Rebuilding my computer; starting from scratch (software)

I’m rebuilding and updating my computer. I will be dual booting Vista Home Premium and XP. My computer splits it’s time between work and gaming. I’m not a novice at this, but I don’t do it often enough where I know all the ins and outs.

I’m thinking pre-build and post-build, and what are some things I can do to help this move quickly and efficiently (as opposed to my usual three rebuilds to finally get it right). On to the questions:

I will grab up-to-date chipset and graphics drivers, AV, and anti-spyware software before the build.

I will, of course, back up all my files - probably in two places.

Any other suggestions of files I should have handy throughout my initial reinstalls of windows?

What order should I load XP and Vista? Each will sit on a dedicated hard drive. Each hard drive will have ~25 gig partition for the OS, and the remaining 225 gb for programs and data files.

Software choices (free is always better):

  • Antivirus: AVG free (both)
  • Antispyware: AVG free and Windows Defender (both)
  • Firewall: ?? How is the Vista firewall?
  • Music Player: iTunes (is there another option for iPods?); Windows Media player; Real alternative
  • Disk burning: Nero suite
  • Office apps: Office XP (XP) / Star Office (Vista)
  • Ghosting and backup: ??
  • Any other suggestions?

Thanks in advance for suggestions and advice!

You want ZoneAlarm for your firewall, and both Sybor Search and Destroy and AdAware for anti-spyware. AVG is fine for antivirus.

How are the current versions of ZoneAlarm and AdAware? I’ve used both in the past, but don’t currently use them. Does AdAware offer real-time scanning for free (AVG and Windows offer it). Also, did you mean “Spybot”? If so, another product I used that seemed to do it’s job very well. My old ISP offered Webroot’s Spy Sweeper free of charge (fantastic pay anti-spyware app), so after a reinstall I just never reloaded AdAware and Spybot (I’m lazy, I know).

AVG for antivirus. Spybot & Ad-Aware. I’ve also loaded Threatfire 3 and it seems to do OK as far as realtime protection. Doesn’t hot resources on my Vista machine. I’d recommend getting Media Player Classic instead of using Windows Media Player on the Vista side. WMP in Vista seems to take too long for basic stuff. The Vista firewall is fine for my use.

How do you plan to switch between XP and Vista? With two hard drives, are you planning on doing it via BIOS? A simple way to do it, although maybe not the best because it messes up independence, is to install XP and, without changing anything, install Vista to a different partition. Vista’s bootloader will then take over, and give you the option of XP vs Vista. But if it’s easy to switch from the BIOS (e.g., a nice 'Press F11 for Boot Menu…") then that would be the better way. (You have to switch the bootdisk before installing Vista so that it doesn’t try to assimilate XP)

Oh, oh, oh…

If you REALLY want to be cool, don’t install Vista. Try out Windows 2008, which is available for free for 6 months. It’s technically a ‘server’ OS, but what it is is Vista fully componentized. After you’ve installed it, it is perfectly clean and very fast, and then you have the option of installing all the other components (whether it’s server roles or Aero glass, windows media player, and other vista crap). I hated Vista, but I LOVE win2k8.

Try having 3 drives: one for each OS and its apps and one for data. Don’t bother partitioning the OS drives - and 25 GB is a bit on the small side for Vista + apps anyway. And get yourself an external USB drive for backup.

You don’t need 3 drives. Have people forgotten about partitions?? Try using Acronis DiskDirector, it is a wonderful descendant of the great PartitionMagic. But since the OP has 2 drives, are they both the same size? It would be nice to get a RAID going, and what you can do is just install the OSes as you were going to (ie to the bare disks, no RAID), and then use the software raid feature in windows to stripe the remaining space. 25GB won’t be enough if you plan to install games or other space hogs, but you can just install those to the data partition and enjoy the benefits of raid0.

My current set-up, which is starting to crap out, uses 3 hard drives: 2 SATA and 1 IDE, but it is XP only. I was going to update in June, but random reboots convinced me to do so now. Unfortunately, as I bring my system into the 21st century, I am losing the ability to run 2 IDE disk drives and 1 IDE hard drive; the mobo only supports 2 IDE devices. So, my IDE drive (which is currently my back-up drive in case of drive failure) will end up in an enclosure and keep its purpose.

Alex, they are identical drives and currently striped. I’m interested in your idea. Could you expand on it, almost to a step-by-step? Given 500gb of internal space, are you proposing 3 partitions of maybe 50/50/400 (75/75/350…whatever it turns out), with the large partition striped? Thank you.

Flander, I was just reading about Media Player Classic, just before I saw your post, and was thinking it sounds like a good solution. Sadly, I’ll still need iTunes (ugh!) to read copy-protected material. Same site also said that the Ad-Aware / Spybot combo (which I’ve used in the past for protection) is no longer the best option, mostly due to the lack of real time protection. They suggest Spyware Doctor, a free version which is available as part of the Google Pack, coupled with AVG Anti-Spyware. Then Ad-Aware can be used for standalone scans on an ad hoc basis.

To be honest I’ve never got around to trying window’s software raid myself, but I’ve heard good things. (In particular since hardware raid is so finicky and doesn’t work if you switch cards or cuz of a million other reasons)

The way to do is to go into Computer Managment (admin tools) then Storage>Disk Management, right-click on your disk (at the bottom where you see graphical bars, on the left where it says e.g. Disk 0 Basic 250 GB Online) and convert it to a Dynamic Disk. Do this to both drives, and then you’ll be able to right click empty space (the same graphical bars region) and create a stripe volume. You can also mix-and-match, creating mirrored and striped volumes on the same set of disks. What you can’t do is put your boot partition on a softraid volume.

Google xp software raid for more info. Caveat: I don’t know how XP and Vista will get along together. Creating it in XP and not letting Vista mess with it is prob best (vista might try to make it fancy and then xp might not be able to see it). Like I said, I haven’t tried this, but if you’re interested give it a go.