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Everything You always Wanted to Know About Format (but were afraid to ask)


Hello, welcome to Xannax's Tutorial for Formatting your PC. This is a handy tutorial for people that do not understand how a format is done, what it is for, and so on. It is intended as a knowledge base as well as a guide. It will probably not help anyone who is a veteran of windows, but hopefully, it will be a lifesaver to lots of people.This tutorial assumes a few points:

  • First, that you have basic knowledge of how a PC works. If you know where the mouse and keyboard are, you know what an icon is and what double-click means, that should be enough. Then it assumes also that…
  • you have a basic computer, not the special stuff. Weird laptops, unconventional configurations, servers, go look elsewhere. This is for a normal family PC. This tutorial also assumes…
  • you have a brain. What I mean is, everything is not fully documented, some stuff might be missing. try to think with logic and understand what you're doing.


I am by no means a god of tweaking, a technical engineer or a network manager. I am not even your average hacker teenager. I am a designer who happened to begin using the computer early on and as such, I learned my ways through some daunting tasks as "tweaking your pc to make it faster" or "formatting your pc because it is not working anymore". What I mean is, I have no authority what so ever about this particular subject. If you want to question my logic, the way I do things, or if you think I'm wrong somewhere, you are more than welcome to search for other, maybe more informed sources of information. I am just giving you what I know, based on my personal experience. I don't guarantee anything.
That clear, uh?
License: there's no license whatsoever regarding this work, Take it, paste it, use it, make love to it, I do not give a bee's shit about it.
Something else:
You are, please, please, please, please, required to read the whole tutorial in details, even if you do not understand all of it. You will see it's gonna reveal useful as soon as you will begin the whole process. Don't cheat! If you don't read it all, and mess up somewhere, you can stick your questions up your balonga, I won't help you. As well, before each step, read the next step or the two next steps. Sometimes, you need to know something that will only be explained in a later step.

Please do it.

Please do it.
I know you don't want to, but do it.
D O O O O O O O O O O O O   I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I T T T T T


What and Why:

why would someone format, and what does it do?
Formatting is a necessity in many, many, many cases, but most commonly, your computer stopped working properly, and/or a threat has propagated in it in a way antiviruses can not remove it anymore.
Think of your computer as a new house. As you live in it, clean it and tidy it up, it all seems alright. But eventually, will come a time where all the efforts in the world will not be enough to maintain the house; the only thing left to do is either move out, or at least move all your stuff outside, call the cleaners, let them wash everything, and put your stuff back in.
That's what a format is: you put your stuff out, clean everything, and put it back in. The thing is, these little guys, the cleaners, they are utterly stupid: everything you leave inside will be crushed to dust. Now, to be perfectly frank, there is ways of getting back information lost after a format, but, believe me, you do not want to go there. For having experienced it, more than once, I'm telling you, you really don't want to go there.
If you follow this guide step by step, there should be no problem.

Read everything carefully before you do anything. If something seems obscure or unclear, be sure you understand it BEFORE you get to it. If you missed something and by mistake erased all your files, you'll wish you had. Oh and by the way did I by any chance mention you should read everything carefully?

As for this tutorial, you won't be able to open it during most of the format process, so you must either copy it on another PC, or print it. Or copy the steps by hand on a piece of paper. Or find another way to refer to it while your PC is busy installing Windows. Use your imagination, dammit.

The tutorial is divided in four parts:

  • Part I will take you through the whole backup process, which sucks but is a must.
  • Part II will explain how to format. These are the two steps you really need to read. The other parts are not essentials, but the
  • Part V, which is a glossary, could be useful.

Now, be prepared, for the two first parts, to lose at least 2 hours of your life, probably more. More meaning maybe a full day. If you don't have that time ahead, don't do it now. There's a lot of wasted time though, during a format, when you'll lay down and wait for windows to finish something. So it's best if you have some work to do that you can do on real paper, or have a book, or anything that can entertain you between the joyfull sessions of windows set-up. And, uh, read the whole thing before you do anything wrong, yeah? Just wanted to make sure that point was clear.

Now, obviously, I am not formatting as I write, and moreover, installations can vary from pc to pc, so there might be something missing. I do not pretend to know the steps of a windows installation by heart nor do I want to. So if there's two steps or more that are not in the proper order, do not panick and please
bear with me.
And, uh, have fun, if you really really really try really hard, there is something funny in the rigoreousness of windows, those box-shaped buttons that have "yes" written on them, and those box-shaped windows.
Hmmm….Maybe not.

Good luck, arm yourself with patience, and now…Let's begin!

Must-have software to follow this tutorial:

Recommended software:
Firefox or any other good browser (http://www.mozilla.org)
X-Setup (http://www.x-setup.net)


Before the format, there is some stuff that needs to be done. Please don't jump to part II, don't rush, read this carefully and take your time. You could mess everything if you don't do this well. This is the preparation; here we gather the relevant information we will need before formatting, and we also store our important files somewhere where they will not be erased so they can be found later on.

1 – Backup:

  • Internet Explorer/Firefox favorites/bookmarks
  • Outlook e-mails & contacts (if any)
  • Desktop files
  • Documents if needed
  • Unfinished downloads from Limewire / Shareaza / etc if any
  • installations for needed programs (antivirus, firewall, MSN messenger,..)

2 – Write on a piece of paper:

  • Internet Settings (control panel> network connection> properties> TCP-IP)
  • Internet explorer settings (control panel> internet options > connections > settings)
  • User name / Password for internet

3 – There may be other stuff you need to backup

so please use your head

4 – Drivers check

  • Open PcWizard. If you don't have it, download it here
  • Generate a report. Save it somewhere. You will need it after the format, so print it, or copy it on another PC, or write the info on a paper or save it on a flash disk, anyway make sure you will be able to read it later.
  • Gather your drivers CDs. Make sure you have at least the graphical card's driver, the motherboard driver, and the internet driver (LAN or modem). The other drivers are not essential, but you would be in trouble if you don't have those three. If you don't, make sure you download them and save them on a flash memory or on a CD.
  • It is best of course if you download all the latest drivers and save the lot on a CD, instead of using your old drivers.
  • Common drivers:
    • motherboard
    • graphical card
    • sound card
      It is common nowadays that the graphical and the sound cards are embedded in the motherboard, so you may have to download one and only driver for the three components.
    • network card (LAN, ethernet, whatever it is called)
    • USB 2 drivers (this can be part of the motherboard drivers too)
    • Modem or wireless or both
    • printer
    • scanner
    • other peripherals you may use (wacom tablet, camera…)

5 – Please refer to step 3.

This is only a very general tutorial so please be smart.


  1. Now the tricky part. Unplug any network device you might have (LAN cable or modem), insert your windows XP CD, restart your PC. Make sure your boot order is set to CD first. If you know what that means, jump to step 3, if not, read step 2.
  2. When you turn your PC on, it displays a little message saying "press X to enter setup", the X key being usually either [DEL] or [F10]. Press the X key, enter the setup, make your way in the settings until you find something called "boot order". Tell the PC to begin booting from the CD. This way, it will first search for a bootable sequence on your CD drive, and only then, if it didn't find anything, on your hard disk. That means the windows XP installation will be able to begin. Change this only AND NOTHING ELSE. You might mess your PC up.
  3. The windows CD will display a DOS message saying "press any key to boot from CD"… I think you know what to do here. Execute some paso doble step. Of course not, you moron, common, quickly, press a key.
  4. Windows will do some obscure stuff, display some technoid bizarre messages, let it work alone, don't press anything, don't do anything. When it's done tripping on shrooms windows will ask you if you agree to the user's terms and license. Tell him you don't. Just jocking. Tell him you do. Then it will ask you if you want to repair or install a fresh copy of windows XP. I'll assume there that you want a fresh copy, so just tell him so.
  5. Then windows will display a list of the partitions and disks you might have. You could just install windows on the C, but my experience taught me a few things you might want to put to good use. First, I advise you to delete the C partition, then re-create it. It's not hard, just follow the instructions on the bottom of the screen to do so. Then, if it's possible, I advise you to create three partitions.
  6. Follow me thorouthly for this: PARTITION 1: first one you will create. It will contain windows and be called "C". You should do it minimum 20 gigs. That's enough for windows + updates. It will contain windows and programs. PARTITION 2: Swap memory of windows. It is best to have it on a separate drive. the size of this partition should twice as much as the ram you have. For an example if you have 512 megs of RAM, the swap should be about 1.6 gigs. PARTITION 3: Documents: this partition will contain all the other stuff. Installed programs, documents, etc. Use all the left space.
  7. I personally like to create a fourth partition for installed programs only. Because usually people keep installing and uninstalling programs, the partition containing "program files" usually gets jammed quickly, so it's best to have them on their own partition. But that's up to you. Maybe you'd like to have a partition for your pictures only, or whatever.
  8. On the C Partition, install windows, select format NTFS, not the quick one. If you plan to use Windows 98 or any other old or weird operating system in conjunction with WinXP, then select FAT32. NTFS is not readable by anything but WinXP (and Linux). If you don't need the C to be read by Win98, then NTFS is by far better.
  9. Let Windoz do it's job. Go smoke a cigaret, drink some coffee, take a break. You earned it. Gather some forces, the worst part's yet to come.
  10. Windows will finish installing the setup files, everything it needs, then restart.
  11. Windows is installed. It needs, however, to ask you a few simple questions before it finishes the installation completely. You can answer anything, because you can change all those settings in the control panel later. But since you're here, you might as well do it right from the first time and tweak the settings to your liking. The main thing you might want to do is to install another language pack, Arabic or Japanese fonts for example. Check the "install script for east-asian languages", and in the language settings, install the language you need/want.
  12. First of all, install avast (www.avast.com), and let it restart your PC and check everything. Once you're sure you have no viruses, install a firewall, such as zonealarm (www.zonelabs.com), and a spyware remover such as "spybot search & destroy".
  13. Install all of your drivers. Begin with the motherboard driver, restart if asked so. Then install all the other drivers, but don't restart each time. Once you have installed all of them, restart.
  14. Time to set the internet connection. Plug in your internet device, your cable or whatever, and go to control panel > network connections, and copy your network settings from before. Also, if needed, you can go to control panel > internet options, and insert there the settings you copied earlier. Ok, don't launch MSN messenger yet, you still have stuff to do, and you don't want to waste time chatting, do you.
  15. You can now set the swap memory. Go to control panel > system > advanced > settings > advanced > virtual memory > change, and create a swap file on your "swap" drive that you created earlier. set the initial size and maximum size to be the same, and press "set". Use as much as you can from the "swap" drive.
  16. In case windows refuses to set the swap memory, it probably means your "swap" drive isn't formatted, format it then.
  17. While you're in "performance options", take some time to check wich visual effects you need and which you don't, in the "visual effects" tab. I uncheck them all, they suck and eat a lot of processor speed, but hey, it's your PC after all, if you like fancy crappy effects that slow down you pc but look good, I can't blame you.
  18. Go to control panel > users, and set a password for your account. It is important to do so, especially if you're on a network. Passwordless accounts are easy to hack, and you don't want that.
  19. Now it's time to un-backup everything you might have backed up before, settings, mails, contacts, links, and what not. It's a tedious task, I know, but it's best to do it now and finish with the whole thing once and for all.
  20. Update windows. Update windows. Update windows. It will take hours and is really the most disgusting task you can ever do on a PC (in fact, there's a lot worse now that I think about it), but it will save you from harm later. Do it NOW.
  21. Click "properties" on your "My Documents" folder, and move it's target folder to a folder of your choice located on the alternate drive, not on windows' drive. This way, if you ever need to format again, all your personal files will be safe on the other drive.
  22. Check if everything is in order and go take a walk. You computer is up running and ready to rumble. You can rest a while. The next section is not essential.


  1. Install all the programs you need, photoshop, illustrator, and so on. If you're too lazy, you can skip this step and install them when needed.
  2. open or download "X-setup". Look around, there's a lot of things you might want to change in windows, and this program lets you do it easily. The only thing you really want to change is in Network > Quality of service > QoS percentage, and set it to 0 and press "apply changes".
  3. Install any browser other than Internet Explorer, which sucks and is really very open to viruses and spyware. I recommend Firefox, Opera, or Chrome. Anything but IE.
  4. Then go to control panel > administrative tools > services, and open on the side the black viper's page for windows services. It is a tedious task, but take your time and turn off all the uneeded services. That will free a lot of memory.
  5. Open each and every panel in the control panel and check that everything is set to your liking. It's long, and sometimes a little obscure, but it's worth it and the more you will do it, the more easy and natural it gets. The first time you might spend an hour exploring the control panel, but next time it'll take half an hour, and the times after, a few minutes.
  6. Install the codecs you need. The essentials ones are DivX (www.divx.com) and Quicktime(www.quicktime.com).


That's about it. It's not an easy job, but each time you do it, it gets easier. If you're stuck somewhere, there is a lot of web pages covering a variety of subject concerning WinXP and the different problems that might arise. If a google search doesn't help you, try chatting on  I.R.C. in the #win95 or the #windows channel. In any case, don't panic, don't rip you hair off,  everything has an obvious solution. A tiny tiny bit of logic and research will solve anything. Hell, a PC has only two connectors when you have eight ones, and a few transistors whereas your brain contains billions of neurons. Remember: you're smarter than it, and not the other way around.


OK I know they are not in alphabetical order, but common, you will find your way through these few definitions.

The process of erasing everything on a partition. No undelete can bring back your files once you format a partition. By extension, the term also means installing a fresh copy of windows, since usually you have to format before you install WinXP or any other OS. more…
A virtual hard drive. For example, you might have one hard drive, physically, in your computer, but it can be divided in as many partitions as you want…C, D, E, F… more…
Q.O.S. Quality of Service. this is the weird name Microsoft has given to the reserved bandwidth it uses for windows update. In a nutshell, Microsoft thought it was cool to slow down your Internet connection by 20%, those 20% being used solely for the windows update. What's funny is, if you set the Q.o.S. to 0%, and get back your full Internet speed, the windows updates don't slow down even a bit. Which means Microsoft slows down your Internet connection for nothing at all. more…
O.S. or Operating System: A program which's purpose is to communicate between you, the user and the PC, this dumb machine that doesn't understand human language. The Operating system, using peripherals like the keyboard or the mouse, translate human impulsion into computer language. Some examples of operating systems: Windows XP, Windows95, DOS Linux, Mac's Tiger, Solaris, Unix..There's a lot more of them, but Windows is the most commonly used of course. more…
Coffee Something you will probably use during this tutorial more…
Services Programs that windows runs before windows loads. They are some that are useful or even essential to win, and there are some, in fact, a lot, in fact, most of them, which are useless and even plain annoying. more…
Tweaking I tweak, you tweak, they tweak…The process of changing settings so things run like you want them to. Usually associated with geeks. more…
Geeks People that care for their PC more than they care about sex (almost). more…
The PC is dumb. Even though you have a network card, windows won't know it exists, or at least won't know how to use it unless you tell him how to, by giving him the right drivers. Drivers installs two ways: either windows detects that there is a piece of hardware plugged in and asks to look for the appropriate drivers, and you have to tell him their location, or the drivers come with a "setup"or "install" file you have to launch more…
Local Area Network. Instead of using a simple name, like "cable network" or "cable connection", computer people, who like complex names, preferred to call it Local Area Network. It's more classy, you see. more…
A little rodent that lives in the field or in cities, and feeds on virtually anything. more… or more…
Swap Memory
also called Virtual Memory. That's hard to explain. But in a nutshell, let's say windows needs some place to deploy and work at full capacity. That's what the swap memory is. more…
A software, invisible to the user, that sends statistics to companies around the world. It spies on what software you use, how often, what you download, where do you surf, how many contacts do you have, and so on. Some examples of spyware: Kazaa, Comet, Windows XP. more…
A piece of software that takes advantage of weaknesses of Windows to flood you with adds. It pops-up advertising windows for example, or changes you Internet explorer homepage, or installs icons you really don't want on your desktop. more…
A software that slows down your PC and tries by many ways to stop you from getting you job done. Some examples of viruses: windows. more…
A virus which sole purpose is to send itself to all your contacts so themselves are infected and send it to all their contacts. It usually slows down your Internet connection and do some other nasty little stuff. They are usually less dangerous than viruses, and sometimes they even don't do harm at all, but still, they're annoying. When a hacker sees the worm he created come back to him, it means it travelled around the world and infected many people. He can then retire and live peacefully, knowing that he accomplished his purpose in life. more…
Stands for NT File System. It is a certain type of File System. Usually, when installing winXP, you will want to use the NTFS file system over the FAT one,because NTFS is way more robust and also has a structure that allows for complex user-rights management (aka "don't you dare open this folder"). The only reason you'd want to use FAT is if you need to access your disk with another O.S., such as win98, win95, etc. If you need this manual, it probably means you don't. So just use NTFS. Or read this article about which to choose. more…
File system
A set of procedure that your windows uses to read what's on the hard disk and read from it. Let's say it is a language, an interpreter between your O.S. (Linux, windows, etc) and the hard disk. more…
It is a File System, like NTFS, but older. NTFS stands for File Allocation Table. Don't use it unless you need to access your partition from another O.S., like win98. more…

To do

This tutorial is far from complete. In fact it is merely a draft. Here is what I have to do

  • link appropriate documentation sources
  • correct spelling mistakes
  • arrange the annex in alphabetical order
  • explain what Q.O.S is
  • explain swap on secondary drive
  • add these notions:
    • put cd
    • restart
    • enter menu(f2)
    • boot
    • see what is first item(read down)>F6?
    • exit saving changes
    • press any key to boot from CD…
    • wait…go make nescafé
    • to set up XP now, press enter
    • f8 =  i agree
    • d=delete partition >l>enter
    • c>create partition
    • create second partition, A
    • if no, B
    • 20000
    • press enter on C
    • NTFS filesystem
    • wait
    • 30 minutes
    • restart
    • enter registration
    • time date
    • network
    • workgroup
    • wait a bit…
    • restart
    • don't press a key
    • appearance
    • press ok
    • enter your name don't enter guest user
    • put no sounds
    • if A, format second hard disk (1 hour)


modified by Xananax on 21th of september 2007
version 0.3:

  • corrected spelling mistakes
  • added formatting
  • corrected some outdated info
created by Xananax on 13th of february 2006
version 0.2


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