MICROSOFT REQUIRES that every PC bundled with Windows provide some way of restoring the operating system, but too many bundled Windows XP "restore" CDs merely return your hard drive to its factory condition, which wipes out all of your data and any apps you've added.
Fortunately, vendors appear to be moving away from these data-wiping recovery discs.
If your PC lacks a Windows CD, a folder named 'i386' containing the Windows installation files is probably in the root directory of drive C: or in your C:\Win-dows folder. Your system may have several 1386 folders, but the one you want has a lot of files with extensions ending in underscores (__), along with the executable files expand.exe, regeditexe, andwinnt32.exe.
Copy this folder onto a CD for safekeeping, though you'll use the version on the hard drive to actually reinstall Windows. Keep your 25-character Windows Product Key handy—you'll need it to reinstall the OS. The number is on the back of your PC, on the bottom of your notebook, or in some other hard-to-read spot; it may be listed in the documentation as well.
You'll also need a bootable CD for starting the install process. Bart Lagerweij's free PE Builder creates a CD-bootable version of XP called Bart's Pre-install Environment, or BartPE, from either a Windows CD or the i386 folder.
Visit find. pcworld.com/49064 to download PE Builder.
Open PE Builder's main dialog box and select the folder or drive containing your i386 folder, but not the folder itself.
Check Create ISO image, click Burn to CD, and select your CD-RW drive from the Device drop-down menu. If PE Builder doesn't support your burner, double-click the PE Builder-created .iso file to launch your CD authoring program and burn the CD.
To reinstall Windows, boot from the BartPE CD you just created and select Go Programs-A43 File Management Utility Navigate to the hard drive's 1386 folder (do not use the 1386 folder on the CD). Double-click winnt32.exe to start the installation process. When the installation program closes, reboot your PC, remove the CD, and select Microsoft Windows XP Setup from the resulting boot menu. The installation will pick up where it left off.