How-to on the exact order and process.

Step 1: Backup

Before you even think about doing anything to your hard drive, you
need to back up all your critical files. This means not only all your
data files (you did organize them all in a single location, didn't
you?), but also those application files and other software pieces
that took some time and/or effort to acquire. Included on this list
should be updated driver software, applications patches, service
packs, bug fixes and any other enhancements that you've downloaded
off the web (and don't have available on CD or in some other handy
form). I also recommend you save your browser bookmarks which, if
you're using Internet Explorer, can be found in the Windows/Favorites

One file that's commonly overlooked (because it isn't stored in an
obvious place) is your Outlook or Outlook Express e-mail file. The
easiest way to find it and back it up is to search for *.pst off the
Start menu. All Outlook files use the .pst extension and you can be
sure to find yours this way, even if it doesn't have the default name
of Outlook.pst. Generally speaking, your Outlook file should be in
the C:\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook folder. This is
important to know because when you reinstall, you need to copy
your .pst file back to this same directory.

In addition, don't forget to write down all your network settings
from any network log-in you have, as well as those found in the
network control panel. If you have dial-up networking connections,
remember to right down the settings for each of those as well. When
you go to re-establish your network settings, you'll be awfully glad
you did.

You'll probably run into a problem with applications that
automatically update themselves over the web, because they don't
necessarily have an easy way to find the update files they've
downloaded. If that's the case with some of your applications, you'll
probably have to simply let the application "re-update" itself after
you re-install it.

Windows 98 or Windows ME updates that occur via the Windows Update
feature may also present this problem, although you might be able to
find them in your Windows directory in a hidden folder called
msdownld.tmp (at least, that's where they were on my machine). To
view hidden files, open Windows Explorer, select Folder Options from
the View menu, select the View tab, and click on the Show all files
radio button.

You don't need to back up all your applications because you can more
easily install them off their original CDs. In fact, part of the
point of this exercise is to re-install your applications so that all
the right files get put in all the right places. For this reason, I
also don't recommend that you make a complete disk copy, or disk
image before you do a re-install of all your software. If you do, and
then you restore that copy, you could end up with the same types of
problems that led you to take on this procedure in the first place.
Just back up what you need.

Step 2: Create a Boot Disk

The next step is to create a bootable floppy disk that includes all
the programs you'll need to get the next few steps. I cover how to do
this in my "How to Create a `Real' Windows 95 (or 98) Boot Disk"
article. One additional point I'll add here is that you need to make
sure both the Fdisk.exe and DOS utilities are on your
newly created Windows 95 or Windows 98 boot floppy. If they aren't
(the standard Windows 98 floppy still needs, you may need
to copy them over from your hard drive onto the boot floppy—you'll
find them both inside the Command directory inside your main Windows
directory. (In fact, Windows/Command is where you'll find all the
important DOS-based utilities.)

One other option for Windows 98, Windows 98 2nd Edition and Windows
ME users is that the Windows 98/ME CD is bootable, meaning it has all
the necessary files to start your computer stored in the right
places, much like a boot floppy disk. Your computer has to support
booting from the CD-ROM and you have to enable this feature (which
you do in your computer's BIOS or CMOS Setup program) in order for
this technique to work, but it can be a handy option. If you're
unsure whether or not your computer supports this, look for a
reference to the El Torito BIOS standard—which this feature is
sometimes called—or look around in the Boot Options section of your
computer's BIOS Setup program. Also remember that after you're done
with this procedure you'll want to change this BIOS setting back to
booting from your floppy drive and hard drive (usually in that order).

Whether you go with the floppy or the CD, be sure you try it out at
least once before you begin the partitioning process. The next step
in this process will erase all of your computer's data, so you want
to be sure your computer boots from the disk/disc before you continue.

Step 3: Partition and Reformat

The crux of the process occurs here in Step 3. The first part of this
step is called partitioning your hard drive and it's usually done
with the DOS-based Fdisk program bundled with all versions of
Windows. (Some people prefer third-party partitioning programs such
as PowerQuest's powerful PartitionMagic or QuarterDeck's Partition It
or Partition It Extra Strength for this process.) Partitioning
involves organizing a single hard drive into logical chunks called
partitions, as well as setting an overall file structure to be used
on each partition, such as FAT16 or FAT32. The second half of this
step is called reformatting and it basically wipes any existing data
from each partition and prepares the partition to accept new files.
(By the way, this is not the same thing as a true low-level hard
drive format—these days that can typically only be done—and should
only be done—at the factory.) Formatting is done with the DOS–based
Format program, or simply within Windows itself, just as you do with
a floppy disk.

Before getting into specific steps, you need to know a bit more about
partitions, such as the fact that there are two main types: primary
and extended. The most important difference between them is that
primary partitions can be used to boot your computer and extended
partitions cannot. In addition, unlike primary partitions—which
actually hold data—extended partitions are themselves just containers
for yet another kind of structure called logical DOS drives. So, for
example, you might find that your hard drive is divided into one
active partition and one extended partition and the extended
partition contains two logical drives "inside" of it.

Each active partition and logical drive uses its own drive letter
(i.e., C:\, D:\, E:\, etc.) and operates independently, so with
multiple partitions, a single hard disk may "look" like multiple
drives. In reality, however, it's just one physical disk that's
organized into different containers. Of course, if you have multiple
hard disks inside a computer, each of them uses a drive letter as
well, so when you have multiple partitions on multiple disks, things
can get kind of confusing.

If you want to run multiple operating systems on your PC—such as
Windows ME and NT, or Windows 2000 and Linux—you often need to have
multiple primary partitions. In some instances, such as with Windows
95 and NT, it's possible to have just one primary partition with two
operating systems, but both operating systems need to be able to
understand the partition scheme--such as FAT or FAT32 (see below for
more)--for this to work.

The maximum number of primary and/or extended partitions you can have
is four, but be aware that only one primary partition can be active
(and therefore "visible" to the rest of your system) at once. On the
other hand, other than the 26-letter drive limit—which does exist—
there are no restrictions on the number of logical drives that you
can have within an extended partition.

More importantly, multiple logical drives within an extended
partition can be used and visible on your system at once. So, for
example, if your system has an extended partition with two logical
drives and one primary partition (you always have to have one of
those), you would be able to see all three drive letters at once. On
the other hand, if you have two primary partitions and one extended
partition with two logical drives, you might only see three drive
letters because the other primary partition and any data or programs
stored on it would be invisible if the two primary partitions were
completely different types (such as Ext2 for Linux and NTFS for
Windows 2000). Again, if both operating systems "understand" the same
partition type, then you might be able to see all four drive letters.

In many cases you'll want to keep your entire disk as a single
primary partition—and, therefore, single drive letter—although there
are some cases where you can't. Specifically, if you have a hard
drive larger than 2 GB and you're using the original version of
Windows 95 or Win95A, you'll have to use multiple partitions because
of limitations in Win95 itself. (To find out what version of Windows
you're using, open the System Control Panel and look in the upper
right portion of the General Tab. You should see a reference to
Windows 95, 95A, 95B, 95C, 98, ME and 2000 underneath where it says

Other limitations you may run into on disk size limits may be as a
result of your computer's BIOS. Some older BIOS's had a hardware
limitation of around 2.1 GB (some newer ones are limited to 8.4 GB),
that prevents them from working with larger drives, but that can
usually be fixed with a BIOS update. Check your computer
manufacturer's or motherboard manufacturer's web site, or you can
also try the Micro Firmware or Mr. BIOS sites.

If you have both an updated BIOS and Windows 95B (sometimes called
OSR2) or later—including Windows 98 or Windows ME—then you can take
advantage of the FAT32 (File Allocation Table 32-bit) file system and
have a partition (or even multiple partitions) larger than 2 GB.
Without going into too much detail, the basic reason for this is that
FAT32 is able to keep track of a much larger number of individual
file elements than the older FAT16 file system (which is more
commonly referred to just as FAT). This translates into the ability
to work with larger partitions.

Before you actually begin the partitioning process, you need to
decide how you want to partition your drive—if you want to keep it
all as one big drive, or if you want several different
partitions/logical drives with one for data, one for programs, etc.
In addition, if you plan to try out or regularly work with multiple
operating systems (OS's), you'll have to plan for that at this stage.
You'll also need something called a boot loader if you install
multiple OS's—one comes bundled with PartitionMagic and another comes
with Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000. A boot loader is a program that
lets you decide which primary partition to make active at boot-up.
The OS that is loaded from the active partition is the one that
gets "control" over the machine for that particular session.

Once you have a basic strategy figured out, you can move onto the
specific steps. The following describes how the process works with
Fdisk. (If you're using PartitionMagic, or some other utility, you'll
have to follow different steps, but the concepts will be similar.)

First you need to boot your computer with your boot floppy and then
launch the Fdisk program as soon as you get to the A:\ prompt. To do
that, just type in Fdisk and then hit Enter or Return. If you're
running the version of Fdisk that comes with Windows 95 OSR2 or later
(including 98, 98 SE, or ME), you'll first see a kind of obscure text
message and question about having support for large disks to which
you answer yes or no. Though there's no specific mention of it, this
question is asking whether or not you want to use FAT32. If you
answer yes, you'll get FAT32 and if you answer no you'll get a FAT16-
formatted drive. (Of course, if you have Windows 98, you can convert
from FAT16 to FAT32 with the bundled FAT32 Driver Converter after the
fact. If you have Windows 95, however, you'll either have to start
all over again to switch to FAT32, or purchase a third-party tool
such as PartitionMagic.)

Once you've answered the question, you'll be presented with four
numeric choices from which you can create a new partition, delete an
existing partition, make one of the partitions active or get more
information on the current partitions you have. In general, I'd
recommend selecting option 4 first to get more information about your
current partitions.

If you're going to switch from multiple partitions to a single
partition or if you want to adjust the size of your current
partitions, you'll first need to delete all but the primary active
partition. Before you can delete an extended partition, however, you
first need to delete any logical drives that are inside the extended
partition. To make any of these deletions, select option 3 off the
main Fdisk menu and follow the directions. You're always given a
warning before you do anything destructive, so if you take your time,
you shouldn't run into any serious problems.

To create new partitions or logical drives or to resize the remaining
primary partition, select option 1. If you want to use logical
drives, you first need to create an extended partition to hold them
and then you can create the logical drives. In all cases, you'll need
to know how large you want the partitions and/or logical drives to be
in megabytes, so do your math ahead of time. If you're resizing a
single partition, simply make the partition the same size as the
available disk size. Also remember that all hard drives use a certain
amount of space for disk overhead so don't get upset when your new 8
GB hard drive (or whatever size you have) doesn't have eight full
gigabytes (or whatever its advertised capacity is) for creating

Once you've finished your partitioning, you can exit from Fdisk by
simply hitting the Esc button at the main Fdisk screen. As the
ensuing screen says, you'll have to restart before the changes take
effect and before you can re-format the newly created or resized

By the way, if you opt for something like PartitionMagic, you'll find
the partitioning process more intuitive and more flexible than what
Fdisk provides. For example, you can resize partitions graphically
without having to first delete them, and you can easily switch a
particular partition back and forth between FAT16 and FAT32, among
other capabilities.

Regardless of how you partition the drive, however, the re-formatting
process is very simple. Once again, you'll need to restart the
computer with the boot floppy installed and when you get to the A:\
prompt, type in:

Format C: /s

What this command does is reformats the active primary partition on
your main drive—in other words, it reformats your hard drive. The /s
switch at the end of the command tells the computer to also copy over
the basic DOS system files to the hard disk so that you can then
restart from the hard disk and boot to a C:\ DOS prompt if you want.
To continue onward with Step 4, however, you'll probably want to boot
from your boot floppy.

Step 4: Reinstall

Now that the hard part is over, it's on to the drudgery of re-
installing everything. Of course the first thing you'll need to do is
re-install the operating system from scratch.

To do that, after you start your computer with your boot floppy
inserted into the floppy drive, you'll need to make sure you have the
Windows 95, 98 or ME CD in your CD/DVD-ROM drive. Once it's there,
just type the following at the A:\ DOS prompt you should see when the
boot process finishes. Hit the Enter key at the end of it. (Note that
you may have to type a letter other than "D" if your CD/DVD-ROM is
assigned to a different drive letter.)


On a freshly formatted drive this process should go smoothly, but be
prepared with any drivers or driver upgrades you have available on
floppies or CDs. As Windows goes through the Plug-and-Play process of
detecting your computer's hardware and then attempting to install
drivers for it, the OS should give you very clear signs whenever it
needs input (or disks/discs) from you.

If you want to, you can create a directory on your hard drive called
Win95CAB or Win98CAB and then copy all the compressed .CAB (or
cabinet) files you'll find on the Windows 95/98 CDs (in the Windows
95 or Windows 98 folders respectively) into those directories. It
takes a fair chunk of hard disk space—around 100 Mbytes or so—but it
saves you from having to look for your Win 95 or Win98 CD down the
road if you ever install anything and the installation process asks
for the CD. Instead, you can just direct it to the CAB files on your
disk and you'll be all set. Thankfully, Windows ME does this for you

If your PC comes with a program that automatically returns it to its
factory fresh state, you'll use that to install your OS instead.
Doing so should automatically take care of installing the OS and
applications that came with your computer. If you have any updated
drivers or applications as part of your backup, however, you'll have
to re-install those manually, as explained a bit further down.

If you have trouble during the installation, it could be that one of
you drivers is out-of-date. If so, you'll want to check the
manufacturer's web site for an update (see the "PC Hardware
Troubleshooting Tips" article for more). Once the OS installed, you
should run any other driver installation programs you have.
Occasionally these types of programs will tell that you need to
reboot for the changes to take place. When you're going through this
re-install process I highly recommend you take their advice for each
program that requires it. Even though constantly rebooting adds even
more time to the process, it can be worth it in the long run. The
reason is if you install multiple pieces at once that make changes to
your system, those changes could conflict or counteract each other.
Because the purpose of this exercise is to get everything working
properly, you're better off taking the conservative route here and
letting each piece "take hold" one at a time.

Once all your drivers are done, it's time to reinstall the apps.
Again, if at the end of the install the program says it needs to
restart Windows for the changes to take effect, I would restart. The
order that you install the applications in typically doesn't matter,
although I would probably install any that had been causing you
problems first. Once the main apps are in place, you need to
reinstall all those lovely Service Packs, bug fixes and other updates
that you painstakingly backed up in Step One. Remember also that some
updates and Service Packs can only be done after a previous update to
the same program has been made so make sure you do them in the proper

Before copying over your own data, I suggest you try running a few of
your favorite applications to make sure everything is working
properly. In addition, make sure you double-check any previously
problematic programs once everything has been installed. If a problem
crops up now, it's probably due to a software conflict with another
application on your system. If that's the case, you'll need to check
web sites for updates and see if that helps (see the "PC Software
Troubleshooting Tips" article for more).

Finally, after all the applications have been installed, it's time to
copy back over all your own data. If you haven't already, I suggest
you take advantage of this re-installation process and use the
opportunity to organize all your data files in a single location,
such as the My Documents directory. You don't want to put everything
at the main level of the My Documents directory, however, or you'll
be overwhelmed. Instead, to make that directory useful, you should
first create sub-directories inside it and then use those directories
to store your various types of files.

Step 5: Enjoy

When everything has been restored, it's time to enjoy your new
machine. Well, almost. Though it shouldn't make any difference, it's
probably worthwhile to double or triple-check any problem
applications (you know—the ones that led you to take on this
procedure in the first place) after you restore your own files.

Once you're confident that things are working well, you can take
yourself and your PC back on a second (or third or fourth)
technological honeymoon and get to know each other all over again.>


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