'Stein 150 Lapsed Skeptic Team Colleague

Acknowledgements: Thanks to DKnoppix and Crow for most the images and dgosling for helping get this setup.

This guide shows how to reformat your computer in case of a severe corruption or a severe malware infection where helpers cannot guarantee the security of your computer.

This guide is for reinstalling XP only. Do not use this guide if you are not reinstalling windows XP. Only use this guide if you are reformatting using the XP cd (not using a 'recovery partition' that some computer manufacturers use)

This guide is 'as is'. There are many circumstances which may change the success of your reformat.

Now then, let's get started:
Before you can reformat, you will need to have the following:

1. Your windows XP cd.
2. A means of backing up your most important data. Don't backup everything, the more you backup, the more chance there is that malware will get on your newly formatted computer. You might use another hard drive, some cd roms, or anything that holds data to backup your files.
3. There is a small chance you will need a floppy drive.

First Steps:
1. We need to make sure that your product key is still valid. Otherwise you might not be able to install windows. To do so,

Please go HERE (Microsoft website) using Internet Explorer (NOTE: Do not use Firefox or any other browser as they won't work)
- Click on Windows Validation Assistant
- Click on the Validate Now button.
- Be patient while the ActiveX loads, do not click on any links.
- Read the instructions on this page while it's loading. You will be prompted to install - click YES.
- Enter your product key then click continue

Make sure that your license key is legit. If it is NOT legit, do NOT reformat, contact Microsoft to see if a mistake has been made, and if not, tell your helper.

You can also use this tool to ensure validity.
Click here
Then hit "save"
Save the folder to your desktop. Then right click on the file and select extract all. Extract the folder to the desktop. Then open the folder and double click on xpinfo.exe
If all is well you should get something that looks like this:

Then, backup your important files to another media. Do NOT save them on the same partition. I would personally suggest a cd-rom backup or a flash drive. You may want to make sure that you can open the files on another computer BEFORE reformatting.

Next, download these programs.
Save them on a CD or something, we will need them immediately after reformatting. Do not skip this step!

  • SP2 can be downloaded here. Safe this file to a CD. If you are on dialup and this download is unbearably large, you can get a free copy from Microsoft here. The downside is that it will take awhile for the CD to get there.
  • A firewall. There are many good ones out there, If you don't know of a good one to get, I personally suggest either Zone Alarms or Sygate Firewall
  • The latest drivers for your computer (optional). Drivers allow Windows to use your hardware in the most effective manner. IF you need help finding what drivers you need, go to start->run->msinfo32.exe and that will tell you what hardware you have. Then go to the appropriate hardware vendor's website and download the correct drivers.
  • A imaging software (VERY optional). Reformatting is a pain in the but isn't it... If you have a drive imaging software, you can literally take snapshots of your hard drive, and if something screws up, you can roll back the state of your hard drive to an earlier time. Two of the most popular drive imaging sofware utilities are Acronis True Image and Norton Ghost. Neither of these products are free, but they are well worth it in my opinion.

Checking the hard drive
Please go to start->run->diskmgmt.msc
you should see something like this:
Highlight Disk 0 like I have done. Then you will see one or more partitions on the top half. Make a note of the size of the drive. Very important: Look and see if there's a hidden 'recovery' partition on your hard drive. If so, STOP!! because you will need to follow different instructions on how to reformat correctly.

Let's Reformat!

  1. while your computer is still on, put in the XP cd
  2. Turn off your computer
  3. Turn on your computer. Your computer should go through a black and white screen called POST. Then one of 2 things will happen.
    You will either get a message like this:
    "press any key to boot off the CD"

    or your computer will boot windows normally. If you get that first screen, quickly! press a key, and boot off the cd. If you DON'T get that screen, reboot your computer, and continually press the f12 key. You should get an option screen. Use the arrow keys to highlight your CD drive, and then hit ok.

  4. If everything goes well, you should get a blue screen with white letters. Windows will load from the cd. This takes awhile. Once it is loaded, you will see this screen:
  5. Hit the Enter Button.
  6. You will then be presented with a EULA. Press f8 to agree to the EULA
  7. Unless your previous windows version is really screwed up, you will get a screen like this

    Press the ESC Key

  8. Next you will get a screen similar to this:
    You need to make some decisions. I do NOT like having only 1 partition on a computer. You can make your files safer by having them on a separate partition. Personally, I have 5 partitions on my computer for various things, but at minimum I would recommend making 2 partitions. 1 of them should be the normal c:\ drive like you're accustomed to, and 1 should be for your important files/programs. You're free to setup windows however you want though. It's your computer.

    No matter what you choose to do, you need to use the arrow keys and highlight the c:\drive
    Press the d button.
    Then press the enter at the warning prompt.
    Windows will give you a second warning prompt. Hit L to continue.

  9. Your screen will now look like this:
    Press the C
  10. Then you will be presented with this screen:
    This is where you need to decide how many paritions you wish to have.
    If you are unsure and just want to go the easy route, press the enter button. Now skip the instructions below in Purple, and continue on.
    If you wish to create multiple partitions, press the backspace key and change the size of your partition. Don't make it too small! I would recommend having at least 4 GB (4096 MB) on the first partition, and more if your hard drive is big enough. Then press the enter button.
    Then use the arrow keys and highlight the "unpartitioned space" Press the c button, and then type in how big you want the partition to be. Hit the enter key. You can repeat this process until you have as many partitions as you want.
  11. Your screen should look something like this depending on how many partitions you have:
    Highlight the drive you want to install windows on. It SHOULD be the 1st one. (c:\)
    Then hit the enter button
  12. Next you will get this screen:
    Select "Format the partition using the NTFS file system"
    Hit the enter button.
  13. Your computer will format the drive. Wait until that's done.
    Windows will setup. When you see this screen:
  14. Then you need to take out your CD.
  15. Your computer will reboot.
  16. Windows Setup will continue from the hard drive. Follow the instructions, and voila! Windows will be reinstalled.


  • Put in the cd that contains service pack 2
  • Install service Pack 2 by doubleclicking the setup file and following the instructions on the screen
  • Once SP2 is installed, reboot, then install the drivers that you have found.
  • Next, install the firewall and AV.

Immediately go here:

and get all the critical updates.
Don't forget to restart your computer!
Then update your AV and firewall.
Install all your other programs and documents.
Then (if you have an imaging software) make a snapshot of your computer. If something goes terribly wrong, you can always start from this point again instead of from the beginning.


Xpenetrator commented: Excellent work, this is being asked over and over again +1
Problem Solwer commented: Nice Work +0