March 10, 2008

Just about all of us have computers, but almost none of us backs up the important stuff on them. After backups, however, there is another great computer hygiene measure that most people don’t bother with: erasing one’s hard drive and reinstalling everything.

Most people are horrified by the prospect. Wipe everything out? What about all my stuff? Ah, but you’re supposed to have back ups. Sure, they say. That’s fine for my Word documents and so on, but what about the gigs and gigs of music and photos that I have? Well, guess what? You’re supposed to back those up too! In fact, if you don’t have the means to back up gigs and gigs of stuff, you probably shouldn’t have gigs and gigs of stuff. Invest in an external hard drive and learn how to use it, why don’tcha?

Okay, so supposing you do have back ups. Why would you want to blow away your operating system and all your applications? After all, it’s a lot of work to reinstall an OS and get everything back to the way you like it. (Plus there’s all those pirated applications you don’t have installers for anymore, but we won’t go there.) Well, the reason you want to blow everything away and start fresh every now and then is because it’s great for your computer’s health and well-being.

Think about it. Think about all the crap that accumulates on your computer. There’s those shareware applications you tried but immediately rejected–but which left DLLs and preferences scattered about your hard drive. There’s the application crashes which deposited corrupt libraries God knows where. Let’s not even get into the viruses and other malware you may have accumulated despite your fastidious upgrading and up-to-dating of your anti-virus, anti-malware and anti-popup software. (I’m looking at you, Windows users.) Face it. If you use your computer at all, it could use a wipe-out every year. Every six months if you use Windows.

I know it’s hard. It’s a lot of work. I get that. But listen. Every now and then you want to upgrade your OS, right. So here’s an idea. Don’t just upgrade-in-place, depositing your new, fancy Leopard or Vista on the rotting corpse of your ancient Tiger or XP installation. Wipe the drive clean! Start fresh! Not doing so is a wasted opportunity.

Back up your documents, wipe your drive and reinstall everything. It’s not that hard. You might find your computer behaves better, runs faster and is less error-prone. It’s like getting a new computer. Try it.

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  1. Well, Scott, I recently had to go through this. My drive crashed. Lots of lost data. What I wound up doing was re-formatting my 60GB iPod in GUID format, installing OSX on it, rebooting to the iPod, then installing Alsoft Disk Warrior. I then attempted to recover my drive…could not recover it, but I could recover the data! My music, 20 years of IT documentation, 20 years of source code repository, 10 years of digital photography (OK, I lost the photography because I was less than completely diligent in making sure everything copied over to my NAS drive, but at least 8 years of it is on CD somewhere around here).

    I then reformatted my drive, re-installed OSX, all my updates, all my software, and restored all my data (cool part of having an iPhone…my address book, calendar, and safari bookmarks were restored via iPhone sync! w000t!).

    I am now trying to figure out how to get Time Machine working with my Lacie NAS drive! Well, I’m also still trying to figure out how to retrieve the data from my web server, which had a HD crash as well. 2008 has not been kind to my HDs!

  2. I reformat about once per year on three systems. I wipe the primary partition (usually the C drive) and then reinstall the OS (Win XP Pro), all the drivers and then the apps. The performance difference is tremendous; especially faster boots and shutdowns. Overtime, the registry fills up with unused links and other obsolete info and really slows down performance, especially from uninstalled apps. Registry cleaners help, but don’t clean up system like a fresh install. I also try to keep the partitions less than 80% full and clean up temp files about once every two months. After reformatting the drive I install an extended partition (D drive) with a size of about 50% to 80% of total hard drive depending on the actual drive size. I try to leave enough room on the primary partition for the OS, swap file, all the anticipated apps plus the 20% free rule. All the data goes on the extended partition (D drive). I even change the properties on the My Documents folder so it’s on the D rive. Partition Magic makes partitioning even after installing everything. (No updated version is available yet from Symantec for Vista) With this setup, you can reformat your OS or even experience a complete OS failure or blue screen death and still save your data. I back up the data on an external hard drive.

    Recently, I purchase Norton Ghost which makes imaging a drive very simple. After a fresh install, I will image the drive with the OS onto the extended partition and DVDs (two to three maxes). It makes the reinstall really quick after reformatting, leaving only a few driver updates for the most recent versions. Reformat, re-image and your up and running quickly with a fresh install and all your data on the extended partition. Even if you have complete hard drive failure (which I’ve experienced a few times over the years), you have an image of your primary partition and all your data on an external drive. Unless you change formats on the new drive (FAT32 versus NTFS) the image should work. If not, you reinstall the OS and Apps again and you still have all your data.

    Scott is right when he recommends cleaning off (reformatting) your drive and reinstalling the OS and even when performing an OS upgrade. The performance improvement is noticeable and worth the effort.

    I also do all this based on years (since the PC AT) of losing data, losing the OS, putting up with extremely sluggish Windows OS (3.1, 98, ME,2000, NT XP) performance and the hours spent trying to troubleshoot these systems and recovering the lost data. I’ve come to realize it’s easier and safer to develop a method to maintain the OS, save data and ultimately save time and prevent a potential data disaster.

  3. I’ve been pretty consistent with my own backups. Not that I’m perfect or where I want to be, but I’m not totally dead in the water so to say.

    One service I use which I’ve been pretty happy with is Cryptonite. It’s an online backup service, $50 a year for unlimited storage which is a bargain. Some of my video files are not picked up right away which can be kinda annoying, but the really important stuff is just about always grabbed and backed up for me automatically. Heck catch it on sale or a rebate, and you have an even better deal.

  4. @mainf4me said: “One service I use which I’ve been pretty happy with is Cryptonite. It’s an online backup service”

    I googled them but couldn’t find anything. Have a link?

  5. Sorry, I’m a dork and mixed up my sci-fi terms. It’s not cryptonite, it’s Carbonite: http://www.carbonite.com
    Superman, Star Wars, it’s all blending somehow in my head!

  6. Generic Humanoid:

    What brand and type of hard drives crashed?

  7. DLLs? viruses?

    Dude, I thought you were a proud Mac owner. You sound like a PC guy.

  8. Bill:

    On the iMac it was a WDC WD2500JS-40TGB0 240GB drive. On the TiBook (my web server) it was whatever came as the default drive…that was so long ago I forget.

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