Smartest way to restore a mess of files to a newly formatted drive?
September 30, 2009 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to wipe my hard drive and reinstall Windows XP. But my files are in a huge mess and I'm scared I'm going to screw something up.

This is my first time reformatting my hard drive on my 4 year old Dell laptop. I have my XP cd and I know how to find and reinstall the right drivers. But backing up and restoring my files to the new system has me nervous. I've pretty much decided to use Mozy, but can anyone tell me what the restore process looks like?

The thing is, there are all kinds of files on my laptop that are unfamiliar to me and they are strewn willy-nilly accross many folders. The folders do not have sensible names, either. These are files with code and scripts in them, audio files, image files, yada yada. The code files scare me especially - some I created myself and don't remember, but some seem to belong to open source applications and the like I downloaded as .rar files and that got scattered around.

Please help me figure out how to deal with this mess. Should I attempt to 'tidy up' before I backup the system (please don't scold me for not backing up sooner - I had been, but Mozy kept crashing my system) - or should I back everything up first and then work to restore only those files I think I need? Will Mozy allow me to 'look at' my files and choose the order in which to restore them? Will it let me sort everything by file type?

Any and all advice is deeply, deeply appreciated.
posted by kitcat to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know a thing about Mozy, but I would back everything up if you have room, and then sort them out as you're restoring them. It's always better to have files in backups that you don't actually need than to be hunting through your backups for the one you really need now and not have it because you deleted it in your tidy-up.
posted by Xany at 8:33 AM on September 30, 2009

Tidy up and dont expect the online service to be reliable. I would buy a USB drive and copy all the documents you think you need along with whatever media files, etc. Generally, windows users just back up their My Documents fodlers, etc and reinstall their applications from scratch. You cant just copy everything in Program Files and expect them to work in the new machine.

You may also want to do a profile copy too.

If youre truly paranoid you can install the trial version of Acronis TrueImage and take an image of your drive onto a large USB drive. So if your new setup is missing something you can restore the image or use the acronis software to explore the image file like a drive.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:34 AM on September 30, 2009

Also, if you are installing to solve a technical issue you may be able to just do an in-place install which will preserve a lot of your settings but will reinstall the windows system files.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:36 AM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: Yes, this is to solve some technical issues. Sluggishness and frequent crashes.
posted by kitcat at 8:39 AM on September 30, 2009

An easy way to solve this problem is to simply swap your current drive out for a new drive. Hard drives are incredibly cheap. Once you purchase the new drive, you can just connect the old drive as a data drive and move files around at your leisure. Every time I do a rebuild, I do it to a new HD to avoid losing data.
posted by orville sash at 8:51 AM on September 30, 2009

Goto best buy, buy a huge external hard drive, clone your drive onto this drive, reinstall, make sure all your files are in place, return the drive.
posted by zentrification at 8:54 AM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: orville sash and zentrification - could you give me a link to a page that could detail how to do this? How do I swap the drive out, and how do I clone it?
posted by kitcat at 8:58 AM on September 30, 2009

You can do a parallel install . This will leave all the other files in place but you will be booting into a new OS install. This will not keep your applications in place you will have to install them again, but you will be able to move you files inside your old profile into the new profile under the new OS install. I've used this method many times when a repair action won't fix XP issues. See method 4 at this link. After you move all the files you need out of the original xp install folder ("Windows" by default) you can delete that folder to get the space back.
posted by white_devil at 9:16 AM on September 30, 2009

Seconding orville sash.

Kitcat, can you tell us what kind of dell you have? The information is probably correct, but may be slightly different depending on the type of laptop you have.

Basically you would buy a hard drive from this page. Then buy an external hard drive enclosure. Then remove the hard drive from your computer. Then put your old hard drive in the external enclosure and install the new hard drive in your computer. Then install windows on the computer (onto the new hard drive).

When you are done installing windows just plug the external hard drive in and copy over your files.
posted by gregr at 9:18 AM on September 30, 2009

I'd find and drag and drop what you need to a recordable DVD, flash drive or portable HDD. I guess Mozy would work too. If you plan on downloading your Dell drivers after install, I recommend downloading and putting your network drivers on your backup volume in case they weren't installed during windows install.
posted by glenno86 at 11:36 AM on September 30, 2009

Pro Tip: Download SP3 before you reinstall and use it to upgrade before you connect back to the internet. A four year old version of XP unpatched is going to be full of security holes.

If you are behind a router with a firewall it might be overkill but it could save headaches.

Also, more to your question. If you don't have a second HD already you might save yourself the expense of buying an external hard drive enclosure by installing your current drive as a secondary drive.

I agree with the idea of buying a new HD now. Those things wear out and they're so big & cheap it's good preventative maintenance.
posted by Bonzai at 12:46 PM on September 30, 2009

Response by poster: You guys are so great. My Dell is an inspiron 1300 (ME051) with an Intel(R) Celeron(M) processor, 1.60 Hz, 1 gig of Ram. 80 gig hard disk.

One additional note: I'm worried about my currect HD. My husbad dropped the laptop recently and since then, the system sometimes cannot locate the HD upon start up. It may be damaged or loose - in which case installing a brand new HD seems like a good idea to me.
posted by kitcat at 1:45 PM on September 30, 2009

I just looked up your model. Any of the hard drives on this page should work in your computer. Any of the external enclosures on this page should work with your current hard drive.

Seconding Bonzai's tip about getting a copy of SP3 beforehand. You might also want to grab the network drivers before doing the reinstall.
posted by gregr at 2:01 PM on September 30, 2009

Goto best buy, buy a huge external hard drive, clone your drive onto this drive, reinstall, make sure all your files are in place, return the drive.

This is of course incredibly shabby and one can only hope that anyone who does it cannot quite be sure after returning the device whether they left their social security number on it and then sweats a bit at the thought that it might have been resold at a markdown to a cheap person with morals of a lower order.

Thus endeth the scold.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:11 PM on September 30, 2009

80gb hard drive? I'd get a bigger one to replace it while you are at it.
posted by sully75 at 4:01 PM on September 30, 2009

I need to read more carefully. You have a laptop, installing a 2nd internal drive is probably not an option ... go with the enclosure idea.

Bonus, you can now buy HDs to use for backups or to store large data files (i.e. you can rip your legally purchased and not at all downloaded movies)
posted by Bonzai at 9:32 PM on September 30, 2009

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