Earlier this week we asked you to share your strategy for installing applications on a new (or rebuilt) computer. The responses piled up and now we’re back to highlight your tips.

A common thread throughout the responses was the hierarchy of importance in installation (core hardware driver updates before installing Angry Birds for example). More cautious users also mixed in backups and drive imaging to provide a safety net. Huuisie might win the award as the most cautious of the bunch with his detailed and backup-laden routine:

1. Format and partition HDD — C: for Windows and apps, D: for Data
2. Install Windows 7 and SP1
3. Create 1st system image backup (Backup 1) with Macrium Reflect (can backup RAID5)
(This is now source used when reinstalling from scratch)

1. I tweak Windows extensively, so this gets done now
2. Secret sauce is Liberkey — this is installed on D:. Allows me to browse for stuff, use CCleaner, etc. without affecting OS setup and C: drive (keeps it clean). Keeps app install on C: drive (later) to a minimum.
3. All Windows Updates installed
4. Create Backup 2

1. Install Office 2010 (+SP1 now)
2. I tweak Office settings extensively for workflow, so this happens now.
3. Create Backup 3
4. As driver and app updates can change quite a bit and/or have unexpected consequences, I prefer to get my “essential” setup done first.
4. When I get rid of my HP AIO printer (and delete the huge pile of drivers and software it requires) and buy a new AIO (not HP!), I only need to go back this far.

1. Install all drivers and settings for them (Catalyst, printers, etc)
2. Create Backup 4.

1. Install essential apps ‘n other stuff (Firefox, DropBox, Java, DirectX, etc) and all settings.
2. Liberkey and Firefox profile(s) in DropBox
3. Combo of Live Mesh and DropBox keeps files and media synced between PCs.
4. Backup 5 — all done (whew!)

1. I know conventional wisdom is to install drivers with Windows and then backup, but I prefer doing it incrementally. As Windows 7 has excellent driver support, I can put this off until I have my core “work” functionality installed.
2. If anything goes wrong with apps or drivers, I don’t have to go to square one.
3 Even if I make major changes (like when I was wrestling with ways to limit Libraries from messing with my file system and workflow), I can:
— install each backup stage
— make necessary changes
— create new (updated) backup stage
— this might be time-consuming, but much less so than doing so from scratch

There have been quite a few installations we’ve done over the years where this kind of thoroughness and staggered backing up would have saved us from a large headache.

Mark gave us a walkthrough starting with the BIOS (an often overlooked aspect of computer building/updating):

Bare Metal Clean Installs have been my specialty since I was beta testing Windows 95 OSR2 in 1996.

Hardware First

Bios updates are always done prior to installing your OS. You can use the great Ultimate Boot CD to get to a command prompt and flash the motherboard BIOS, then reboot and teak the settings. This will make for a more successful (read: better performing) OS install. On newer systems I like to set the hard drive controller to AHCI SATA mode, not IDE mode, as I find it works smoother with less CPU overhead.

Get any expansion cards installed and have all your hardware ducks in a row BEFORE you begin the OS install.

Software Next

I like to build a custom OS installer for my systems, slipstreaming all the latest updates and drivers into the mix so the system will be totally up-to-date when the OS install completes. The great DriverPacks by Wim Leers and company go a long way to making this happen, and there are some wonderful tech forums where people eat, breathe and sleep this stuff. I used to use nLite and vLite, but now I use something called SMART which can alter the service settings to make the box work faster, be more secure and reliable, for whatever you need to do.

After the OS and current drivers are installed, I like to use System Restore or Ghost to make a backup/save the clean install so if I need to, I can go back to it easily.

I also reboot the system a few times during this phase to populate the Prefetch folder and flush out any startup and shutdown potential problems. Get the networking setup and tested, but don’t go out to the web much until later when security software is installed

Applications, Oldest First, Newest Last

I start with browser, archiving utilities (WinRAR, Firefox), add the Adblock and NoScript plugins, text editor (NotePad++) and FTP (WS_FTP or FileZilla), then the bigger apps, oldest first and newest last.

Very last, install anti-virus, and firewall (I love MS Security Essentials), and something called WinPatrol (Scotty says “woof woof”) which monitors all kinds of system stuff all the time and tells me when something tries to install itself.

YMMV, but this approach has stood me well for many years and hundreds of installations. I am transitioning all this to a virtualized approach, where my host OS will be plain and simple (though secured) and all my apps stuff will be done in easily restored VM disk files.

I love technology. And I love How to Geek!

And we love detailed responses to Ask the Reader queries! The BIOS isn’t traditionally on lists but, as Mark points out, a properly updated BIOS provides the foundation for a stable computer and prevents headaches before they even begin.

While many people included driver updates in their lists (and usually close to the top), not many people got into the details of driver installation order. Jan chimes in with her Dell-inspired checklist for driver updates:

According to Dell:

The correct order to install drivers on all portable systems is as follows:
Notebook system software
Cardbus / Media card controller
Bluetooth (if available)
Dell Quickset
Any other applications

Whether or not your agree with the order the list is certainly comprehensive enough to ensure that you’ve updated all the major system drivers.

Finally, Ninite was one of the most popular applications that made repeat appearances in the routines you all shared. We first covered Ninite in 2009 and since then it has only grown in popularity. Ninite allows you to batch download applications using a simple checklist format (saving you hours of digging through all your favorite application’s web sites for download links). Not only does it work well for downloading apps when you first set up the computer but Johann highlights why you should keep your Ninite installer application:

Fellow Ninite users — remember to keep your installer, you can run it again to update all your installed software in one hit. You can even set it as a scheduled task (admin rights) if you like. I do this on all those PCs you get stuck ‘fixing’ for friends and family. What with that and Windows set to update all MS components you know that most of a systems is being regularly patched for any vulnerabilities.

For a more intimate look at all the installation lists make sure to hit up the comment thread on the original Ask the Readers post. Have something to add? It’s not to late too sound off and share your installation wisdom.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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