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I have an old laptop with a broken Windows install. It bluescreens whenever I try to reboot it. I want to just try to reinstall Windows XP, but I want to make sure that no personal files will be deleted during the process. I thought this was a given, but one part of the setup process is making me ask this question.

CAUTION: A \WINDOWS folder already exists that may contain a Windows installation. If you continue, the existing Windows installation will be overwritten.

All files, subfolders, user accounts, applications, security, and desktop settings for that Windows installation will be deleted. The "My Documents" folder may also be deleted.

So, will my My Documents folder be deleted? How can I know? The only reason I am bothering to try to reinstall to this existing partition is to go recover some personal stuff like old photos and videos, so if this folder is going to be plowed, I want to choose a different recovery mechanism!

Now that I think of it, is it possible that the new security settings applied by a reinstalled OS will make it impossible for me to even access my old files?

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As an alterntive to reinstalling from scratch, you might like to try a repair installation. On the same screen that lists your current Windows installs, you should have the option to repair your existing installation. – Kez Sep 19 '09 at 14:00
up vote 4 down vote accepted

You want to do a repair installation. The first option you get for repair will bring you to a console, you don't want that. The second time you are able to press R for repair is when you are choosing whether or not to format the drive, etc. Press R there and it will replace system files but leave personal data and user accounts right where they are.

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I see no such option on the format screen. I also tried to press R there and nothing happened. Am I missing something? – Chris Farmer Sep 19 '09 at 14:51
Is the disk you are using the same version (including SP) as the OS? – MDMarra Sep 19 '09 at 15:22

If you did not change the default location of My Documents folder, then yes, Its going to be deleted. I assume, you are going to do a Clean install of the OS. If yes then your data on C:\ will be LOST. However, if you do a repair (do that only if you don't have a cracked version of Windows), then your data will NOT be lost.

Another option is to use a bootable Linux (Pen Drive Linux) or bootable Windows on a pendrive, recover your data & then perform a clean Install. There are many available, just need to google. Or use Ultimate Boot CD.

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This method may be used for replicating a single user account or multiple user accounts on a new installation.

  1. Boot off the Windows XP disk
  2. Enter the setup and select 'Esc' to start a new install
  3. Select your Windows partition and press 'c'
  4. Upon partition preference prompt, select 'Leave current file system intact'
  5. The install will tell you a Windows directory already exists, press '1' to delete it and create a new one
  6. Continue with the setup, when it asks for your name, type in any temporary (different) name

    1. When Windows XP boots up, you will be logged on as the new user and your old XP account(s) will be present in the 'Documents and Settings' directory
    2. From this point, it's just as simple as creating a temporary directory elsewhere on your drive and moving your old user account(s) to there
    3. Next, you have to create (a) new user account(s) for your desired new permanent setup (I have not tried to change the usernames, I always used the same ones)
    4. Log on and off once for each new user created, then log back onto your temporary user
    5. Start 'Command Prompt' and type 'xcopy c:\yourtemporarydirectory*.* "c:\documents and settings" /s /h /r /c'
    6. When asked whether or not to overwrite a file, press 'a'

You're done! Just log onto your user account(s) and make sure everything is back to the way you had it before the reinstall. After verifying, you can go ahead and delete the temporary user account you made. It's usually suggested you keep the backed up files for a week or two, or until you think everything is working correctly.

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By the way, a repair installation is not a clean install. – shthappens Sep 19 '09 at 21:38

Using any machine make an Ubuntu Cd and then boot-up the laptop from your Ubuntu CD. This should be able to access all your old data and help you copy it safely to USB-stick, DVDs, external drive, onto the Cloud (if there's only 2Gb), over a LAN onto another machine or whichever other option you might be able to create.

For a Laptop I would use Ubuntu's Netbook Edition at
as it has nice drivers for anything from hand-helds to full-sized laptops. The desktop edition is better for desktops but usually works well on full-sized laptops.

Mostly you are unlikely to need the guides, just download, make CD, reboot and there go. If you need any help there are numerous ways of accessing documentation or help forums via the link I gave. Firefox should find your internet connection. The Window drive will be in your "Places" menu. All good.

It doesn't matter which version of Linux you try. Mandriva, Fedora, and all the rest all work very much the same way and almost all have this "LiveCD" (bootable Cd) feature.

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I got lucky while re-installing Windows XP Service Pack 3 from a bootable Windows XP SP3 System Re-Install DVD by selecting a user name other than "Administrator" during the re-install. I did select 'Leave current file system intact' when prompted to make a choice. My original XP installation had only one account: Administrator. Had I again specified a user name of "Administrator", the contents of C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\My Documents would have been wiped out! All the data I was trying to recover would have been lost and it would have been entirely my fault! In any case this article reminded my that my original XP installation had only one account (i.e Administrator.) I looked there and the contents of C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\My Documents was still fully intact! I copied the contents to a USB Flash Drive and will increase the frequency of full backups from weekly to nightly. I would only have lost 7 days work but even that would have been too much. For backups I use two (2) 64 GB flash drives and alternate backups between the two flash drives just in case one of them fails. I am a dinosaur and still don't trust cloud storage.

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