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Tuesday, 14 October 2003

Saving a PC - james's simple guide (techy)

This blog is intended as a reminder (for me!) of the things to do before 'rescuing' a broken Windows installation to avoid losing too much information. I'm going to be doing a complete rebuild of a co-worker's PC later today so this'll come in useful for me - perhaps it will for you.


On many machines, there are two partitons created - one for the operating system, the other for data. This is handy, as any of the bits listed below can be moved to the data drive to be redeployed at a later time. If partition changes are required, or there isn't a data drive, I have a 64MB USB memory drive that should be large enough to handle most of the information on the PC, even if it requires a couple of 'empties' into a laptop or other machine.

Watch out for viruses, though - if the PC has been crippled by one, some files transferred to the memory stick, or in existence on the data drive may be infected as well. Doing a system scan before (if possible) and after is advisable. A free java on-line system scan may be found at Trend Microsystems' Housecall site.

Software Inventory

First off, compile a list of installed software and attempt to collect all of the installation media, if it exists. Check with the user whether they still want each item, and set an expectation of the probability of each application successfully being reinstalled.

To find installed software, check out:

  • The 'installed software' catalogue, in Start -> Settings -> Add/Remove Programs

  • The Start menu - Start -> Programs (and subfolders)

  • The Program Files directory - C:\Program Files\ - (and subfolders)

  • Other folders on the system drive.

User Data

If there's a data volume, with any luck, most of the documents created by the user will be on there. If not, it's essential that a comprehensive search takes place for files the user might need. Run a search for:
  • *.doc

  • *.dot (Word doc templates - watch out for viruses!)

  • *.xl? (Excel component docs - watch out for viruses!)

  • *.pp?

  • *.jpg

  • *.jpeg

  • *.txt

  • other extensions of data created in other applications

Clearly, some refinement of the list of documents returned is required (it's possible to copy from the 'Found Files' list) as there are plenty of example documents created when software is installed.

Next, make a copy of essential Windows user data:

  • Outlook or Outlook Express mailbox and folders
    This will be a file called Something.PST, or a folder containing a bunch of .dbx files. If Outlook can be run up, the location can be found in the Tools -> Options -> Maintenance -> Storage Folder

  • Outlook or Outlook Express personal address book
    This generally has the file extension .pab and is sometimes stored somewhere in C:\Documents And Settings\{username}\... or C:\windows\profiles\{username}\...

  • Internet Explorer Favorites
    This is generally a folder called Favorites, and can be found in C:\Documents And Settings\{username}\... or C:\windows\profiles\{username}\...

  • Desktop icons and wallpaper
    Once again, this is generally found in the profile directory (and sometimes C:\Windows\Desktop and, in the case of wallpaper, found by right-clicking the desktop, selecting Display Properties and looking in the desktop tab. If it says "Internet Explorer Wallpaper" it can generally be fouind in C:\Program Files\Application Data\Microsoft\Shared Data (or similar)

  • Anything else
    There may be saved games, or other application data that the user specifically wants to keep.

It's also worth bearing in mind that if software is installed elsewhere than the C: drive, because the registry will be obliterated, a great deal of it might need re-installing.

System Data

There are a number of configuration items stored on the PC that the user might not be able to recall, and which might cause serious problems if the PC is re-installed and the information has gone away. These include:

  • Printer driver information
    If there's a printer installed, it should be fairly clear what it is, but it's worth checking to make sure that the driver is appropriate, and there aren't any others installed

  • Internet Dial-up details
    These - if appropriate - can be found in the Dial-up Networking folder in the My Computerwindow. Right-clicking each connection will reveal the username and phone number - the password will be concealed with asterisks. Revelation by Snadboy is a very useful tool for retrieving this information.

  • Email account details and password
    This can be found in Outlook Express - check Tools -> Accounts and use Revelation to reveal the password

There may be account names and passwords required for other applications(for example ws_ftp) which will need retrieving before the system is deleted.

Device Drivers

To make the reinstallation a bit easier, it's often very useful to know what hardware is in the PC - the likes of

  • display driver

  • sound card

  • modem or network card drivers.
    (most importantly for connecting to the the internet to download other drivers!)

With any luck, the user will have media with the drivers on - otherwise it'd be handy to have a quick look on the internet before the rebuild (or on another PC - it's worth bringing a laptop along in case) to collate the information. Even if the drivers aren't available, information on the manufacturer and type of various devices would be useful.

All done?

It's worth having a quick check to make sure everything's safe and as it should be before destroying the C: drive. From then... you're on your own.


If you have any suggestions of ways to improve this guide ? or there are any obvious inaccuracies, please leave a comment, or email me at blog@mus-ic.co.uk

Posted by james at October 14, 2003 9:20 PM

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