Before you go and format your computer you will be surprised to know Windows is a lot more stable than you have been lead to believe. However, if you really just want to format without learning more, read how to format and do it right.
ZDNet and others claim that you need to format your computer once a year to clean up and stabilize you machine. This is not true, in fact I personally have 4 machines on my desk. Two are test machines that are used for testing software and these machines do get formatted often. Not because they crash, but because we want to test software out on virgin Windows. The other two machine are work machines containing more than 12 Gigs of files for our software programs. The last time I formatted my main machine was the day after I bought them. I have upgraded my machines, swapped hard drives, and changed hardware with the same OS on them and placed them in different machines. I still have not formatted either of my two main machines since 3/23/01. Each of my two main machines is a dual boot machine. One machine boots Windows XP and Vista, the other boots Windows 98, ME, XP, 2000, 2003
Now let's get to the point. There are only a few reasons why you need to format your computer. The first reason is because the FAT (File Allocation Table) becomes damaged and non-repairable. If this is your reason for formatting then I recommend you buy a new hard drive before reinstalling; or at least do a low level format. You will need to get this utility from your hard drive manufacturer. If the first 63 sectors are damaged (this is where your FAT is stored) then when the FAT is rewritten it may still contain errors. You can try low level formatting the drive first to see if it can be repair. I would never attempt to install files on a drive that lost the FAT without at least low level formatting.
Now let's discuss what loosing the FAT means. In most cases loosing the FAT will mean that you lost or corrupted a few files and Scandisk is able to repair the FAT and maybe some files. On the other hand, if the FAT is lost and Scandisk keeps reporting a bad FAT or you attempt to boot to Windows and get the message No valid media on drive C:; it is time to replace the drive or low level format. The way to help prevent loosing the FAT is to install FATMon, and setup it up so that during a days use it warns you about 2 to 3 times a day. I would rather tell FATMon I do not want to run Scandisk 3 times a day than loose all my files to a FAT lose.
The second reason and the most common reason is because the user is not knowledge enough to either maintain the OS (Operating System) or make repairs to the OS. If you maintain the OS then you should not need to make major repairs, reinstall Windows, or crash.
Maintaining the OS is really quite simply. There are three things that must be done on a timely basis, and only one thing to do when you install or uninstall any software. The first step in maintaining the OS is to fix all errors. You can read our page on how to use our Registry utilities . You need to fix all file errors as described on that page and then you need to clean the Registry out of errors, and fix all hardware errors. Next is to maintain the Registry, constructing a new database every few months, use the Cleaning and Compacting in RegRepair 2000 or in Registry Drill. Keeping the Registry trim and free from errors will speed up your system as well as help keep you from getting errors. Now your system should be running smoothly. All you need to do now is watch the FAT, running Scandisk regularly should do the trick. I use Scandisk and the Defrag utility every other day. I also use FATMon on my FAT32 drives to help catch errors before I corrupt any files. Then before I install or uninstall any software or hardware I run a snapshot utility and a Registry tracking program Registry Watch . This way I can see what has changed. If a program overwrites a file with an older version I replace it before rebooting. I use the System File Verifier from System Sentry about once a month just to check to see if a program installed a file that is an older version then then then version I should have. This stops GPFs.
Another hot tip is to make sure that your System folder contains the newest version of DLLs that your programs provide. Many programs install DLL files to their own folder and not to the Windows System folder. If you compare DLLs that are in System to the ones that are in program folders, you will find that many of these DLLs are already in the System folder. Many of them are a newer version. In both cases the most if not all of these DLLs that are in the System folder are required in the program folder. But before you go deleting them, check the versions and place the newer version in the System folder. Our program System Sentry will do this for you.
I use the Registry cleaning utility in Registry Drill and check the bootlog with RegRepair, and the system files with System Sentry about once a month. I use System Sentry and check the CRCs every week. And the rest I let WinSafe do; very simply I backup when it tells me too, if I didn't just install a program. That is all there is to it. Hence, no more blue screen of death. For those of you that get the blue screen of death and don't want it anymore, change the color to green or what ever. To change the color check out our Tips, Tricks and secerts for Windows page.
This all may sound so simply and it is. Using this simply maintance procedure has kept me from ever having to format or reinstalling Windows.