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July 16, 2020

Clean reinstall Windows – How I am doing it

A few weeks ago, I wrote some short and simple instructions to prepare for a  clean Windows 10 reinstall. Now it’s time to follow my own advice, I really must reinstall Windows on my laptop to get rid of unwanted files and folders, free up storage space, and make the system work without glitches. I’ve done my preparations now, listing them below. When I have written this story,  I will deploy (clean install) a fresh custom deployment image which I created and captured using a Hyper-V virtual machine as a reference machine. This custom image contains my customizations and modifications, as well as preinstalled software such as browsers, Visual Studio and other tools.


First, I create a new folder on an external HDD. I always label this folder using format PC_Date, in this case now as W:\ProBook_09-MAR-2020. I will copy all personal data (Documents, Pics, Videos, Music) from each user profile to their respective folders in the backup folder ProBook_09-MAR-2020. This usually goes quite fast, because my main storage location is OneDrive and its subfolders. OneDrive is automatically backed up in cloud, so there’s no need to back it up again to an external HDD

Next, I export a list of installed software using the following PowerShell command to target the same backup folder:

Get-ItemProperty HKLM:\Software\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Uninstall\* | Select-Object DisplayName, DisplayVersion, Publisher, InstallDate | Format-Table –AutoSize > W:\ProBook_09-MAR-2020\Software_List.txt

After a reinstall, or when customizing an image, this reminds me to grab all the software I need.

Now it’s time to take care of software licenses. Some software licenses such as Macrium Reflect and Office 365 should be removed from their current installations before reinstalling them. I remove the Macrium license from its Help menu, and close that application. I also close all Office applications, and remove the Office license from this machine on the O365 accounts page. Read how it’s done right here: Windows 10 clean reinstall – How to prepare

Last but not least, I export all current drivers from this laptop to my backup folder on the external HDD. I’ve written a tutorial about exporting and importing drivers on Ten Forums: DISM – Add or Remove Drivers on an Offline Image

OK, all preparations are done. All personal data is safe, a reminder list of software I need to reinstall is saved, important licences removed, “freed” to be reused, and drivers exported.

Reinstall / Deployment

Of course, if you want to, you can just use the default Windows 10 install image to reinstall now. However, I prefer preparing an image. I have written a series about how to customize and capture a Windows deployment image, and then deploy it without any user interaction: Windows 10 Unattended install media – Part 1: Basics 

In my case, I prefer using the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT). I begin with installing Windows 10 to a Hyper-V virtual machine, booting it to Audit Mode. I will install most of the software from my reminder list, customize Windows, sysprep it and capture that image. This image I will then import to MDT, import the earlier exported drivers to the install image, create the necessary MDT task sequences and USB install media to perform an unattended deployment.

I’d rather use an hour or two to do this on a reference VM than using the same time after installing Windows. This way, when I am finally ready to reinstall or deploy my custom image, everything is done. No need to wait for Windows Update to update hardware drivers, all software is already installed. Likewise, the desktop looks as I prefer it to, and Windows behaves as I want it to. The only thing left  to do is to restore my personal user data from the backup folder to its respective folders across all user profiles.

That’s it. As I mentioned, it’s up to each user to decide if they want to just clean install a default Windows image, or deploy a custom one. The point is, preparing the reinstall or deployment really is a good idea, and can save you from various issues later on. Cheers!


Author: Kari Finn

A former Windows Insider MVP, Kari started in computing in the mid 80’s writing code for VAX / VMS systems. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of IT positions. He specializes in Windows image capture, customization, repair and deployment as well as Hyper-V virtualization. Kari is a proud Team Member at number #1 Windows site TenForums.com.

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