Twenty years ago it was quite common for me to reinstall Windows (Windows 3.11, 95/98/Me/2k/XP/Vista/7/8) every 6 months due to Windows becoming slow or error-prone. Luckily Windows 10 only needs to be reinstalled every year or two.
Fyi: Windows 10 has had 8 minor releases since 2018 and Windows 10 (Version 20H2) is the latest version.
In the last 3 months, my Windows (v2004) installation has become unresponsive and some USB devices are not detecting properly. I looked at my hard drive SMART data on my Windows drive and it has reported that Windows has been on for 5,152 hours, started 589 times and had 65 unsafe shutdowns (from Windows lockups).
Over 60 unsafe Widnbows shutdowns are not surprising as my Mainboard has some BIOS stability issues for 6 months.
I could have restored an Acronis True Image backup of my Windows installation but I did not keep a copy of a stable Windows from a few months ago. Lesson learned I have ordered larger hard drive to store more Acronis backups.
I can confirm Windows needs a reinstall by using a free program called DPC Latency Checker.
It shows frequent delays in Windows performing low-level tasks (red spikes in latency).
Running a system benchmark tool like Cinebench shows a 10% drop in system speed since the first time I ran this after building my system.
Backup, backup and backup
I always make sure I have backups of my files before reinstalling Windows.
I use Backblaze and Back Blaze Buckets to backup files and I use Acronis True Image software to backup my Windows 10 Partition. Every month I back up my Windows drive with Acronis and upload it offsite.
It’s time I reinstall Windows.
I will perform a full (clean) Windows 10 installation by.
- Backing up all important files.
- Documenting all Hardware Drivers, Software and Configuration (drives and redirected folders).
- Downloading the latest version of all of my driver and software.
- Writing down all software serial numbers to re-activate Windows and software.
- Creating a Windows 10 Install Image (USB Drive).
- Shutting down and disconnecting all drives that are not C:\ Drive (e.g M.2 and SATA).
- Installing Windows 10
- Reinstall Drivers
- Reinstall Essential Software
- Setup Drive letters and redirect Special Folders.
- Swap out a 2T drive for a larger 10TB Drive
- Install BackBlaze and Inheriting my old PC backup state
- Creating an Acronis True Image Backup of C:\ Drive (Windows)
- Reinstalling Games
- Drive Stats.
I have a 1TB C Drive (M.2 NVME SSD) with Windows on it and a multiple spinning magnetic hard drives where I redirect Windows folders to.
Backing up all important files.
I am fortunate that I have redirected (moved) many of my system folders (e.g Favorites, Downloads, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos etc) to other drives and I can disconnect them to keep files safe before reinstalling Windows.
Never perform a Windows reinstall if you have files or data partitions on the same disk that Windows is installed on.
WinDirStat (View Files)
I will use a free program called WinDirtStat to find files still on C drive.
After scanning C Drive with WinDirStat I can spot large files and file types on my C Drive.
I can see a large Outlook file that needs backing up.
I moved all files I wanted to keep from C Drive to another Drive (that will be disconnected before reinstalling Windows).
I manually reviewed C:\ Drive for missed files to ensure I have backed up everything.
I backed up my Simon profile (default Windows User) folder with the free FreeFileSync Program.
All files I want to keep are off C:\ Drive.
Documenting all Hardware Drivers, Software and Configuration
I need to audit the location of all system folders so I can remap them after I reinstall.
I opened regedit.exe and navigate to the following registry path
a) Auditing Redirected Special Folders
In the past, I have redirected the following paths and I do not need to back these up as they are on other drives.
- My Music = M:\Music
- My Pictures = U:\Pictures
- My Video = U:\Videos
- Personal = U:\Documents
b) Auditing Drive Letters
I open Computer Management (Start, Run then compmgmt.msc) tool, click Disk Management and view attached Disks.
I will set up the same drive letters after the rebuild so BackBlaze backup can resume backup states. If I do not record the drive letters the new Windows will assign new drive letters. If I have new drive letters Back Blaze will re-upload 7TB of data. If I reassign the same drive letters post Install Back blaze will not get confused.
c) Auditing Software
I exported all applications to a Spreadsheet in SUMo
d) Auditing Drivers
I used DUMo (Driver Update Monitor) also from https://www.kcsoftwares.com/?dumo to document my drivers.
I exported a list (Text file and Spreadsheet) in case I needed it later.
Now I am confident I have documented my current system.
Downloading the latest version of all of my driver and software
I pre-downloaded all of my computers drivers and apps that I might need after reinstalling Windows.
There is nothing worse than reinstalling Windows and not having drivers for Network or WiFi Cards.
I methodically store all files needed for a reinstall on a separate hard drive.
I have all fresh drivers needed to reinstall all devices in my new Windows.
Writing down all software serial numbers to re-activate Windows and software.
I checked to see if I have all of my serial numbers and passwords needed to activate software.
- Windows 10
- Office 2019
- Cyber Duck
- Back Blaze
- EaseUS Partition Master
- Acronis True Image
- Bit Defender Antivirus
- Proton VPN
- SUMO and DUMo
I obtained my Windows 10 Serial number with help from here.
Creating a Windows 10 Install Image (USB Drive).
I can create a free USB based Windows installation media instead of using a Windows 10 DVD by visiting https://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/software-download/windows10.
I clicked “Download tool now“.
I ran the MediaCreationTool20H2.exe
I accepted the terms by clicking Accept.
Getting things ready appeared again.
After a few minutes, I was able to select “Create installation media (USB Flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC“
I accepted the defaults and clicked Next
I selected my USB Drive to save the installation media to.
The correct USB drive was selected
The Media Creation tool was busy “Getting a few things ready“
Downloading took about 20 minutes
The USB key is ready to use to Install Windows 10.
It’s time to install Windows 10 🙂
Shutting down and disconnecting all drives that are not C:\ Drive
Now I will shut down my PC and physically disconnected all of my secondary SATA hard drives (where the data is that I want to keep).
Experience has taught me to only connect the desired C drive disk when installing Windows. If other drives are present Windows can get confused.
I will leave my G:\ Games M.2 Drive connected (as I deleted all partitions on it). The second M.2 drive has a heatsink on it with sticky thermal adhesive strip and I do not want to damage it.
Now I am ready to wipe my old Windows drive and install a fresh copy.
Installing Windows 10
I inserted the freshly made Windows Install USB device into my PC USB port and restarted my PC. I entered my BIOS (by pressing F2). I configured my PC boot drive from the USB Key (not the drive with Windows on it).
On the next reboot, the Windows 10 Install program loaded from the USB key.
I set the language and keyboard location clicked Next.
I clicked Install now.
I entered my previously purchased Windows 10 Serial number and clicked Next.
I reviewed the license terms and clicked Next.
I had the following options.
- Upgrade: Install Windows and keep files, settings and applications.
- Custom: Install Windows 10 only (advanced)
I will choose Custom (advanced) as it will be a clean install.
I selected my C:\ Drive (1TB) as the drive to install Windows to, not the second 500GB M.2 SSD (I will use for games later).
I deleted the existing Windows partition to delete the existing Windows 10 installation.
I clicked OK to the message about additional partitions being created.
fyi: This is what the storage disk will look like after Window’s is installed
Windows gave me a breakdown of the partitions. Windows will install to the 931GB partition.
I clicked Next.
Windows is installing 🙂
After 10 minutes Windows had installed enough to start asking questions.
I selected Australia (my country).
I selected the US keyboard layout.
Windows took a moment to install some more files.
I was asked is this is a Personal or Business installation.
Personal of course.
I entered my Microsoft Account. This appears to be unskippable like in previous versions of Windows.
I entered my MFA password to verify my account.
Windows asked me to create a PIN (not a password)
I setup a pin
I disabled all options giving away my privacy
I skipped saving files to One Drive.
Windows resumed installing
I entered my Product Key for Office
I clicked Not Now to disable setting up Cortana
Windows processed files for 2 more minutes.
Windows Rebooted and it started downloading plug and play devices.
Windows 10H2 was installed and I was logged into the desktop.
That took less than 30 minutes.
I shut down my PC and plugged in all hard drives again.
70% of my drivers were auto set up by Windows and I just had to install the odd (pre-downloaded) driver install files.
It only took 5 minutes to install all missing drivers.
Reinstall Essential Software
I went through my list of applications that I wanted to be reinstalled and installed them one by one.
I skipped installing the older apps that I no longer wanted.
Setup Drive letters and redirect Special Folders.
I opened the Windows 10 Disk Manager application and reset all drive letters and te redirected Special Folders to their old values (e.g Favorites, Downloads, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos etc)
Swap out a 2T drive for a larger 10TB Drive
I noticed that one of my 2TB Drives was reporting (S.M.A.R.T data) that is was not healthy.
I ordered a 10TB Western Digital Gold Drive) to swap out the 10-year-old WD Green Hard Drive. I can use the extra space to keep 6 months of weekly Acronis backups too.
The 10TB drive arrived.
I plugged in the new 10TB WD Gold hard drive and gave it the temporary Y:\ drive letter. The drive was healthy (0 power-on hours) and not a refurbished drive.
I performed a Full format (not quick) to test every sector, this format took over 12 hours,
I swapped the drive letters M: became X:, and Y: became M:\ drive.
I copied (with FreeFileSync) everything from the aging 2TB drive to the new 10TB drive.
Before disconnecting the old 2TB Drive I copied data to as another backup. It may die, but may not.
Copying large amount’s of data between SATA drives takes a long time.
Install BackBlaze and Inheriting my old PC backup state
I have about 4TB of data backed up to Back Blaze on my older Windows installation. I could delete that and re-upload 4TB but In will Inherit my backup state from my older Windows and only back up what I have moved between drives.
Snip from Backblaze – Inherit Backup State
NO IU need to inherit my old Back Blaze backup state so I don’t have to re upload 4TB of data.
The Inherit Backup State feature allows a new installation of the Backblaze software to inherit an existing license and backup under the same account. This will prevent the unnecessary re-upload of files that have previously been backed up. This is useful in a number of circumstances, such as the following examples:Inherit Backup State – Backblaze Help
To inherit the backup state I logged into Back Blaze and downloaded Back Blaze (trial), I Installed it and logged in.
Back Blaze installed files.
Back Blaze took 10 minutes scanning my hard drives.
Back Blaze reported I had 7+ TB of data on all of my disks.
I only want to backup 4TB of files.
Back Blaze has not prompted me to inherit a backup state yet???
I selected my desired drives to backup.
I also excluded folders that I did not wan’t backed up.
I clicked Inherit Backup State. I logged in again.
I could see previous backups states 🙂
Upon selecting a previous backup state I had to enter the Encryption key (created at the time of the previous backup creation).
Inheriting the previous backup state takes a while.
Please wait dialog.
Success the past backup state was intertied.
I double checked that my excluded paths and folders were still being excluded.
I could see the files left to upload.
I only had 970GB of files to upload now after inheriting 4.8TB of previously backed up data.
This is a relief, I always feel safer when I have online backups..
Creating an Acronis True Image Backup of C:\ Drive (Windows)
I use Acronis True Image to take full backups of my C:\ (read my review here).
I opened Acronis True Image 2021 and clicked the Backup Tab to specify what to backup (by default Acronis will back up all disks and partitions).
I clicked my PC’s name (ZENigma) and then clicked Disks and partitions.
I selected my C:\ Drive partition (named MP600_1TB) and then presses OK.
I selected Browse to specify a local drive to back up to.
Acronis True Image can backup to the cloud but I prefer to do that myself with BackBlaze (it’s way cheaper).
I selected M:\_Acronis_Backups\ZENigma as the location to Backup C:\ Drive to. M:\ now has 5TB free.
I set a schedule to backup at 7PM on Friday’s.
I specified Version Chain as the backup type.
Read more on backup types here: Acronis True Image 2021 Help – Backup Schemes
I configures email alerts.
I set backups to be split into 100MB chunks. I find 100MB is the optimal size to upload to BackBlaze.
I configured backup validation frequency.
Now my Windows (C:\ partition) is ready to be backed up.
TIP: It is a good idea to disable any of your Antivirus programs before performing a backup of system files.
I disabled my Bitdefender Antivirus until my next Windows Reboot.
I started my Acronis true Image backup of C:\ Drive.
I could see the backup is being created in the M:\_Acronis_Backups\ZENigma folder.
Create a System Image
Although I have little faith in Windows System Restore I will create a System Restore Image just in case.
If I am feeling lazy I can use this restore point to restore my system at a future date.
I can choose from past restore points.
While I am here I will document my hard disk and estimate the replacement date (10 years).
One hard drive was 10 years old and S.M.A.R.T Diagnostics was recommending I replace the drive ASAP. This is how I knew to buy a bigger hard drive (above).
I created a partition on the games M.2 SSD and downloaded games to that drive. This took days.
Drive Stats (Old 2TB M:\ Drive)
Here is a chart of all of my drives:
Hard Drive – Power On Count:
All of my Magnetic rives are very old.
Hard Drive – Power On Hours.
Hard Drive – Read Benchmark
Hard Drive – Write Benchmark
One thing to note is NVME M.2 SSD’s are way faster than SATA drives.
How do I restore an Acronis True Image Backup
Acronis has been running for 2 weeks now and a restore of Windows is quite easy. Under the Backups menu, I can click Recovery then restore the Windows partition.
I can restore individual partitions if needed.
I can just restore files if I wish form Acronis inside Windows.
I followed the prompts to create a Universal Restore boot media
I installed the Acronis Universal Restore bootable media builder program.
I created a USB based Bootable rescue media.
I can use this USB key to boot my system and restore and files, partitions of weekly snapshots of Windows.
I redirected my Windows Temp Folder to my new M Drive to prevent my Windows Solid-state drive getting worn out.
Windows is reinstalled and is super snappy and had less junk installed.
Reinstalling is much easier with a second hard drive and patience backing everything up at before you start reinstalling.
DPC Latency checker showed I had no issues with latency.
1.0 Initial Draft