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When to Format?

Wayne from LA asks:
I’ve heard that people are advised to “format and reinstall Windows”. What does this mean? Is it a task to be performed habitually? When do I know if I have to do it?

Great question! First things first. Formatting is when you delete everything off of your hard disk. This includes Windows, which is why you have to reinstall it.

You should never have to format unless your computer is completely beyond all help. There are a few possible reasons responsible for this. Maybe you caught a virus (and I don’t mean one that puts you in bed with chicken soup and Vicks) which has destroyed any way for the computer to function. Or maybe your Uncle Bob came over and wanted to “play on your computer for awhile”, found a folder that looked interesting, pressed a couple of keys that he shouldn’t have and deleted some files. You go in that night to get on your computer and the Windows screen never even comes up. It seems that nothing you do can make your computer work. You pretty much need to start all over, and that means to format (wipe ALL of the data off of your hard drive) and install a brand new copy of Windows.

In the “old” days (around the time when Windows 95 was being used), there was a consensus among some people that reformatting was a great way to keep your computer running smoothly and quickly all of the time. I had a computer technician tell me to be sure and do it every six months. Nice concept, but it is a lot of work and there are tools out there that can help you keep that computer humming without you having to go through the pain of reinstalling Windows. In addition, if you don’t know how or don’t feel comfortable reformatting, you will end up spending money on taking it to your local computer store to have them do it. Finally, if you are going to format your computer, you have to back up all of your files and data because when you erase the hard drive, you lose it all.

About a month ago my anti-virus program disappeared. For no reason. When I tried to reinstall the program, it would go all the way to the end of the installation and just — disappear. Without reinstalling it. Now I had no virus protection.

Alas, I had been hit with a pretty bad virus known as a Trojan horse. Basically, Trojans are programs written to get into somebody’s computer without their consent and can wreak incredible havoc on your system. This Trojan was so good that it destroyed anything I touched and then made it reappear again so that I thought I was making progress. I was not, and after 6 LONG days of trying everything I could amongst uttering a lot of choice expletives, I gave up the ghost. I had to reformat.

Formatting is a lot to go through habitually. Clean out your files from time to time and use some of the excellent software programs out there that are designed specifically to keep your computer running smoothly.

In summation: Only reformat when you have to!