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I have a two-year-old system is badly in need of a repave. At startup there are messages about missing DLLs, and Firefox and a few other apps no longer work. I'd like to hook up an external disk, have everything copied to it, reinstall XP, reinstall the apps, and grab all the data back from the backup. Is there a good way to do this?

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migrated from Oct 29 '09 at 17:35

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Everything you've said is the correct way to go about doing this.

  1. Plug in External USB disk.
  2. Move all important data to the external drive. If you're scared about losing something, copy everything.
  3. Unplug USB drive to prevent yourself from messing something up.
  4. Format drive, and reinstall Windows XP.
  5. Reinstall applications from their disks and installers. Do NOT try to copy applications back from the external drive.
  6. Copy important data back to the computer.
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step 2.5 UNPLUG the usb drive until step 4 is completed. trust me. – Chris Nava Oct 29 '09 at 19:48
Added your step in there ;) That's a good idea, to prevent the temptation of wiping the wrong drive. – Will Eddins Oct 29 '09 at 19:55
I've done it. (>Д<; – Jeshii Mar 28 '11 at 22:50

Everybody's solutions here are great, but they are missing some vital things.

  • If you care about the applications currently installed and don't want to forget which ones you have, Take a screenshot of Add/Remove programs and Start menu (some small apps don't leave entries in Add/Remove programs but will make a start menu entry).
  • Check the drivers for your devices. Make sure you have them available for the reinstall. You may need to download them all from the manufacturers site, just ensure you have them on the external before the install because accessing the internet to download them without drivers for the NIC itself won't work out too well.
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What you describe is indeed the best way to go about this:

I'd like to hook up an external disk, have everything copied to it, reinstall XP, reinstall the apps, and grab all the data back from the backup.

Some details: Ideally, you only need to copy the user profiles (stuff under "\Documents And Settings", or whatever it is called in your version and localization). But some programs store stuff like configs in their program directory (ugh) or in the registry.

So back up everything, reinstall, then restore the user profiles. Check everything works and is complete; if something is missing, you'll have to dig through the copy.

Or just install Linux, which does not need regular reinstalls ;-).

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Having done this a few times, take care that you get all the data you will need.

For example if you use outlook or Outlook express, make sure you save the data files. (*.pst for Outlook and its archives)

Same for your browser bookmarks - A web based bookmark sync tool would work well for this (Foxmarks aka xmarks at

The last time I did this, I just bought a new drive and installed to it; that way you can be sure you don't lose anything. They are cheap enough these days. Once you are sure you have indeed copied everything, just clean off the old drive and you will have a spare.

If the family is in the habit of going to places the shouldn't, installing things they shouldn't or if you are tired of fixing things, you might also want to look into Microsoft Steady state which puts things back together again periodically (at every restart, or every so-many-days)

Think of PC on public libraries and schools, to get an idea of what it is intended for,

Find it here There is a complete description here of course.

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Windows Easy Transfer is fairly good to backup and restore all the important files belonging to a user account. It's easy to use and does it's job. It probably won't help with files stored outside documents and settings though.

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