How to Reformat a Dell and Start with a Clean Install of Windows

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Fresh water from mountain spring, Photo by David A. Good (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If you’ve just purchased a Dell (or similar) computer, you probably won’t be surprised to find it loaded with bloatware such as Dell utilities and McAfee AV. And if you’re like me, you’ll be terrified when McAfee automatically installs a Chrome extension, annoyed by Dell pop-ups and reminders, and unsatisfied with system performance with all those processes hogging resources.

So naturally, you’ll want to reformat and install a clean copy of Windows. However, times have changed, so if you haven’t done this in a few years, you may need some pointers. I was also surprised that I couldn’t find a comprehensive, yet simple guide on how to do this. Most guides will tell you to do a Reset using Windows 10 Recovery tools. Don’t waste your time with that—even if you choose the promising sounding “Remove everything” and then “Remove files and clean the drive”, it will just revert to the Dell factory image, complete with all the same bloatware.

Simple Steps to Install a Clean Copy of Windows

Here are the few simple steps I followed to install a fresh, clean copy of Windows 10:

  1. Download the Windows 10 Install Tool and follow the instructions to install it on a USB flash drive
  2. Plug the USB flash drive into one of the rear USB ports, don’t use one of the USB ports on the front of the case
  3. Restart your machine
  4. Press F12 to open boot options (assuming your machine supports UEFI, there’s no need to enter the BIOS and change boot order like in the old days)
  5. Once the boot options appear, under UEFI Boot Options, you should see your USB flash drive listed; Select it and press enter
  6. The UI will show one option, Install now. After you click Install now you will be asked to choose your language, region, etc. This is confusing as it leads you to believe you will not be offered the chance to reformat or manage partitions. However, if you continue through the wizard, and choose Custom Install, you will indeed have the chance to do this.
  7. Once you reach the Where do you want to install Windows? screen, you may see six or more partitions including OS, WINRETOOLS, and DELLSUPPORT. In the old days it was common to just delete all the partitions and create a new one. But again, times have changed. After doing some research (see here), I decided to not delete any of the partitions except the OS partition.
  8. After selecting the OS partition (it should be the largest), and clicking Delete, you can simply click Next, and the installer will figure out that it needs to create a new partition which will be used to install Windows (this is mentioned under Installing the ISO here).
  9. One more tip from this guide: During install you can create an Admin-level Local Account with your preferred name by telling it you don’t have the MS Account email address, then later promote it to MS Account. This avoids having it name your User folder with the first five letters of your MS account email address…
  10. Follow the remaining steps in the wizard, and enjoy your clean install of Windows!

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