hat must you do before reinstalling Windows XP? The annotated screenshot below reveals all, so let's start with protecting your important files and settings.
If you only have one hard drive, then your data is currently sitting on the same drive as Windows XP itself. This isn't healthy - if Windows falls over, your data could go crashing with it. Obviously the best solution is to invest in a second hard drive - external drives now cost as little as £50 - but this might not be a practical solution for you.
Today's hard drives are gargantuan, so wouldn't it be great if you could turn one into two smaller drives that behave as if they were separate drives? Partitioning enables you to do just that. Whether or not you have a separate hard drive for backing up, we recommend you partition your hard drive if it's 40GB or larger, so you can keep your data and certain settings separate from Windows XP.
Annotation: Are you ready to reinstall?
A. PARTITION YOUR HARD DRIVE
If you only have a single hard drive, partition it to separate your data from system files.
Make sure your precious files and settings are backed up to another drive before you begin.
C. SERVICE PACK 3
Download the full Service Pack 3 file from here to save time post reinstall.
D. KEY PROGRAMS AND DRIVERS
Make sure you have essential drivers to hand, plus your program CDs and serial numbers.
E. INTERNET CONNECTION SETTINGS
Make sure you have the software and logon details to recover your Internet connection!
Pick the right partition tool
Partitioning is traditionally a destructive process, which means all of your data is lost should you attempt to partition a drive using the Disk Management Tool built into Windows XP. Thankfully, non-destructive solutions exist, including a user-friendly freebie that we're featuring here in the form of EASEUS Partition Master Home Edition.
The step-by-step guide below reveals how it works - make a note of the warning that you could still lose your data if something goes wrong (try to burn a copy of your most precious files to DVD before attempting to partition your drive). When resizing your drive, add a minimum of 500MB to whatever figure is quoted as the minimum in EASEUS. The more space you leave your system partition (drive C) the better, though, so if you can, aim to leave your C drive at least 30GB in size.
Note, if you have a recovery disc provided by your PC manufacturer, don't partition your drive prior to restoring your system - some recovery discs wipe the partition record and restore your system to a single hard drive, wiping anything that's on either partition. Instead, you should partition your hard drive after restoring your PC, and then take a drive image as explained below, which you then use in place of your recovery disc in the future.
Partition your hard drive for free
1. CHECK DRIVE
Open My Computer, right-click your C drive and choose Properties > Tools tab. Click Check Now, tick both boxes and click Start. Click Yes when prompted, then reboot your PC and let Windows XP check your drive for errors.
2. SELECT DRIVE TO PARTITION
Install EASUS Partition Master Home Edition if you haven't already, then launch it by double-clicking its desktop shortcut. Select your C drive by clicking its bar chart and choosing Resize/Move Partition under Partition Operations.
3. SHRINK DRIVE C
Either type the amount of space you want to free up in megabytes for your new drive in the "Unallocated space after" box, or use the slider to free up space. Leave at least 500MB free for your system partition. Click OK.
4. CREATE NEW PARTITION
Click the Unallocated space in the bar chart and click Create Partition under Partition Operations. Give the drive a suitable label (such as "Data") and click OK. Finally click the Apply button and click Yes twice to reboot and partition your drive.
Back up your data
Whether you've partitioned your drive or have a second hard drive, it's time to back up your data. Skip this step and you'll lose all your personal documents, settings, email and more besides. While the Windows Backup tool is competent, you don't want to be scrabbling around looking for program settings, email messages and so on to back up, so try Genie Backup Manager, a trial of which can be downloaded from here.
After installing the program, reboot if prompted and then start Genie Backup Manager. Click the Backup button on the main screen to start. The wizard is self-explanatory for the most part: you can back up to CD or DVD as well as another hard drive or partition. When it comes to choosing what to back up, Genie makes this simple - just tick what you want to save.
There are three tabs to explore: My Profile contains key system information and files, including your email messages and settings, your media files and even the fonts you've installed. My Folders lets you pick specific folders and files to save, including My Documents. Finally, My Plugins lets you back up key settings for a number of programs. Some are already included, or you can click Download new scripts to get more for free from the internet.
The final steps in the wizard enable you to tweak your back-up settings - in most cases, the default settings are fine. Once you've completed the task, click Backup Now. Resist temptation to skip the verification process - if your backup is corrupt it'll be irretrievable.
If you have hard-drive space to spare, take a second backup of your entire hard drive using Macrium Reflect Free (click here). This gives you a fall-back option in case you forgot any files or settings in your main backup. Check out issue 198 of PC Answers for a guide to using it as part of the magazine's main "Transfer to a new PC" feature - that'll be appearing on this site by the end of the year.
Gather what you need
What else do you need to source before reinstalling Windows XP? You should ensure you have all the hardware drivers you need - at the very least source your modem or network drivers to ensure you'll be able to get back online to download the rest. Check your manufacturer's web site for updates and download these to your back-up drive, ready for installing post installation.
If all this sounds like too much hassle, take a look at a driver back-up program like DriverMax (click here). After registering for free, you can back up your drivers quickly and easily, then restore them after reinstalling Windows XP.
A number of software patches have been released since Service Pack 3 came out last year, and that's not to mention useful tools like the .NET Frameworks, Windows Media Player and other updates. You can obtain most of these after reinstalling Windows XP through Windows Update.
Are your Internet connection settings somewhere safe? If you're on dialup or broadband, make sure you can remember your log-on details and write them down. If your ISP didn't provide you with a CD when you signed up, check the web site for a download or the details you need to manually configure your connection.
Last but not least, gather together your program CDs and serial numbers (don't forget your Windows XP product key!). Right, you're ready to reinstall...
BEFORE YOU PARTITION
Make sure you take a fail-safe drive image using Macrium Reflect Free before you begin, and create a bootable rescue CD or DVD when prompted by the program (or select Other Tasks > Create a rescue CD). This will enable you to recover your system and data if the worst happens.
If you have multiple users set up, each person will have to back up their own settings and files in Genie Backup Manager individually.
You can't back up your Microsoft Office settings with Genie Backup Manager; instead, use the Office Save My Settings Wizard (Start > All Programs > Microsoft Office > Microsoft Office Tools). Note this option isn't available in Office 2007.
Check your PC or motherboard manufacturer's web site for key drivers. If you're having trouble tracking down driver details, use either DriverMax or Belarc Advisor, which you'll find here - click the Free Download link.
To back up with Macrium Reflect Free, launch the program and choose Create a backup image. Follow the wizard through, selecting the drive to back up and the back-up device to save it to. Once saved, make sure you choose Other Tasks > Check image and backup files for errors to verify your backup's integrity.