1.2 A Clean Install of Windows Vista on Dell Systems

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1.2 A Clean Install of Windows Vista on Dell Systems

Obsolete wiki:

This wiki is updated to pdf format here Windows Reinstallation Guide and several other wikies are combined into this pdf. The links below are less up to date.

Note: This guide takes you through almost every screen of the install and is hence quite long, it is nowhere as daunting as it looks on first glance.

If you are considering upgrading some parts in your computer see here before beginning the installation.

Before reading this guide for completeness I will refer you to the Dell Factory Restore which will restore your computer to factory settings. This is generally the fastest method to restore your system to a working state. However in all cases, the systems that I have done a clean install on have vastly superior performance, than when restored to the factory install/factory settings. I am very disappointed in the factory settings...

If you are upgrading a system to Vista, planning to install Windows Vista on a new hard drive, plan on changing from 32 bit to 64 bit Windows Vista, experiencing problems installing Windows Service Packs and finally experiencing significantly reduced performance after installing Windows Service Packs or just generally prefer a cleaner install then carry out a clean install.

At this stage in time, if your computer can support Windows Vista then it will support Windows 7 and likely also Windows 8. I would recommend upgrading to Windows 7 or Windows 8 opposed to sticking with Windows Vista.

Details about installing Windows 8 can be found in my wiki Upgrading to Windows 8 via A Clean Install and at present an upgrade license is quite cheap.

For Windows 7 you will need to purchase an upgrade license from a store or online and should follow my wiki A Clean install of Windows 7.

It may be worthwhile installing Windows 7 using a retail .iso without a product key and assessing the performance of your system with the 30 day trial before purchasing a license. You should also look at the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor.

If you plan on doing this check for Windows Vista/7/8 driver availability on the Drivers and Downloads Page. If there are no listed drivers then Windows 7 or Windows 8 might work without any additional drivers as both versions of Windows have a very wide native driver base. Alternatively there are some unofficial driver sets listed for Laptops and for Desktops.

Step 1. Back up your data. 

An external hard drive is a great device to back ones data up on. Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos in particular. A standard user should make regular back ups in case of hard drive failure.

If you decide to skip Step 1 then ensure that you don't carry out Step 7 or format/delete the partition in step 8. Carry out Step 15 to recover your data.

I recommend carrying out Step 1 in all cases and formatting the drive.

Step 2. Using Belarc Advisor and Obtaining your Product Keys

Belarc Advisor will obtain details about your system. It is free for home use and gives you a print out of your computers hardware and software. It also gives you your product keys. This is particularly useful for obtaining your Microsoft Office product keys. It is handy to keep a print out of this data. CutePDF Writer may be used to create a pdf print out of it. Save this in a folder in the external harddrive e.g. called Computer Software.

Note the Windows Vista Product Key obtained by Belarc Advisor is a Dell SLP key, this is not the same as the product key printed on your COA. 

You should take a note of the 25 character key on your COA. This sticker is usually found on the base of laptops, although some people have reported them to be present under the battery. On a desktop they are usually on the top or side.

The sticker for the Dell Service Tag should be located in a similar area. You should take note of it. You only need to know the Service Tag (7 digit code) and not the Express Service Code.

Step 3. Obtaining Windows Vista Reinstallation Media - Notes

You will be in one of three situations, quickly review the notes applicable for your Windows Vista license before deciding on what media to use:

If reinstalling Windows Vista on a system that came with Windows Vista preinstalled by Dell a Dell Reinstallation DVD should be used wherever possible (Step 3a).
This type of Windows Vista license is known as the Dell OEM version.

If Windows Vista was purchased as a full or upgrade license, you should use the retail DVD you purchased. The .iso from Digital River (step 3b) may also be used and is recommended only if the DVD doesn't have Service Pack 1.
This type of Windows Vista license is known as the retail version.

If exercising downgrade rights from Windows 8 professional, Windows 7 Professional  to Windows Vista Business or Windows 7 Ultimate to Windows Vista Ultimate a Dell Reinstallation DVD must be used (see Step 3a).
This type of Windows Vista license is again the Dell OEM version.

Obtaining the Media

As of current the OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer media must be obtained from Dell (see Step 3a). It unfortunately can't be downloaded. The Dell (OEM) Reinstallation DVD or USB will automatically activate when installed through a Dell BIOS (as explained in this wiki). Thus no additional activation should be required (Step 11).

Retail Media can be downloaded from Digital River (Step 3b) and when used with a Retail or Upgrade Product Key can be activated via Internet (Step 11).

Can I use my Dell OEM Product Key (Step 2) with Retail Media (Step 3b)?

Yes but you will need to activate via automated phone activation (Step 11). You will need the 25 digit product key (Step 2), If its faded you will need the Dell Reinstallation DVD.

Use of the Digital River .iso and the Dell OEM Product key works in many cases by phoning Microsoft for product activation however is not officially supported by either Dell or Microsoft. 

Dell technical support will be unable to assist you with product activation should you run into issues and will suggest use of a Reinstallation DVD.

Can I use my Retail Full/Upgrade with OEM Media?

No. However Windows Anytime Upgrade can be used for the following cases:

Home Premium OEM → Retail Business (Upgrade/Full)

Home Premium OEM → Retail Ultimate (Upgrade/Full)

Business OEM → Retail Ultimate (Upgrade/Full)

This will give you a retail product key with an original install with OEM media. You do not need to reinstall anything when using Windows 7 Anytime Upgrade.

I have a 32 bit version of Windows Vista can I install the 64 bit version instead and vice versa?

Yes, the product keys for the 32 bit and 64 bit version of Windows Vista are the same. i.e. if product key xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx works with Windows Vista 32 bit Home Premium it will also work with Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium.

You may use your OEM product key (Step 2) with the correct 64 bit retail .iso (Step 3b) and phone activation (Step 11).

For the Retail product keys again internet activation will work (Step 11).

You should however run the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to check if your system is 64 bit capable before running the 64 bit version of Windows Vista. In addition check the Dell Drivers and Downloads Page (Step 5a), Dell FTP Website (Step 5b), Unofficial Driver Sets (Step 5c) and the Dell Community Forums for Drivers before proceeding with the install.

Should you wish to switch from the 64 bit version to the 32 bit version, note that you will not be able to use more than 4 GB of RAM. For this reason Dell tend to have only 64 bit drivers for their newer systems on the Dell Drivers and Downloads Page (Step 5a) but the 32 bit drivers often exist on the Dell ftp website (Step 5b).

You should only have 32 bit or 64 bit installed. Technically you should have 2 licenses if you have both the 32 and the 64 bit installed simultaneously.

My system came with Windows 7 or 8 can I install Windows Vista without purchasing a separate license?

Downgrade rights to Windows Vista Business Edition are applicable to systems shipped with Windows 8 professional or Windows 7 Professional. Downgrade rights to Windows Vista Ultimate are only applicable with Windows Vista Ultimate. I cannot see why anyone would want to downgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows Vista however. Windows 7 is superior to Windows Vista in all ways.

In the case of a system which came with Windows 7 Professional or Windows 8 Professional, the user may downgrade to Windows Vista Business but must do so using a Dell Windows Vista Business Reinstallation DVD (step 3a). The user must use a Dell Windows Vista Ultimate Reinstallation DVD to downgrade from a system which came with Windows 7 Ultimate preinstalled.

Retail media (Step 3b) cannot be used as the user won't have a Windows 8 Product Key to downgrade with.

Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Home Basic, Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT don't have any downgrade rights and the user must purchase a separate license in this case.


Can I Transfer My License?

The Retail Full product key can be transferred from one computer to another provided it is uninstalled, ideally completely formatted (Step 7a).

The Retail Upgrade Key can be transferred from one computer to another provided the new computer has a qualifying earlier version of Windows to Upgrade. Again it should be completely uninstalled, ideally completely formatted (Step 7a).

The OEM product key is tied to the original computer. It cannot be transferred.

Should I Use Retail or OEM Media for my Product Key?

If your computer came with Windows Vista preinstalled then ideally for activation purposes you should use the Dell Reinstallation DVD wherever possible. However for convenience you can use the Digital River retail media if you can't get your hands on a Dell Reinstallation DVD. You can also use the retail media if you decide to switch from the 32 to the 64 bit version of Windows Vista or vice versa.

Is there any significant difference features missing from OEM Media?

No they are identical. There is some Dell branding in the OEM media at the system properties (Step 12.)

Step 3a. Obtaining Windows Vista Reinstallation Media - Dell (OEM) Reinstallation DVD

If you have a Dell Windows Vista Reinstallation DVD provided with your system then proceed to step 4 (unless you are switching from 32 bit to 64 bit). The Reinstallation DVD should look like the following:

Dell unfortunately are currently shipping almost all of their systems without Reinstallation DVDs. For US customers there is an online request form for Reinstallation Media. For those customers not in the US you will need to contact Dell technical support and ask for one. The customer numbers are available here. This is the most recommended route.

To improve the experience for customers from the rest of the world. Please vote on my idea Request a Reinstallation DVD form [Rest of the World]. Also see my poll here.

Note: For netbooks or systems without an optical drive or a damaged optical drive you will have to convert the Reinstallation DVD into a Reinstallation USB as instructed here. You should then use the Reinstallation USB for Reinstalling Windows Vista.


Step 3b. Obtaining Windows Vista Reinstallation Media - Digital River (Retail) Media

Download the correct setup files from Windows Vista Official Downloads [Digital River] and create a .iso as instructed. To create media you will need either a blank DVD or a bootable USB stick which requires a USB stick of 4 GB or greater (For USB flash drive recommendations see here). USB flash drives are recommended as many users run into installation issues with home burnt DVDs.

Use the Microsoft .iso to USB/DVD tool to create a bootable DVD or USB flash drive


Step 4. Obtaining Service Packs/The Latest Build of Internet Explorer

If using a Dell Windows Vista Reinstallation DVD or a purchased Windows Vista Upgrade/Retail DVD it will tell you on the label if any Service Packs are included (if they are present then you don't need to download them). 

Currently the latest Service Pack for Windows Vista is Service Pack 2. Note in order to install Service Pack 2 on Vista, Service Pack 1 must already be installed. The standalone download links are as found here:

64 bit English 32 bit English

64 bit Multi-Language

32 bit Multi-Language
Service Pack 1 Service Pack 1 Service Pack 1 Service Pack 1
Service Pack 2 Service Pack 2 Service Pack 2 Service Pack 2
Internet Explorer 9 Internet Explorer 9
Microsoft Security Essentials Microsoft Security Essentials Microsoft Security Essentials Microsoft Security Essentials
Latest Definition Latest Definition Latest Definition Latest Definition

If you are using your Dell Reinstallation DVD or own upgrade/retail DVD media you will need to download all standalone Service Packs that aren't included.

The Windows Vista setup files include Service Pack 1 but you will standalone Service Pack 2 update and standalone Internet Explorer 9 update.

Note: Use only the 32 bit SP1, SP2, IE9 and MSE for Windows Vista 32 bit. Likewise use only the 64 bit SP1, SP2, IE9 and MSE for Windows Vista 64 bit. 64 bit updates won't install on a 32 bit system and vice versa.

* Microsoft Security Essentials with the latest definition is installed immediately after the Service Packs and Internet Explorer 9 to ensure your system is protected upon first connection to the internet. If you plan on using other Security Software instead of Microsoft Security Essentials, do not install Microsoft Security Essentials.

Step 5a. Obtaining the Dell System Drivers (Dell Drivers and Downloads Page)

Go to the Dell Support page and select Drivers and Downloads. Select your model and Operating system.

Avoid inputting the Service Tag (its not working correctly for many systems omitting critical drivers).


Once the model is selected you need to select the correct OS:

Once you have selected Windows Vista look at the categories

Click the category to expand it e.g. we will take the video one

Click download file, this will take you to this page

Do not select Download Manager, select single-file download and press next. If you get the following error message:


Press back on the browser.

In the address bar check the URL. For example:


Change the last false to true.


Then press [Enter]. The page will refresh and look identical to before

This time select Single-File download and it should now work. Once done press back several times to return here:

Ensure it looks the same as before (number of categories and number of drivers under each category), if not change the OS to BIOS and back to Windows 7 64 bit. For me drivers were disappearing earlier.


See Step 5c for more details about the recommended driver install order. I recommend saving each driver in an appropriately labeled folder and adding a numeric prefix to the folder. This will ensure that you install the drivers in the recommended order. e.g. here are the drivers I downloaded for a Latitude E6520:

Dell Drivers and Downloads Page is currently under maintenance so post here if you experience some issues downloading the drivers.

Step 5b. Obtaining the Dell System Drivers (Dell FTP Website)

The Drivers may also be found on the Dell ftp website. This has been reorganised recently so drivers are listed by model.

The Dell FTP Website has all versions of each driver released by Dell for a particular model. Select your type and then model number. We will take the Inspiron 1501 laptop  and install Windows Vista 32 bit for example.

On the Dell ftp website the user should ignore Legacy Drivers.

The user should download only the latest drivers for their system which correspond to their Operating System.

i.e. when a driver is listed with version A0X, ..., A01 and A00 you should only use the A0X version where X is the highest number.

However ensure that the OS you wish to install is under the supported OS in this case we would want revision A09 for Windows Vista 32 bit and not revision A11 for Windows XP.

Finally one thing to note is that certain categories, in particular Network (Wireless Card) and Video (Graphics Card) were customisable and have several variants, you must select the correct ones for your system.

Downloading from the ftp website is faster but designed for advanced users. However due to the sorry state of the drivers and downloads page I recommend all users to use the ftp website. Pay attention to driver install order (Step 5c).

All the drivers should be downloaded and saved to a USB stick. The way this guide is intended Steps 1-6 are preparation for installing Windows so the user has everything they need when installing Windows. This is why Step 5 (downloading drivers) and Step 10 (installing drivers) are independent.

If however the user has already attempted to install Windows likely they won't be able to access the internet to get the drivers and will need to use a working system to download them.

Step 5c. Driver Install Order and Notes

 There are a couple of unofficial driver sets listed for selected laptops and desktops provided by me. These are likely to work but theres no guarantee.

When downloading drivers for a clean install I recommend using the same folder structure as me to prevent confusion and to ensure that you install all the drivers in the correct order. Although this guide is based on installing/reinstalling Windows Vista on laptops, installation on Dell desktops will be very similar. Naturally some of these drivers/applications such as Dell Quickset for power/mobility are designed for Laptops only and are thus not needed for Desktops.

• 1. Dell System (Notebook/Desktop) Software - Under System Utilities.

Not present for some of the newer systems, if its not there don't worry, it is not needed/included

• 2. Chipset Drivers (Intel then Ricoh/Realtek/Any other ones) - Under Chipset.

• 3. Intel Matrix Storage Manager/Intel Rapid Storage Technology  - Under SATA Drives and/or CPU

Not all systems will have this. Note there are the drivers and the applications. The applications should increase system performance. If a full installer isn't present then it is likely the preinstallation drivers (see Step 6).

• 4. Video Driver - Under Video.

Generally there are several variants for Video Driver e.g. Intel/ATI(AMD)/nVidea and different variants of ATI(AMD) and nVidea. Ignore any for TV tuners at this moment.

Some of the newer laptops have switchable graphics and require the Intel driver to be installed first then the corresponding nVidea/ATI video driver for full performance. There may be a few variants of graphics cards for a laptop and you must select the correct ones.

In desktops if there is no dedicated graphics card in the card slot, then they have the onboard (generally Intel driver).

In desktop if there is a dedicated graphics card in the card slot then generally it is the ATI(AMD) or nVidea driver). Generally there are several variants of graphics card per desktop model and you need to pick the correct one.The latest driver from the ATI/nVidea websites generally offers more functionality.

• 5. Conexant Drivers - Under Communications

Drivers for Modems are often natively included in Windows Vista if its not there don't worry. Modems are becoming obsolete also. For newer systems if modem drivers exist, they may fail to install as a modem is not present. As modems are becoming obsolete the modem is not always installed as default for a Windows Vista laptop.

• 6. Network Ethernet Driver - Under Network

This usually mentions Ethernet/LAN/Broadcom/Realtek in the description. Sometimes Intel, Atheros but the later two can be the wireless card.

• 7. Wireless Card -  Under Network

Not present for all Desktops but most that come with Windows Vista or later will have a wireless card included. There are generally several variants of Wireless Cards and you will need to pick the correct one. For some newer systems the wireless and bluetooth card are one and the same.

• 8. Touchpad (usually mentions Synaptics or Alps) - Input

Generally for laptops only. There may be additional drivers if you purchased a non-standard keyboard for a desktop e.g. a wireless or bluetooth keyboard.

• 9. Audio - Under Audio

Ensure you install any drivers before Audio Applications. Generally the drivers have the name SigmaTel/IDT/Realtek. Again pick the correct one for your system, there is generally not that many variants in the Audio. This is for the standard onboard Audio which 90 % of the systems use. For the other 10 % usually the higher end systems a Creative Soundblaster may be installed. This is a dedicated soundcard. There will be a driver available but you may be able to get a later driver from the Creative Website. There is sometimes also Creative Applications available for the onboard Audio.

• 10. TV Tuners/Other Video (If applicable) - Under Video

Many systems don't have these and are only added via customisation.

• 11. Bluetooth (If applicable) - Under Network.

For some newer systems the wireless and bluetooth card are one and the same and the driver will be installed alongside the wireless driver.

• 12. Dell Quickset or Dell ControlPoint  - Under Applications

This is for the power settings and Fn keys. Usually this is for laptops only. These include the onscreen volume/brighness meters.

"3Cp> • 13. Webcam Driver found - Under Input

Most desktops won't have a webcam driver or will use a dedicated Logitech or Creative webcam which can be downloaded from the perspective vendors. Note for desktop systems with a webcam integrated into the monitor, the webcam driver may be found bundled with the monitor driver. Installation of the monitor driver will install the webcam.

• 14. Mobile Broadband Drivers - under Communications

Most users don't have these but the drivers are there for users that do.

These are the main drivers and I have tried to give a basic guide to cover all systems. There will of course be some other variants from model to model and customisations within the same model such as mobile broadband cards, TV tuners and other drivers depending on your systems configuration. There may also be security drivers for Latitude and Optiplex series. The check for any missing drivers is via the Device Manager (Step 12) and you should post on the Microsoft OS forum if you run into problems there.

There are a number of other drivers such as the CD/DVD firmware. These can be updated if you wish but I would recommend leaving these well alone. Sometimes if these updates go wrong, things seriously break. If you have no problems with any of these devices then leave them be. You may look through Applications to see if you find anything else useful.

The BIOs can also be updated if there is a later version but be extremely careful with a BIOs update - A failed one will brick the system but this is very rare 99.9% of the time it is fine. I tend to update my BIOs when an update is available but many of the others will recommend to stay clear of BIOs updates. This is mentioned in Step 17 further.

Step 6. Preparing SATA Drivers 

In the case where newer hard drives are fitted several errors may occur during Widnows 7 Reinstallation:

  • Errors which state there is no hard drive.
  • Windows Setup could not configure Windows on this computer’s hardware.
  • A CD/DVD device is missing.*

* 9 out of 10 times this is due to bad media in particular if the Digital River .isos are used e.g. a badly burnt DVD or USB a corrupt download of the .iso. Downloading the .iso again and making a bootable USB usually resolves the matter.

To prevent these errors it is necessary to download SATA drivers such as the Intel Rapid Storage Technolog" F6flpy Drivers* and load them during the Windows setup.

* These may be obtained on the Drivers and Downloads page but it is generally better to get the latest versions from intel directly see here.

* Note most Dell systems are Intel but a few will be AMD systems and the Intel Drivers won't be any use to you. To verify if your system is Intel or AMD run and install the Intel Processor Identification Utility. If no CPU is identified your CPU is likely AMD.**

** For such systems look on the drivers and downloads page, if you can't find anything ignore this step and continue with the install.

Once you have downloaded the SATA drivers from Dell or Intel. You will need to extract the file with 7zip as shown. First download and install 7zip from here, selecting the 32 bit .msi or 64 bit .msi depending on your OS.

For the Dell SATA Driver once 7zip is installed, right click the Dell driver and select extract all.

This leads you to a folder with the same name Rxxxxxx as the driver.


Look in this folder for a F6flpy-x86 (32 bit) or F6flyp-x64 folder (64 bit) and copy this to a USB stick. Select the correct one to match the version of Windows you are installing. Note if there are additional folders and a setup.exe in the folder then the F6flpy drivers should be loaded before WIndows and the Application (Setup.exe) installed alongside the drivers.

Repeat for the extracted contents of all the SATA drivers on this USB/DVD. Note some of the items under "SATA Drivers" are applications these should be installed alongside the system drivers. See the downloads page below for example.

The 2 Applications should be installed at the end of the installation while the two drivers should be loaded onto the USB stick. The 2 Firmware may be installed at the end of the installation if desired.

For the Intel Drivers the F6flpy-x86 and F6flpy-x64 should be offered as seperate .zip downloads. Download the correct one and extract it with 7zip then copy the extracted folder to your USB stick.

If you get one of the error messages above start a new post in the Disk Drives forum stating your model number, your type of hard drive (if you know, for example if you purchased one) and what Operating System you have tried to install. In addition it may be worth mentioning what SATA drivers you have attempted to use.

Step 7a. Preparing the Drive For Installing Windows (DBAN)

Step 7a is for advanced users, most regular users should skip it. However for users that are planning on selling/giving away their system or reinstalling due to a viral/malware infection this step is highly recommended as it permanently erases data and is more through than the standards Windows format.

Download DBAN and burn it to a blank CD/DVD using ImgBurn (on XP/Vista) no additional Software needed for Windows 7 or alternatively make a bootable USB using Universal USB Installer.

Before using DBAN any card readers need to be disabled in the BIOs setup. For instructions on how to do this see Card Reader BIOS settings A or Card Reader BIOS Settings B depending on your BIOS. Not all systems have card readers,

Insert the DBAN CD/DVD or USB and power down your system. Press F12 at the Dell BIOs screen and select boot from CD/DVD or from USB respectively.

DBAN will then load

The easiest way to use DBAN is by typing autonuke and then pressing enter.

You should get these two screens

DBAN will then begin to securely format your hard drive. Note DBAN can take a very long time to securely format a large capacity hard drive.

When completed you should get a screen like this. Hopefully it will say DBAN succeeded although sometimes it mentions an error. Most of the times that it has mentioned an error to me it has actually fully  formatted the drive and ran for the same length of time as it should (i.e. the same time for a system of the same model where no error cropped up).

Once the DBAN format is done, re-enable any card reader within the BIOs setup.

Note using DBAN may sometimes cause some issues with product activation if using upgrade product keys as the original version of Windows is not there.

Some people have reported that a double install of Windows Vista will work in this case (see here). Others reinstall the old operating system, activate it and then proceed with a clean install Windows Vista.

Step 7b. Preparing the Drive For Installing Windows (Media Direct)

This step is only for systems shipped with Media Direct. These systems will have a MediaDirect button in close proximty to the power button as shown below. If your system doesn't have this button skip this step.

Media Direct is for selected systems such as the Inspiron 6000, 6400, 9300, 9400, E1505, E1705, XPS Gen 2, XPS M170, M1270, M1710, M2010.

The partitions for Media Direct must be set up before the installation of Microsoft Windows otherwise pressing the Media Direct Button while the system is powered down can corrupt your Operating System.

Insert the Media Direct DVD supplied with your system.  It should look like the following:

Power down your computer. Hold F12 while powering up your computer (at the Dell BIOs screen).

Select boot from CD/DVD. Select option 1 (recommended) or option 2. (if you want 2 partitions).

Note: The application must be installed after the system drivers while on the Windows Desktop (Step 14).

Step 8. Installing Windows

Ensure everything (documents and the downloads listed above) is copied over onto the external hard drive.

Insert the DVD you have created or Dell reinstallation DVD or the bootable USB flash stick. Also insert the SATA Drivers USB stick if applicable. Power down your computer. Hold F12 while powering up your computer (at the Dell BIOs screen).

Select boot from CD/DVD or from USB respectively.

Press any key when prompted such as "h" when it says Press any Key to boot from CD/DVD.

You will get a black screen that says "Windows is Starting Files" then one that says Microsoft Corporation. These should disappear pretty quickly. Next one that says Starting Windows

 You will then be prompted for your language, time and currency format and keyboard settings. Mine are all set to U.K. as shown below, amend for your preference.

Select Install Now. 

If using retail media you will be prompted for a product key. Use your product key found on the COA sticker found at the base of your system or your purchased upgrade key/retail key/OEM key.

A Dell OEM disc should not require you to input this key and this screen should not display. 

Once you have input your key select Next. The following screen will display if you have input the wrong key.

Alternatively you may skip this step and get a trial of Windows Vista for 30 days. If you do this, it will explicitly ask you what version of Windows Vista you wish to install

Read the license, check to select and then select Next.

Next select Custom (Advanced).

Note select Custom (advanced) even/especially if you are "upgrading". There are always some bugs when selecting "Upgrade" on this screen and this seriously hinders your systems performance.

When you get to this screen select Load Driver and select your SATA drivers USB stick.

Ensure that "Hide drivers that are not compatible with hardware on this computer is ticked" (it should be set like this by default). Select all the drivers listed and then click next. It will take you back to this screen. Select "Drive Options".

This will reveal the drive options. The tools are rather self-explanatory. For a new hard drive you will need to select New to make a new partition (case below).

When you have an existing Windows partition you have a few options:

• 1. To delete it and then must create a new partition or partitions if you want multiple partitions e.g. for dual boot or for other reasons; this will remove all data and factory partition. Once you have created your partitions; select the partition you wish to install Windows on and select Next. You might as well delete the Dell factory partition if going down this route as it will no longer work and hence serve no service.

• 2. To format it, leave the partition intact but remove all data and factory partition. You might as well delete the Dell factory partition if going down this route as it will no longer work and hence serve no service and instead Extend the main partition.

• 3. To install Windows on the partition but not format it (in this case all old files will be found in the Windows.old folder). Again you might as well delete the Dell factory partition if going down this route as it will no longer work and hence serve no service and instead Extend the main partition.

The Dell Factory setting won't work in either case. I recommend deleting or formatting but you must take the 3rd option if you have not carried out Step 1 and wish to keep your data.  

Note: if you have not backed up all your data onto an external hard drive. Do not select any of the drive options particularly format or delete. In this scenario all your files will be saved in a folder called windows.old.

You will then a screen telling you the progress of the install.

Note some parts may be very fast and some steps may be very slow.

However it should not take any more than a few hours; if it is stuck on the same % for a few hours on one part then it has likely froze and you must start again (this rarely happens) by holding down the power button until the machine powers off and then reattempting the install. Eventually you will get to here.

Type in your "username". Next type in your password, retype it and leave yourself a hint. Alternatively just select next (to have no password - not recommended but optional).

Now name the computer, by default the PC name will be "username-PC" but you can change this as desired. Next you will get the Windows Update options, I generally select Use recommended settings.

Then select your time and date settings.

Set up Network settings and or connect to a wireless network. Note you may not get this or be able to do this if the wireless and/or ethernet drivers are not installed. You may ignore this step and connect later.

Finally the setup will Finalise.

When you first login, Vista may assess your hardware after this which will take a few minutes.

Step 9. Install the Service Packs/Internet Explorer 9

Now that you have Windows Vista installed. Ensure that you have the latest Service Pack installed. It often works out better installing the latest Service Pack and Internet Explorer before installing the system drivers. Doing so in this order prevents a great deal of problems with Windows Update and conflicts with system drivers. You should have downloaded these onto a USB stick at Step 4 if your installation media didn't include them and have them readily accessible on a USB stick or External Harddrive.

Insert the USB stick and run the .exe installers. Note Service Pack 1 takes longer to install than Windows Vista (normally).

Step 10. Install the System Drivers

Ensure you keep to the order listed above for best results. You should again have downloaded these at Step 4 and have them readily accessible on a USB stick or External Harddrive.

Running the .exe file Rxxxxxx should extract the driver to C:\Dell\Drivers\Rxxxxxx and then run the installer automatically.

Newer systems no location adopt the R# notation but should still extract to C:\Dell\Drivers\"Subfolder" where "Subfolder" is variable.

Unfortunately often no installer runs and the file just extracts. To actually install the driver you will need to navigate to the folder where the driver extracted to and run any setup.exe files. Many users think they have installed the driver when they haven't.

We will take for example R143625 the Dell Notebook Software for my Inspiron 6400:

Double clicking the file, you should get a run prompt select yes.

Select Continue

Select Ok

Select Ok. At this stage the setup should start and you should start the installation. If it does not the driver is not installed. In my XPS 8300 (and I suspect many other systems) the installers do not automatically run. Therefore in this case I have to go to C:\Dell\Drivers\R284334 (you will have to go to the number of your driver) and click setup.


Accept the UAC prompt and install via the setup program.

Usually a series of clicking next, next, finish and then rebooting. I usually tell it not to reboot until I install all the drivers it is faster this way and always worked for me however it is probably best to reboot when prompted.

Step 11. Activation

Press the [Windows] and [Pause|Break] or go to start, right click computer and click properties.

If it says (at the bottom) Windows is activated then you are fine. This will happen automatically if you use the Dell disk.

If it says activate Windows Now, click the link to activate. If you used the .isos with a OEM key likely you will have to do this.

Enter the product key if prompted.

If you get the following screen, don't worry.

Use the phone activation. It is a quick automated call, follow the onscreen instructions. See here for more details on activation.

You should now have Windows is now activated in the screen below.

Step 12. Ensure there are no Errors in Device Manager

On this screen next select Device manager.

Hopefully it should look something like mine.

If you have an error, yellow ? or ! then you probably haven't installed a system driver correctly. You should quickly check that you haven't missed installation of a driver and check to see that something hasn't installed correctly. If you still can't find out what it is. Right click the device with the error and select properties:

Go to details and select Hardware ids.

You should make a new post on the Microsoft OS Forum starting your model of Dell, the hardware ids and whether you have installed Windows Vista 32 bit or 64 bit.

Ask on the forums for details if you get stuck at this stage.

Next after the drivers are installed you should rate your system. Click the link "system rating is not available".

Note at this stage I would re-rate the system even a number is displayed there. Although people may not care so much for the system rating it is best to perform. Several unrated systems will revert to the Windows Vista Basic Theme even if they are capable of the Aero Interface and will not allow the user to change to the Windows Vista Theme until the system is rated.

Select rate this computer and leave it be for 5 minutes to rate it.

You should get the rating now.

Step 13a. Install a Security Program and your Applications (Security)

For Security I recommend use of Microsoft Security Essentials (I have mentioned installing this at step 4 of the wiki) and Malwarebytes' Antimalware.

However this is an area where almost everyone has a different opinion/their own favourites. So I am not going to argue or force my opinion here. Just ensure that you install a security suite that you trust. If you have any queries with regards to security software then I recommend you to post a new topic in the Virus & Spyware Discussion Forum.

Step 13b. Install Microsoft Office

The full version of  Microsoft Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2010 may be found in my Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office Downloads wiki. Links to Microsoft Office 2013 consumer preview which users may try for free for a limited period of time may be found in the same wiki.

These installers require a product key. Use your product key obtained by Belarc advisor (Step 1.) and/or found with the Microsoft Product Identification card on your system with the correct installer. For more details about the Microsoft Product Identification Card see here.

If your system just came with Office 2010 Starter, you cannot download it from a official source however Office 2010 Starter is becoming redundant and not worth installing. Instead you should use Microsoft Office Web Apps which has tight integration with SkyDrive and the same functionality or slightly more than Office 2010 Starter.

Microsoft Mathematics may also be installed, this is essentially a free graphics calculator for Microsoft Windows.

Useful third party additions for the full versions of Microsoft Office are Mendeley Desktop Reference Manager and Mathtype both have free and paid versions. The free versions should suffice most users.

Step 13c. Install SkyDrive for Windows

I highly recommend SkyDrive for Windows. This gives users a 7 GB free webdrive which can be accessed via the SkyDrive folder on your computer and within any web brower. Paid plans can give you 100 GB storage.

SkyDrive for Windows is the easiest way to access your SkyDrive from your PC. When you install SkyDrive, a SkyDrive folder is created on your PC. Everything that you put in this folder is automatically kept in sync between your computers (PC or Mac) and SkyDrive.com, so you can get to your latest files from virtually anywhere.

Users may also install SkyDrive for Windows and additional programs in the Windows Live Essentials Suite.

Step 14a. Reinstalling Dell Preinstalled Applications (Media Direct)

Skip Step 14a if your system doesn't have Media Direct.
For the systems with Dell Media Direct, once on the windows desktop, insert the media direct disc It should autorun, install the application, if it doesn't you should navigate to the WindowsMD3 folder and click setup.exe. Use the updater within Media Direct to get it to the latest version.

Step 14b. Reinstalling Dell Preinstalled Applications (Webcam Central)

For some unknown reason Dell does not provide Dell Webcam Software under the drivers and downloads page for most systems. Here is the download link Dell Webcam Software R230103. You may wish to download the latest version of Skype before installing the webcam driver. Note for newer systems Dell Webcam Central may be supplied in My Dell Downloads (Step 14e).

Step 14c. Reinstalling Dell Preinstalled Applications (Dell Support Centre)

Dell Support Centre may be downloaded and installed from here. It only works on home systems and does not work on Precision, Latitude or Optiplex systems. Here is the standalone download link Dell Support Centre.

Step 14d. Reinstalling Dell Preinstalled Applications (Dell Dock)

Dell Dock is also not provided on the drivers and downloads page. Here is the download link Dell Dock.

You may not need or want Dell Dock if you have Dell Stage (this is for newer systems) and can be found in My Dell Downloads (Step 14e).

Step 15. Copy old files from Windows.old

If you have everything on the external hard drive then ignore this step. If not go to computer, then to C then to C:\Windows.old look through the users folder, move all the items (you want to keep) from "documents" to "documents", "desktop" to "desktop", "music" to "music", "pictures" to "pictures", "downloads" to "downloads". Look about in this folder for anything else

Windows.old has old windows files you won't need, old program files you can no longer use and it is very large. Delete it when you have moved whatever you need as it is a very large folder and unnecessary once you have your new windows installed. Note there is more information and an automated tool here.

I recommend using unlocker to delete the Windows.old file as you will get several error messages using the standard windows delete, the folders name is too long, its too big for the recycle bin and you don't have permission. Be careful when using this utility as you can cause damage to the windows installation if you delete the wrong file. You may get unlocker from here:

Unlocker 64 bit
Unlocker 32 bit

Ensure that you select the advanced install when installing unlocker as it is bundled with potentially unwanted programs e.g. toolbars and Quickstores, ensure that you select advanced install and don't install any additional components.

Step 16. Visit Windows Update

Go to start > Windows Update

This will open up Windows Update

Click on the optional updates, check each optional date you want.

Select ok. You can review the important updates also.

These will be installed by default on your system. Should you decided not to install an important update not generally recommended), uncheck the box for the update then right click then select Hide Update.

The update I decided to disable is the browser choice update which is an unnecessary and annoying update in my opinion.

Select okay when done. Not the 116 important updates is now 115 as 1 update was disabled. I won't be prompted to install that annoying update again.

Click install updates. The updates should download and install (this may take a while) you may be prompted to restart your computer a few times.

You should check Windows Update again after logging on until it tells you Windows is up to date.

Step 17. Notes on Updating the BIOs 

Dell recommend updating the BIOs to the latest version as there are often enhancements/fixes in the updates.

Know the risks however caution should be taken when updating the BIOs as a failed BIOs = a dead system. Therefore many users opt to stay clear of BIOs updates completely. I personally tend to update the BIOs if available after a clean install.

When you power up your Dell system, you will get the Dell BIOs screen:

On this screen is the model number and the BIOs revision. The BIOs revision typically this of either 2 formats:

• Axx, i.e. A01, A02, ..., A12 etc.

• x.x.xx, i.e. 1.0.0, 1.0.3, 1.1.2, 1.1.4, 1.1.10, 1.1.11 etc.

The higher the number the later the revision.

To reduce the probably of fatal BIOs updates save the BIOS update file to the desktop and close down all programs.

Remove any USB device from your computer except for keyboard and mouse and also remove any CD/DVDs and media cards. Restart computer.

Then double click the file and run it as an administrator. Don't touch the computer until the BIOs update is complete. It should automatically log you off, update the BIOs and restart the computer.

Don't power down the computer during the BIOs update as this will ensure your system is rendered completely useless. Ensure both the battery is at full charge and the AC adaptor is plugged in when updating the BIOs on a laptop.

Step 18. MultiMonitor Software 

Skip this step unless you are using 2 or monitors. For those that are using 2 monitors I recommend downloading and installing Actual Windows Manager or Actual Multiple Monitors. This will give you a taskbar on each monitor completing your Windows experience.

Note you get a 30 day free trial of each product; for the Actual Multiple Monitors after 30 days this will revert to the free version (its worth having around)

The professional version is of course better and I recommend using it or Actual Windows Manager. See here for a comparison between the professional and free version. I wrote a small wiki on thier software here (it needs updated however).

Step 19. Install other Software

For more software recommendations look to the bottom of my Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office Downloads wiki.

I advise you to pay attention when installing any third party software (non-Dell/non-Microsoft). When you can select the advanced setup. Software is often bundled with toolbars, search provider defaults, browsers and/or other programs. The larger software vendors e.g. Ask, Google, Bing (microsoft) pay for bundling their toolbars within the installer. Thus the cost of the software can be made lower or distributed for free in some cases. The advanced setup allows users to disable installation of these toolbars and other programs which they don't want.

>70 % of Internet Explorer crashes are due to these toolbars. For Internet Explorer 9 see:

How to Manage Add-ons
How to Change your Default Search Provider

Other browsers which you may also install for free are:

Google Chrome with Adblock
Firefox with Adblock Plus

Note some things work better in Internet Explorer than in the other browsers e.g. SkyDrive and Microsoft Office Web Apps likewise YouTube (especially with the adblock), Google Docs and Google services will work better in Google Chrome. Firefox has a variety of third party extensions. You can of course use all three and switch between them for individual tasks.

Step 20. Use Your computer 

That's everything done, you should have a fully functional system with peak performance.☺ 

Any ideas/suggestions for improvements are always welcome. Please leave these in the comments below.

If you are experiencing any further problems, post on the correct forum (ensure that you provide basic information such as what Operating System you are trying to install or have installed e.g. Windows 7 64 bit and the model of the Dell e.g. Dell XPS 8300).

Feedback for these wikies and your overall forum experience is welcome in the Has the Forum Helped You? thread.


Dr Philip Yip
Tech Enthusiast and Author of the Unofficial Dell Windows Reinstallation Guide

Windows FAQs and OEM Downloads

#IDoNotWorkFor Dell
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