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How to Reload Windows XP without Losing Data?

written by: •edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/18/2011

You need to know how to reload Windows XP without losing data. After you have tried all the steps to fix Windows XP problem, you may feel like reinstalling the OS. But that will remove all data files. Hence the need to know how to reload Windows XP without losing data.

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    When to Reload Windows XP

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    Before we learn how to reload Windows XP without losing data, let us understand when to use the process. Professionals look at reinstalling Windows as the last resort when they repair Windows XP. This is not because it is difficult, but because it is time consuming. However, if you have your data backed up somewhere other than the HDD containing the OS, you can format the hard disk drive and reload Windows XP.

    Later, you can restore your data. To reload Windows XP is different from reinstallation in the sense that you have an opportunity to save your Windows-related data. When you reinstall Windows XP, you have to create everything from scratch. This makes reloading Windows XP a better option than reinstallation of the entire operating system.

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    Why Reload Windows XP?

    There are many reasons why you might want to reload Windows XP. The primary reason is a corrupt registry. Other reasons include missing system files, misplaced DLLs, problems with the Desktop and Startup Menu, and missing Control Panel Items.

    However, before you try to reload Windows XP, you should check out all the other options available - including a disk integrity scan. Most often, System Restore helps you fix Windows XP problems. If everything else fails, go for a Windows XP reload.

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    Understanding Windows XP Reload and Related Problems

    When you reload Windows XP to troubleshoot the above-mentioned problems, you are performing a simple replacement of the original Windows XP files in the same directory where your current Windows installation is. You will not have to format your hard disk drive or lose your data to repair Windows XP.

    You may lose programs associated with Windows XP when you reload Windows. This is because when you reload Windows XP it will create a new registry. As the previous Windows XP Registry contained all the information regarding the installed software, the programs will stop functioning normally forcing you to reinstall them.

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    Files Prone to Loss When you Repair Windows XP using the Reload Windows Method

    The files in My Documents on Windows XP will be lost, as the Document and Settings folder on the C Drive is refreshed when you reload Windows XP. My Documents folder is a subfolder of the Documents and Settings Folder. Files saved on the Desktop are also lost if you do not backup before you reload Windows. However, it will not remove your data files. They are safe at the locations where you saved them.

    Hence, it is advised that you backup those folders and files when you are going to reload Windows XP. Please note that the data files created in folders other than the Document and Settings are not lost.

    Let us check out the files that need to be saved to some other location before you start Windows Reload:

    1. Files on Desktop

    2. Files in My Documents, and its subfolders such as My Pictures, My Music and My Videos etc.

    3. Internet Explorer Favorites

    4. Any file that you saved in the C:\Windows folder or its subfolders. These are normally the screensavers and wallpapers that you may have downloaded from the Internet

    5. CD image files

    6. Outlook files such as the address book.

    All other files are safe. Even if you saved your documents on other portions of the C Drive or the Drive where you installed the Windows initially, they will be safe. The files on partitions other than the one that carries the Windows XP operating system are safe. In short, the files stored in the Documents and Settings folder and the Windows folder and their subfolders are the only ones that will be lost when you reload Windows.

    Read the Bright Hub tutorial, Perform Backups with XP's Backup Utility, to learn how to back up these files and folders.

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    Reload Windows: Checklist before you Start

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    As mentioned earlier, the system registry will be removed and replaced with a new one once you reload windows XP. This means you need to take some precautions. Let us take a quick look at the prerequisites and steps to take before Windows XP Repair Installation.

    1. You will need the Device Drivers for different devices on your computer. The most basic ones include Display drivers, Sound drivers, Ethernet Drivers, apart from the Wireless Devices etc. Make sure you have a backup of the Device Drivers, normally available as a CD with the computer purchase.

    2. You will be losing all the programs on your computer. After you reload Windows XP, you will have to reinstall the programs. Keep the Installation Programs of these software ready before repairing Windows XP.

    3. If you have an advanced version of Internet Explorer (above IE 6.0), you will have to uninstall it before you can reload Windows XP. This is because Windows XP will try to install IE6 but will fail if your computer already has an advanced version of the browser. Details of the IE you are using are also contained in the Program Files folder so they may interfere with a smooth reload process.

    4. If you had installed the service packs separately after installation of your previous Windows XP installation, you will have to uninstall them, as they may interfere with the reload process.

    4. Finally, make sure you have copied all the important files that are prone to loss (refer to the previous section, “Files Prone to Loss").

    Windows XP Tip: Open the drive where Windows XP is located. Go to the Documents and Settings folder. Under Tools menu, select Folder options. Click the View tab and select the option Show Hidden Files and Folders. Then copy the entire Document and Settings Folder to some safe place. This will automatically copy your desktop, favorites, Outlook data, and other settings.

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    How to Reload Windows XP

    The first method is to insert the Windows Installer CD while Windows is running. Once you insert the CD, you will get the installation screen. Select the Upgrade option after choosing to Install Windows XP. Click Next, accept the terms and conditions, and in the next screen enter the 25-digit product key. Then wait and follow the onscreen instructions to reload Windows XP. If the installation was successful, you will be notified. In case it fails for to some reason, check out the Boot from CD option.

    The second method is to insert the Windows XP boot CD into the computer and restart. When it asks to press a key to boot from CD, press any key so that the computer boots from the CD. When the message to install the Windows XP appears, press Enter. Press F8 to accept the terms and conditions when prompted. Do NOT format the Hard Disk and ask the Installer to leave the file system intact when prompted. Specify the same directory where your current Windows XP installation is located. Follow on screen installations until it is complete.

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    Steps to take after you Reload Windows XP

    As soon as you reload Windows XP, you will want to copy the files from Documents and Settings you copied to backup your settings, and place them in the corresponding folders in the new Document and Settings Folder. Once done, reboot the computer so that the settings are restored.

    If you need to install the Device Drivers, do so. Then install all the programs that you need on your computer. Finally, log on to the internet and install the latest updates. This includes the latest version of Internet Explorer as well as the MSRT tools. You will then need to install the Service Packs. This will restore your Windows XP computer to a fresh state without losing on any data.

    IMPORTANT: Make sure you have program installers and device drivers ready as you may need them to reload Windows XP without losing data.