How do I make my new (used) computer mine?

OK, I recently got an about 3 year old computer handed down to me when someone upgraded their system. I’d like to make it like a new computer, and start over with it. Do I start by re-formatting the hard drive? How do I go about this? I do have all of the original CD’s for the software that I want to keep, so it wouldn’t be a problem to re-install it. What is the best way for me to start this computer with basically a clean slate? Oh yeah, is there any reason why I wouldn’t want to do this (besides the time that may be involved)?


Alrighty… First, make a boot disk with CD-ROM support. You can do this by going to Add/Remove programs in the Control Panel…there’s a tab for create startup disk.

Now, boot to DOS (you can do this easily by just using your startup disk, or by pressing F8 right after the computer beeps to startup, then select Command Prompt Only).

Type “format c: /s”
This will wipe the drive, and copy system files so it’s bootable. Since you’re installing from CD, you really don’t need the /s switch, but I just do it because it’s useful. :slight_smile:

When it asks you if you’re sure, say yes, and wait. You’ll now have a clean drive. You can boot with your boot disk now, pop in the Windows CD-ROM, and run Setup on that disk. Follow the instructions, and you’ll have a clean Windows install. (if it’s not ME, download any updates you can find on the MS website). Now just install all your extra software.


“Now, boot to DOS”

Yeah? What if its a Mac?

He didn’t say, so who knows what type of puter it may be & what operating system.

Thanks for the help so far, and yeah I do have a PC, and it does have Windows (98 I think).

Give it a hardhat and a pickaxe!!!


Generally, if its working fine, I would not reformat. I get a lot of used computers at work & I don’t reformat them, I just spend a few minutes deleting *.doc files & personal directories.

If it already works with the software on it you could be in for a major several hours work if you reformat & reinstall.

I would do a full reformat and start again, but this is only because I like messing about with things. Handy’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” advice has a LOT going for it.

However, if you want to go down this route, bear a few things in mind:

  1. It may be some time before you see that computer working properly again. Maybe hours, maybe even a couple of days. So don’t start this if you’re planning on using it to write a vital letter in the near future.

  2. Do you have disks with drivers for all the hardware (motherboard, graphics card, sound card, modem, CD drives)?
    It’s not a disaster if you haven’t, but it can save you some pain. Windows 98 will probably install its own drivers for hardware successfully enough for you to get on the net and hunt for the proper ones, but it’s nice to have the originals. Do you have the CD key numbers for the software you want to install?

  3. Make damned sure you have a working boot floppy which lets you see the CD drive. I wasn’t aware that making a startup disk as Jman suggested gives you CD support, but I use windows95 rather than 98 so he may well be right. Boot from the floppy, switch to the CD drive (with a CD in there) and see if you get something sensible. If you don’t, you’ll have to copy some drivers to the boot floppy and modify its startup files. Cross that bridge if you come to it.

  4. Have a coffee. Play with the computer a while. Really ask yourself if you want to do this. Is there anything on the computer you want? It’s VERY annoying to think you’ve backed up everything, wipe the disk and then find you forgot to back up your bookmarks/favourites. And you lost that LucidaArrows font which is rather important for your work.

If you’ve never used this computer at all, then this isn’t a factor - I’m just trying to give you the benefit of my dumb mistakes here!

  1. Format the hard drive as Jman described. Then reboot off the floppy, put the Win98 installation CD in the drive and set it going. This is a bad time to discover that the Win98 installation CD is an upgrade, or a recovery disk, or your boot floppy doesn’t give you the CD drive.

(It’s not strictly necessary, but I prefer to make a CABS directory on the hard drive, copy all the .cab files off the CD to it plus the setup.exe file and install from the hard disk. It seems to install faster and it can save you some CD swapping later.)

  1. Obey the various instructions on the screen. When it’s asking you about Hardware (keyboard, graphics card, monitor, etc.) you can usually go with the default choices but I like to set graphics card to VGA and install the proper drivers later. That way, it won’t install an incompatible graphics driver and give you an evil mess where you can’t see what you’re doing. Again, Windows98 is smarter than 95 so you may want to ignore me on this one.

  2. Go through lots of reboots, hardware detection, and request for “manufacturers own disks.” This is really where you have fun!

Hardware manufacturers own disks come in three flavours:

a) they produce one disk with 2000 directories, which contains every driver for every product they ever produced, for every operating system, in every language.
Your job is to find the directory with the drivers for your bit of hardware and tell Windows what it is. To make it easier, they refer to the product as “MED27CX4” rather than “soundblaster-compatible sound card.”

b) they produce a nice, friendly disk with menus which will semi-automatically install the drivers for you. These are great, as long as you know that this is the way they work in advance. Then you can tell windows not to install a driver, reboot and run this disk afterwards. (Unless its your graphics card drivers and the windows default doesn’t work, so you can’t see what the hell is going on.)
Otherwise you’re stuck trying to use this disk in the wrong way. You may want to check all the drivers disks you have to see if they are of this type before you get started - they will have an “autorun.inf” file in their root directory.

c) They produce a competent drivers disk with proper .inf files which allow windows to find the drivers on its own, seamlessly and with no hassle. It includes copious text manuals, troubleshooting tips and software which will identify your hardware. I have never seen one of these, but I firmly believe in them.

Windows will keep asking for these disks, and for its own installation CD, and then for the disks again. Due to the lag between you putting the CD in the drive and Windows seeing the files on it, you will receive frequent complaints that the files aren’t there when they are. Get used to it.
About now, you will wish you’d never started. Go and have another coffee, and watch some TV.

Go back and argue with the thing some more. If you really can’t get the drivers installed, you can see if the windows default drivers work. Or you can not install a driver, go to the manufacturer’s website and see if you can fix this later. Of course, this is tricky if the hardware without a driver happens to be your modem and this is your only computer.

  1. You’re done! Everything works! Now it’s time to install all that software. Let’s hope they’re all compatible with each other…
    Oh no! You’ve lost the CD key to Microsoft Office!
    etc. etc. This is an example of the sort of pain you’re letting yourself in for. Having said that, if you have all the disks, documentation and information you need, and your hardware is reasonably mainstream, you have a chance that everything will go smoothly and you’ll be up and running within 40 minutes. But don’t say you weren’t warned…

You do have one major ace up your sleeve - you have more than one computer. That gives you a lot of advantages, particularly net access while you’re doing this.

If you run into any major trouble, you can play the Get Out of Jail Free Card - reboot, press F8 when the text message “starting windows 98” appears and you get a menu which allows you to choose Safe Mode. I don’t like Safe Mode - it’s restrictive and sometimes won’t allow you to do the very things you need to do to fix the problem, but it’s better than nothing.

Good luck!

      • If you’re absolutely set on playing with it, and it has a recovery CD, you can insert the recovery CD and reboot just to see what happens. The recovery CD label will say something on it like “This disk contains your copy of Windows Whatever. Store it in a safe place.” It should run some basic quick diagnostics automatically, and then most OEM CD’s will come up in a DOS mode that usually lets you reformat and re-install Windows or just re-install Windows without erasing anything else (it shouldn’t erase the other programs but they will need to be reinstalled. Patches and various data files -such as your MP3 collection, should survive untouched). It may have other troubleshooting options too, such as scanning the hard drive for errors or bad sectors. Be aware that most of this stuff takes a while: for me, reinstalling Windows 98 takes about 2 hours, defraging a 6 Gig drive (with 5 Gigs used) takes about 5 hours. You can just start it and leave it, you don’t have to be there to watch it, but you can’t use it while its doing this stuff.
        —And somebody else said it already, but I am repeating it here: don’t reformat unless you think you absolutely have to. Any of the software currently installed (possibly much of it) may be benefitting from patches and updates that the previous owner downloaded and installed but that you are not aware of, and you will have to go back out and find, download and install all those patches over again if you erase them. ~ Remove any programs you don’t want and defrag. - MC