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Repairing a Damaged Windows 7 Installation

Computer technician with 19 years in the industry. I hold an A+ Certification, as well as a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology.

Every operating system needs an occasional fix, and Windows 7 is no exception. No matter if the source of the problem is corrupted files, particularly aggressive malware, or another serious problem, occasionally you will have to reinstall your copy of Windows.

Formatting the HD and doing a "scratch" installation can be a problem since you will need to spend a lot of time later with updates, restoring backups, and reinstalling programs. But fortunately, there is a way to repair a damaged Windows 7 installation and still keep your programs, personal files and user accounts intact, using a feature called "In-Place Upgrade." Although technically designed to upgrade from previous versions like Vista, it is also effective as a repair tool.

The process involves multiple steps, including an initial "clean-up" to make sure everything runs smoothly. Note that the process needs to be done from Windows itself. If your PC can not even load the system, then this tip is not for you.

There are some other limitations that we will mention later in the article, so read this entire guide before trying the process on your PC. Doing a repair installation should be your last option, and it is only something to consider if you have already tried removing spyware from your PC, upgraded drivers, and attempted, unsuccessfully, to return to a previous copy of the system using System Restore.

Prepare your PC

Before starting repairs, take some steps to make sure the process runs smoothly. The first is to back up any important files on an external hard drive. While the repair process is unlikely to fail or make your files inaccessible, it's always good to be careful.

After the backup, we recommend uninstalling any security applications, such as firewalls and anti-virus. We have to do this because as they monitor the machine for modifications to system files, they can disrupt the copying of new files (from the installation DVD) over the old files on the hard drive. After the upgrade, you can reinstall the programs. As a precaution, you should also download and save (on a CD or Pendrive) all the necessary drivers for the operation of your computer, especially the network drivers, essential for your internet connection.

After backing up, remove the temporary files and other "junk" that may have accumulated in the system after an extended period of use. To do this click the Start Menu, type folder in the search field, and select the Folder Options item in the results. In the window that appears, click on the View tab and check the Show hidden files, folders, or drives option and click OK.


You will need to delete some hidden files before reinstalling Windows

Now do a disk cleanup. Click the Start Menu and select Computer. Right-click on your main HD (usually C :) and select the Properties item from the menu. In the window that opens, click the Disk Cleanup button on the General tab. Wait for the disk to be scanned and click the Clean System Files button. Wait for a new scan.

Now click the More Options tab and click the Clear button under System Restore and Shadow Copies. In the window that appears, click Delete. Then go back to the Disk Cleanup tab, check the boxes in front of all the items in the list, and click OK. The utility will get rid of old versions of system files, temporary files, and other digital junk. Depending on how much junk is accumulated on your hard drive, this can take anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.


Depending on the machine, Disk Cleanup can free up several GB of space on the hard drive

After all this, there are still some folders of which you will have to get rid of manually. Click the Start Menu, click Computer, double-click the C: drive, and open the Windows folder. Delete anything that is inside the Prefetch and Temp folders. Do not delete the folders, just the contents of them. Then go back to C: and open the Users folder. Open the folder with your user name and inside it the AppData folders, then Location, then Temp. Delete everything inside and restart the PC.

Install Windows 7

Once the preparation is complete, it's time to start reinstalling Windows. You will need a DVD installation system with the same version already installed on your PC and at least 10 GB of free space on the hard drive. The installation disc needs to be "cleaned", meaning recovery discs that came with your PC, customized by the manufacturer, will not work.

Insert the installation DVD into the drive, click Run Setup.exe, and then the Install Now button. You will have the option to Connect to receive the latest updates for the installation or Do not get the latest updates for the installation. If your internet connection is working, it is better to connect. Then accept the license terms and choose whether to perform an Upgrade or a Custom installation. Since we are repairing an installation that already exists, choose the update.


Although most of the data and programs installed on your "old" copy of Windows 7 should be seamlessly transferred to the new one, some things like custom themes and sounds will not be migrated. You will have to reinstall them later.

"Clean" after installation

After the upgrade is complete, you will need to activate the system and answer some basic questions (date and time, network settings, etc.). At the end of this process, Windows will measure the performance of the machine to give it a score in the Windows Experience Index (IEW) and make some final updates and fixes. After that, go around the system and make sure that all your files are in place and that your applications are working properly. Also, run Windows Update to ensure that your system has the latest updates installed.

Finally, get rid of the garbage left by the old copy of Windows 7. These files will be in two system folders, called $ INPLACE. ~ TR and $ WINDOWS. ~ Q in HD. If everything is ok, you can delete these two folders. Also, repeat the steps we described earlier to do a disk cleanup and that's it.

Congratulations, you've brought your Windows 7 back to life with success. Keep this guide handy in case you have to repeat the process.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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