Five Things that Every Windows PC Owner Must Do


Making resolutions for the New Year? How about including some essential computer tasks that we all know we ought to do but often don’t. Gizmo’s readers are pretty savvy PC users so you may already practice these good habits. But it’s a good bet that many of your friends and relatives do not. Pass these tips along to them and you may save somebody a lot of future computer misery.

1. Make a system restore or recovery disk

A restore or recovery disk is a copy of the restore partition that comes with most PCs. Few manufacturers provide a Windows installation disk or even a restore disk with a PC these days so you have to make your own. If your hard drive ever fails, you’ll be glad you did. How to make a restore disk in Windows 7 is described here and for Windows 8 in this article Also, many PCs come with OEM software for creating a restore disk from the restore partition. It won’t replace an up-to-date full backup but it’s a lot better than nothing.

If you are more ambitious, you can periodically create a new drive image with all your latest files. You can use one of the free disk imaging programs reviewed here. Making an image of an entire hard drive should be done on an external hard drive.

2. Back up your data

This may seem like stale advice but it has to be repeated. Everybody knows they should back up but they don’t. “Back up” seems to rank in popularity with the advice to “get more exercise and eat more vegetables”. Neglected it may be but backing up personal data and files is a must. Look what happens over and over. Somebody’s hard drive crashes or they lose their personal data to some malware infection and there go all those precious photos or other important files. Don’t let that happen to you.

Data backup is a simpler and quicker process than imaging a full disk so it can and should be done frequently. Personally, I use several external hard drives in rotation but a USB flash drive is also a convenient place to put data backups.  Free software for creating backups is reviewed here.

3. Write down the Windows product key 

It seems to happen all the time. People’s system gets bollixed and they need to reinstall Windows. Then they discover that they do not know the product key for the original installation. On laptops, it may be on the bottom of the case but often is not or is undecipherable. So record your product key in a safe place somewhere. If you don’t know what it is, this article gives some ways to reveal your Windows product key. 

4. Make an emergency Windows boot or startup disk

Sometimes it happens that a PC won’t boot or load Windows when you turn it on. An emergency repair disk that can be booted can be a lifesaver when that happens. Both Windows 7 and Windows 8 provide for the creation of a CD or USB key to be used to repair a Windows installation that has corrupted system files and won’t boot. This is a much smaller disk than a full installation or restore disk and is just a set of tools to help repair the Windows system. Instructions for Windows 7 are in this article  and for Windows 8 are here.

5. Make a bootable rescue disk with anti-malware programs on it

If you are unlucky enough to get a malware infection that keeps your system from booting or that your installed anti-virus program is not removing, an external bootable disk with anti-malware program or programs on it may be able to save you. By working outside of the infected system, an anti-malware program has a better chance of dealing with an infected PC. The major anti-malware programs provide for a way to create a bootable disk so check yours out and create a live CD for running your particular antivirus program. Major antivirus vendors also provide free downloads of iso files for creating rescue disks. Here are three of the many that are available:

And there you have it – five essential steps that will prepare you to deal with big Windows problems. Don’t wait for disaster to strike. 

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.

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Hi again guys,
I'd REALLY like to escape Windoze for good, but need certain programs that don't exist in Linux.

So for a loooong time I've used Ubuntu variations in a VBox in Windows. (The o9nly way I could still use Dragon voice-2-text program I need as a volume writer).

I've just found out recently that there are magic programs available in Linux to let me use Windows programs in it!

Now I've learned here today,that there is something called "V4"? which can protect you from my present problem, a totally locked up Windows PC, hijacked by some Russian finks demading $300.

What I need now is advice on what my options are - aside from paying the $300!
My plan would now be to dump Windows as the primary OS anyway and install DualBoot as per the advice here.

SO: What can I do?

Happy New Year guys!

CRYPTOLOCKER sounds like a problem of mine:
One of my PC's got hit with one of these rotten hijacks which locked everything up - tell you you are "fined" $300 for downloading porn and demand payment to a Russian Source.

Is there anything I can do except junk the old PC?

I haven't tried this but someone else told me to "short out the memory on the motherboard and reload everything."
A scary prospect for a non-nerd! :-}

I DO have backups for most of that material and Wndoze, but that mchine also has Linux on it, but inside VBox ,so I can't get the machine to let me access it.

And of course, none of my fixit disks can work either.
I have done most of the good advice here beforethis happened, but the machine is just gathering dust now wile I work on this backup machine.

You have the original Linux OS on a CD, DVD or flash drive, right? Slap that sucker in, hit "Install on the entire disk", and you'll format the whole disk to (probably) Ext4 format and install Linux. Your data, your malware, your Windows, and your worries will be toast.

If you don't have experience loading Linux or don't have the original disks, download Ubuntu, Mint, or Zorin and follow the instructions for burning to a disk.

Then, load your backups and get back to work. But scan files before you email or transfer anything to a Windows PC, because it might have malware on it, even though it won't run on Linux.

If you install Windows after Linux, your Linux OS won't work anymore, because Windows is too stupid to recognize it.

I'd also recommend to look at Pinguy OS. The 12.04 LTS release is one of the distros that Comodo antivirus for Linux will install into and work with real-time protection. Not necessary for Linux of course but a lot of new Linux users especially feel happier with such an arrangement and it will help to pick up any Windows malware that might still be lurking on external devices. MC - Site Manager. Example screenshot here.

Most of the big antivirus companies have an online scan that Linux users can use to scan a file before we send it to a windows user (one we haven't converted yet). I guess it would be improbable unless you copied a whole directory or one file you got off an email from a Nigerian prince or Russian p0rn site.

For Win8 number 1 and 4 the links take you to the same spot. Is that correct?
The same reference contains information about preparing two different kinds of disk.

If you get hit with the CryptoLocker trojan, all your attached storage (network, extra HDD or flash drive) will be locked. But you can backup to an ext4 formatted drive which Windows can't see, and so it will be safe. Any Linux OS can read or write it it.

So why not just use Linux instead of Windows? You don't have to do any of the things in the list above, except backup your data. You keep your OS backup on the disk you loaded it from, and you can reinstall it in 15 minutes with no keys or licenses needed.

I will post an original here today, but your mention of CRYPTOLOCKER sounds like a problem of mine:
One of my PC's got hit with one of these rotten hijacks which locked everything up - tell you you are "fined" $300 for downloading porn and demand payment to a Russian Source.

I couldn't figure out why attached units didn't work either!
Man, this animalistic thing is REALLY vicious, isn't it?

I agree with this. Dual-booting should be the first thing Windows Users should do.

In addition to the above (and perhaps as alternative to bits of the above), I would add the following -
Image regularly
Buy some 3.5" 2TB Seagate drives.
Buy some Docks ($25) that allow you to shove a drive into it vertically. eSata and USB sockets on the Dock. Do NOT get a complicated one with SD card readers, etc (KISS)
Download and Install the free Seagate DiscWizard. And on it's first run, get it to create a bootable CD.
Use the bootable CD to create an image of your drive (Windows is not running).
Have two Docks each with it's own drive in it, and alternate which one you create your image in.
(Do not economize by swapping 2 drives into one dock, as you are wearing out the docking connection).
Immediately after you create an Image, verify/validate it.

PS If your PC lacks eSata, you can purchase a PCI plate, that consists only of the metal plate and a cable with eSata on the plate end, and Sata on the other end, which plugs into any Sata socket on your motherboard.
PPS I never use the installed DiscWizard program, except for rare occasions, when I would like to peruse the contents of an earlier image.

Just to be super safe I take a copy of my HD backup to work once a month and swap out with last Months. Giving me the peace of mind to walk out of the burning home without having to worry about the last 50 years family photo's (that I have scanned) as they safe somewhere else. Just the wife and kids to worry about - everything else is just stuff.

This is my first post - been reading since it was Gizmo's freeware.

Love everything you do for us Thanks to the creators and all contributors to the site you are a fine community.


Great stuff Vic , a must read for any PC user.

Cloud services like Dropbox are not mentioned here, but they kinda provide you data backup (the capacity is limited of course). "Several external hard drives" is like... outdated.

Outdated I guess depends on your perspective. Apart from the security risks associated with using online storage, I've lost count of the number of folks I've come across that have lost important data because the service closed or got corrupted in some way. Like Vic, I prefer to use something physical that I have full control over. Maybe this is outdated, but it will still be there tomorrow. MC - Site Manager.
yes I use on-line storage but nothing beats my good old trusty external hard drive
Me too, but I just don't use it for important data (as the only copy) or anything confidential. MC - Site Manager.