How to Format a Computer like a Computer Technician

Formatting computers is a task that busy computer technicians have to do almost daily and it isn’t as easy as slipping the XP disk into the computer and pressing setup. Clients will want to keep their emails, documents and other settings. In this guide, we’ll show you how to format a computer like a computer technician.

Preparing for the Format

Starting with the obvious, back up any important data you wish to keep because formatting a computer will erase all data from the hard drive.

The most common things that a computer user will want to backup are:

My Documents Folder

(be sure to remember there are multiple My Documents folders if the computer has multiple users. The My Documents folder is usually located:
C:\Documents and Settings\your username\My Documents
C:\Documents and Settings\other username’s Documents

Email accounts, Address Book, Settings and Outlook profiles.

For Outlook Express users, you can find the location of where Outlook Express stores emails: Open Outlook Express, Goto Tools > Options > Maintenance Tab > Store Folder Button. Copy this location to your clipboard by highlighting it and pressing CTRL+C. Then go to Start > Run and press CTRL+V and press OK. Copy the contents of this folder to your backup.

Unlike Outlook, Outlook Express stores its address book separately so you need to back that up as well by going to: Tools > Address Book. Once the Address Book is open goto File > Export > Address Book (.wab) and save it to the backup location.

For Outlook users, you can find your Outlook Database (.pst file): File > Data File Management. Choose either your Personal Folders or your Archive Folders and press “Open Folder”. You will want to backup both of these files.

For Mozilla Thunderbird users: use MozBackup

Your browsers Favorites list

For Internet Explorer users, your favorites are typically located in: C:\Documents and Settings\your username\Favorites

For Mozilla Firefox users, use MozBackup.

Dialup and Networking Settings

Contents of the Desktop


Drivers are special files on your computer that allows your operating system to use devices built inside or attached to the computer on the outside like a printer. If you are using a laptop or an old PC and don’t have the original disks that came with the computer then it would be wise to back them up. The drivers for your computer may be difficult to find again or not possible to find at all because the manufacturer is no longer trading. If the computer doesn’t have the correct drivers for its devices, then those devices will no longer work.

To back these up easily, there is a tool called Driver Collector which will gather all your computers drivers and place them in a single folder which you can put on your backups.

Any reliable removable media will do such as CD’s, DVD’s, USB memory sticks or external harddrives but be sure to test them before you format by opening a few files from them. There is nothing worse than erasing the contents of your hard drive only to find out that the backup DVD you made didn’t work.

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Bryce Whitty

About the Author

Bryce Whitty
More articles by me...
Bryce is an Australian computer technician and the founder of Technibble. He started his computer repair business when he was 17 years old and is still running it 9 years later. He is an avid traveller and spends at least a month of the year in another country.

Comments (45)

  • One tool I find very helpful in the Win XP environment is the files and settings transfer wizard. Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Files and Settings Wizard. I like to run this wizard to save time and avoid backing up everything individually. I’d recomend backing up everything you want along with this until you become comfortable with what it will and will not back up… but I’ve had a lot of success with it.

  • Jaime Rosario says:

    I use a very handy tool for rescuing profiles. It can be used totally in Windows or in WinPE/BartPE. is Fab’s AutoBackup and you can get from here:

  • Shimfs says:

    Im sorry to say this, but you name the guide formatting, and people are most likely having problems with the formatting itself, and making new partitions. But you just skip thoose crucial steps.
    Instead the guide turned out as a reminder of backups

    (real men doe’s not take backup. They cry when it goes wrong)

  • jonbly says:

    I don’t know anybody who uses the “My Documents” folder. Why Microsoft thinks people like to be treated like six year olds has always baffled me…

  • brandon says:

    I do backups for soho customers for my company (maybe about 50-75 backups a month), and most people actually do use the My Documents folder.

  • Colin says:

    Well well well…. yet another ‘you don’t need a tech’ article.

    I am a computer tech who has been in the industry for just over 14 years now and while things are certainly a lot easier than they were back in the ‘good ol’ days’ …I feel a lot of people are misguided.

    This article makes it seem like formatting and reinstalling your primary OS drive is a simple and quick little process. Why can’t someone actually put the properly estimated amount of time and skill level it takes to do what these computer techs have to do (as the article states) ‘many times a day’.

    One thing I find hilarious – the simple instruction to ‘Right click on your “My Computer” ‘ sounds so easy – and for those of us who do this on a regular basis, it’s like breathing. However, I’d estimate that *at least* one in 10 users don’t know what a ‘Right Click’ even is… or if they do – well, upon first install of XP, there IS NO “My Computer” icon on the desktop.

    Beyond that – as likely 90% of all techs now will tell you – the time it takes to do a proper backup and not miss a single item is ridiculous. The price of new hard drives is so low it’s not even funny. Add those two things together and you don’t need to worry about backing up – just keep your old hard drive AS your backup and replace it with a newer, larger and likely faster drive with a warranty.

    I hate to say it, but this article seems like cheaply made ‘filler material’ by someone who shouldn’t be giving advice.

    Incidentally – for those who want to know the approximate time frame? Count the amount of gigs of data you are going to backup and do some math… then realize that a very good, highly qualified tech doing this operation on a tech bench will likely take about 4 or 5 hours. If it’s a properly run tech shop, you’ll only get a bill for about 2 to 3 hours as the tech can work on multiple machines simultaneously.

    Something I’d advise only very proficient users to even attempt – and even then with qualified guidance the first time or two.

    My $0.02 …. good luck if you are following this as a guide!

    PS. There’s a reason why corporate networks also have the ‘My Documents’ folder re-directed to the server. About 95% or higher of all users actually *Do* use it.

  • Bkez says:

    Regarding Post no.6

    geez pipe down will ya’ ?
    not all computer users are all that illiterate with computer stuff all right ?

    but then again YOU my good sir who have been in the industry for over 14 years still a comp tech, so who you to judge on some other people intelligence ?

  • apatch says:

    About formating, I always use Partition Magic 8 boot cd, cos then I will format a drive in the way I want – means all Primiary partitions , not Logical ! Also Windows installer often makes a few MB – useless partition, so this shuold be in this guide, I’m working in IT few years so got a little experience ;-)

  • Colin says:

    Bkez: I’m sorry, I don’t recall mentioning anything about a person’s intelligence; merely experience. Not everyone is familiar with terms we in the industry use on a regular basis. And – where does one get ‘all computer users’ from the statement ‘1 in 10’?

    As for your cute little attempt to attack MY intelligence – thanks, but I chose the computer industry and have moved into various positions throughout. I have been a bench tech in a local PC shop through to network support for major international oil companies through to my local municiple government – and now am in business for myself. I do believe that makes me sound stupid (according to you). The term ‘Computer Tech’ is the blanket term for working in the industry – much like a person can be a ‘Doctor’.

    Please don’t get offended by my replies here, they are meant to be properly critical based on the site’s mission (which I’ll quote here)

    “ aims to share our knowlege with those who are simply after computer advice from the professionals and people who are looking to get into the IT industry or start their own computer business.”

    I believe this site has a good amount of potential, but needs to be a little more careful in how they say things.

    Apatch: If, during the Windows XP install, you choose to delete all partitions on the disk and then have the installer create a new partition for you, it will lump all of the drive in one large primary partition – except for a small amount that the HDD needs for MFT and partition information.

    A note to Bryce W: I re-read my comments from yesterday and would like to take back what I said: (I hate to say it, but this article seems like cheaply made ‘filler material’ by someone who shouldn’t be giving advice.) When I read the title of the article, I was expecting more depth to the article and I had no idea of the direction or purpose of the site. The site that linked me here generally links to some pretty high-level information and this seemed much too basic. As a ‘rough guide’ for the steps it is fine, but as a ‘how-to’ it’s definitely lacking. Although, I do have to say that you are a brave man – I wouldn’t even attempt to write a guide for a process with this many steps or potentially different configurations.

  • zef says:

    Step 1. have an external or 2nd hdd free with enough space to hold your data.

    step 2. install or connect said hdd

    step 3. start > run > cmd [enter]

    step 4. in cmd box: del “c:\documents and settings\%username%\local settings\temporary internet files\*.*” /f /s /q [enter]

    step 5. in cmd box: del “c:\documents and settings\%username%\local settings\temp\*.*” /f /s /q

    (below assumes extra hdd = E:)

    step 8. in cmd box: mkdir “e:\backup\documents and settings\%username%\”

    step 7. in cmd box: xcopy “c:\documents and settings\%username%\” “e:\backup\documents and settings\%username%\” /c /h /e /d /f

    Step 9. go do something else until complete.

    Step 10. repeat for above for all users.

    Step 11. verify data (ie: make sure its there)

    Step 12. if all there then ensure that any data NOT underneath your profile is backed up.

    Step 13. format and reload o/s of choice (now is a good time to switch to linux kthnx)

    step 14. restore backup. go away not helping with this one. cant be bothered.

    step 15. realise you skimped backing up email account rules and accounts.. ffs redo (i do this almost EVERY time for myself… not such an issue now that I use thunderbird tho).

    brief. and doesnt cover everything but anyone can do it and its easy as. if you disagree then you are a f*cktard, all the relevant info is there and it works. plz die.

    for added bonuses you script the above in a batch file. it can be used to sequential backup as well (xcopy /d ftw)

    oh… if you have changed your username since you created your account this also wont work (or if like me you have changed admin account name and use it). In which case subsititute all instances of %username% for the actuall profile account “name” eg: documents and settings\user

  • zef says:

    oh and also, if your storing any data under *\temp\ or *\temporary internet files\ then you are a fucking idiot. go shoot yourself now plz. (yes i actually have had users who have done this)

  • Steve Martin says:

    If you have any other HDD’s in system it is important to disconnect them on attempting a format.

    This can be accomplished by unplugging the Hdd’s power connector(s) from PSU to those drives!!!

    If you have a raid array set up the operating systems re-install will “NOT” record needed settings in MFT record & you will lose access to raid drives!

    I recommend you also (important) recommend you make sure all drives are unplugged except the drive you are installing operating system!!!

    Load operating system including any (press F6) from floppy or USB Flash Drive, install motherboard basic drivers for chipset, video, etc.

    Make sure operating system works by rebooting system!

    Shutdown computer, turn off PSU’s power switch!

    Place your hand (once again) on PSU case to make sure you have discharged any “Static Charge” you may have picked up! Make sure power plug is connected while doing this (PSU still in off or Zero position!)

    Plug power supply connectors back into disconnected drives.

    Close case, and turn PSU back on (switch on 1 position!)

    Start computer…

    Once operating system has booted, you should see the “Found New Hardware Wizard!!!”

    Reboot when computer asks.

    Copy and paste over anything you wish from backup HDD’s including drivers or important files.

    Shut down computer and remove connector from “old” operating system drive!!!

    Label it and keep it for “backup” should later find you forgot something!!!

    Steve Martin,
    A+ Certified Technician

  • apatch says:


    That’s why I don’t use Windows installler to format HDD’s, Winstaller never makes few Primary partitions cos it’s crapware, I don’t wont a Logical crap. Solution is just to never fully format first partition and I use 3 systems, all partitions are allways Primary.

  • chuck says:

    How about backing up aol. The last time I did restore, it never worked. How about now? Any suggestions. And also I lost all of my addresses. Any idea what is the name of the files?


  • vasim says:

    how to format a computer plz also mail the screen shots for the same, the Operating system is win xp

  • Sandeep says:

    Will somebody advise me step by step how to format a computer ? Thanks.

  • Samuel Smith says:

    Everyone’s a critic. Very nice article. As a tech, there is always some little nugget of information that you can pick up from other tecks. Thanks for all of your many articles.

  • maya says:

    my computer is working very slow.

  • maya says:

    my computer is working working very slow

  • haresh says:

    my computer icon is not open

  • Death says:

    Nice JOB guys i like it so much i hope it helps

  • ratbu says:

    your title my friend….


    check it.. you’ve got an error…

  • Luke says:

    Zef loves himself alittle too much.

  • Marichamy says:

    Due to file corrupted windows not opening, only black screen had appeared. How to format computer in this condition?

  • Legend says:

    Guys when i enter the setup i get a message that says cant find any hard disk installed however the drivers are working fine.How to solve this problem?

  • Jayson says:

    thanks for the backup tips. I never knew about the driver collector and have never tried formatting my computer. I’ll give it a try myself next time I need it.

  • Kilbo says:

    Guys guys, you all have it wrong! Here is how you fix any computer error. Pre-heat the oven to 450, put the computer in a bag & mix with shake and bake (SHAKE N BAKE!) and place it in the oven for 25 minutes. After it’s done baking, let it cool for about 30 minutes and enjoy! =P

  • honey says:

    hey ,

    thanx for the defnition of driver
    dis is really a nice one

  • Stephanie says:

    Yeah, & there are 2 Windows CD for my computer, can’t figure out which one -.-
    Also, i’m trying to format my computer because it’s filled w/ viruses and adware/spyware on it. But i can’t seem to access my computer. When i do it turns on and off all alone.


  • pavan sharma says:

    Where should i go for the drivers & how can i fix the errors!!!

  • pavan sharma says:

    Hello, anybody can advise me, how to format a computer ?

  • Hi i m not like all of u but i know Hou do i format my computer. and u try it if u want to formet OS file etc.for this u must have an os disk. then click on my computer-right clikon the drive which u want format–keep evrithink same- .>start. then reboot computer , u may go into BIOS and set it up so it boot from the cd first and follow on screen instraction and install yours O.s O.K bay

  • S.M.A.H Nomani says:

    Any body kindly help me permanent security from virus because due to virous I can’t oprate Comp. Why not the Regulation for punishment for this activity.

  • ComputerFix says:

    Speaking of Formatting, I recently had a customer call me because a tech did a format without backing up his computer. The tech didn’t even ask the customer if he needed his stuff backed up. Turns out it was his home business everything computer, I used Photo Rec to recover files after a format.

  • Muhammed Abdulqadir says:

    please i want to know how to formate a system like a technician using the dos oprating system to formate my computer and also not to loose my programmes and documents on that same computer please.

  • alvin punzal says:

    my computer was found error when it restart what should i do please help me what am i do thank you very much

  • I don’t know any techs who back up data this way, including myself. The proper way to ensure that you will recover all the data is to IMAGE The drive using Acronis True Image or equivalent cloning software.

  • bhakta says:

    farmating computer

  • parla says:

    sir, i formatyed my pc but still there old systems , formated 3 times now all 4 systems there plz guide me how delete all and format for new xp.
    thanking you

  • hashim says:

    Tsup dude

    I wonder people dont dare answer the questions asked..we people need to help eachother thats why we ask and finally be answered…
    I’m a tech too but i always use Partition Magic 8 boot cd..

  • beck says:

    it dusint help if you have glocoma cant see reg key

  • Saumya Srivastava says:

    By profession I am not tech instead a student but totally against people who say formatting is tough job and is possible only for a computer technician. I study in 12th standard and I have, without any prior training, done formatting many times with success. So its not impossible. But I am glad to see the help given by this site and I wish that this may sattisfy all its visitors. Great job!!

  • rakesh says:

    good morng… i want to format my system. i all ready took the back now i want to format my system can please tell me how to format my system by stps to steps

  • Awoke says:

    it is expected to be include clarification based on practical examples. any ways it looks pretty note. thank you.