I don’t know if it’s an age thing, an experience thing, or a “simply being lazy” thing, but in the last year, I’ve run into two problems with Windows that could have been simply been fixed by doing this one trick when building a new PC.
The first problem related to exceptionally high CPU utilization moving the mouse around the desktop. The then-brand-new Core i9-12900K would idle cores when the mouse wasn’t being moved, but move it just a little and bam! Cores spike up to 100 percent.
The second problem related to a completely different system: A new Core i5-13600KF on a Z790 motherboard.
During file transfers from that system’s Samsung 980 Pro SSD to a larger hard drive, the file transfers would eventually stall out and never finish. This despite no problems copying from a USB key to the desktop. New drivers, removing and reinstalling devices from the device manager, and pulling drives all made no difference.
I would spend an hour or so trying to trouble shoot each problem with no success but you know the one easy trick that would I’m certain would have prevented these problems?
Installing a clean copy of Windows in those new builds.
Yes, I’ll say that again: Installing a fresh copy of Windows on any new PC would have 100 percent eliminated these issues.
How do I know? I know because the two situations I mentioned above aren’t my own tech support nightmares, but two friends who casually asked for my help assessing “some weirdness in their new builds.” Both started over text messaging with the usual 20 questions. Did you update drivers? Did you do this? Did you do that? No change? How about this?
Finally I asked the first friend what I assumed was a rhetorical question: “This is a clean install of Windows right?” After a very long pause, the person sheepishly ponied up the truth that no, the OS drive was simply unplugged from the older 10th-gen Intel system and plugged into the new 12th-gen Intel build.
Look, I get it. It’s easy and it can work just fine—but in this case it wasn’t, and the system’s truly bewildering behavior made zero sense and had me scratching my head for an answer. Once I learned that it was an OS drive swap from an older system, I simply recommended a clean install and washed my hands of it.
Sure, I could recommend uninstalling all existing drivers, running a driver removal program, trying to reboot, and then installing the latest drivers to see if it would clean it up—but I had had it. Rather than being told from the get go that it was a self-created tech support issue, I had to guess 40 times what was wrong before getting to the truth.
A few months later, however, I heard from a second friend who had the odd file transfer stalling issue mentioned above. You guessed it—25 text messages and video proof of the file transfer stalling later, I had to ask: “Wait, this is a clean install right? I mean, X (both my friends know each other, believe it or not) wasted half my day trying to guess what his problem was and waited until the end to admit he didn’t do a clean install.”
“No, it’s the same install I’ve had for a few systems now.” Yes, that OS install has moved not from just one box, but through several different CPUs and motherboards.
My response was a two word expletive I’m not allowed to repeat here or on broadcast TV where the FCC still has power. Minutes later I was told that “it’s never been an issue before.” Yes, yes, it never was an issue before, but NOW it’s an issue and it’s somehow my problem.
And frankly, if I had been told up front that it was a drive swap without a fresh Windows install, I would have simply washed my hands with the answer that a nuke and pave would be the right solution. Instead, I responded with a YouTube clip from the Michael Mann movie Heat, where Al Pacino eloquently tells a local chop-shop dealer not to waste his time. No, I can’t link that scene either.
Both friends who had these issues are not rookie PC builders, mind you. Both have been in the industry, build their own PCs, and have literally built dozens and dozens of PCs. I understand why they did it. For those who just want to chill on their PC after a hard day at work, having to move your just-right OS to a new PC build is about as relaxing as moving homes.
In my case, I address that “I’m to lazy to reinstall Windows” by just never upgrading PCs. The machine I just kicked to the curb was running Windows 8.1 on a 2nd-gen Intel CPU. And my current Intel 7th-gen Windows 10 machine, while newer, is so slow that the laptops I test are literally faster than my desktop. Even if I had the latest Ryzen 7000 or an Intel 13th-gen processor to move to (now is a great time BTW!) my main reason for not doing so is because I’d have to move Windows too.
The not-moving syndrome is actually something Microsoft has been trying to address in recent versions of Windows. Now, logging into a Microsoft account lets the OS restore applications, log-ins, and documents from your other PCs, similar to how smartphones restore apps and settings for you. The convenience, if it ever gets as good as a phone, is actually quite useful. Microsoft’s moves aren’t altruistic of course, because it knows if it’s easy to move from PC to PC, you might actually buy a new PC more regularly than you do now. I look forward to that day when it all works too.
In the meantime though, if you want your new PC build to work right from the get go: please, please, please install a fresh copy of the OS too. If you’re worried about losing data, just buy a shiny new fast SSD to install it to and keep the older OS safely set aside. And if you do have problems, make sure you tell the person you’re asking for help if you did a clean install or simply transferred that drive. It’ll make everyone’s day go a lot smoother.