The other day Ed Bott posted five secrets to faster Windows starts. It's a good listing, but Ed misses what I think is the ultimate tip for achieving a faster, more reliable Windows installation.
What is this marvelous tip? Read on ...
The problem with the modern PC is that no matter how good it is when it's new, eventually it'll get kludged up with junk and reach a point where it's hard to separate out whether the OS has become flaky or whether the problem is with some other bit of code loaded onto the system. All problems (whether they be stability or speed issues) become bundled under the category of "Windows problems" and once you have a couple of problems on a system the system stops being a workhorse and starts being a project (the same thing happens to classic car owners who don't fix things - even minor stuff - as soon as it goes wrong).
So what is this ultimate secret to faster and reliable Windows? Simple. Reinstall the whole system from scratch (or a solid image) periodically and keep a close eye on the junk that you install in the interim. It really is that simple. That was my plan under XP and it'll be my plan under Vista. I'm going to accept that over time, no matter how careful I am and no matter how restrained I am when it comes to installing beta and trial software, my system is going to kludge up with the detritus of normal day to day running.
It's for this reason that I take my time setting up a new system and making sure that I take an image of it once I'm happy (for this I use Acronis True Image). Using this image as a springboard I can nuke the Windows partition and reload in a matter of minutes. Then all that's left to do is reinstall updated drivers and any applications that I really need. The whole process takes an hour or so (plus time to download and reinstall new Windows updates) and I'm left with a clean system. My main workhorse systems have a lifespan of maybe a year before being replaced (or upgraded drastically) so I usually only need to do wipe and reload once.
Just to clarify ... I don't landfill my system yearly, they just move on to other duties. Once I'm done with them, I pass them over to a good home. Dead parts are recycled. Given how many systems I've owned I'm pleased with overall how little waste there's been.
If you're a power user and stuck with a crapware loaded OEM reinstall disc for your PC then I'd recommend either trying to get a plain vanilla OEM disk from your vendor or buying an OEM version separately and using this to reinstall the system. Personally I've not bought an OEM PC in years and even when I buy notebooks I either pick them up without OSes installed or reinstall the OS cleanly. This costs me more, but in the long run I'm saving a lot of time and effort.