Byte Me #58 Mystery of reformatting

22 October, 2011

Someone has ‘reformatted’ your computer and now everything is different – what is that all about?  We often need to explain to customers what is involved in a reformat, however let’s start with why you would need to even do this.  A reformat is necessary when you have a problem with your operating system ‘OS’ which can’t be fixed – for most of us this means a ‘Microsoft Windows’ problem.  This can take the form of a bad virus which can’t be removed or one which has done too much damage to the OS.  It can also be because you have an OS corruption – perhaps from faulty software or the wrong drivers that were installed and conflicted or even from just installing lots of different software over time.

A reformat can sometimes change the speed or useability of a PC entirely if it has become corrupted or overloaded with software and is running very slow.  In fact after a well-executed reformat, some PCs run heaps faster than they did when brand new due to the amount of junk software that some manufacturers originally install.  So what happens in a reformat?  Basically your hard drive is wiped clean of any data, software, settings or user details.  At this point your PC is just a vegetable and turning it on only results in a black and white screen asking for a boot disk.  This is because it has no OS and is now a machine without any programming – totally useless to anyone.

From this point the OS has to be reinstalled which can be a complex task well beyond the capability of most users.  Also before we even get to this stage we should have taken a copy of any important user data and settings – which should be securely stored on an external device.  Reinstalling the OS also normally involves downloading and installing ‘drivers’ for the motherboard, video card, sound card, network card, modem etc. and then also downloading all of the critical updates and patches for the OS.  At the end of this we still need to reinstall every piece of software that you previously had and needed.  This normally means a virus scanner, Adobe Acrobat, Java, Adobe Flash Player, Microsoft Office for Word and Excel, an accounting package, Skype, iTunes – even your printer software often needs reinstalling.

As you can imagine, all of this takes considerable time and requires the original disks and licence codes in the case of any ‘purchased’ software.  Now, at the end of all of this we still have to bring all of the user data back across from the external storage device and place in the right spots – for instance importing emails and addresses, but wait – there’s more!  The email accounts have to be setup in an email package (unless you have webmail) and if the PC was part of a network then there are more particular settings that need implementing.  At the end of this the user will still want to ‘re-customise’ their PC with desktop backgrounds, screen savers, desktop icons – often a myriad of personal settings.

So why didn’t we just buy a new PC?  Well in most cases if the existing PC was no more than 3 years old then it was probably worth the 3 to 5 hours that it would take a technician to do all of the above.  You must keep in mind that apart from the reinstall.


2011-11-12 Byte Me Article 58 - What is a reformat

  • February 20, 2014