Words in Boxes

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lessons from a Windows Reinstall

The Windows install on my fiancee's laptop, a 3-year-old Gateway, had become unstable and slow (as Windows does if left alone for three years) so it was time to wipe the hard drive and start again.  I methodically prepared, backing up all the data to two different locations — Dropbox and an external hard drive.  Also, at my father's urging, I created a drive image using the free trial of Acronis True Image, which I stored on an external hard drive.  I didn't think I'd need it, because the current install was so horrible that anything was preferable to it.

So, I rebooted, I popped in the Gateway system restore disk, and told it to format the drive and reinstall the operating system. 

When it was done, the computer booted into Windows.  Happy surprise, the restore CD didn't reinstall all of the stupid cruft software that all consumer laptops come loaded with.  However, a not-so-happy-surprise — the CD also didn't reinstall any of the Gateway-specific drivers the laptop needed to function, so it couldn't use its wireless card or suspend. 

No problem, I thought, I'll get them from the system restore partition on the primary hard drive.  Hmm, the restore process repartitioned the drive and killed it.  (Really?)  Okay, no problem, I'll go to Gateway's website and download the drivers.  Hmm, those don't work. (Seriously?) I'll go to the chipset manufacturer's website.  Hmm, not there.  (Oh, no.)

This problem was entirely my fault.  I should have made absolutely sure I had the drivers I needed before wiping the disk, so I'll spare you the whole rant of WHY DOESN'T GATEWAY'S CUSTOM SYSTEM RESTORE DISK CONTAIN THE DRIVERS TO ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, RESTORE THE SYSTEM?  Because, that would be petty.

After some Internet searching, I discovered a free utility called Double Driver, which allows you to backup and restore all the drivers installed on your system.  Which was great, except I'd already killed the Windows installation with the drivers I needed. 

To make a long story short, here's what I did:

  1. Created a new drive image of my partially finished reinstall with Acronis True Image.
  2. Restored the original, pre-wipe drive image.
  3. Booted into Windows and ran Double Driver to create an archive of all the installed drivers on my USB drive.
  4. Restored the in-progress drive image.
  5. Used Double Driver to restore all the previously installed drivers.

Success!  (Well, Double driver actually missed one file, which I had to retrieve from the backup image.  But close enough.)

Also, although Acronis True Image saved the day, I can't recommend it as a product, since its background service slowed to a crawl the two computers I installed it on.  Which is too bad.

So, recapping today's lessons, if you're reinstalling Windows, you should first:

  • Backup all your data.  Twice.
  • Create a drive image of your current install.  It will save your bacon. 
  • Create an archive of all your drivers using DoubleDriver.  This too will save your bacon.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

You can also find me on Twitter, or if you're curious, on my old-fashioned home page. If you want to contact me directly, you can e-mail comments@wordsinboxes.com.