Wiping and Rebuilding Your Computer

Wiping and Rebuilding Your Computer

Every now and then, we need to go nuclear with our client’s computers. It can be called “wiping and reloading”, “nuking it”, “a clean install”, or even “factory reset”. What it means is to reset and/or delete everything perfectly and start from scratch. It is usually a last resort and a big step.

Why Do It?

It is usually done for one of two reasons.   The first and most common is when a person is having computer issues and after many attempted fixes, tweaks, patches, and more it still keeps acting up.  It is the last resort but usually fixes just about everything.  The other reason it is done is to get a clean and faster refresh.  After years of using a computer, it can get full of junk and fragments of programs that can slow it down.   A complete wipe and reload can set it back as fresh as the day it left the factory.

We see it in our world with persistent and resistant issues.  For example, let’s say a computer gets a virus, there are many tools to help you remove viruses.  We may try one or more and it seems to clean it out.  However, after a lot of work, then a reboot, then a long new scan, we find out the virus is still there hiding.   So maybe we spend even more time and try some manual clean-up tricks after researching a bunch on the specific virus.  Another reboot and long scan and, yup, it is still there.  Therefore, we try more stuff and then even more and nothing seems to work.  This is actually a trap many IT Support experts fall into, you always feel like you are so close to fixing it, if you could just try one more thing, you would have it.  Next thing you know, hours have gone by and the problem is still there.   It is important to recognize early after an attempt or two when it is time to wipe and reload (i.e. Give up).

A wipe and essentially deletes everything on the computer.  All data, all programs, even Windows (or another operating system) so that it is completely clean and then, laboriously, reinstalling everything.  It takes time but nukes just about every problem that is not a hardware (the actual computer is broken) problem.   Almost all problems are software-related.

Tips and Tricks Before You Start

Here are some tips and steps to wipe and reload a computer.   The first and most important thing is to find and get all of your data off the computer.  Once you wipe the computer, that is it, you cannot go back and get anything you missed so it is important to be very thorough at this step.  Find all your documents, spreadsheets, pictures, emails – everything and move them somewhere safe.

Another trick is to document a few things about the computer before you wipe it.   Make sure you note the brand and model.  Some computers come with an app that helps you get information but you can also generally tell from the information on the physical computer case.   A very helpful thing to note is what devices the computer uses.  You can go into Device Manager and write down all the devices inside of the computer or take screenshots.  In particular, you will want to note what kind of network card and video card you have in detail.  After wiping and reloading, you will want to get those working first, and knowing what you have helps you download the exact software (firmware) you need to make them work.  You may even want to find and download those drivers and put them on a thumb drive before you wipe and reload so that you have them in case you cannot get on the internet without them later.

How to Wipe and Reload

There are several ways to wipe and reload a computer.  Manufacturers will frequently put a recovery application on a protected “partition” of the hard drive that lets you do a factory reset.  Often you will see this when you power the computer on.  It may say something like hitting F12 to go into a special menu.  Just make sure it is a real and complete wipe and not just a program that installs apps.

Another way to do it is by starting a fresh Windows installation.  Early in the installation, you can tell the Windows Setup program that you want to delete partitions.  You simply choose to delete everything and then continue the installation.

After the Reset

At this point, you will have wiped off all of the old stuff and reinstalled Windows back on the computer.  However, you still have a ways to go.  I suggest the very next two steps are to (1) get the computer onto the internet (this may involve fixing the network card if Windows didn’t automatically find and install it) and (2) immediately run Windows Update repeatedly to get all of the updates that have come out.  Get it secured and fully patched up before continuing.

Next, you will want to install any other devices and all of your programs.  This is a good time to question everything; do you really want every program back on?  Less is more!  After that, you can put your data back on the computer and it should be running nice and clean!

Ready to Go!

This really is spring-cleaning on steroids.  However, remember, as much as this cleans out stuff and makes the computer run faster, it can’t make an old computer new.  Yes, all the junk and stuff slowing it down are gone but the underlying engine is still the same.

Wiping and reloading is a big and time-consuming project but it can really fix a lot of issues and make a computer run much faster.   If you get stuck or would like help with this, just let us know and we would be happy to help!