Installing or Upgrading Windows 8 : Preparing Your System: A Checklist

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Installing a new operating system—especially one that makes relatively radical changes to your system, as Windows 8 does—is definitely a “look before you leap” operation. Your computer’s operating system is just too important, so you shouldn’t dive blindly into the installation process. To make sure that things go well, and to prevent any permanent damage in case disaster strikes, you need to practice “safe” installing. This means taking some time beforehand to run through a few precautionary measures and to make sure your system is ready to welcome Windows 8. To that end, the next few sections run through a checklist of items you should take care of before firing up the Setup program.

Check Your System Requirements

Before getting too involved in the Setup process, you need to make sure your computer is capable of supporting Windows 8. Go back over the system requirements we outlined earlier to make sure your machine is Windows 8 ready.

Back Up Your Files

Although the vast majority of Windows 8 installations make it through without a hitch, there’s another law that software (particularly complex operating system software) always seems to follow: Murphy’s Law (that is, if anything can go wrong, it will). Windows 8 Setup has a Smart Recovery option that should get you out of most jams, but you should still make backup copies of important files, in case Smart Recovery is, for once, just not smart enough. At the very least you should back up your data files, which are both precious and irreplaceable.

Clean Up Your Hard Disk

To maximize the amount of free space on your hard disk (and just for the sake of doing some spring cleaning), you should go through your hard disk with a fine-toothed comb, looking for unnecessary files you can delete.

The easiest route here is to use the Disk Cleanup utility. In most recent versions of Windows, open File Explorer, display the Computer folder, right-click drive C (or whatever drive contains the Windows system files), click Properties, and then click Disk Cleanup.

Check and Defragment Your Hard Disk

Windows 8 Setup uses CHKDSK to give your hard disk a quick once-over before settling down to the serious business of installation. Sure, a “quick once-over” is better than nothing, but you should be more thorough. Specifically, use your version of Windows’ Check Disk program to give your hard disk a “surface” scan. The surface scan checks your hard disk for physical imperfections that could lead to trouble down the road. In most recent versions of Windows, open File Explorer, display the Computer folder, right-click drive C (or whatever drive contains the Windows system files), click Properties, click the Tools tab, and then click Check Disk. When the Check Disk interface appears, activate the Scan For and Attempt Recovery of Bad Sectors check box and then click Start.

Don’t forget to do a virus check if you have antivirus software. Viruses have been known to wreak havoc on the Windows 8 Setup program (in addition to their other less-endearing qualities, such as locking up your system and trashing your hard drive).

When that’s done, you should next defragment the files on your hard drive. This action ensures that Setup will store the Windows 8 files with optimal efficiency, which will improve performance and lessen the risk of corrupted data. In most recent versions of Windows, open File Explorer, display the Computer folder, right-click drive C (or whatever drive contains the Windows system files), click Properties, click the Tools tab, and then click Defragment Now.

Create a System Image Backup and a System Repair Disc

If you’re upgrading to Windows 8 from Windows 7, you should prepare for the worst by creating both a system image backup and a system repair disc.

The worst-case scenario for an operating system upgrade is a system crash that renders your hard disk or system files unusable. Your only recourse in such a case is to start from scratch with either a reformatted hard disk or a new hard disk. This usually means that you have to reinstall Windows 7 and then reinstall and reconfigure all your applications. In other words, you’re looking at the better part of a day or, more likely, a few days, to recover your system. However, Windows 7 has a feature that takes most of the pain out of recovering your system. It’s called a system image backup, and it’s actually a complete backup of your Windows 7 installation. It takes a long time to create a system image (at least several hours, depending on how much stuff you have), but it’s worth it for the peace of mind. Here are the steps to follow to create the system image:

1. On your Windows 7 PC, select Start, type backup, and then click Backup and Restore in the search results.

2. Click Create an Image. The Create a System Image Wizard appears.

3. The wizard asks you to specify a backup destination. You have three choices. (Click Next when you’re ready to continue.)

On a Hard Disk—Select this option if you want to use a disk drive on your computer. If you have multiple drives, use the list to select the one you want to use.

On One or More DVDs—Select this option if you want to use DVDs to hold the backup.

On a Network Location—Select this option if you want to use a shared network folder. Either type the UNC address of the share or click Select, and then either type the UNC address of the share or click Browse to use the Browse for Folder dialog box to select the shared network folder. Type a username and password for accessing the share, and then click OK.

4. The system image backup automatically includes your internal hard disk in the system image, and you can’t change that. However, if you also have external hard drives, you can add them to the backup by activating their check boxes. Click Next. Windows Backup asks you to confirm your backup settings.

5. Click Start Backup. Windows Backup creates the system image.

6. When the backup is complete, click Close.

The second half of your Windows 7 recovery system is the system repair disc, which is a CD or DVD that enables you to boot to the disc and then restore your system using the system image backup you just created. Here’s how you go about creating a system repair disc:

1. On your Windows 7 PC, select Start, type system repair, and then click Create a System Repair Disc in the search results. The Create a System Repair Disc dialog box appears.

2. Insert a blank recordable CD or DVD into your burner. If the AutoPlay dialog box shows up, close it.

3. If you have multiple burners, use the Drive list to select the one you want to use.

4. Click Create Disc. Windows 7 creates the disc (it takes a minute or two) and then displays a particularly unhelpful dialog box.

5. Click Close and then click OK.

Eject the disc, label it, and then put it someplace where you’ll be able to find it later on.

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