How and Why You Should Clean Vista

After about a year of using Windows XP, it was standard operating procedure to strip your PC down to its bare hard drive, reinstall the OS, and then one-by-one reinstall your favorite applications.  Much like painting the deck or cleaning the gutters, this distasteful task made the rest of the year much more livable.

Vista promised to do away with the annual PC rebuild chore.    But like so many Vista promises, this one’s not true either.  I’ve had a Vista notebook for about 9 months.  Love it – it’s a red XPS1330 from Dell.  But over the past few months its gotten more and more sluggish. 

The ultimate insult, though, came when my Ethernet port refused to recognize DHCP connections.  Nope, it would only connect to a router – even a DHCP enabled one – with a static IP address.  Have you ever asked the concierge at a Sheraton hotel for a DNS, gateway and static IP address for your room?  Much hilarity and slapstick comedy ensues, but the codes, alas, rarely arrive.

So I resolved to strip my XPS down to its core, and build it back with just the programs I needed.  At least, after my rebuild, if it remained sluggish and uncommunicative I could blame Dell, not Microsoft, and maybe talk my way into a new computer.

So here’s how I did it (and if you’re planning to do it too, follow these steps)


  1. Download and run Belarc Advisor:  This is key.  the free Belarc Advisor gives you reams and reams of info about your system, and some of it is priceless.  It analyzes all the software on your computer, and then gives you both the installation codes and the internal codes for your system.  This lets you reinstall Office 2007, for example, if you have the CDs but not the program code.  If you’re like me, and you buy software and then promptly lose the installation sticker, you’ll really need this data.
  2. Make a Backup;  Definitely make a complete, end to end backup of your system.  However, if you like to skate on thin ice and cut corners, absolutely positively do this:
    • use Vista’s excellent "Backup and Restore Center" to make a backup of your files and folders.  You can select all types of files here, but to limit the size of the backup I’d deselect TV Shows, Videos, Music and Compressed Files (if you don’t already have them stored somewhere else — if you don’t, then just back it all up).
    • Oh, and I suggest that you go out and buy a 350 or 500 megabyte gigabyte <!> USB hard drive for this.  They’re cheap, and yes they will save your butt someday.
    • You’re not done, though.  Just for safety sake, it’s time to create another backup on that removable hard drive.  Go to your own personal folder (it’s typically your name, like Jim or Betty).  That folder contains all sorts of stuff, like documents, music, contacts, downloads, etc.  You want to make a complete copy of that folder onto your removable hard drive as well.  Before you get started, hit the "Organize" menu button, and select "Folder and Search Options"   click the "View" tab and then under the "Hidden files and folders" option, select the radio-button "Show hidden files and folders".  Click OK, and then go copy everything in your personal folder over to that hard drive.  You really want that "AppData" folder backed up too.
  3. Now rebuild your system.  Dell makes this drop-dead easy by creating a separate partition, and putting a clean copy of the system – and a program to install it with – right there.  If your PC vendor doesn’t have that, see if you can track down the Rescue disk that came with the system.  If you built it yourself, I hope you did a Ghost or other system image when you first got it configured.  If not, you’ll have to start back with the OS, and move on from there.
  4. Even though I loaded Dell’s image, there was still a lot of work to do.  First I had to delete a half-dozen craplets that Dell shoves onto its base install.  Then I had to download updated drivers for the hardware, and force Vista to upgrade to SP1
  5. After all that was done, I used the Backup and Restore Center to restore the files and settings I’d created in step 2.1 above.  Then I installed all my favorite apps, and I was ready to go!

Was it faster?  Heck yes.  Could I connect via DHCP on the Ethernet port.  Heck Yes.  Am I happy?  Heck yes, except, of course, for the 3 hours or so I spent on the rebuild.

Let this be a lesson to you.  Vista is like a pot of water, and we’re like a frog.  Over time that pot of water slowly gets warmer and warmer, making our systems more and more sluggish.  Don’t wait until the pot boils!  Get out and rebuild your system today.


Lev Arris October 6, 2008

I’m happy to hear that things are working out better on your machine. I’ve bookmark this blog and will show it to my father. Great information Jim!!!!

Justin Pearson October 6, 2008

“Oh, and I suggest that you go out and buy a 350 or 500megabyte USB hard drive for this. They’re cheap, and yes they will save your butt someday.”

Great advice if I ever have to use Vista but I don’t think a 500MB drive would be sufficient. 500GB maybe 😛

JohnE October 30, 2008

dude!!! After all the stripping of dell crapware, SP1, and installing of apps…save it for later!!! Last step is to make an image. Use Norton Ghost or Acronis to image the drive. Then in 6-9mo you can perform this “refresh” of the OS in under 30min.

JohnE October 30, 2008

ooops, I have bad manners, forgot to thank you for the Belarc Advisor tip

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