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 »  Articles Overview  »  Technology  »  Hardware and Operating Systems  »  Checklist for Reloading Your PC

Checklist for Reloading Your PC

By Jonathan von Zelowitz | Published  01/8/2009 | Hardware and Operating Systems | Recommendation:
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Jonathan von Zelowitz
French to English translator
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I have been using my PC, running Windows XP Pro, for over five years. Windows, for mysterious reasons, tends to get slower and less stable over the years, even if you clean the registry and defragment the disk. I have known people to buy a new computer as a solution. Frankly, that is overkill. In my case, my computer is still in good shape and the hardware is fast enough and of good enough quality to serve my needs. (Don’t ignore the possibility of adding memory or upgrading the hard disk to extend the lifetime of your old computer.)

I recently chose to do my third complete reload of the system: a complete backup of my user files, low-level format (i.e. erasure) of the hard drive, reloading the operating system, drivers and software, and reloading all my user files. The objective of this operation is to regain (approximately) the original performance of the system.

Other comparable situations where these tips apply include recovering from a virus, hardware or software failure. In all these cases, a systematic approach to saving and restoring your data and programs is imperative, and it will pay off.

In any case, even if you buy a new computer, you will need to go through all of the procedures listed here with the exception of reloading the operating system. (On the other hand, moving to a new computer, and particularly to a new operating system, entails additional research to ensure that all your programs will remain compatible with it.)

Attention: Obviously, I cannot take any responsibility whatsoever for use (or abuse) of this article, nor answer your questions, no matter how hysterical you become. Proceed at your own risk. Your mileage may vary!

This is not intended to be a step-by-step guide, but rather a collection of important issues. The task is rather complicated and it’s easy to forget a couple of things. Being well prepared will contribute to your success. Think about the items mentioned in this article and do additional research as necessary on the Internet – beforehand. There are many other articles available online on this subject.

If you have a second computer (e.g. a portable), this is the time to make sure it is completely operational. In particular, verify that you can check your e-mail, or even do all your work on that machine, in case of a disaster with your main computer. On that machine, update your e-mail addresses, terminology databases, etc.

Set up an "away from my e-mail" autoreply message with your phone number. Make an emergency CD or DVD with all of your critical business-related files (for example, contact information for your clients) in case of disaster. Imagine the worst case, such as having to work on a friend’s computer for a few days. Consider blocking a few days where you will be unavailable to your clients. For example, it takes me about two days to reload the system and approximately 35 software programs that I use.

I hope that you already have a systematic method of making backups of all your important data on a regular basis. However, this time, it is of critical importance because all the contents of your hard disk will (or may) be erased in the middle of this operation.

It is possible to do a "repair" installation of XP. The advantage is that, if you have a single partition on your hard drive, your data files will theoretically not be lost. (This does not mean that you should not do a full backup before starting the procedure!) Despite this, I prefer to do a "full" installation.

I set up my machine with a second disk partition for my user files. Therefore, I have C: for my operating system and other software and D: for "My Documents". The advantage is that when I reload the system, it only affects the C: drive, and does not affect all my user files. (Nevertheless, I back them up anyway!)

Look at one or more websites that give step-by-step instructions for XP installation.

Your computer manufacturer may have a webpage that explains, in detail, how to reload the operating system. For example, I have a Dell computer, and their Technical Support page for my machine includes an excellent guide of this type.

It is a good idea to print out copies of useful webpages relating to installation, since you won’t be able to use your computer to look at them after you get started! If you have a second machine, bookmark the relevant pages in your browser so that you can refer to them while you are doing the install.

Back up all of your user data onto DVDs, an external hard drive or other reliable media.

If your machine has other users, back up their data as well.

Don’t forget to back up shortcuts from your desktop. Copy them to a folder under My Documents before you execute the backup.

Don’t forget to back up any non-standard font files you may have copied into the c:/windows/fonts directory. Or, just copy them all into a temporary folder that you back up.

Here's the tough part. Go into the Add/Remove Programs control panel. Open a spreadsheet program and create a row for each program displayed in the list in that control panel. In the spreadsheet, I suggest that you add columns for:

- keep it
Yes or no. Perhaps there will be some programs that you don’t want to install this time around.

- installation file
Is it on disk, on a CD/DVD (verify that you still have it), or downloadable?

- get new version
In some cases, you might like to buy a new version, or you may need to download a new version of shareware from the Internet. Do this before, not after, to avoid installing, removing, and installing a new version.

- installation priority
In order to get your system back up quickly, you will want to start with essential programs such as Microsoft Office and your translation tools. Try to think about the priority order for the installation process. Additionally, certain software is sensitive to the order of installation. For example, Microsoft Office should be installed before Trados.

- export settings or data to file
Outlook Express can export user profiles and addresses.
Internet Explorer can export favorites.
Word saves the file, with all your personalization information and macros, under a directory that you might not automatically back up.
Kaspersky antivirus can export its settings.
If you are using Multiterm, you need to "package" your termbases and put them in a directory that you will back up to DVD.
If you are using Windows Live Mail, you need to export your messages, accounts and contacts in order to assure a backup that can later be re-read into the program.

- save settings manually
Many programs cannot automatically save their "Options". You need to write them down manually or else they will be lost.
Internet Explorer cannot automatically save most of its options settings. Write them down.
Pay a special visit to your antivirus program to see if you need to save configuration information, blacklist or whitelist settings, etc.

- registration code
Check that you have the software’s registration code. This may be in the form of a special file (Trados softkey license), a code you received in an e-mail, a code you wrote down somewhere on a Post-it, a code on the back of a CD envelope, etc. Are there programs that have "saved" a password, which you will need to enter again once you have reloaded the program? How about your e-mail passwords?

- need to unregister
The old "soft" license for SDLX required un-registering your copy on-line before re-registering it. You would want to do this before formatting the disk.

- special installation instructions
Keep reminders of special instructions in this column.
After installation of Multiterm 7 (which installs a particular version of Sun Java Runtime), you should open the Java control panel and turn off updates.
The Robert & Collins dictionary must be installed from the CD, but then patched with other files downloaded from their website.

Be sure that you still have the installation disks for your computer and operating system. These disks came with the computer when you bought it. If you don’t have them, the situation is more complicated and beyond the scope of this article.

This can include, for example, the "utilities disk" that came with my Dell. It includes some drivers for certain hardware such as the video controller. It may be possible to obtain these drivers as a download, or to use a generic driver, but that is also out of the scope of this article.

If you do not have the latest version of the operating system, you will spend extra time in Microsoft Update. I bought my computer with XP SP1, and obtained the SP2 update disk when it was released. This allows me to load SP1, then update to SP2 locally without having to go through Windows Update.

Unplug unnecessary peripherals, such as printers, USB drives and keys, etc.

Configure the system to boot from CD. (Beyond the scope of this article.)

Unplug your Internet connection while you are installing Windows, and leave it unplugged until your anti-virus and firewall are running (see below).

In some cases, unplugging the Internet connection can get things out of sync. Generally, removing the electrical power from the ADSL box for a few seconds, and then plugging it back in, will restart the box and solve the problem.

I suggest that, when Windows XP initially asks, "Do you want to turn on automatic updates", you should respond NO, in order to allow manual updating during a first phase. When the system is completely updated and stable, then you can turn on automatic updates.

Beware of automatic updates for hardware drivers. For example, Microsoft Update attempted to provide a "better" hardware driver for my video card, which actually caused problems. I was obliged to remove it.

You must absolutely have your antivirus and firewall running at all times when you are connected to the Internet. This means that you should have the installation files on-hand for your antivirus program (download it beforehand and burn a CD, for example) and install it immediately, before reconnecting to the Internet.

Once re-connected to the Internet, run Windows Update (Microsoft Update) from your Start menu. You will need to run the updater (and restart the system) several times until all the updates are installed. Keep trying until the system says that there are no updates left for you.

Once MS Office is installed, you should immediately update it using the Microsoft Update site, mentioned above. Then proceed with all the other software, following your spreadsheet.

Plan on spending a few hectic days before things settle down. You will probably have forgotten one or two things, and you will spend some time finding all of those little configuration settings that you had become accustomed to over the past few years.

After things are back to "normal", defragment the hard disk, particularly the C: drive. If you have a registry-cleaner program, this is a good time to use it.

Good luck!

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