The Universal Solution: Some re-install observations

By karnett
Apr 22, 2009
  1. One of my three home systems was recently infected with something nasty -- Super AntiSpyWare detected Trojan.dropper, and i was blocked from update sites and was experiencing redirects from Google search results. Numerous scans with various products turned up nothing futher, although the unwanted behavior continued.

    After reviewing some similar threads, it looked like I could end up chasing this hidden culprit (and possibly my own tail) for quite a while. So I began considering a reformat/re-install solution, which ultimately lead me to a really great disk imaging solution to make this process way easier the next time around (and I'm sure there will be one).

    First of all, if you haven't already read it, there is an extensive post on reformat/reinstall at There are a ton of websites out there with instructions on how to do a reformat/reinstall of Windows XP -- for example, and

    I took a look at my C: drive and found that I had actually followed best practices and had very little on that drive other than system files. I backed up My Documents, my email (Outlook Express), and a few other folders to a separate drive on the same system, then I dived into the reformat/reinstall.

    This is pretty straightforward and takes about 30-40 minutes. When you're done, you have a out-of-date version of Windows installed on your system. At this point, it's a good idea to install your anitvirus program of choice.

    You can then configure your network access, and start downloading virus and Windows updates. The Windows updates take a loooong time, because there are a lot of them, and there are dependencies, so you have to go through the drill multiple times, rebooting each time. SP2 and SP3 are loaded separately and take quite a bit of time on their own. If you reinstall MS Office, be sure to get the updates for that as well.

    Then it's time to update any remaining drivers and reinstall all your software. This was not too onerous for me, as I had all my CDs or downloads at hand. The most bothersome was getting the right drivers for the VIA chipset, but a quick look at the motherboard documentation gave me the info I needed to locate them on the internet.

    Great! So now I had a clean, shiny, pristine installation, just the way I want it. To help make this simpler in the future, I decide to investigate making an image of this installation in the likely event I get hosed again by some future malware.

    Fortunately, I found a terrific freeware application for doing this, Macrium Reflect ( My installed OS and app files amounted to about 11 GB, I was able to do a disk image to a drive on another computer on my home network, which ended up about 7 GB in size. You can also create a boot disk for restoring the image, using BartPE and a Macrium Reflect plug-in.

    So, although it took a while, I have a 1) a pristine install, and 2) an image of that install that I can recreate in under an hour. From now on, I'll be doing this any time I configure a new system. Despite the work, I really feel like I ended up better off than trying to clean my old system.

    This entire effort broke down like this:
    - back up data files - 30 mins (mostly figuring out what to back up)
    - reformat and reinstall windows - about 45 mins
    - reinstall drivers - 45 mins (mostly searching on the internet)
    - reinstall apps - 60 mins
    - restore backed up folders - 30 mins (some importing req'd for email)
    - download Windows updates - 45 - 60 mins
    - download virus updates, misc - 30 mins
    - install disk imaging software, make image - 60 minutes

    But, as mentioned above, the next time, I'll be limited to the data backups (30 minutes) and less than an hour to do the image install. Sweet! :)
  2. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 11,126   +982

    Nicely done :grinthumb

    You have certainly learned a lot in this process.

    Comment on backups: don't waste time and media with backups of C:\
    as in a total system failure, it requires a bootable media and the same backup program to be able to begin using those backups :(

    Instead, as you already have your reimage which will only require a much shorter session to get updated,
    you need only to backup User Data, specifically,
    for a single user XP system \Documents and Settings\yourloginid
    or on Vista \Users\yourloginid
    For a multiuser system, just backup one level and capture All User Logins :)

    You might consider getting a System State Backup which might save a lot of time
    when there's trivial errors (ie everything other than failure to boot).
  3. karnett

    karnett TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks -- that's pretty much what I did. The only actual backup I did prior to reinstalling was of my user account info, email folder, and data from a couple of other programs that insisted on installing their live data on the C: drive.

    With Outlook Express, you can change the location of the email folder, so I am going to move that over to a secondary disk on the same computer, which removes one more reimaging headache.

    For the record, it is possible to locate your \Documents and Settings folder on another drive. Microsoft does not officially support this, but provides a procedure to do it (see Where I work, IT has configured all our laptops this way.
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