Published April 22nd, 2003 by Jim O'Halloran

Scott has WinRot, or “How to Rebuild Windows Faster”

Scott is experiencing WinRot, that insidious disease whereby Windows starts getting wobbly and eats RAM like a pig after its been used for a while…

Full reboot and even a file system check. That’s two in two days. I know what I need to do:

Re-install Windows

I’m sure that would probably fix it — at least for a time. This machine is now 2 years old and that means that “winrot” has set in.

WinRot sucks, that it happens at all just isn’t good enough. The fact that it seems to get worse with each successive version of Windows over the years is criminal.

I’ve had the same sort of problems as Scott with Windows installs since Win 95. Over time they seem to rot, and just generally “go bad” for no real reason. The newer the OS, the worse this seems to get too (DOS/win 3.1 just didn’t rot, Win 95 slowly, 98 quicker, NT 4 took about 2 years to rot, 2000 went off in about 12 months).

I’ve got good news and bad news on XP though. I’ve been running it for 9 months on my desktop machine at work, and it hasn’t rotted significantly yet, thats the good news… The bad news is that the OS normally destroys itself catastrophically before it has a chance to rot! In those 9 months its been reloaded 2 or 3 times now. Even this morning my machine took 2 attempts to boot up, and I thought I was up for another reload. No error message, no blue screen, just rebooted mid way through the boot process. The number of times this machine has hard locked (no kb, no mouse, no power switch even) and I’ve lost everything since I loaded XP is unbeleivable.

Anyway, over the years I’ve rebuilt my desktop machines a lot, and I’ve got a few strategies which help…

First, you need two partitions… C: is for programs, D: is for data. Keep documents, code, MP3’s, digital photos, EVERYTHING on your D: (as in data) drive. Install Apps to drive C: and do nothing else with it. Blow away drive C: whenever you like, your data is safe on the other partition. Don’t use the default “My ” folders (My Documents, My Pictures, My Music, My Photos, etc XP has piles of them), as these usually end up on drive C: and violate this rule. Yes, you can change the locations of the “My ” folders, but thats usually too much hassle.

Next, on drive D: keep a folder structure with all of your drivers… Create a new folder for each OS version and device (eg. D:\Drivers\Win2kPro\Video, D:\Drivers\WinXPPro\Video, D:\Drivers\Win2kPro\Sound, etc). Whenever you download new drivers, extract them into this folder structure and install from there. When you blow away your OS, you’ve still got your driver tree ready for a reinstall. No looking for driver CD’s (which I’ve usually long since lost anyway).

Do something similar with downloaded program files. Create D:\Downloads and file all of your downloaded programs in it. If you download something and get rid of it, delete the installer and forget it. If you keep using it make sure you keep the installer. If you register it and it needs a serial number, create a text file in your downloads directory, and put the serial number in there so you’ll have it when you need to do a reinstall. Ideally give the text file the same filename (with a .txt extension) as the program installer so they show up next to each other in the explorer window.

Treat service packs, hotfixes, etc the same way, download ‘em once and keep ‘em (Windows update makes this harder, but less necessary). When you rebuild, you don’t want to wait while anything downloads.

Burn both D:\Drivers and D:\Downloads to CD periodically.

Finally, before you blow away your OS, log out and log in as the local administrator (or domain admin) user. Back up C:\Documents and Settings\Jim (or whatever your user name is) to your D: (as in data) drive. Its important to do this as a user other than youself so that you can copy the registry file thats sitting in there. If you run roaming profiles on your network, logging out will do this for you.

This folder structure is your user profile, and contains the HKEY_LOCAL_USER portion of the registry where most programs store therir settings, your browser histry, My Documents folder (which I still suggest you don’t use), etc. Copying that onto your new install can save you an enormous amount of time in reconfiguration later,

When you’ve loaded most of your apps, created your normal user account and logged in once to establish the new location of your profile, log in as administrator again and restore the backup. This will get you back all of your program settings, browser settings/passwords/bookmarks, etc.

Copying over the user profile over also gives you back your old start menu which can serve to remind you (via broken images where the icons should be) which programs you haven’t installed yet. Which helps to prevent that old “I used to have that program but I mustn’t have installed it again yet” problem that sometimes persists for weeks after a rebuild.

Hope that helps someone out… Reloading is a pain in the butt, but if you’re a little organised before hand you can get through it a lot faster… I usually rebuild my desktop in about 2 days, and my laptop in about 3 days (more drivers, more reboots).

14 Responses to “Scott has WinRot, or “How to Rebuild Windows Faster””

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  1. 1

    Dan F Says

    bingo! that is some of the best advice i’ve read in a long time. Good job.

  2. 2

    Tom Slaughter Says

    This information is good.

    I find myself rebuilding Windows 2000 about once a year. I never know whether it’s due to problems I’ve created myself or maybe there are inherent weaknesses in W2K. I’m pretty good about keeping my system clean & backup nightly to a 2nd hard disk files I must not lose. I can rebuild system & apps in 1 long day & then tweak it over the next few days.

    I was hoping to find a shortcut to having to re-install all apps but am probably out of luck for being able to copy files over instead of re-loading the apps.

  3. 3

    Neil M Says

    LOL, I’ve been reloading my machines once a year on a regular basis. Didnt know it was called windows rot but i could tell over time it would slow down, and I dont do installs/unin during the year. Normaly takes me a day to get all theings set up (I do graphics). My Linux machine is solid no matter how many years its running but am only using win2k sinc some programs are not available to Linux. :)

  4. 4

    Michael Says

    Let’s see, I’ve had my machine running Win XP for nigh on 3 years now and when I first bought it I thought “Wow! This runs like a dream! I was wrong to criticise Microsoft without trying their new OS!” and I attributed most of the speed to a 2.4Ghz CPU (when my previous dinosaur had a 100Mhz processor overclocked to 200Mhz). 3 years of running Windows without a format really takes its toll. It restarts at random times, sometimes just freezes for no apparant reason, it now takes longer than ever to load FireFox and Thunderbird (as a little side topic, I visited the Microsoft site and before I knew it IE was my default browser again and Outlook, which I never bothered to configure properly and crashes when it tries to start now, my default email client - THAT is criminal!!). As a general rule, every second time I restart my computer it reboots mid way through. Three times now my file system nearly got nuked by a heavy crash. This is just a pathetic excuse for an operating system, I now have 10 free Ubuntu Linux CDs getting posted to me, and on the next release I’m going to ask for 100 so I can distribute them to the general public en masse. I have ONE good thing to say about Windows though, although I’ve never tried it in another OS, it seems relatively easy to set up a simple home network. That is the ONLY praise I give it and it is rather grudgingly given. Simply put, if the rumours are true about Longhorn needing a subscription fee, regardless of whether it uses a registry or not I will NEVER use it. If the rumours aren’t true then I will at least see if it uses a registry. If it does then I will go to all the trouble of learning to hack JUST for the simple pleasure of defacing the Microsoft website with a little thing called “the truth”

  5. 5

    StevenRoy Says

    For some reason, I’ve never had a problem with WinRot, despite having used (and still using) Windows 95, 98, and XP. There was really only one instance where I had to reinstall Windows on a computer, and that was due to a version of Norton SystemWorks that apparently wasn’t fully compatible with Windows 95.

    I suspect that most of these cases of WinRot are actually due to poor online security. Anti-virus and Anti-Adware programs are a necessity, as are all the updates from the site.

    Random lockups and startup problems can also be caused by an underpowered power supply. I’ve seen this more often than you might think!

    Now, that said, I do have a Linux CD (SuSE) that I intend to try out on a computer later. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  6. 6

    Slalomsk8er Says

    To get a stable, secure and hopefully not rotting XP:

    1. Do not unistall apps if ever possible
    2. Run XPAntiSpy (
    3. Install a Antivirus program (
    4. Install a Antiadware program (
    5. Enable the built in Firewall ( do not use Norton Internet Security (I do support for family, friends and small business and a lot of network problems I tracked down to this app)
    6. Do not use Internet Explorer if possible (
    7. Do not use Outlook or Outlook Express (
    8. Defragment your HDDs once a month

    I hope I forgot nothing ;)
    Doh, there are hidden (not the normal hidden) files in XP that can eat space for nothing you will ever need, look at to get the info. This info was the last bit I needed to switch all my work to Linux.

  7. 7

    Omari Norman Says

    Have you thought about using a drive imaging program to take a snapshot of a cleanly installed Windows partition? An expensive proprietary one is Acronis TrueImage, but there are GPL programs that are probably better that you could run from KNOPPIX. Then restoring the system would be really easy. (I’ve thought about doing this, but haven’t done it yet…)

  8. 8

    iopred Says

    As the guy above me said, when you do your first install, make a drive image of c:, that is how I do my reinstalls.

    I do them on a whim now, as they take about 5 minutes. I have a similar setup, keeping any data off c:.

    I make 2 images, one with drivers and one without. The one minus drivers is for when rot has set in, and I use the driverless one whenever I add new hardware (as old hardware drivers cause rot also).

  9. 9

    Hans Flink Says

    Nice howto!
    I use the ‘D: is for data’ solution, and it easyfies things alot. Changing the location of the ‘My’ folders is as easy as rightclicking My Documents and setting the path to D: in properties.

  10. 10

    sparkane Says

    Another nod from the Omari Norman and iopred corner. In my misspent youth I used up entire weekends playing with partitions, and collateral damage, of course, was having to reinstall Win98 all the time. I’d say I did it a couple times a month for a while. I quickly came up with a partition configuration similar to Jim’s except I kept the apps on yet another partition - so I had system C:, apps D:, personal data E:. On Win98 that actually saved some time, since you didn’t have to install all the apps - at least some would just work. but on Win2k it doesn’t work this way so much. One thing I liked about win98, if it only had had protected memory.. oh well..

    I have to say, IMO, the only real way to keep a system stable - and I would think, ANY system, though I’m not as experienced with Linux as with Windows - is to leave it the hell alone. My parents are still using Win98, and it’s very stable. Why? No one messes with it, especially me! When relatives or others ask me now to recommend a machine to upgrade, I ask them, Are you having an intractable problem with the current machine? Often they say no, they would just like something sexier. And I say not to bother. I think Windows is easily fucked with, on the one hand because users typically run it as Admin (including experienced ones), and on the other, because it is used so much and users expect to use their single computer for anything, which means they are naturally going to change its configuration whenever they see a new use for it. (As opposed to someone like me, who has several cheap boxen, each for a specific purpose.)

    This is just a guess, but my own experience with Win2k though is that if you leave it alone, it’ll stay okay. Our dialup machine here at home is Win2k, always on, no AV, no firewall, just fully patched, AND running with a non-admin account. Granted, it’s harder to hack a dialup box and still kind of useless even if you do, but the only thing we’ve picked up over the net was exploiting a bug in MS’ code - firewalls didn’t stop it. If I had an always-on net connection, I’d have a firewall of some kind - but then I’d also probably be using linux for that ;)

  11. 11

    Jaybaba Says

    Has any of you geek guys thought of bringing a class action suit against MS for its shoddy and invassive products? There are millions out there who will join you. It is astonishing that there are little concern or comments on this site about the fact that MS is causing serious damage to clients which are clearly actionable. This situation is MS’s mess. Ms has to clean it up and compensate the users.

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