How to Reformat a Dell Laptop

By Christopher Capelle

Reformatting the hard drive of a computer is sometimes an unavoidable task. Whether you're an IT professional or a private user, there are times when the hard drive has to be totally wiped. These reasons range from reallocating a computer to another user, selling it or donating it, installing a larger internal hard drive or even just to eradicate some flaky behavior. Unless the computer is ancient, reformatting a Dell laptop is a moderately easy process.

Things You'll Need

  • Dell OS Restore CD or Windows Install CD
  • Bootable Floppy Disk (for older laptops)

Step 1

Back up any data on the PC that you plan on saving. This can be accomplished by using burnable CDs or DVDs, attaching an external hard drive, using an online backup process or hooking up to the corporate backup server.

Step 2

Set the boot order on the laptop. This tells the computer the order that it looks for a bootable disc. The default is the C: drive, but this can be changed by holding down the Delete key while booting the computer. If you're using a floppy, which is common with early versions of Windows, select the A: drive. If you're using the CD or DVD, then select that drive (usually the D: drive) by using the up and down arrow keys. Save your preference and exit.

Step 3

Insert the media (floppy or CD/DVD) into the computer, and then reboot. Select reformat and install, which will erase all the data on the drive and install a fresh copy of Windows.

Step 4

Keep an eye on the process, as earlier versions of Windows often require manual intervention such as selecting options, or pressing the Enter key at certain times. More recent versions of Windows are typically autorun.

Step 5

Follow the prompts during the installation and after rebooting it. Use the restore CD to install any additional drivers and utilities. Run the Windows updates, and if you're planning on keeping the computer (or assigning it to another user), then install any necessary applications and data files, and configure the preferences, email and printers.

Tips & Warnings

  • Back up all your data before reformatting.
  • If you're selling the laptop, remember it's illegal to install unlicensed applications.
  • If you're particularly tech savvy, you can restore your data from an image.
  • Formatting destroys all data on the computer.
  • Replacing a hard drive in a laptop isn't for the faint of heart.

References & Resources