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Windows XP: How to Prepare for a Clean Installation (Part III)

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 9/17/2008

Before reinstalling a Windows XP PC clean, locate personal data and configuration settings, and back them up. This is the last article in this three part series.

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    Tips on Locating Personal Data and Configuration Settings

    Most of the personal data components that you’ll need to save (and later restore) when reinstalling Windows are relatively easy to locate. You just need to spend a little time and think about all of the folders that you have created on your hard drive(s). Here are a few tips to help you gather your data:

    Hard Drive Partitions. Review how your hard drive is partitioned and formatted. For example, do you have a single drive (C:) or more than one drive (C: and D:)? Do you want to reformat your PC to only have one partition (or more than one)?

    E-mail. Look in the directory where your e-mail program (Outlook or AOL, for example) is stored to locate the e-mail client’s main data files. It’s important that you back up the files that store your actual e-mails and your address book, if you use one.

    Applications. If you have special applications that store data in the folder where the application itself is stored, make sure you view these folders and back up any critical data files. If you use older applications, you’ll find that that they often store their main data file in the default directory where the program is stored. For example, a program such as Quicken would probably store its main data file in the directory C:\Programs\Quicken.

    User Data. If you have multiple users who access the computer, make sure each person has ample time to back up their own data, write down their own settings, and agree to the reinstallation.

    The configuration settings that your computer uses are a little trickier to locate, but with a little detective work you can find them. You can acquire some of the information you need by browsing through the settings for your Internet connection, viewing Outlook or Outlook Express settings for accounts and options, and viewing the Properties dialog boxes for codes and activation keys. Other information, such as product activation keys, can be retrieved from a disk’s packaging materials or from e-mails you received when you purchased the software. The following sections include some specific tips to help you locate the settings that are more difficult to find.


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    Locating Hard Drive Configuration Settings

    To determine how your hard drive is set up:

    1.            Double-click on My Computer from the Desktop. The My Computer window opens.

    2.            Scan the window to locate the Hard Disk Drives section. You should see at least one disk drive listed. Note the number of drives that are available.

    3.            Click on one of the drives to select it (select the C: drive if present), right-click, and select the Properties option from the menu that appears.

    4.            Look for the label “File system.” This section will tell you how your drive is formatted. You should see the text “FAT 32” or “NTFS” to indicate if your drive is formatted as FAT or NTFS. This information is important because you’ll likely want to keep the format of your drive the same when you reinstall Windows.

    Tip: You can view advanced information from Start>Run>MSinfo32, including the paths to applications, Internet settings, and hardware components.


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    Locating Your Internet Settings

    The Internet settings you need to record (and later restore) will depend on whether you connect to the Internet by a dial-up modem or a high-speed broadband connection. If you use a dial-up modem, you’ll need to save the phone number(s) and passwords that you use to connect. If you have a broadband connection, you can locate the settings by following these steps:

    1.            Click on the Start menu and select Settings and then Control Panel.

    2.            From the Control Panel window, double click the Network Connections icon.

    .               3.            Right-click the Internet connection you use and click Properties. You will see a screen showing your connection settings.

    4.            Finally, make a note of how your modem, router, and other hardware are positioned and connected.