This wiki is updated to pdf format here Windows Reinstallation Guide and several other wikies are combined into this pdf. The links below are less up to date.
Note: This guide takes you through almost every screen of the install and is hence quite long, it is nowhere as daunting as it looks on first glance.
If you are considering upgrading some parts in your computer see here before beginning the installation.
Before reading this guide for completeness I will refer you to theDell Factory Restore which will restore your computer to factory settings. This is generally the fastest method to restore your system to a working state. However in all cases, the systems that I have done a clean install on have vastly superior performance, than when they were restored to the factory install/factory settings.
If you are upgrading a Vista system to 7 (requires purchase of a product key), planning to install a new hard drive, plan on changing from 32 bit to 64 bit 7, experiencing problems installing Windows Service Packs and finally experiencing significantly reduced performance after installing Windows Service Packs or just generally prefer a cleaner install then carry out a clean install.
Note: If upgrading your operating system from XP or Vista and not to sure whether to go 32 or 64 bit. Run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor. I recommend using the 64 bit version if the system is compatible. Refer to Step 5 to see if there are any available system drivers before committing to the install. You may use the retail .iso without a product key for 30 days to access the performance of Windows 7 before deciding to purchase it.
If you wish to upgrade to Windows 8 at present an upgrade license is quite cheap. Details about purchasing, downloading and installing Windows 8 can be found in my wiki Upgrading to Windows 8 via A Clean Install.
Step 1. Back up your data.
An external hard drive is a great device to back ones data up on. Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos in particular. A standard user should make regular back ups in case of hard drive failure.
If you decide to skip Step 1 then ensure that you don't carry out Step 7 or format/delete the partition in step 8. Carry out Step 15 to recover your data.
I recommend carrying out Step 1 in all cases and formatting the drive.
Step 2. Use Belarc Advisor
Belarc Advisor will obtain details about your system. It is free for home use and gives you a print out of your computers hardware and software. It also gives you your product keys. This is particularly useful for obtaining your Microsoft Office product keys. It is handy to keep a print out of this data. CutePDF Writer may be used to create a pdf print out of it. Save this in a folder in the external harddrive e.g. called Computer Software.
Note for systems with dell factory settings or systems installed with a Dell Reinstallation DVD the Windows 7 Product Key obtained by Belarc Advisor is a Dell SLP key, this is not the same as the product key printed on your COA. You need the key on the COA and not the Dell SLP key.
If on the other hand your system has a retail/upgrade versions of Windows 7 i.e. if Windows 7 was purchased separately from your Dell system such a store bought license or a Digital River download Belarc Advisor should give you your Windows 7 product key.
You should take a note of the 25 character key on your COA. This sticker is usually found on the base of laptops, although some people have reported them to be present under the battery. On a desktop they are usually on the top or side.
If you purchased Windows 7 separately from your system e.g. from a store or online you should have the product key printed on a label inside the DVD case or emailed to you.
Note Windows Vista/Windows 7 COAS are prone to fading because of the papery texture the sticker is made from. If you cannot read the COA then you must use a Dell Reinstallation DVD (Step 3). If the COA is exposed on the outside, especially if it is on the base of laptops, it is advisable to cover it up with Scotch Magic Tape to prevent any fading. Dell are taking preventive measures to protect the COA on newer models.
The sticker for the Dell Service Tag should be located in a similar area. You should take note of it. You only need to know the Service Tag (7 digit code) and not the Express Service Code.
Step 3. Obtaining Windows 7 Reinstallation Media - Notes
You will be in one of three situations, quickly review the notes applicable for your Windows 7 license before deciding on what media to use:
- If reinstalling Windows 7 on a system that came with Windows 7 preinstalled by Dell a Dell Reinstallation DVD should be used wherever possible (Step 3a).
This type of Windows 7 license is known as the Dell OEM version.
- If Windows 7 was purchased as a full or upgrade license, you should use the retail DVD you purchased. The .iso from Digital River (step 3b) may also be used and is recommended only if the DVD doesn't have Service Pack 1.
This type of Windows 7 license is known as the retail version.
- If exercising downgrade rights from Windows 8 professional to Windows 7 professional a Dell Reinstallation DVD must be used (see Step 3a).
This type of Windows 7 license is again the Dell OEM version.
Obtaining the Media
As of current the OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer media must be obtained from Dell (see Step 3a). It unfortunately can't be downloaded. The Dell (OEM) Reinstallation DVD or USB will automatically activate when installed through a Dell BIOS (as explained in this wiki). Thus no additional activation should be required (Step 11).
Retail Media can be downloaded from Digital River (Step 3b) and when used with a Retail or Upgrade Product Key can be activated via Internet (Step 11).
Can I use my Dell OEM Product Key (Step 2) with Retail Media (Step 3b)?
Yes but you will need to activate via automated phone activation (Step 11). You will need the 25 digit product key (Step 2), If its faded you will need the Dell Reinstallation DVD.
Use of the Digital River .iso and the Dell OEM Product key works in many cases by phoning Microsoft for product activation however is not officially supported by either Dell or Microsoft.
Dell technical support will be unable to assist you with product activation should you run into issues and will simply suggest use of a Reinstallation DVD.
Can I use my Retail Full/Upgrade with OEM Media?
No. However Windows Anytime Upgrade can be used for the following cases:
Home Premium OEM → Retail Professional (Upgrade/Full)
Home Premium OEM → Retail Ultimate (Upgrade/Full)
Professional OEM → Retail Ultimate (Upgrade/Full)
This will give you a retail product key with an original install with OEM media. You do not need to reinstall anything when using Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade.
I have a 32 bit version of Windows 7 can I install the 64 bit version instead and vice versa?
Yes, the product keys for the 32 bit and 64 bit version of Windows 7 are the same. i.e. if product key xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx works with Windows 7 32 bit Home Premium it will also work with Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium.
You may use your OEM product key (Step 2) with the correct 64 bit retail .iso (Step 3b) and phone activation (Step 11).
For the Retail product keys again internet activation will work (Step 11).
You should however run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to check if your system is 64 bit capable before running the 64 bit version of Windows 7. In addition check the Dell Drivers and Downloads Page (Step 5a), Dell FTP Website (Step 5b), Unofficial Driver Sets (Step 5c) and the Dell Community Forums for Drivers before proceeding with the install.
Should you wish to switch from the 64 bit version to the 32 bit version, note that you will not be able to use more than 4 GB of RAM. For this reason Dell tend to have only 64 bit drivers for their newer systems on the Dell Drivers and Downloads Page (Step 5a) but the 32 bit drivers often exist on the Dell ftp website (Step 5b).
You should only have 32 bit or 64 bit installed. Technically you should have 2 licenses if you have both the 32 and the 64 bit installed simultaneously.
My system came with Windows 8 can I install Windows 7 without purchasing a separate license?
Downgrade rights are applicable only if Windows 8 Professional was installed on your system. In the case of a system which came with Windows 8 Professional, the user may downgrade to Windows 7 Professional but must do so using a Dell Reinstallation DVD (step 3a). Retail media (Step 3b) cannot be used as the user won't have a Windows 8 Product Key to downgrade with.
Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT don't have any downgrade rights and the user must purchase a separate license in this case.
Can I Transfer My License?
The Retail Full product key can be transferred from one computer to another provided it is uninstalled, ideally completely formatted (Step 7a).
The Retail Upgrade Key can be transferred from one computer to another provided the new computer has a qualifying earlier version of Windows to Upgrade. Again it should be completely uninstalled, ideally completely formatted (Step 7a).
The OEM product key is tied to the original computer. It cannot be transferred.
Should I Use Retail or OEM Media for my Product Key?
If your computer came with Windows 7 preinstalled then ideally for activation purposes you should use the Dell Reinstallation DVD wherever possible. However for convenience you can use the Digital River retail media if you can't get your hands on a Dell Reinstallation DVD. You can also use the retail media if you decide to switch from the 32 to the 64 bit version of Windows 7 or vice versa.
Is there any significant difference features missing from OEM Media?
No they are identical. There is some Dell branding in the OEM media at the system properties (Step 12.)
Step 3a. Obtaining Windows 7 Reinstallation Media - Dell (OEM) Reinstallation DVD
If you have a Dell Windows 7 Reinstallation DVD provided with your system then proceed to step 4 (unless you are switching from 32 bit to 64 bit). The Reinstallation DVD should look like the following:
Dell unfortunately are currently shipping almost all of their systems without Reinstallation DVDs. For US customers there is an online request form for Reinstallation Media. For those customers not in the US you will need to contact Dell technical support and ask for one. The customer numbers are available here. This is the most recommended route.
To improve the experience for customers from the rest of the world. Please vote on my idea Request a Reinstallation DVD form [Rest of the World]. Also see my poll here.
Note: For netbooks or systems without an optical drive or a damaged optical drive you will have to convert the Reinstallation DVD into a Reinstallation USB as instructed here. You should then use the Reinstallation USB for Reinstalling Windows 7.
If upgrading from Windows Vista or Windows 7 you must purchase an Upgrade License. Once you have the Upgrade product key use the Media in Step 3b. If you are a student be sure to look for a heavily discounted Student license of both Windows 7 Upgrade and Office 2010 Professional plus.
Step 3b. Obtaining Windows 7 Reinstallation Media - Digital River (Retail) Media
Download the correct .iso file from Windows 7 Official Downloads [Digital River]. To create media you will need either a blank DVD or a bootable USB stick which requires a USB stick of 4 GB or greater (For USB flash drive recommendations see here). USB flash drives are recommended as many users run into installation issues with home burnt DVDs.
Use the Microsoft .iso to USB/DVD tool to create a bootable DVD or USB flash drive
Step 4. Obtaining Service Packs/The Latest Build of Internet Explorer
I recommend installing Microsoft Security Essentials with the latest definition immediately after the Service Packs and Internet Explorer 9 to ensure your system is protected upon first connection to the internet. I have found significant performance boosts by installing the Service Packs before any additional drivers.
If using a Dell Reinstallation DVD (Step 3a) or a purchased Windows 7 Upgrade/Retail DVD it will tell you on the label if Service Pack 1 is included.
If using the Digital River .isos (Step 3b) then these already have Service Pack 1.
If Service Pack 1 is not included the user will need to download Service Pack 1, Internet Explorer 9* and Microsoft Security Essentials*
If Service Pack 1 is included the user will need to download Internet Explorer 9* and Microsoft Security Essentials*
Ensure that only 32 bit files are used for 32 bit installation media and 64 bit files for 64 bit installation media.
* Optional but recommended.
Currently the latest Service Pack for Windows 7 is Service Pack 1.
Step 5a. Obtaining the Dell System Drivers (Dell Drivers and Downloads Page)
Go to the Dell Support page and select Drivers and Downloads. Select your model and Operating system.
Avoid inputting the Service Tag as its not working correctly for many systems and omitts critical drivers.
Once the model is selected you need to select the correct OS:
Once you have selected Windows 7 64 bit or Windows 7 32 bit look at the categories
Click the category to expand it e.g. we will take the video one
Click download file, this will take you to this page
Do not select Download Manager it is generally problematic.
Instead select single-file download and press next. If you get the following error message:
Press back on the browser.
In the address bar check the URL. For example:
Change the last false to true.
Then press [Enter]. The page will refresh and look identical to before
This time select Single-File download and it should now work. Once done press back several times to return here:
Ensure it looks the same as before (number of categories and number of drivers under each category), if not change the OS to BIOS and back to Windows 7 64 bit. I find in several cases drivers disappear.
I recommend saving each driver in an appropriately labelled folder and adding a numeric prefix to the folder (See Step 5c for more details about the recommended driver install order). This will ensure that you install the drivers in the recommended order. e.g. here are the drivers I downloaded for a Latitude E6520:
Dell Drivers and Downloads Page is currently under maintenance so post here if you experience some issues downloading the drivers.
Step 5b. Obtaining the Dell System Drivers (Dell FTP Website)
If you have obtained all the drivers from Step 5a then proceed to Step 5c. The Drivers may also be found on the Dell ftp website. The Dell FTP website has direct links and tends to be less buggy than the drivers and downloads page but the downside is that it isn't updated as frequently. Look here if you are having issues with the Drivers and Downloads page also note that sometimes the Dell FTP website has drivers for additional operating Systems (e.g. the 32 bit of Windows 7 when only the 64 bit version of WIndows 7 is supported).
The Dell FTP Website has all versions of each driver released by Dell for a particular model. Select your type and then model number. We will take the Inspiron 560 desktop and install Windows 7 64 bit for example.
On the Dell ftp website the user should generally ignore Legacy Drivers but its sometimes worth checking especially if the user is looking to install an unsupported Operating System.
The user should download only the latest drivers for their system which correspond to their Operating System.
i.e. when a driver is listed with version A0X, ..., A01 and A00 you should only use the A0X version where X is the highest number.
However ensure that the OS you wish to install is under the supported OS in this case we would want revision A00 for Windows 7 64 bit and not revision A04 for Windows Vista 64 bit.
Finally one thing to note is that certain categories, in particular Network (Wireless Card) and Video (Graphics Card) were customisable and have several variants, you must select the correct ones for your system.
Downloading from the ftp website is faster but designed for advanced users. However due to the sorry state of the drivers and downloads page I recommend all users to use the ftp website. Pay attention to driver install order (Step 5c).
All the drivers should be downloaded and saved to a USB stick. The way this guide is intended Steps 1-6 are preparation for installing Windows so the user has everything they need when installing Windows. This is why Step 5 (downloading drivers) and Step 10 (installing drivers) are independent.
If however the user has already attempted to install Windows likely they won't be able to access the internet to get the drivers and will need to use a working system to download them.
Step 5c. Driver Install Order and Notes
If you are planning to install Windows 7 and see that there are no listed Windows 7 drivers available for your system. Note that:
- 32 bit Vista drivers may be used in conjunction with Windows 7 32 bit.
- 64 bit Vista drivers may likewise be used in conjunction with Windows 7 64 bit.
i.e. you may use the Windows Vista drivers with Windows 7. There are few exceptions to this rulein particular bluetooth which integrates with Windows Explorer.
If you only have XP drivers listed then ask on the forums for assistance; however if Vista or 7 drivers are unavailable for your system it is likely you will get a low Windows Experience Index running these operating systems on your hardware, so I would not recommend switching in this case.
There are a couple of unofficial driver sets listed for selected laptops and desktops provided by me. These are likely to work but theres no guarantee.
When downloading drivers for a clean install I recommend using the same folder structure as me to prevent confusion and to ensure that you install all the drivers in the correct order. Although this guide is based on installing/reinstalling Windows 7 on laptops, installation on Dell desktops will be very similar. Naturally some of these drivers/applications such as Dell Quickset for power/mobility are designed for Laptops only and are thus not needed for Desktops.
• 1. Dell System (Notebook/Desktop) Software - Under System Utilities.
Not present for some of the newer systems, if its not there don't worry, it is not needed/included .See here for more information about Dell Desktop Software.
• 2. Chipset Drivers (Intel then Ricoh/Realtek/Any other ones) - Under Chipset.
• 3. Intel Matrix Storage Manager/Intel Rapid Storage Technology - Under SATA Drives and/or CPU
Not all systems will have this. Note there are the drivers and the applications. The applications should increase system performance. If a full installer isn't present then it is likely the preinstallation drivers (see Step 6).
• 4. Video Driver - Under Video.
Generally there are several variants for Video Driver e.g. Intel/ATI(AMD)/nVidea and different variants of ATI(AMD) and nVidea. Ignore any for TV tuners at this moment.
Some of the newer laptops have switchable graphics and require the Intel driver to be installed first then the corresponding nVidea/ATI video driver for full performance. There may be a few variants of graphics cards for a laptop and you must select the correct ones.
In desktops if there is no dedicated graphics card in the card slot, then they have the onboard (generally Intel driver).
In desktop if there is a dedicated graphics card in the card slot then generally it is the ATI(AMD) or nVidea driver). Generally there are several variants of graphics card per desktop model and you need to pick the correct one.The latest driver from the ATI/nVidea websites generally offers more functionality.
• 5. Conexant Drivers - Under Communications
Drivers for Modems are often natively included in Windows 7 if its not there don't worry. Modems are becoming obsolete also. For newer systems if modem drivers exist, they may fail to install as a modem is not present. As modems are becoming obsolete the modem is not always installed as default for a Windows 7 laptop.
• 6. Network Ethernet Driver - Under Network
This usually mentions Ethernet/LAN/Broadcom/Realtek in the description. Sometimes Intel, Atheros but the later two can be the wireless card.
• 7. Wireless Card - Under Network
Not present for all Desktops but most that come with Windows Vista or later will have a wireless card included. There are generally several variants of Wireless Cards and you will need to pick the correct one. For some newer systems the wireless and bluetooth card are one and the same.
• 8. Touchpad (usually mentions Synaptics or Alps) - Input
Generally for laptops only. There may be additional drivers if you purchased a non-standard keyboard for a desktop e.g. a wireless or bluetooth keyboard.
• 9. Audio - Under Audio
Ensure you install any drivers before Audio Applications. Generally the drivers have the name SigmaTel/IDT/Realtek. Again pick the correct one for your system, there is generally not that many variants in the Audio. This is for the standard onboard Audio which 90 % of the systems use. For the other 10 % usually the higher end systems a Creative Soundblaster may be installed. This is a dedicated soundcard. There will be a driver available but you may be able to get a later driver from the Creative Website. There is sometimes also Creative Applications available for the onboard Audio.
• 10. TV Tuners/Other Video (If applicable) - Under Video
Many systems don't have these and are only added via customisation.
• 11. Bluetooth (If applicable) - Under Network.
For systems with only Windows Vista Drivers available: Latitude systems use R231570 and for Inspiron systems use R226750.
DO NOT INSTALL THE VISTA BLUETOOTH DRIVER ON WINDOWS 7.
For some newer systems the wireless and bluetooth card are one and the same and the driver will be installed alongside the wireless driver.
• 12. Dell Quickset or Dell ControlPoint - Under Applications
This is for the power settings and Fn keys. Usually this is for laptops only. These include the onscreen volume/brighness meters.
• 13. Webcam Driver found - Under Input
For many laptop systems the Webcam Driver is included in Windows 7.
Most desktops won't have a webcam driver or will use a dedicated Logitech or Creative webcam which can be downloaded from the perspective vendors. Note for desktop systems with a webcam integrated into the monitor, the webcam driver may be found bundled with the monitor driver. Installation of the monitor driver will install the webcam.
• 14. Mobile Broadband Drivers - under Communications
Most users don't have these but the drivers are there for users that do.
These are the main drivers and I have tried to give a basic guide to cover all systems. There will of course be some other variants from model to model and customisations within the same model such as mobile broadband cards, TV tuners and other drivers depending on your systems configuration. There may also be security drivers for Latitude and Optiplex series. The check for any missing drivers is via the Device Manager (Step 12) and you should post on the Microsoft OS forum if you run into problems there.
There are a number of other drivers such as the CD/DVD firmware. These can be updated if you wish but I would recommend leaving these well alone. Sometimes if these updates go wrong, things seriously break. If you have no problems with any of these devices then leave them be. You may look through Applications to see if you find anything else useful.
The BIOs can also be updated (see Step 17 for more information about this).
Step 6. Preparing SATA Drivers
In the case where newer hard drives are fitted several errors may occur during Widnows 7 Reinstallation:
- Errors which state there is no hard drive.
- Windows Setup could not configure Windows on this computer’s hardware.
- A CD/DVD device is missing.*
* 9 out of 10 times this is due to bad media in particular if the Digital River .isos are used e.g. a badly burnt DVD or USB a corrupt download of the .iso. Downloading the .iso again and making a bootable USB usually resolves the matter.
To prevent these errors it is necessary to download SATA drivers such as the Intel Rapid Storage Technolog" F6flpy Drivers* and load them during the Windows setup.
* These may be obtained on the Drivers and Downloads page but it is generally better to get the latest versions from intel directly see here.
* Note most Dell systems are Intel but a few will be AMD systems and the Intel Drivers won't be any use to you. To verify if your system is Intel or AMD run and install the Intel Processor Identification Utility. If no CPU is identified your CPU is likely AMD.**
** For such systems look on the drivers and downloads page, if you can't find anything ignore this step and continue with the install.
Once you have downloaded the SATA drivers from Dell or Intel. You will need to extract the file with 7zip as shown. First download and install 7zip from here, selecting the 32 bit .msi or 64 bit .msi depending on your OS.
For the Dell SATA Driver once 7zip is installed, right click the Dell driver and select extract all.
This leads you to a folder with the same name Rxxxxxx as the driver.
Look in this folder for a F6flpy-x86 (32 bit) or F6flyp-x64 folder (64 bit) and copy this to a USB stick. Select the correct one to match the version of Windows you are installing. Note if there are additional folders and a setup.exe in the folder then the F6flpy drivers should be loaded before WIndows and the Application (Setup.exe) installed alongside the drivers.
Repeat for the extracted contents of all the SATA drivers on this USB/DVD. Note some of the items under "SATA Drivers" are applications these should be installed alongside the system drivers. See the downloads page below for example.
The 2 Applications should be installed at the end of the installation while the two drivers should be loaded onto the USB stick. The 2 Firmware may be installed at the end of the installation if desired.
For the Intel Drivers the F6flpy-x86 and F6flpy-x64 should be offered as seperate .zip downloads. Download the correct one and extract it with 7zip then copy the extracted folder to your USB stick.
If you get one of the error messages above start a new post in theDisk Drives forumstating your model number, your type of hard drive (if you know, for example if you purchased one) and what Operating System you have tried to install. In addition it may be worth mentioning what SATA drivers you have attempted to use.
Step 7a. Preparing the Drive For Installing Windows (DBAN)
Step 7a is for advanced users, most regular users should skip it. However for users that are planning on selling/giving away their system or reinstalling due to a viral/malware infection this step is highly recommended as it permanently erases data and is more through than the standards Windows format.
DownloadDBANand burn it to a blank CD/DVD using ImgBurn(on XP/Vista) no additional Software needed for Windows 7 or alternatively make a bootable USB usingUniversal USB Installer.
Before using DBAN any card readers need to be disabled in the BIOs setup. For instructions on how to do this see Card Reader BIOS settings A or Card Reader BIOS Settings B depending on your BIOS. Not all systems have card readers.
For systems purchased late 2012 or newer Secure Boot may need to be disabled in the BIOS setup and UEFI may need to be changed to legacy mode see Disable Secure Boot and Disable Secure Boot and UEFI.
Insert the DBAN CD/DVD or USB and power down your system. Press F12 at the Dell BIOs screen and select boot from CD/DVD or from USB respectively.
DBAN will then load
The easiest way to use DBAN is by typing autonuke and then pressing enter.
You should get these two screens
DBAN will then begin to securely format your hard drive. Note DBAN can take a very long time to securely format a large capacity hard drive.
When completed you should get a screen like this. Hopefully it will say DBAN succeeded although sometimes it mentions an error. Most of the times that it has mentioned an error to me it has actually fully formatted the drive and ran for the same length of time as it should (i.e. the same time for a system of the same model where no error cropped up).