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HTG Explains: Do You Really Need to Regularly Reinstall Windows?

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For many people, Windows seems to slow down over time. Quite a few people fix this by regularly reinstalling Windows. But do you really need to regularly reinstall Windows? And, if so, how regularly do you need to reinstall it?

Reinstalling Windows is inconvenient. You have to back up all your data, go through the install process, reinstall all your favorite programs, and restore that data. This sucks up valuable time.

Why Windows Slows Down Over Time

The main reason people reinstall Windows is because it slows down over time. But why do Windows systems slow down over time?

  • Startup Programs: Examine a Windows system that’s slowed down and you’ll likely to find many additional startup programs have been installed, lengthening the boot process, cluttering the system tray with useless icons, and consuming CPU, memory, and other system resources in the background. Worse yet, some computers may come with a huge amount of useless startup programs out of the box thanks to manufacturer-installed bloatware.
  • Explorer Plug-ins, Services, and More: Applications that add shortcuts to Windows Explorer’s context menu can make right-clicking on files take much longer if they’re badly programmed. Other programs may install themselves as a system service, so they’re running in the background even though you can’t see them. Even if they aren’t in the system tray, useless programs can slow down your PC.
  • Heavy Security Suites: Security suites like Norton are often very heavy, consuming a lot of resources  to perform all their functions. You don’t really need a full security suite — just an antivirus program.
  • PC Cleaning Tools: PC cleaning tools are generally scams. Paradoxically, they can make your computer even slower if they add themselves as a startup program and run in the background. The scammiest PC cleaning programs may even install additional spyware and other junk. Use the free CCleaner instead of paid PC cleaning tools.
  • Other Junk: Poorly written applications may clutter your system with useless DLL files and fill your registry with useless entries. The worst applications may not clean up properly after themselves, leaving this stuff on your system even after you uninstall them.
  • Browser Toolbars: Legitimate browser extensions can slow down your browser enough, but junk add-ons like the terrible Ask.com toolbar can slow things down even more.

In other words, the main cause of a Windows system slowing down over time is installing junk software.

How To Prevent Windows From Slowing Down Over Time

To keep your Windows system running like new, you need to take proper care of it.

  • Install only software you’ll actually use. Choose well-written, lightweight programs that respect your system instead of slowing it down.
  • Pay attention when installing software and avoid installing browser toolbars, spyware, and other garbage software that can slow down your computer.
  • Regularly uninstall software you don’t use from the Control Panel. Even useful software may run in the background and slow things down.
  • Occasionally use a tool like CCleaner or Disk Cleanup to remove the temporary files wasting space on your hard drive. You don’t have to reinstall Windows to get rid of these.
  • Take proper care of your web browser, too. Use a minimal selection of browser extensions. If you don’t use a browser extension, uninstall it — it’s just taking up system resources and slowing your browser down for no good reason.
  • Carefully select lightweight, minimal security programs. All you really need to install on Windows now is an antivirus — and Windows 8 users don’t even need to install that.
  • Use a startup manager tool like the one included with CCleaner or the one built into Windows 8 to prune useless programs from your startup process.

Tips for Testing Software

If you want to test software without allowing it to mess up your system, consider installing it in a virtual machine or using a sandboxing tool like Sandboxie to isolate it from the rest of your system. The software won’t be able to mess with your main operating system — just your virtual machine or sandbox environment.

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So When Do I Need to Reinstall Windows?

If you’re taking proper care of Windows, you shouldn’t need to regularly reinstall it. There’s one exception, however: You should reinstall Windows when upgrading to a new version of Windows. Skip the upgrade install and go straight for a clean install, which will work better. Performing an upgrade install can result in a variety of issues — it’s better to start with a clean slate.

Obviously, if your Windows system has slowed down and isn’t speeding up no matter how many programs you uninstall, you should consider reinstalling Windows. Reinstalling Windows may often be a faster way to get rid of malware and fix other system issues than actually troubleshooting and fixing the specific problem. However, you should try to take better care of Windows in the future.

If your Windows computer is running fine, you don’t need to spend hours reinstalling your operating system — even if it’s been years since you last reinstalled Windows. That’s a sign you’re doing a good job of taking care of your Windows system.

How To Quickly Reinstall Windows

If you are going to reinstall Windows, Windows 8 actually makes this much easier. Windows 8’s “Refresh Your PC” feature effectively performs a quick reinstall of Windows, removing all your installed desktop programs and any other system modifications, while preserving your personal files. You don’t even need a Windows disc to do this.

If you’re using a previous version of Windows, you can reinstall Windows from a Windows installation disc or restore it from your computer’s recovery partition. Before you reinstall Windows from the disc or recovery partition, make sure you have backups of all your important files. Read our guide to reinstalling Windows for more information.


There are other reasons to reinstall Windows. Maybe you really like that clean, “like new” Windows environment. However, if you carefully select the software you install and take proper care of your Windows system, you shouldn’t have to regularly reinstall Windows.

Sure, file system fragmentation can cause Windows to slow down over time as well — but Windows automatically defragments your hard drive and defragmentation isn’t even necessary on SSDs.

Image Credit: Mack Male on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 07/24/13

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