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Author Topic: When should you reinstall Windows?  (Read 39843 times)

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  • Egghead

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    When should you reinstall Windows?
    « on: September 22, 2008, 11:35:43 PM »
    As many long-time Windows users know, over time any standard Windows computer slows down, usually due to background programs, malware or what I simply call "the Microsoft Floor sagging over time", meaning that sometimes I can't seem to find the reason for a computer problem. Hopefully, if you use Microsoft Windows, you keep your important files backed up in the inevitable event that you will need to reinstall Windows and start over. Most Windows users I've talked to have had to reinstall the same Operating System at least once, due to any one of these issues:

    - Computer slowing down due to malware
    - Computer is bogged down with remnants of too many old programs
    - Accidentally trashed a critical file (files?) while changing settings and files they don't know how to use
    - OS conflicts on dual-boot systems (Windows/Linux boots being the prime example, for me anyway)
    - Hard drive failure

    Personally, I've personally experienced every single one of those issues, and only recently have I (finally!) learned to keep appropriate backups of everything I might care about. Because I keep backups, if something goes terribly wrong on my PC (and since I use Vista that's a pretty big concern for me), my reformat/reinstalls can be mere annoyances, which cost me about 2 hours of my time, instead of horrors that cost me tons of work and files.

    I think that the reason many people dread reinstalling their Operating System is the fact that they have not kept regular backups of their files, and don't have a real means of doing so. So, many users end up letting their computer degenerate further and further, getting less and less able to perform, until finally something critical breaks, the OS *must* be reinstalled and it's too late to backup files. And so, one is forced to perform the mentally infuriating task of reinstalling Windows themselves, essentialy having to destroy one's personal data themselves. Of course, there are programs designed to retrieve people's data after a reinstall, but if someone can't afford a backup solution, chances are a recovery program is a bit out of reach too (not to mention the program may not be able to get the files back.)

    However, let's say that you do have your files back up (congratulations on that, by the way), and your computer, well, let's just say isn't behaving like it did when you first bought/assembled it. Perhaps it would be for the best if you formatted and reinstalled Windows, to clear out all that junk you don't use that's making your system slow in the first place. But is it worth your time to do it yet? Below, I've written a simple score-based guideline to assist you in making this decision.

    Here's how this works: Answer each multiple-choice question in a way that best suits your situation at the moment. Beside each answer is a number; that is the "score" for that answer. At the end of the test, add up your total score and compare it to the handy list explaining each score range.
    "The geek shall inherit the Earth."


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    • Egghead

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      Re: When should you reinstall Windows?
      « Reply #1 on: September 22, 2008, 11:36:09 PM »
      1. Do you *really* have your files backed up in a secure location?
      A) Yes.(+2)
      B) Yes, but I haven't backed up in a while.(0)
      C) No. (-100)

      (The better your backups are, the more it's "okay" if you reinstall Windows. If you don't have good backups, you probably don't want to be reinstalling Windows right now.)

      2. Which Operating System do you run?
      A) An older OS (Win95, 98). (+3)
      B) A popular, "stable" OS (Win2000, WinXP). (+1)
      C) A new Operating System(Vista). (+3)
      D) Windows ME. (+10)

      (Explanation: Older Operating systems are not supported by Microsoft, and are more vulnerable to security threats. New operating systems, like vista, do not have the kinks worked out of them yet, and Windows ME... is a joke. Nobody should use ME; it's a horrible OS for more reasons than I can count.)

      3. When starting your computer, after you login, there is a period of time in which background programs load, and the System Tray icons (bottom right next to clock) begin to appear. During this time, your PC runs slower because the CPU is in heavy use booting, and performance is slowed until the booting process is complete. In seconds, approximately how long is this time?

      A) 2-5 seconds. (0)
      B) 5-10 seconds. (+1)
      C) 10-25 seconds. (+2)
      D) 25-60 seconds. (+3)
      E) I have time to go prepare a snack after logging in before I can use the computer. (+5)

      (There's a reason computers do everything - the reason your PC is taking so darned long to load up and become usable is that it's loading and running background programs. The more you have - you guessed it - the longer it takes before your PC is "ready" for you to use it. Sometimes, remnants of old programs or malware can cause a slowdown, making the machine take longer. Also, some viruses are designed to do little more than burn system resources, which probably is the reason anyone would answer E on this one.)

      4. Is your computer having problems running games that it ran fine before?

      A) Yes. (+2)
      B) No. (-1)
      C) I'm not a gamer. (0)

      (Lagging games and poor framerate on games that more than meet the recommended requirements is a sign of one of two things: One, background junk is taking up resources your computer needs to have available to handle your game, or two, you are suffering from overheating components due to shoddy workmanship. Either way, backup now; this is a sign of trouble, either with software or hardware.)

      5. Hit Ctrl-Shift-Esc. (Don't close it; the next several questions are related to this window.) Presumably, you should only have the Internet open and this window; what's the CPU Usage right now? (It fluctuates a lot; just guess the average)

      A) 2%-12%.(0)
      B) 15%-20%.(+1)
      C) 30-50%.(+2)
      D) 50-75%.(+4)
      E) 75-100%.(+6)
      NOTE: If you have a "weak" CPU (Single core, less than 1.8 GHz is a good example), you may subtract 2 (-2) from the answer to this question. Higher CPU usage, in this case, may be explained by less-than-awesome hardware.

      (Again, the more you have running in the background, the more your beloved processor is getting strained. With only the Internet open, you shouldn't be maxing out on CPU space.)

      6. What's the current Memory Usage? (Again, if you don't have a lot of RAM, you can take (-2) from whatever your answer is.)

      A) 20-30%. (0)
      B) 30-40%. (+1)
      C) Around 50%. (+2)
      D) Over 70% (+3)

      (I shouldn't have to reiterate this, but: Background junk uses memory. More you have, more you have problems.)

      7. How many copies of the program svchost.exe are running at the moment?

      A) 1 or 2. (0)
      B) 3 or 4. (+1)
      C) Over 4. (+1 for every copy running after the first)

      (svchost.exe, pronounced "s-v-c-host", is a critical program that Windows uses. However, some viruses will create processes that have the exact same name, but instead do whatever it is the virus author wants. In practice, unless you are a true Power User, it's difficult to determine which svchost.exe is legit and which one isn't. I wouldn't End Process on any of them if you aren't sure which it is; just know that if you have more than a couple, it's a sign you have things on your computer you shouldn't have.)

      **Go ahead and close the Task Manager.**

      8. Do you commonly surf the web for "Adult Content"? (Put bluntly, do you look up porn? Be honest here.)

      A) No. (0)
      B) Sometimes, but only a few sites. (+1)
      C) Yes, and I explore quite a few sites. (+3)
      D) Daily, and I keep a large collection of bookmarked "Favorite" sites. (+4)

      (I'm not judging you with this question; it's important because porn sites are more likely to have Adware, such as SexTracker, or MyWebSearch or other miscellaneous crap that you did not ask for. These programs track your browsing choices in order to generate ads on web pages based on what it perceives your preferences are. They are also responsible for the "internet popup when the browser isn't open" problem and, like any other program, take up valuable CPU cycles and Memory.)

      9. Do you have a firewall program?

      A) Don't have one/What's a firewall? (+3)
      B) Yes/No, but I am using a router. (+1)
      C) Yes, *and* I use a router. (0)
      D) I have a router, a firewall, *and* I have an antivirus with live protection (that doesn't interfere with my firewall) (-2)

      (A firewall helps prevent viruses/malware from getting onto your PC, in real time. Routers have a firewall built in, and can make up for a lack thereof. Having both helps, and if you also have antivirus with live protection, that's even better, assuming your firewall and antivirus "get along" okay.)

      10. How often do you run antivirus scan?

      A) Never/Don't have antivirus. (+3)
      B) Once a month or rarer, but if there's a problem I'll scan. (+2)
      C) Weekly. (+1)

      (This should be self-explanatory; generally Antivirus programs are always good to have, and you should actually use them.)

      11. Final question: How long has it been since you last installed Windows (or bought the PC, if you haven't done so yet)?

      A) Recently/This computer is very new. (0)
      B) About 6 months. (+1)
      C) 1 year. (+2)
      D) 2 or more years. (+1 for each year)

      (Logically, the longer you've had your PC, the more time you've had to accumulate a bunch of useless junk, background programs you don't know about, viruses and the like.)
      "The geek shall inherit the Earth."


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      • Egghead

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        Re: When should you reinstall Windows?
        « Reply #2 on: September 22, 2008, 11:36:25 PM »
        Okay, the test is over. The lowest tally you can get is, assuming you didn't pick "No" on question 1, is -3. The highest is 41 (or over, depends on how many svchost.exe files and years of age you've answered). So, with that in mind, let's take a look at your results.

        Please remember, these are guidelines and suggestions only; you are not required to listen to my advice.

        If your score is less than -3: You answered No to question 1. Therefore, you should not reformat Windows at all unless you have absolutely nothing to lose. (And if you don't, why do you own a computer?) Back up your important files and take the test again. Also, you will have serious problems if something major goes wrong with Windows or your hardware.

        Score -3-10: You have nothing to worry about. Your computer is running at near-top performance and your habits are, for the most part, good. Congratulations! Keep backups when necessary, as your score WILL go up as time goes on, but for now rest comfortably knowing that your PC will age far slower than expected.

        Score 11-20: Your PC is beginning to show signs of aging, but so far it hasn't really deteriorated to the point of no return. You have time left before it really behooves you to reinstall Windows. So far, so good. Maybe you should consider taking a look at what kind of security you have on your computer; wouldn't hurt to take a look around and find the best software to keep crap programs off, or clean out remnants of old programs. Of course, if you want to, you can reinstall Windows; it'd certainly help your cause, but you aren't in trouble yet.

        Score 21-30: Your boot times are annoying, aren't they? And how about those program lock-ups? "Windows is searching for a solution". Whatever, that never helps! And how come you have to wait a few seconds every time you go to Programs on the Start Menu? You can't even play your games to vent your frustration; the fact you just had to reduce the graphics settings - again - only adds to the frustration.

        Of course, this is an exaggeration. (Or is it?) But it probably describes the level of stress you have on the computer fairly well. At this point, viruses are probably problematic, and you are starting to feel the need for a good old fashioned hardware upgrade. Don't despair yet, though! Perhaps it's not too late. Take a look at what programs you're using to keep your performance up - either you don't have any or they aren't working. Rob Pomeroy has a good list of essentials >here< - check the list for some good programs. With a good effort, you may be able to reclaim your computer yet. If all else fails, backups are recommended at this point.

        Score 31+: Take all the above frustrations and about double it - that's probably where you are right now. Only once have I seen a computer that would rate this high - it crashed every 45 minutes, not even enough time to properly run Antivirus, it had way too many viruses from shoddy security, it was about 6 years old and had never seen a format, and it took several minutes to boot. I remember feeling empathy for that computer; it was like an old dog that needed to be put down.

        So, I'm afraid, is your computer if it's gotten to the levels I've described. You have to have backups to make this score, so there's really no reason NOT to reinstall Windows. Also, if it's over 5 years old you may consider simply buying a new computer, if for no other reason than to have fresh hardware (older components are more likely to fail).

        Thank you for taking this test. I apologize for the length of it, but hopefully your computer's well-being, and your own peace of mind, can be had knowing that you DO have that safety net, and if it all goes kaput, you're not set too far back.
        « Last Edit: October 17, 2008, 08:08:15 PM by Dilbert »
        "The geek shall inherit the Earth."