Reformat Computer


Dear Computer Lady,

My computer has Windows XP Pro. I need to reformat and I have no idea how to do that. The computer shop said if they came out to do it, it would be $75.00 per hour and to figure on 1 1/2 hours JUST to reformat and put in my OS and that I would be responsible for re adding the things I wanted back on the computer. That means the IP address and that sort of thing. How can I do that myself?



Dear JoLene,

Most of the computer repairs that I have been doing recently have included reformatting the computer. The reason for this, is that the spyware and viruses that are out there today really make a mess of Windows files. Often after I have removed the spyware and viruses, there is so much damage to Windows that the system still has a lot of problems. Check around and see what other computer shops in your area are charging. I don’t do re-formatting in your home, people bring their tower here, but it only costs $45/hour and usually it takes about three hours.

Reformatting and re-installing everything on your computer is not something the beginner should do, but I would be glad to give you some pointers and a website that will help you through the process. (

The first thing to do is find the CDs that came with your computer and figure out how hard the format and restore will be.

Some computers like Gateway and Dell ship with one CD for the operating system (Windows) and separate disks for hardware drivers and programs, while other computers come with a disk or set of disks labeled something like “System Recovery” or Restore. A few computers like some HP and Compaq computers come with the recovery files on a hidden partition on the hard drive.


System Recovery disks are easier to use than the individual disks, but there are still things that you need to look for and know about. Most System Recovery programs want you to do a non- destructive restore. This means that your hard drive won’t be formatted (or erased) during the restore. If you have corrupted Windows files, they won’t be replaced and you will end up with the same problems you had to start with. Usually you can access the destructive restore by going into the advanced options. Using the System recovery disks usually takes about an hour.

Using the Windows CD and individual driver disks is much more complex and too involved to cover here. I would suggest you go to and check out the guides for articles about installing Windows, then go to the forums and join the PCBUILD list. There you can ask as many questions as you want and some of the best computer people on the internet will guide you through the process. 

You can usually connect to the internet again by giving your ISP a quick call. They will be happy to talk you through the process of setting your IP address or dial up information back up. Don’t forget to set up your e-mail with them while you are on the phone.


Once you have Windows installed and all your hardware working, you are not done! You need to take some steps to protect your computer from future harm. These are the steps I take when I re- format a computer for my customers.

1. Install all Windows updates. I have a CD with XP Service Pack 2 that I install for Windows XP computers, another CD that I use for Windows 98 and ME. Once I have installed the CD updates, I go online and install all the remaining updates for XP. I install everything except the Language updates for Windows 98 and ME. This process can often take several hours, and you will have to re-boot your computer a half a dozen times during the process.


2. Install Virus protection. Don’t use the trial version that came with your computer and no longer has updates available, you need up to date antivirus protection to prevent viruses. I usually use AVG antivirus,  they have a great program that has kept my computer virus free for 5 years now. They have a full version that includes daily updates for two years, for only $34. 



3. Spyware Protection. Lately, spyware has gotten so bad on the internet that it will cause as much, if not more damage to your system than many viruses. I don’t send a computer home without these two programs installed, updated, and set to prevent the spyware from being installed in the first place. 


First, is Spybot Search & Destroy from http://www.safer- . This is a free program, if you download something called “Spybot” and it asks you to pay before it will clean out your computer, get rid of it and go back to the link above and download it from one of the sites listed there. Once you installed Spybot, download all the available updates, then use the immunize function to protect you from all the spyware currently in their database.


The second free spyware program I install is called SpywareBlaster from this program will protect you from home page hijackers and other Active X based spyware. Again, make sure you have installed all the updates and enabled protection, and be sure to check for updates on both programs every month or so.


4. Pop-up Protection. The internet is full of pop-ups advertisements, and they slow down your web surfing, expose you to potential spyware, viruses, and images that you just don’t want to see. There are some good pop-up stopping programs out there and they are worth the money, but the Google Toolbar does a good job of stopping 80% of the pop-ups and is free so I make sure I install the Google toolbar on my customers computers. It does not block pop-ups that are needed like banking login screens, but blocks most of the bad ones. You can get the Google toolbar at just click on the link that says “More>>”


These are all the programs that I consider necessary to protect a computer from the potential harm out there on the internet right now. In addition, I also install a half a dozen other programs like Adobe Acrobat Reader that I know will be useful to my customers.



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