Format your hard disk once a year.
Format your hard disk once a year.

Start with a clean slate

Viruses and malware can wreak havoc on your computer, forcing you to reinstall your PC. Here are a few tips to ensure you don't lose any data

The first time you switch on a Windows machine, the performance is smooth, without any problem. So why is it that after a year of use, the machine starts feeling like a completely different computer? Whether your PC is infected or there’s just a lot of bloat that has been added over time, with each Web page, each program and each file you add, your computer just keeps slowing down.

While there are tools like CCleaner that help mitigate this problem, the only real solution is to start over with a clean slate. A clean install, where you format the hard disk and reinstall Windows, is like a car’s annual tune-up. You shouldn’t be doing it every month, but once a year, or even two years if your machine is performing well, is fine.

The process is fairly simple, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

Back up your data

Like most people, your data is probably all over the place. So check all the folders you can, find the files you need and move them to centralized folders, so that you can back them up more efficiently. Sort them into folders for photos, files, music and other data.

Flickr has 1 TB of free space for photos, so even if you’re a professional with high-resolution files, you should be able to back up at least the important ones.

Saved passwords from websites will also be deleted when you reinstall Windows, so make sure that Chrome is set to sync local data with your Google account. Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox are cloud storage options, each of which offer a few GB of free space—back up the documents and files you need on these sites so you’re not searching for pen drives.

Use System Restore points

Before trying a full reinstall, try a System Restore —an automatic reset of all operating system files. To create a System Restore point, go to Control Panel > System > click System Protection on the left-hand side panel > System Restore. You may need Administrator permission, for which you may need a password. Enter the password and then click on Create.

This will be followed by a pop-up of the System Protection dialog box. Here, type a description for the restore point to make it easier for you to find the point, and then click Create. To restore the point in the future, run the System Restore option on the same tab and select your saved point.

The System Restore option usually comes in handy when you accidentally install software that starts playing havoc with your PC, or refuses to uninstall because of corrupt files. The option leaves your files and folders intact, so no worries. All the drivers installed at the time the restore point was set will also stay where they’re supposed to be.

Clonezilla

If backing up everything individually sounds like too much work, then try Clonezilla—a free software tool to reset your computer without losing any of the essential data saved on it. Download compatible Clonezilla ISO file from Clonezilla.org.

To run Clonezilla, you will need Tuxboot from www.sourceforge.net to create a bootable USB drive. Keep the USB drive plugged in and restart the system, and in case it’s not already set, get your computer to boot from the USB before the hard disk drive (HDD). Clonezilla will run automatically, just follow the on-screen instructions to create an archived backup of your HDD on external storage.

What you’re doing is creating a stock image of your PC, so you can then format everything without any fear of losing files. If you do have any problems, or missing data, then you simply need to run a free tool called GParted, which lets you restore the image you’ve saved at any point.

However similar Clonezilla may seem to using a System Restore point, both these techniques have certain pros and cons. The restore point may change your install and registry files to an earlier, more stable state, but it doesn’t affect the files on your PC. The problem with this is that if there is a malware or any other virus, there’s a high chance it will still be there after the restore. Clonezilla solves this issue, but also wipes off any data you may have downloaded on to the PC after you created the copy , so be wary of that.

Clean install

As an ultimate step, you could begin right from the start. This involves removing everything from your PC and reinstalling your OS and software from scratch. Yes, it’s quite a task, but sometimes issues like a boot sector virus and particularly intelligent malware can force one to take such inevitable steps.

The process is standard, and you just need to take your official Windows backup disk (which came with your computer) and follow the on-screen instructions. This takes time, but it’s worth the effort.

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