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How to reinstall Windows 7

Digital TrendsIf you feel that your Windows 7 PC is bogged down by a consistent lag in performance, it might be time to reinstall the OS. From registry issues to malware, to being overstuffed with large amounts of unnecessary software, a fresh OS installation can clear up several common problems. If your PC came with a restore disk from the factory, it likely features several different re-install options aimed to get your machine up and running.

Feel free to check out our guide on how to speed up Windows as well. Additionally, if you run into any issues while using Windows 7, we explain how to fix familiar Windows 7 problems here.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is no longer offering official support for Windows 7, which leaves users with few options if their PCs go belly-up. As such, Digital Trends does not recommend that our readers use Windows 7 on their devices.

Have your Windows 7 CD/Serial key ready

Once you’re done installing Windows 7, the OS will ask you to put in its CD/Serial key. This key allows Microsoft to check whether you have a legitimate, legal copy of Windows 7, although updates are no longer available. Avoiding constant pop-ups from Windows asking you to validate the install with the key is also a nice bonus.

Make sure to have this on hand – If your PC’s restore or Windows 7 disk came in a paper or plastic sleeve, the key would likely be on that. Given that Windows 7 is no longer being supported, this key is the only way to get a legitimate copy of Windows 7 from Microsoft.

How to back up your data

Regardless of which type of Windows installation you choose, it’s always a great idea to back up your data before beginning the process. Check out our guide on how to back up your PC if you prefer step-by-step guidance, or our top picks of the best free backup software if you’re looking for several quality options on with which to make a backup copy of your data. Having an extra copy of your data for safekeeping is never a bad idea should something go wrong during the installation process.

How to set up your installation media

If you have a copy of the disc that originally came with your computer or another copy of Windows on a CD or DVD, skip to the next page to learn about installation types. If not, you’ll need to first create a Windows 7 reinstall disc either by loading the image onto a USB drive or by burning it to a DVD, which we outline below.

How to obtain a copy of Windows 7

If you don’t have a Windows installation disc already, you can download a new copy of the operating system from Microsoft. uses to host copies of its OS. Keep in mind that you’ll still need a legitimate, matching serial key to activate Windows 7.

Once you download the appropriate version of Windows 7, head to this Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool page, and click the download link located below the Installation section of the page. Then, install the tool and follow the onscreen instructions. With the tool running, you’ll need to select the Windows 7 ISO you downloaded, then tell the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool whether you want to burn that file to a USB flash drive, or a DVD.


How to select an installation type

Make sure your new Windows installation disc or USB drive is inserted in your PC, then restart your system. While your PC is booting, you’ll get a prompt to hit any key to boot from the disk or flash drive. Do so. Once you’re in the Windows 7 setup program, click Install. You’ll see one of two install options – Upgrade and Custom (advanced).

If you select Upgrade, Windows should leave your files and programs intact, while only replacing the main system files and changing some settings. Opting for Upgrade essentially keeps you from having to reinstall all of your applications and restore your data from a backup, but it doesn’t give your PC the full spring cleaning treatment. However, if you select Custom, your files and programs won’t be saved.

There may only be one installation option available for you to choose from depending on how your system is configured, but you’ll likely have a small partition labeled System Reserved in place if you’re using Windows Vista or an earlier version of Windows. Select which drive or partition you want to use for your new OS install. You should refrain from reformatting or installing Windows on the System Reserved partition, though it will likely be way too small to accommodate a full OS install anyway, thereby minimizing the chances of you experiencing any related complications.

Keep clicking through the install program until the process begins. Copying Windows files and expanding setup files may take a while, so feel free to leave your PC alone for about 15-20 minutes. Your computer will likely restart at least once during the process, but it should immediately boot back into the installation program and pick up right where it left off.

Later on, the Windows 7 installer will require some more input on your end. When prompted, answer the questions that Windows 7 asks of you, which will include time zone information, and other preferences. Once Windows 7 is up and running, hit up Windows Update, and make sure to run it again and again until your OS is completely up to date.