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Windows 7 Clean Install
The best practice for installing a new operating system is to start with a clean slate. This allows you to install all your drivers and software without having to worry about buried or hidden registry settings and old software that may cause conflicts. It makes for a much cleaner system and gives you a chance to evaluate which programs you wish to restore and lets you organize your data for the transition to the new operating system.
Before you perform a Windows 7 clean install on your computer, you need to do a little prep work. In this Windows 7 clean install guide, we'll go over some things to keep in mind before formatting your hard drive and installing the latest version of Windows. For example, you may want to consider getting a new hard drive if you are upgrading an old computer. It also helps to have an extra computer on hand in case you need to download drivers.
Netbook users should read this article on installing Windows 7 on a netbook because the process is slightly different.
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Consider Buying a New Hard Drive
If your computer is more than two or three years old and you are wanting to do a clean install of Windows 7 or any other new operating system, you might also consider getting a new hard drive. The reason for this is that your hard drive is a mechanical device and can slow down over time from parts wearing out. I have personally seen machines experience huge decreases in performance over a two-year period just because they were in constant use in offices that were manned 24/7. On one such machine, I replaced the hard drive and reinstalled the operating system and it made a very noticeable difference in how fast the machine worked.
You can get a giant size hard drive these days for less than $100. In fact, many people spend a little extra to get a solid state drive just for the operating system because SSD has no moving parts and are substantially faster than mechanical hard drives. Another good reason to buy a new hard drive is that it makes the backup and restore process so much easier when you can install the new operating system on a new drive without having to format the old one. In fact, you can keep a dual boot system in case you ever need to get back into your 'old' computer system.
The added expense will turn away some users, but there are benefits to having a second hard drive. Just make sure you have room inside your case and that your power supply is strong enough to handle another drive. Also make sure you get the right kind that is supported by your motherboard.
(Image credit: Computershopper.com)
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Back Up Your Data
If buying a new hard drive is out of the question, then you will need to make sure you back up all of your data before installing the new operating system. The reason for this is that a true clean install requires you to format the hard drive, which will erase everything. You don't want to format the drive and already have the new OS up and running when you realize you forgot something, because by then it will be long gone unless you invest in some file recovery utilities.
Backing up your user data depends on what software you use and what files you have stored. For example, most people store photos and Word documents in the My Documents folder and that should be the first thing you back up. What some people may not realize is that their iTunes library won't automatically transfer, so you will need to backup your iTunes library before moving over to Windows 7. Be sure to read my article on how to transfer your iTunes library to Windows 7 for more information.
In addition to stuff like photos and music, you might also have some program settings and options you wish to save. In Adobe Dreamweaver, for example, you can save all of your site settings into a config file and then import those setting later once you reinstalled the software under the new operating systems. For web developers, this will save you a lot of time and potential technical problems when moving to a new operating system.
(Image credit: Sandisk.com)
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Install Windows 7
Whether you are installing over your old operating system or to a new hard drive, the Windows 7 clean installation format process is actually quite painless. I recently upgraded my HP desktop to Windows 7 and had no major problems. I used a new hard drive and kept my old one with Windows Vista installed so I could have a dual boot system for testing purposes.
If you have a spare computer or access to one, you might want to keep it on hand for when the Windows 7 install completes. The reason for this is that you may need it to download drivers for your computer. For example, if your computer connects to the internet via a wireless network connection but your computer doesn't have the right wireless networking drivers for Windows 7, then you can't go online with that machine and get them. This is where having a spare PC comes in quite handy. You could just download the drivers on the spare computer and then transfer them via flash drive.
If you don't have a spare computer, be sure to download the Windows 7 drivers for your system. This greatly depends on the hardware and manufacturer, and the main drivers you want to get are for your network interface card (NIC) or wireless network adapters. Once you have these installed so your new Windows 7 machine can get online, then you can download the rest yourself.
For additional help, be sure to read this article on where to find Windows 7 printer drivers.