The PC Format Mentality (And How to Avoid It!)
We’ve all been through it.
Windows is not loading, we deliver the PC to the Computer Repair Centre and are informed that a ‘F O R M A T’ is required!
Quite a shock for some – especially those who don’t have a recent backup of their data.
And who can blame them?
If the Computer Repair Centre doesn’t offer data backup services before formatting, the data is gone. If they do offer such a service, it will obviously come at an extra cost.
But wait … stop there!
Have you ever asked the Computer Repair Centre responsible for the format why it needs to be done?
Most probably they will say ‘corrupted drivers’ or a ‘corrupted Windows’ or ‘viruses and spyware’ etc.
And have you ever asked them why the decision to format the PC was taken so quickly?
Well, the answer to this is simple: because it’s the easy way out!
Unfortunately, the ‘Format’ Mentality has taken over the ‘Diagnostic’ Mentality and instead of trying to solve the problem logically, many so-called PC Technicians nowadays just opt to format and reinstall the Operating System.
Fortunately for you, in this blog post we are going to explain how to avoid the formatting of the PC and the reinstallation of Windows whenever possible.
Obviously, as you will see further below, there are certain circumstances in which it’s inevitable and you don’t have another option but to format.
However, we strongly believe that a format should always be the last resort in the diagnostic process.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Situations in Which a ‘Format’ Can Be Avoided (Most of the Time)
Earlier we said that formatting a PC is usually the easy way out.
What do we mean by this?
First of all, formatting a PC is not a very difficult task in today’s Google world! Basically, anyone can do it.
Search Google or YouTube ‘how to format a PC’ and voila’ – you will find a whole list of sites and tutorials explaining the steps involved, as you can see below. So no diploma or degree is required 😉
Secondly, when you decide that a format is required without even putting in some effort to try and diagnose the problem – then, my friend, you are definitely choosing the easy way out!
Yes, it’s true – diagnosing a problem might take a very long time, depending on the problem.
And, if after spending hours trying to find a solution, you still won’t manage and have no other option but to format, then we can say that you’ve wasted a lot of time.
But at least you’ve tried!
On the other hand, if you manage to find a solution without reverting to the ‘format’ mentality, then the amount of satisfaction you feel is unexplainable – trust us!
Plus, you are always learning something new, such as a new diagnostic technique or a new type of virus and how it spreads, for example.
Having said that, formatting and reinstalling Windows takes a lot of time as well because after installing it, you need to install all the Hardware Drivers, all the Apps that were installed and all the latest updates.
Furthermore, if you backed up the data, you need to restore it back.
So, given that trying to diagnose the problem and formatting the PC both take a considerable amount of time, the decision whether to format or not shouldn’t be based on the easiest fix or solution but it should be based on the best solution.
And generally, the ‘format’ mentality is not always the best solution.
Let us provide you with some examples to help you understand better.
Example 1. The PC is displaying a Blue Screen of Death, it keeps rebooting on its own and Windows never loads.
These types of symptoms can occur for several different reasons including faulty RAM modules, bad sectors in the Hard Drive or a faulty Motherboard, amongst others.
So, if the problem is Hardware-related, a format definitely won’t solve the problem.
You would spend hours installing etc. for nothing because a Hardware failure cannot be resolved by formatting.
There are many tools available for free to check for Hardware problems.
For example, to check the RAM you can either use this Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool or Memtest86+. These utilities will test the modules installed and report any errors found.
The Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool mentioned above was developed by Microsoft and it can be downloaded and then burned onto a CD so that you can boot directly from it. Press here to learn how to do it.
The main limitation of this Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool is that it only tests the first 4GB of RAM. Therefore, if your PC has more RAM, it's not the tool for you.
An improved version of the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool (you may have noted that they've added an 's' to Diagnostic 😜) is included with Windows 7, 8 and 10. It's the one shown below.
The Windows 7 Memory Diagnostics Tool can be accessed via the System Recovery Options.
To get to the System Recovery Options, press F8 right before the Windows logo is displayed to load the Advanced Boot Options menu and then select Repair Your Computer.
Note: The Advanced Boot Options menu and the System Recovery Options utility will be discussed in detail a bit later in this post.
Given that the F8 option is no longer available in Windows 8 and 10, to access the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool you must load into Safe Mode.
Note: Safe Mode (and how to access it in Windows 8 and 10) will also be discussed in detail later on.
Once in Safe Mode, type Memory in the search box and then click the Memory Diagnostics Tool icon to launch it. The below dialog box will be displayed.
Click the Restart now and check for problems (recommended) option and the computer will restart to run the memory tests.
Memtest86+ can also be downloaded and burned onto a CD just like the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool.
Source: Free Software Directory
Obviously, if a module is faulty (as shown above), it must be replaced. RAM modules can’t be repaired. When replacing RAM modules, you won’t lose any data and may continue working like before.
If you have more than one module installed in your PC or Laptop, you should test each of them separately to determine which one is actually faulty. First start by testing all modules together and then, if faults are reported, test them one by one.
Free Utilities to test the Hard Drive are available as well and usually, it’s best to use the Manufacturer’s Utility.
Seagate, Western Digital and all the other major brands have very good utilities available for free. These utilities or diagnostic tools will check your Hard Drive and tell you whether it has physical damage, like bad sectors, or not.
If it has, then you must backup and replace the Hard Drive.
Note: Seagate SeaTools and WD Data Lifeguard Diagnostic are both available as DOS and Windows versions. In the example that we're discussing, Windows is not loading; therefore, you must use the DOS versions. In certain cases, in order to use these DOS versions, you must change the BIOS HDD Configuration from the default "AHCI" to "IDE". If your Hard Drive is Seagate, you can check this SeaTools for DOS User Guide.
Some of you might ask – do I need to perform a fresh Windows installation (sort of a format!) after replacing the faulty Hard Drive?
In most cases – no.
If the Hard Drive is not in a very bad state, then you can clone its contents onto the new one and you will have an exact ‘replica’ of your old and faulty Hard Drive.
Note: If your computer is unable to load into Windows, the cloning process mentioned in the link above must be done on another PC.
If, however, the Hard Drive can’t be cloned, then you don’t have any other option and must install everything from scratch.
To figure out whether a Motherboard is faulty or not, you might need the help of a qualified Technician.
Like RAM modules, if the Motherboard needs to be replaced, no data is lost and you will continue to work just like before. So, no need for a format there as well 😊
Example 2. Windows doesn’t load due to corrupted Hardware Drivers, System Files or User Profile.
These scenarios provide us with a more daunting task of getting the PC back to normal working condition.
However, it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible!
And even in these cases, a format can be avoided (most of the time!).
Before delving into the troubleshooting guide of these scenarios, we should first make you aware of the most common diagnostic tools that are available with Windows 7, 8 and 10, and how to access them.
Without a doubt, Safe Mode and System Restore are the most widely used and also, they are very reliable.
Let us start with Safe Mode first.
What is Safe Mode?
As the name implies, it's a diagnostic startup mode used to gain limited access to Windows when it won't start normally. Safe Mode starts Windows with the absolute minimum Drivers and Services that are required to start the Operating System.
To load into Safe Mode in Windows 7, you have to press F8 right before the Windows logo is displayed and select Safe Mode from the list, as shown below.
Source: NeoSmart Knowledgebase
As you can see from this image, Windows 7 provides us with the Repair Your Computer option as well, if the system recovery tools are installed on the Hard Drive.
If the recovery tools are not installed, you need to boot from the Installation Media to use it.
We will give Safe Mode a little break – let us explain what we can do with the Repair Your Computer feature.
This option can be used to perform a Startup Repair, a System Restore (we’ll talk about it in a while), a System Image Recovery and Windows Memory Diagnostic.
Source: NeoSmart Knowledgebase
Startup Repair can be used before running Safe Mode and it will try to automatically fix problems that are preventing Windows from running.
Sometimes it manages to solve problems related to System Files and to Hard Drive corruption and Windows will start working again.
If it doesn’t solve the problem, then the next step would be Safe Mode.
System Image Recovery will recover your computer using a System Image that you created earlier and Windows Memory Diagnostic will check your computer for memory hardware errors, as we explained further above.
And now, back to Safe Mode!
With the introduction of Windows 8 and later Windows 10, the F8 option is no longer available.
Therefore, to load into Safe Mode, the best way would be to boot from the Installation Media that came with your computer or from a System Recovery USB Drive.
A Recovery Drive should be created as soon as you purchase a new Windows PC or Notebook.
Note: If you don’t have the original Installation Media, you can download your version of Windows from the Microsoft website using another PC and then burn it onto a DVD. This tutorial will show you how to do it.
When booting from the Installation DVD or Recovery USB, you will be provided with the Install now screen and then you must click on Repair your computer, as shown in this picture.
Source: NeoSmart Knowledgebase
After clicking on Repair your computer, click on Troubleshoot, then on Advanced Options, then on Startup Settings and finally click on Restart.
Your computer should then boot into the below Startup Settings screen.
Source: NeoSmart Knowledgebase
From this screen, you can then press 4 to proceed to Safe Mode.
It's slightly more complicated in Windows 8 / 10, we know ... but what can you do?! 😒
Next .... System Restore.
What is System Restore?
Simply put, System Restore allows you to revert back to a date when Windows was functioning properly. It will provide you with a list of Restore Points (or dates) and you can then choose one of them to go back to that date.
The System Restore feature is enabled by default unless it's been turned off manually. Certain viruses and malware can also turn it off so that the users affected are unable to recover their system.
If System Restore has been disabled and therefore there are no Restore Points, then you can’t go back to another date.
To check whether System Restore is enabled or not on a computer that's working fine, you must go to the System Protection tab in System Properties, as shown below.
Source: Online Tech Tips
As you can see above, Protection is Off and therefore this means that System Restore is disabled. To enable Protection, you must click on Configure and select Turn on system protection.
Source: Online Tech Tips
You can turn on Protection for all available Drives if you wish but the most important one is the System Drive (C:) of course, where Windows is installed.
If Windows is not loading (as per our example), System Restore can be accessed either by pressing F8 and selecting Repair Your Computer (Windows 7), as we explained further above, or by using the Installation Media / System Recovery USB Drive (Windows 7, 8 and 10).
Note: If you still have access to Windows, you can open System Restore by using these steps.
So that was a brief overview of the diagnostic tools that we can use and, most importantly, how to access them.
Now it's time to start our troubleshooting process ... yay!
a) Corrupted Hardware Drivers
If there are corrupted Hardware Drivers, then we can either use the Safe Mode option or the System Restore feature provided with Windows.
The first step would be to load into Safe Mode, as we explained further up. Then, go into Device Manager and uninstall any suspicious Drivers or Drivers that are indicating a problem, which will have a black exclamation mark in a yellow triangle next to them.
The most common Drivers that are likely to cause problems are those for the Display Adapter, the Ethernet (Network) Adapter and sometimes, the Sound Controllers.
This procedure might take you some time because you have to try each Driver one by one, restart and see if its removal has solved the problem.
But it surely won’t take the same amount of time as formatting.
Then, if the culprit is found and Windows boots successfully, all you need to do is install the latest Drivers for the device(s) that you uninstalled.
If Safe Mode doesn’t solve your problem, then you must use System Restore.
Once System Restore loads, select a date (Restore Point) in which you believe the computer was in a 'good state' and click Next.
Source: How-To Geek
We always suggest to use the most recent working Restore Point. Then, if problems persist, you can load into System Restore again and choose a different date.
After you click Next, you're asked to confirm your selection. Make sure that you selected the correct Restore Point and then click on Finish. Once started, System Restore cannot be interrupted and Windows will restart to begin the restore process.
Source: How-To Geek
It can take a while for System Restore to complete the restore process – so, it would be the ideal time to go make yourself a coffee or a toast until it's ready 😉
As soon as it's ready, System Restore will restart the computer and Windows will load using your selected Restore Point.
You don’t lose your personal data by using this feature but if any Apps were installed after the selected date, these will have to be reinstalled.
Note: You can click on the Scan for affected programs option to get an idea of the programs and drivers that will be deleted and those that might be restored during the process. Programs and drivers that get restored might not function properly and might need to be reinstalled.
b) Corrupted System Files
To check whether there are corrupted System Files, you can run Startup Repair first (for Windows 7 click here), as we explained earlier.
If Startup Repair doesn’t solve the problem, you can use Safe Mode and run the Disk Check Utility.
Source: How-To Geek
Another tool that you can use is the System File Checker (SFC.exe).
This utility will scan for corruptions in Windows System Files and if any missing or corrupted files are found, it will repair them.
To use this tool, boot the PC in Safe Mode and open Command Prompt as an Administrator (often referred to as an "elevated" Command Prompt).
At the Command Prompt, type sfc /scannow and press Enter. This command will immediately scan all protected System Files and replace corrupted files with a cached copy located in the Windows folder.
Do not close the Command Prompt window above until the verification is 100% complete. The scan results will be shown after this process is finished.
If all the above tools fail in their mission to bring Windows back into life, then you can use System Restore to go back a few days when you think the PC was still working properly.
To refresh your memory, you can access System Restore either via the System Recovery Options (Windows 7) or the Installation Media / System Recovery USB Drive (Windows 8 and 10).
c) Corrupted User Profile
In the case of a corrupted User Profile, the first thing you should try is System Restore.
Most of the time, System Restore will manage to recover your ‘previously good’ User Profile and Windows will be back up and running in no time.
If System Restore fails in its attempts to bring back your User Profile and there are other functional User Profiles configured in Windows apart from yours, then you can login using that good User Profile and create a new User Profile for you.
Unfortunately, you cannot repair your User Profile this way. But, at least, you can create a new Profile and transfer all your data from the corrupted one to the new one.
Programs and Peripherals don't need to be reinstalled because, given that there's another Profile that is in good condition, then they will work in your new Profile as well.
Example 3. The PC is extremely slow as a result of viruses or malware infections and it displays a large amount of pop-ups.
Now, this has become a common problem nowadays – right?
The Internet has evolved considerably and with this progression, viruses and malware have also increased at an alarming rate.
In fact, according to Dell’s Annual Threat Report, malware attacks nearly doubled to reach up to 8.19 billion!
However, there’s no need to start screaming as yet!
There are free tools available that can help us get rid of all the unnecessary junk that these viruses and malware put in our computers.
So, if your PC is slow and you suspect that it’s infected, the first tool you should use is AdwCleaner.
This Adware remover was acquired by Malwarebytes recently and it’s definitely one of the best free utilities around.
After cleaning with AdwCleaner, you should also scan your PC with Malwarebytes 3.0; previously known as Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.
With the Free version, you have to run the scanner manually and it detects and cleans up malware infections only when you run a scan.
If you opt for the Premium version, you will also have real-time protection, anti-ransomware technology and malicious website blocking.
A 1-Year Subscription for 1 PC costs €39.99 and a 2-Year Subscription will cost you €59.99 instead of €79.98.
In our opinion, the prices are very reasonable and you’ll be getting a really amazing product.
Another great tool that you should definitely use after removing threats with AdwCleaner and Malwarebytes is SurfRight’s HitmanPro.
This excellent Malware Removal Software is available for free for 30 days and after that, you must purchase a License.
Again, the price is very reasonable – a 1-Year License for 1 PC will cost you €19.95 only.
Usually, we like to keep HitmanPro for last to make sure that no malware traces are still hiding in the PC.
And this is also a thought shared by SurfRight because they claim, “As a second opinion, HitmanPro Anti-Malware is designed to discover threats on up-to-date and fully protected computers. HitmanPro removes malware when your existing malware protection fails.”
And we can confirm that it’s absolutely true!
Apart from the Anti-Malware Software that we suggested above, you should always have Anti-Virus Software installed and updated.
There are many good Anti-Virus solutions and most of them come at very reasonable prices.
There are also free Anti-Virus solutions and, although you may not get a product as robust as the paid version, there are a few which are exceptionally good especially when considering the fact that they’re free.
One of these is Microsoft’s Windows Defender, which nowadays comes built-in to Windows 10.
Source: IT PRO
In our opinion, Windows Defender offers excellent virus and malware protection and it’s very reliable.
If you’re still using Windows 7, then Microsoft Security Essentials is the predecessor of Windows Defender and it’s free as well for those who have a Genuine Windows installed.
And there you have it – with a few scans and cleanups, your PC is performing brilliantly once again and we have avoided a format … yet again! 👍🏻
As we will see in a few moments, there will be situations where cleaning up and removing malware / viruses still won’t solve the problem.
However, in most cases, the suggested Anti-Malware and Anti-Virus Solutions will bring your PC back to life – trust us.
Situations in Which a ‘Format’ Cannot Be Avoided
Yes, unfortunately, there are situations in which you can’t do otherwise but to format and reinstall Windows.
The below are some examples of these instances.
Example 1. The PC is infected with Ransomware.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until a sum of money (ransom) is paid.
However, by paying the ransom, it doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed your data and system back!
Cybercriminals often do not restore functionality.
Unfortunately, Ransomware attacks have risen dramatically in recent years and to-date, it’s very difficult to recover a PC infected with Ransomware – especially Encryption Ransomware.
According to this report by security company Kaspersky Lab, the rate of increase for individuals between January and September 2016 went from every 20 seconds to every 10 seconds – as you can see in the Infographic below:
Source: Kaspersky Lab
Although certain Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware products, like Malwarebytes 3.0 Premium, are including anti-ransomware technology in their software, you should always:
- Back up data regularly
- Avoid unsafe, suspicious or fake websites
- Refrain from opening e-mail attachments from people you don’t know
- Refrain from clicking on malicious or bad links in e-mails, Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media posts
If Ransomware encrypts your files, you can try your luck with these free decryption tools.
However, if unsuccessful, there is no way you can restore them unless you have a recent backup of your data.
Like we said earlier, even if you pay the ransom, in most cases you will not get your data back.
Therefore, in this scenario, to get back your PC up and running and, at the same time, get rid of the Ransomware infection, the only option is to format and reinstall Windows.
There really isn’t any other option for the time being, unfortunately.
Example 2. Windows still won’t load after trying all the possible diagnostic tools.
If the diagnostic tools that we mentioned earlier do not indicate a hardware fault and you are unable to restore corrupted Drivers, System Files or the User Profile, then the only thing left to do is to format.
But, again, it must always be the last resort.
You might be asking: Why do you keep stressing that a format must always be the last resort?
The answer is simple: Because, unless it is really necessary, there is no need to format the PC each time a problem is encountered!
There are various ways by which you can solve the different PC problems that crop up, as we showed you in this blog post.
Yes, a format is recommended after some years because it will refresh the PC and get rid of all the extra junk that accumulates by time.
But it doesn’t mean it should be done often.
And for many reasons:
- It involves a lot of time.
- You must reinstall all the Apps and peripherals, like Printers etc., from scratch.
- You must take note of any special settings and reconfigure them.
- You must install all Windows updates (and there’s quite a lot!).
- You risk losing data if you don’t have the correct backup plan in place.
Example 3. The PC is still performing slowly after trying out all the cleanup utilities available at your disposal.
Sometimes, cleaning up malware, viruses etc. is not enough and the PC still performs slowly.
This could be due to several different reasons and one of them would surely be the fact that malware, for example, leave many traces scattered around in the Hard Drive.
These traces will occasionally run in the background and affect the system’s performance.
The Anti-Malware Software that we recommended are definitely the best around – no doubt about it – and generally, they will make your PC perform much better.
However, if malware and/or viruses have been in the system for a long time or they hide themselves by staying dormant, then it could prove very difficult to get rid of everything.
Needless to say, at this point you have to format and reinstall 😞
As we saw in this blog post, the ‘Format’ Mentality shouldn’t dominate the world of PCs because there are various troubleshooting tools that can be used to solve the different problems that we encounter every day.
In our opinion, deciding to format without trying to solve the problem is the easy way out.
And not because formatting, reinstalling etc. takes less time – it doesn’t!
It is the easy way out because, instead of spending some time diagnosing the problem and trying to find a solution, you just went for the shortcut!
A shortcut that solves the problem (sometimes) without actually knowing what the problem was, where it came from etc.!
Where’s the fun in that? 😛
Of course, there are more diagnostic tools available – we only mentioned the most common and basic ones.
So, our suggestion is this: Use the various tools that we mentioned in this post first and see whether you manage to solve the problem/s or not.
If you don't manage and you don't wish to format the PC or Laptop, don't lose hope! There's always us 😊
Our qualified Technicians will do their utmost to try and solve your problem without reverting to a format because we strongly believe that it should always be the last resort.
We're here to help. Get in touch with us by clicking here or on Facebook and we will gladly assist you.
Will you opt for the shortcut next time you encounter a problem with your PC?
Or you will put in some effort and try to solve the problem instead of escaping it?
Are there any other diagnostic tools and Anti-Malware / Anti-Virus Software which you found very helpful?
Let us know in the Comments section below.