Sooner or later, your computer will get so crowded with applications, resident programs, mysterious services, spyware, malware, games, and other detritus, that performance will begin to drop like stateside interest in the Tour de France post-Lance. That’s your signal that it’s time to reinstall Windows. Sure, you can delay the inevitable if you’re careful and watch what you install, but sooner or later it’s going to happen. Interestingly, the time to start planning for that occasion is just before you buy a computer. Once you start loading applications and adding drivers and such, it’s pretty much too late.
This whole reinstall-Windows dynamic is on my mind because of a recent experience I had with my Hewlett-Packard xw8400 Dual-Processor Quad-Core workstation. As you may recall from a recent column, Death, Taxes and Vista, I had loaded Microsoft Vista over Windows XP, much to my immediate dismay. I tried to work with Vista for a few weeks, but I ran into so many frustrating compatibility issues I knew it was time to return to XP.
I considered calling the local Roman Catholic Diocese to ask them to exorcise the demon that had taken over my computer, but being Jewish, I wasn’t sure I could get their attention. Fortunately, there was an easier solution that didn’t involve 360-degree head rotations and green, projectile vomiting. That is, like many reputable vendors, HP includes restore discs with their new computers, so if you can pop a DVD in a drive and follow simple instructions, you can have your computer back in under and hour. Not only is the operating system back, but so are all of your drivers and original applications. Check for updates on the Microsoft site and you’re back in business. This, for me, is one of the key reasons that I don’t like building my own computers—you just don’t get the same level of support, either in the box or over the phone.
In honor of my reclaiming the utility of my most powerful computer, I thought I would write down some thoughts to keep in mind if you’re forced to reinstall Windows on any computer, or when buying a new computer. First, when reinstalling Windows, remember to uninstall any licensed software before starting the process. Otherwise, when you go to reinstall the software, you may run out of licenses.
For example, Adobe lets you install Production Studio on two different computers. I’m not sure if it would recognize the same computer if you reinstalled Windows and then tried to reload the suite, but when you uninstall the program, Adobe lets you cancel the license for that computer, adding it back to the available pool. When you authorize that computer over the internet, you’ll have at least one license available.
Second, if buying a new computer, buy one with a smallish system drive and much larger video drive. That way, you can reinstall Windows without losing any project data. Not to go too far afield, but one of the questions I get most often from readers is whether they need to spend extra dollars on high performance hard drives, for either the system drive or the video drive. This is one of those legacy questions that relate back to when the average hard drive couldn’t store or retrieve more than a few hundred kilobytes per second, and you had to use expensive SCSI drives to capture the 600-700KB/sec produced by most Motion JPEG capture cards.
If you bought your computer in the last two or three years, it probably uses a Serial ATA drive that can store and retrieve in excess of 40MB/sec. Given that a single stream of DV input is only 3.6MB/sec (the equivalent of 25Mbps video), you certainly can capture DV or HDV (same bit rate as DV or less) on these types of drives. Even if you’re producing multicam videos with four or five streams, you don’t need a special disk setup. Overall, unless you’re working with uncompressed HD, or building video servers or other high input/output applications, don’t even think about RAID or 15,000 rpm disks; you just don’t need them.
Back on point, when you’re buying a computer (or building your own), if your computer vendor doesn’t provide restore discs, consider buying Symantec Ghost, which can get you to the same place. Specifically, Ghost is a program that builds an image of your system drive, which you can store on another drive or on an optical disc.
Typically, once I get a new computer (or restore an older computer), I’ll load all of my test and production applications, then run Ghost and save the image. Since Ghost saves (and restores) everything on your system drive, it’s best to do this with the minimum number of applications installed, or the Ghost image will become massive, certainly larger than you can store on an optical disc.
Once it’s clear that I have to reload Windows, I simply use Ghost to copy the image back over to the system drive, essentially reverting back to where I started. Then I download all critical updates to Windows from Microsoft, update other programs as needed, and then create another Ghost disk image to use the next time.
Though Symantec doesn’t offer a Macintosh version of Ghost, you can accomplish the same goal using a program called EMC Retrospect, which does both backup and image-restore functions. You might also check out Bombich Software’s Carbon Copy Cloner and NetRestore, which perform local and network-based imaging, respectively.
Jan Ozer is co-author of Hands-On Guide to Flash Video, published by Focal Press.