hen it comes to physically reinstalling Windows XP, the key is to make sure you format your hard drive so that you can start afresh. There are two types of reinstallation available: a full reinstallation, which is what we're covering in this feature, and a repair installation, which is explained here.
If you haven't already twigged, the full reinstallation involves wiping all the data from your hard drive (or Windows partition if you've just partitioned it). All of your files, settings and programs on that partition or drive will be destroyed, but if you've followed our advice so far you should be fine.
Remember: you should have a backup of your key files and settings on a separate drive or partition to Windows itself - that backup should have been verified. Also, if you have space to spare, you'll have taken a drive image of your entire C drive as a secondary backup, just in case you forgot to include something with the original backup.
Once you've confirmed all of this, you're ready to reinstall Windows XP proper. If your PC shipped with a recovery disc instead of an installation disc, check out the box for more advice; otherwise read on.
Reinstall from a recovery partition or disc
An increasing number of PCs are shipped with manufacturer recovery discs. These contain an image of your PC taken when it left the factory. Restoring your PC to this image wipes out everything you done to it since: new programs, personal settings, files and so on.
The main advantage of a recovery disc is that it's easy to use - just pop the first disc in the drive, reboot and follow the instructions. Within an hour or so your system will be up and running again. You may be given a choice of two types of recovery - choose the most destructive version to ensure your system is wiped clean and everything started from scratch.
If you've added any hardware to your PC since purchasing it, unplug it during the recovery process, then reinstall it as if you were connecting it for the first time. After the recovery process is complete, turn the page to discover how to get your system fully up to date again. We'll be running a feature geared towards recovery disc owners shortly on SupportPCs - keep an eye out for it.
The walkthrough reveals how to kick the whole reinstall process off. Although you can start the set-up process within Windows XP itself, it's a lot easier to start your PC with the CD inserted and run the set-up process from there. The step-by-step guide below reveals how to get started with this.
Once you've successfully got your PC to boot from CD, the process can be split into two halves: the first is a basic text-heavy series of menus; the second is a more user-friendly graphical experience. We step you through the process below, but if you'd like a visual guide to accompany each step of the feature, click here to download a PDF document you can print out.
Starting the reinstall process
1. BOOT FROM CD
Your PC needs to boot from CD for you to reinstall Windows XP. Insert the disc and restart your PC. If you see a message asking you to press any key to boot from CD, do so and jump to step four.
2. ENTER THE BIOS SETUP
If the familiar Windows XP logo appears, then your PC isn't set to boot from CD. Wait for Windows to load, then restart again. When the initial PC messages appear, look for an option to choose the boot device. If it appears, press it, select CD and return to step one; if it doesn't, press [Del], [F1], [F2] or whatever key is prompted to enter setup.
3. CHANGE BOOT ORDER
Look for an option to change the order of boot devices on your machine - its location varies from PC to PC. Make sure your CD-ROM is set to be the first boot device, save your changes and exit.
4. START INSTALL PROCESS
You'll know the CD-ROM has been detected when you see the blue screen above appear, telling you that Windows Setup is loading various files. This will take a few minutes, and then you can start the reinstall process proper.
Once the Welcome to Setup screen appears, press [Enter] to select the option to set up Windows. Read the user licence agreement carefully and press [F8] to agree to its terms and conditions. If you're installing from an upgrade version of Windows XP, you'll be prompted to insert an earlier version of Windows on CD here. Do so and press [Enter].
The next option lets you perform a repair installation of Windows XP - we don't want to do this, so press the [Esc] key. Next, a list of all available hard drives and partitions will be presented to you. Select drive C - the drive with Windows XP on it - and press [D]. Read the warning - this is your last chance before you wipe everything from this partition or drive - and press [Enter] followed by [L].
You'll see that drive C has been replaced by unpartitioned space. Select this and press [Enter]. When asked how to format your drive, choose NTFS (not the quick option) and press [Enter]. If you had to insert an older Windows disc, you'll now be prompted to replace it with your Windows XP CD.
The drive will now be formatted, your disk checked and then Windows XP will start copying files to it. Once complete, your PC will restart - this time, ignore the option to press any key to boot from CD.
During the second half of the installation process you'll be prompted at certain points. You'll be able to set UK English as your default language and keyboard layout, input your name and organisation and provide the Windows XP product key.
If you're on a network, you can give your PC an identifiable name. Windows XP Professional owners can also password-protect the master Administrator account that you use to log on to the Recovery Console or Safe mode.
You'll need to change the time zone of Windows XP from the default (Pacific Time) to GMT. Once the networking components have been installed you can - if you're a power user - manually configure them from here. Most people should just skip this step. Windows XP Professional users get the option of naming their domain or workgroup, and then everyone can sit back for around 25 minutes while Windows XP completes the installation process.
Once this is complete, Windows will reboot again and you'll be asked to resize the screen to 800x600 pixels. It's not perfect, but better than the default, so click OK to launch a wizard that will guide you through some initial steps.
If you've installed Windows XP with SP2 or SP3, you'll be prompted to switch on Automatic Updates first and foremost. We recommend you do so before clicking Next. This version of Windows XP will automatically switch on the Windows Firewall too.
Windows XP will then attempt to see if your Internet connection has been automatically detected and set up. It will ask you about your Internet connection - choose Yes only if you connect through a router or home network.
You'll then be invited to activate Windows - select Yes if you think your Internet connection is up and running; otherwise click No (do it once you've got your Net connection back over the page). Windows XP Home users will then be invited to create up to five user profiles - you must create at least one, but can leave the others for later if you wish.
The wizard will then reflect on what you've managed to do - click Next to boot into Windows XP proper. The job's not finished, though - jump to the next page in this feature to find out what to do next.
Five quick tips
If your manufacturer didn't even provide a recovery disc, check its Web site for details of burning your own using a built-in utility on your PC.
You can create your own customised recovery disc using Macrium Reflect Free once you've reinstalled Windows XP and set it up exactly how you want it.
If you don't manage to change all your language preferences during setup, do so in Windows XP itself using the Regional and Language Options Control Panel.
If you decide to manually tweak your network settings, only those adapters detected by Windows XP will be listed - 1394 adapter refers to your Firewire port.
If you've reinstalled Windows without Service Pack 2 or 3 installed, don't connect to the Internet until you've read our advice over the page.