10 installation, you will know that everything will work as it should.

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

Backup and inventory

So, the first thing to do is backup your computer. You will need an external drive that is fairly large (I use 1GB and 2GB drives myself) and a blank CD/DVD (system repair disk). Here's how to use Windows Backup that is included inside of Windows 10.

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

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 in 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 take of after the reinstallation of Windows 10.

Create the Windows 10 installation media

This step is fairly 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 program 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 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 at least the partition where Windows 10 is installed. If you have a Dell or HP computer, they have diagnostic partitions, so you may just 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 just wipe the whole drive clean and be done with it. But that is completely up to you.

I personally 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 also create a bootable USB drive too. The instructions are on the UBCD website.

Now to boot up your computer up on the UBCD may take a little work, since it is built on a version of Linux. If your computer 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 then restart your computer. If your using a USB drive, just 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 of Windows 10 you will be prompted for your 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 on 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.

Use the Microsoft Update Catalog to find and install Windows drivers and updates

Are you having problems finding Windows drivers for your older hardware? Or have you had an update to Windows recently fail to install and want to manually install it? Then the Microsoft Update Catalog may be just what you are looking for.

Using the Microsoft Update Catalog to find Windows drivers and updates

Sometimes repairing Windows based computers can be tough, especially when it comes to drivers and updates. Normally using the standard means of obtaining drivers (Device Manager / manufacturer) and updates (Windows Update) is relatively easy.

But there are times when I cannot find a device driver or an update to Windows fails to install. That is when I go over to the Microsoft Update Catalog and see what I can find.

The Microsoft Update Catalog is a collection of Microsoft drivers, hotfixes and software updates just like Windows Update. In fact, they are the same files you receive through Windows Update.

And just like Windows Update, there are three (3) types of updates available: Important, Recommended and Optional (drivers). The only difference is that you can choose what version you download.

Searching the catalog is fairly straightforward. For failed updates, I just use the Knowledge Base (KB???????) number. For drivers, I use manufacturer / model number or the hardware id from Device Manager.

Finding and installing Windows Updates

Now before downloading updates make sure that Windows Update is working correctly. Check the Windows Update history and see if all updates are failing to install or if it is just one.

If all updates are failing, take a look at this article, Troubleshooting Windows Update problems. If it is only one particular update that is failing, then I would go ahead and download it then manually install it.

First you will need the Knowledge Base number from the Windows Update history to use for the search query.
Finding and installing Windows Updates 1
Once you have it, just type it into the search field and click on Search.

Second thing you will need to know is what version of Windows you have and if it is 32-bit or 64-bit for the search results.
Finding and installing Windows Updates 2
Some updates are specific to one version of Windows. Some are general, across the board, every version of Windows.

Once you find the update you need, just click on the Download button. A separate window will open with the update name and link to it. Just left-click on the link and choose whether you want to open it or save it. Since some of these can be rather large in size, I like save them to my computer first, then install them.

Finding and installing Windows device drivers

Normally the Device Manager inside of Windows works great for finding device drivers. If there is a driver for your version of Windows, it can automatically download and install it.

But what happens when there is not a device driver for your version of Windows? That is when you need to look for one for a previous version of Windows. Let me explain.

For example, you find that Windows 10 doesn't have a driver for your older hardware. You check the manufacturers website and they do not have one either. Or worse, they have gone out of business.

For this exercise, I am going to use a Windows 10 computer and a brand-new RAID controller I have had sitting here for around eight (8) years or so. The box indicates the last operating system that was supported was Microsoft Vista, so it is safe to say that Windows 10 will not have a driver for it.

Normally the first thing I do is psychically check the device for any manufacturer name or model number. If I can find a model name or number, I use it as the search query in the Microsoft Update Catalog.

If I cannot find anything on the device that identifies it, I install it a computer and start it up.
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 1
I then go into Device Manager and let it try to find a driver. If Device Manager cannot find a driver, I then use the hardware id
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 2
as a search query in the Microsoft Update Catalog.

Now I know that there are no drivers for Windows 10, so I have to find one for an earlier version of Windows. I will first look for a Windows 8.1 driver, then a Windows 7 driver, then a Windows Vista and then a Windows XP driver.
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 3
As long as it is the correct platform (32-bit or 64-bit), I should be able to use it.

Once I find a driver, in this case it's for Windows XP 64-bit, I download it to a folder on my local drive. Now the downloaded driver file will have a .CAB extension, so before I can use it, I will need to extract the files / folders from it.

Once I get the files / folders extracted, I go into Device Manager and select Update Driver. I then select Browse my computer for driver software. From there I browse over to and select the folder I extracted the driver files into. I also check the Include subfolders check box. I then just click on Next
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 4
and Windows 10 installs the driver.

For more information on the Microsoft Update Catalog, just follow the links below.

Microsoft Update Catalog
How to download updates that include drivers and hotfixes from the Windows Update Catalog

How to manually install the Windows 10 Creators Update

By now you must have heard about the Windows 10 Creators Update. There is plenty of information on the Internet about all of the new features, but nothing on actually manually installing it. So, let's walk through a manual Windows 10 Creators Update installation.

How to manually install the Windows 10 Creators Update

So, Microsoft has released the latest major update for Windows 10, the Creators Update. With all of the hype about the new features, it was time to check them out.

Now with major updates like this one, I used to install them the day they were released. I hate to admit it, but I actual went out a purchased Windows 95 the day it was released. Not one copy, but two (floppy disks and CD).

But after having issues with being an early adapter, I started taking the 'wait and let all of the bugs get worked out' approach. There is nothing like having to spend a couple of hours restoring your primary production computer after a failed update or upgrade.

And just to make sure that nothing would happened to my production computer, I decided to use a Virtual Machine (VM). For this exercise, I wanted to work with a vanilla installation of Windows 10. No additional software was installed, this includes an anti-virus program.

Now the first thing I did was set up a VM with the most recent version (1607) of Windows 10. I then made sure that it was completely up to date with patches. I then shut down the VM and backed it up.

Now if I was upgrading a regular computer, I would definitely use Windows Backup inside of Windows 10. And of course, you don't want forget to make the accompanying System Repair Disk. See the link below for more information on Windows Backup.

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

Now that I have a known good backup, it was time to start the manual update. I opened up the
The Setting icon on the Start Menu inside of Windows 10
Settings in Windows 10 and left-clicked on Update and security.
Windows Update is the first tab on the left-hand column and is also the default page for Update and security.

In the right-hand column, there is a link below the blurb about the Windows 10 Creators Update being available.
Windows 10 Creators Update notification inside of Windows Update
Left-click on Yes, show me how and it takes you to a page about the Creators Update.

On that page, there is a link labeled Update Assistant.
The Windows 10 Creators Update download link
Left-click on the link and it will start the download of the Windows 10 Upgrade program. Save it on your computer, open the folder you saved it to, right-click on the Windows 10 Upgrade program and select Run as Administrator from the context menu that appears.

The first screen that appears just tells me what version of Windows 10 I am currently running and what version I am upgrading to.
The first screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
I then left-click on the Update Now button in the lower right-hand corner.

The next screen gives a the compatibly report and everything is good to go.
The second screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
Before I have a chance to click on the Next button in the lower right-hand corner, the download automatically begins.

The next screen that appears shows me the progress of the download.
The third screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
Before I know it, the download is complete and the installation begins. Time to grab another cup of coffee.

The next screen shows the progress of the update installation.
The forth screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
I love the warning about not turning your computer off, like someone would get this far and then say 'forget it' and turn their computer off. But the note on the update taking a while to install is correct.

Finally, after a couple of restarts, the VM comes back to life with the intro screens. You know the ones that say Hi, We didn't do anything with your files.

Finally, the desktop appears with a thank you for updating page and Microsoft Edge displaying a welcome to the Windows 10 Creators Update info page.
The final screen in the Windows 10 Update Assistant
The update is now complete.

So how long did the update take? Almost two (2) hours. And remember that this was a vanilla install of Windows 10 that I updated. I would imagine updating a system that has been in use for a while may take longer.

Now you will notice that there is a new program that has been installed, the Windows 10 Upgrade Assistant. There are shortcuts to it on the Desktop and the Start Menu. If you would like to uninstall the Windows 10 Upgrade assistant, here's how.

  1. Left-click on the Start Menu and left-click the Settings icon (it looks like a gear).
  2. Then left-click on Apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of apps in the right-hand column until you find the Windows 10 Upgrade Assistant.
  4. Left-click on it and then left-click on Uninstall.

Another Android smartphone upgrade

Upgrading my smartphone has never been an easy task for me. Probably because I get so familiar with the way it operates. But there are times when you just have to bite-the-bullet and go for it. So, here's my recent experience upgrading my Android smartphone.

Another Android smartphone upgrade

So, I had purchased my Droid 4 about three and a half years ago, and it worked just fine for the first couple of years. Then it started having battery run time issues and had to be charged every night.

I had thought about just getting a replacement battery and that would fix the problem. But this was one of those devices that the manufacturer had glued the battery in-place.

Replacing the battery meant I would have to carefully pry out the old battery, making sure not to puncture the battery casing. Have you ever seen what happens when you puncture a lithium-ion battery? It's right up there with the exploding battery issue.

So, when my Droid 4 could not hold a charge for more than a couple of hours, I knew it was time for a change. But when I tried to get the back cover off of the Droid 4, I found that the battery had swollen to 150% its original size, it was now time to get a new smartphone.

I took a look at what my carrier offered for smart phones. I had three (3) requirements; a removable / replaceable battery, a micro SD card slot and it had to be inexpensive (damage from accidentally dropping it is a major concern).

So, I ordered a new Samsung Galaxy J3 and prepared for the move. Even though the battery in my Droid 4 was malfunctioning, the device itself was still functioning properly. As soon as I got the new Samsung J3, I started the process of upgrading my smartphone.

  1. First thing I did was backup everything I wanted to keep from both internal storage and the micro SD card. I had to turn on USB debugging to do this. Even though I am going to move the existing micro SD card to my new phone, I still want to back up the data (photos, music, etc.) I have on it.
    View of my Droid 4 inside of Windows 10 File Explorer
    Since this will be the third phone I am using this micro SD card with, I may just reformat it just to get rid of any junk I don't need.
  2. I powered off my existing Droid 4 and removed the micro SD card. Since the battery had started to bulge out, getting the back cover on or off was extremely hard. But with a little finesse, I was able to do it.
  3. I tried to connect the new phone to my existing phone carrier's network. What was supposed to be simple turned out to be a little more complicated, but not much. For a day, in my spare time, I tried powering off my old phone and then powering on the new phone. All I keep getting was an error about not being able to connect to a server and to please try again later. I was in no hurry but I finally called the support number listed on the error screen. After confirming the order number, my new phone finally was able to make connection and started to function properly.

After setting up all of my different accounts (Gmail, email, etc.), all that was left was to install all of my apps using Google Play. This one took a little time to figure out, as I wanted to install the same apps on my new phone that were on my old phone, but there did not appear to be a clear way for me to do it. I did finally come across how to do it.

How to install apps from one Android device to another using Google Play

  1. Bring up Google Play in a browser on your computer (sign-in if you are not already).
  2. On the menu on the left-side of the page, left-click on Apps.
  3. On the Apps menu click on My apps.
    View of installed Android apps listed by device on Google Play
  4. Pull-down the All Apps menu and select your old device.
  5. Left-click on the app you want to install on your new device.
    Google Play app information dialog box
  6. In the lower right corner of the app information you will see a button that says Installed. Left-click on it and bring up the app installation dialog box.
    Google Play app installation dialog box
  7. On the app installation dialog box, you need to choose a device to install it to. When you pull-down the device menu, you will see that there is only one device that you can install it on. Left-click on your new device and then left-click on Install.

Should you repair or upgrade your computer or just get a new one

Doing computer repair for a living, I get allot of questions. One my favorites has to be "Should I repair or upgrade my computer or just get a new one". So, let's take a look at whether to repair or upgrade an existing computer or just buy a new one.

Should you repair or upgrade your computer or just get a new one

First off, let's start with the three (3) theories I follow when it comes to computers and their components.

  1. Infant Mortality is the belief that if it will run for a day (24 hours), it will run for its lifetime. It is also the start of what is called the Bathtub Curve.
  2. The Bathtub Curve refers to the expected failure rate of electronics over time, as it resembles an end-to-end section of a bathtub. The failure rate starts out high at the beginning of life (Infant Mortality) and then drops to almost nothing until rising again at the end of life.
  3. The definition of the Lifetime of computer components, from my experience, is three years from start of service. At three years or older, it's not if it will break down, but when will it break down. But there are exceptions to this rule, mainly how well the electronics have been taken care of.

To repair or just replace

With that said, let's start with the repair or replace scenario. Most of the time, if the computer (desktop or laptop) is within the expected lifetime, repairing is the best the way to go. Now the exception is with the price and availability of replacement parts.

Now with computers over three (3) years old, you have to take a look at the cost of replacement parts and labor versus the cost of a new system. If the parts and labor total more than $200, I will usually ask a client at least twice if they are sure they want to replace the part(s).

You also have to look at whether the replacement parts are new or refurbished (fancy way of saying used). For laptop bases, lids and bezels, refurbished will work quite well. For motherboards and IO / daughter boards, a refurbished unit may or may not work out.

Keep in mind that if a particular component has a flaw that caused it to fail, a refurbished (used) part may also have the same flaw and could fail just like the component you are replacing. I've had about 50 / 50 success rate with refurbished parts, with some parts lasting only months and some lasting years.

Hard drives, memory modules, desktop DVD drives, power supplies, laptop displays, laptop keyboards and laptop fans are some of the more common parts that usually need to be replaced. These parts are normally easy to find and purchase. Laptop parts like hinges, display bezels, display lids (tops) and bases can be tricky to find. A quick Google search for computer model + part name should yield some results.

The availability of replacement parts

In my experience finding replacement parts, I have found that the age of the computer has allot to do with being able to find parts.

  • If the computer in question is under 1 year old, the only way to get replacement parts is through the manufacturer. And you can be sure that you will pay full retail price for them.
  • If the computer is 1 - 3 years old, the cost of replacement parts should go down, as the supply of parts should get better. At this point in time, people are starting to 'part-out' failed systems and posting the parts on eBay.
  • If the computer is 3 - 5 years old, the cost of replacement parts will be at their lowest. The supply will be high and you will be able to find multiple vendors carrying the same parts. It's a buyer's paradise.
  • If the computer is 5 years or older, the supply of parts starts to dwindle and prices go up. I had a client one time that wanted to replace a motherboard with bad capacitors that was fifteen (15) years old. I found one (1) refurbished motherboard at almost $500. We had the board recapped for a whole lot less.

To upgrade or just replace

Now when it comes to upgrading a computer, there are quite few things that can be done to desktop and laptop computers. The one thing with the most bang-for-the-buck is memory. Allot of systems come with a nominal amount of memory and can easily be upgraded.

The problem with upgrading memory is that many manufacturers will purchase smaller memory modules and then fill up all of the memory slots with them. For example, let's say you bought a computer with eight (8) gigabytes of memory installed. The motherboard has four (4) memory slots and each one can handle a 4 gigabyte memory module (max.), for a total of sixteen (16) gigabytes (max.).

But when you open up the computer, you find that instead of using two (2) 4 gigabytes memory modules, the manufacturer used four (4) 2 gigabyte modules. So, to upgrade the memory to sixteen (16) gigabytes, you have to replace all of the 2 gigabyte memory modules with 4 gigabytes modules. Why do they do it? They can get the smaller memory modules cheaper.

How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

Another way to breathe new life into a computer is to upgrade the hard drive. You can go with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) that spins faster or a Solid State Drive (SSD) that has a faster transfer rate. Either of these should give you better performance. Combine it with a clean installation of Windows and you will feel like you got a brand new computer.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

How to upgrade your computers hard disk drive to a solid state drive

Now if you have a desktop computer and like playing games, upgrading the graphics card may be an option. Just make sure you know what the motherboard specification is for the PCIe slot(s) (version 1, version 2, etc.) and use a graphics card that is compatible. Also, make sure you have enough power connector(s) (6-pin or 8-pin PCIe).

The bottom line

You are the only one who has to decide whether to repair or upgrade an existing computer or replace with a new one. If it has sentimental value or runs a program you cannot reinstall, then maybe you should repair or upgrade it. But if the cost of fixing it is more than the total value of your existing computer, then maybe you consider just replacing it with a new computer.

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