Recover Windows: how to reinstall your system

Armed with your newly created media you can boot the system and begin an install. A clean install of Windows 7 is pretty simple - most of the time you just need to keep clicking Next, and it should only take about an hour on most systems.

How to recover Windows systems

You'll probably need to use the phone method to reactivate Windows

Make sure you have a note of your licence key handy - on laptops it's often written on a label underneath, making it hard to read and type in at the same time.

Because you've installed from full version media using an OEM key, you probably won't be able to activate Windows automatically afterwards. That's not a problem, you'll just have to use the telephone method. This will mean a few minutes dealing with an automated system, but it's a free call to get a code, then you'll be good to go.

Identifying hardware and finding drivers

While the Windows DVD provides enough to get the system going, you'll probably find that the screen resolution is wrong and some bits of more obscure hardware such as card readers and trackpads don't work correctly after a reinstall. This means you need to track down the right drivers.

If you received a driver disc with your PC, everything you need should be on there. If not, or if your driver disc is a few years old and you want to check for newer versions, you'll need to do a bit of detective work.

How to recover Windows systems

You can identify items of hardware from the Device Manager screen

Open up Device Manager and right-click on a piece of unidentified hardware. Select Properties and on the Details tab choose Hardware IDs from the drop-down list. Make a note of the VEN and DEV numbers, take these to PCI Database and you can find out what the device is and who made it. Once you have this information it should be straightforward to track down and download drivers on the manufacturer's website.

If you're still struggling with some items of hardware try installing a program such as SlimDrivers, which will scan the system and find any missing or outdated drivers for you.

How to recover Windows systems

Using a program such as Slim Drivers can help you get the latest drivers for a device

Ian Barker worked in information technology before discovering that writing about computers was easier than fixing them. He has worked for a staff writer on a range of computer magazines including PC Extreme, was editor of PC Utilities, and has written for TechRadar, BetaNews, IT Pro Portal, and LatestGadgets.