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How To Reformat An Older Computer

Cleaning out your attic or garage could reveal one or more older computer systems that you have forgotten you own. These computers may run Windows XP or another older operating system, but they can still be put back into service with a little work. Even the smallest hard drives can be utilized for extra storage and backup space. You can also donate unwanted electronics that still run to schools and other educational resources that need devices for teaching word processing and research skills. Before you put your old computer to a new use, consider reformatting it. This process will remove all of the old data and help the system run at its best.


There are a number of ways to reformat a Windows XP computer. If the desktop or laptop is more than five to six years old, it is likely that the manufacturer did not develop drivers for supporting a newer operating system. It is best to reinstall XP rather than trying to upgrade to Windows 8 in most cases. You can use your original recovery or backup discs if you still have them. For computer owners without these tools, other options range from simple to advanced.


Using The Windows Backup Disc


Nearly all consumer and business computers sold through the big name electronics retailers came with discs containing the operating system and all native drivers. If a component of the computer required a driver to run properly, it would be included on that disc. Most were labeled Windows XP Recovery discs. If you can find the original discs and documentation provided by the manufacturer of your older computer, reformatting is very simple. However, don’t let a missing CD stop you from working on the system and preparing it for reformatting. These discs won’t include the files needed for any printers, game controllers, fax machines, or other devices connected to the system.


How To Discover What The System Needs


Taking on the challenge of finding the necessary drivers is easy when you follow the right steps. Try this troubleshooting guide to discover the files your computer needs after reformatting:


  1. Examine the computer for a model number. Most manufacturers give their products model names and codes, but a serial number is usually the best option for in-depth information. Visit the manufacturer’s website and check out their Support section. For example, Dell.com has a Support program that returns the specifications and necessary driver files for download on any computer if you provide its model number.
  2. If the system drivers aren’t available on one page, find the name and model number of each component and search for it separately. A sound card made by a popular company should have download files available from that manufacturer. You should be able to find at least a PDF file of the manual for the computer with a simple search, so use that to determine which parts rely on drivers and which are natively supported by Windows XP.
  3. Spend extra time focusing on additions like wireless adapters, modems, graphics cards, card readers, and visual output ports. These parts tend to need their own driver files, while most hard drives and motherboards are less likely to need specific files that aren’t provided with Windows XP.


Saving Your Files


You will need to remove all of your files and information from the computer before beginning the reformatting process. The reinstallation of a fresh copy of Windows XP will clear the hard drive. You can create a partition to preserve content on the same computer, but most computer users will be more comfortable with data transfer. Try an online storage service or use an external hard drive that connects via the USB port. Don’t forget the bookmarks from your browsers, game save files, or passwords that are recorded by your browsers for your favorite websites. Be sure to delete sensitive or personal information during your preparations to ensure it is completely erased in the process.




You will need a copy of the Windows XP operating system on a disc in order to complete the process. This could be your Recovery Disc or a new license purchased from Microsoft. You will need the disc and the corresponding product key before beginning. When you are ready:


  1. Check that your computer manufacturer does not offer operating system restoration support through the Internet. Many companies do this instead of sending out Recovery Discs, so your model number and original product key may be all you need to begin reformatting.
  2. If you aren’t using an automated system from your manufacturer, open your CD drive and insert your disc. Turn off the system and start it back up again.
  3. You should see a blue screen as the computer boots which states “Press any key to boot from CD”. Pressing a key will allow the computer to boot the operating system installation program on the CD. Follow the on-screen prompts to complete the reformatting process.
  4. Do not create a partition during the process if you are attempting to wipe the system for security or to get rid of a virus.


If this sounds difficult or overwhelming, there are also some programs that can streamline the process.


Starting Up Again


Your computer may have issues with the display or sound output when it first starts up again after reformatting. Wait to connect periperhals other than basic input devices until you have the system drivers loaded again. Keep driver discs and downloaded copies of other needed files on hand so they can be installed immediately.


Check For Infections


If you chose to reformat due to a virus or malware infection, run your antivirus scanners as soon as the system is running again. Scan all incoming files and programs before uploading them as well to ensure you aren’t just reinfecting the system. New downloads can be retrieved straight from the manufacturer’s website once you manage to get the reformatted system ready to access the Internet.

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