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.

Step 2. Use Belarc Advisor

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 Windows XP and 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.

Step 3. Creating a Windows XP Reinstallation USB.

Prepare your XP USB by following Steps 1 and Steps 2b in my wiki Upgrading your XP Reinstallation Media with SP3, WMP11 and IE8.

Step 4. Obtaining Microsoft Updates

* 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)

Dell System Drivers may be found on the Dell Drivers and Downloads page.
You can input your service tag. This is the 7 digit code found at the base or side of your unit. Alternatively you can select your product model.
Ideally you should input your service tag as your service tag is meant to give you the full set of drivers specific to your system. However for many systems inputting the service tag is giving the wrong drivers and/or neglecting critical drivers such as the chipset.
I hence recommend selecting the system by model type.
This will take you to the Product Support page. Select drivers and downloads:
For some reason the default OS is listed as BIOs, you should change this to WIndows XP otherwise you won't get all the drivers you need:
Dell are upgrading their website at the moment so you may get the following (older) interface instead of the above (newer) interface.
Select Drivers and Downloads (if you have a random picture of a box like I did, then select "select a different product" then "Drivers and Downloads).
Switch to the OS that you plan to install.
When downloading the drivers, I recommend downloading via the browser as many users have experienced problems with the Dell Driver Download Manager.

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. The user should download only the correct drivers for their system.
Downloading from the ftp website is faster but designed for advanced users. Other users should follow 5a and skip 5b however if a download link is broken in 5a the ftp website is the best place to look.

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 XP 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.
See here for more information about Dell Desktop Software.
• 2. Chipset Drivers (Intel then Ricoh/Realtek/Any other ones) - Under Chipset.
• 3. Video Driver (Look only for Intel/ATI/nVidea ones applicable) - Under Video. 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. In desktops the user can instead download the latest driver from the ATI/nVidea websites.
• 4. Conexant Drivers - Under Communications
• 5. Network Ethernet Driver (Usually mentions Ethernet/Broadcom) - Under Network
• 6. Wireless Card - Under Network
• 7. Touchpad - Under Mouse & Keyboard
• 8. Audio (SigmaTel/IDT/Realtek/Creative; any drivers installed before applications) - Under Audio. If you have a Creative Soundblaster you may be able to get a later driver from the Creative Website.
• 9. Intel Matrix Storage Manager (If applicable) - Under SATA Drives*
• 10. TV Tuners/Other Video (If applicable) - Under Video
• 11. Bluetooth (If applicable) - Under Network.
• 12. Dell Quickset or Dell ControlPoint (laptops only) - Under Applications
• 13. Webcam Driver found Under Mouse & Keyboards*
These are the main drivers, there will of course be some other variants 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.
* I usually only bother installing the Intel applications. See Step 6 for preparing the Intel SATA drivers for  use during the Windows installation.

Step 6. Preparing the Drive For Installing Windows (DBAN)

Step 6 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 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.
Remove any USB devices in particular external hard drives! which you don't want to securely erase.
Insert the DBAN USB and power down your system. Press F12 at the Dell BIOs screen and select boot from USB.
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 using upgrade product keys as the original version of Windows is not there.
To get around this reinstall the old operating system, activate it and then proceed with the clean install of Windows XP.

Step 7. Installing Windows XP

Insert bootable USB flash stick. Power down your computer. Hold F12 while powering up your computer (at the Dell BIOs screen).
Select boot from USB. You will get the following screen:
Select the 0 Windows XP/2000/2003 Setup. This screen will quickly display.
Then the following screen will display, select First part of XPpSP3 Setup from partition 0.
 This will begin the Windows setup.
The first 2 screens will quickly flash ignore them.
When you get this screen press Enter, you do not want to repair.
You then get the EULA, read it and then press F8 to agree and continue with the setup.
This will take you to this screen.
Press esc and continue with a clean install.
The next screen is important. Here you may create a partition, or delete any existing partitions. The way you do this is optional. I am just going to select the largest partition and select Enter.
This warning comes up but I just press c.
Then I select format the partition with the NTFS system (use NTFS and not FAT).
You will get a warning, press f to continue with the format.
It will then begin to format.
Once it is formatted Windows will begin to copy files to the partition.
The computer will restart after all the files are copied. You will be presented with this screen. Select 3 Second part of XPpSP3 setup Boot first internal disk and press enter. This should be selected and automatically continue in 10 seconds if you don't press anything.
 The setup then continues.
There will be a small command window to the bottom keeping the USB active (don't close it - it tells you not to).
You will be asked to input your Regional and Language options (American is usually default).
Select customise and change to your own preferences (I have selected U.K.).
Click OK and then select details to ensure the keyboard is also set to as your desired.
Select Add
Select the correct one from your list.
Select OK and finally change the top from US to your personal preference (or the American Keyboard layout will still selected).
Select OK. In the next screen enter your name and organisation.
Enter the computer name and administrator password (optional).
Select time zone, again mines is set to the U.K.
You will then be asked for network settings, choose typical unless you want to configure everything yourself.
Choose a Workgroup, just make one up of your own and put all your home computers on it or choose a Domain if you have a large organisation.
Wait for the setup to finish.
Click okay to change the screen resolution.
Select OK again.
Don't worry if it looks bad, likely the Video drivers aren't installed yet. The setup is almost finished.
Here the Welcome to Windows XP Theme starts playing (unfortunately most people don't hear it as the sound drivers aren't installed at this point...). Click next.
You will be asked for network settings, most people won't have their network drivers isntalled so i recommend just selecting skip.
Register with Microsoft if you wish.
Enter all the usernames and then select next.
This takes you to the final screen of the setup. Click Finish.
Note for non-Dell Media you will likely have to input a product key. For Dell media this and activation should be sorted out automatically in the BIOs.
Note for XP Media Centre Edition there will be a few additional steps, it will install the Media Centre Edition programs, you shouldn't touch your computer at this point.

Step 8. Install the System Drivers

Ensure you keep to the order listed above for best results. You should again have downloaded these at Step 5 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. If no installer runs, you will need to navigate to this folder and click on any setup.exe files.
We will take for example R114079 the chipset driver for my Latitude D820. Double click the downloaded .exe file.
Select Continue
Select OK.
Select yes.
Select Ok. At this stage the setup should start and you should follow through with the installation. If it does not the driver is not installed. Most installers automatically run; in the case of those that don't one would have to go to C:\Dell\Drivers\R114079 (you will have to go to the number of your driver) and click setup.
Follow through with the setup.
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 9. Activation

You will get a prompt if you need to activate. If using a Dell disc on a Dell system in the method described above, then this shouldn't happen.

Step 10. Ensure there are no Errors in Device Manager

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

Select the hardware tab and then click on device manager.
If you have an error, you likely have not installed a system driver and should quickly check that you haven't missed downloading or installing something.
Right click the device with the error and select properties. Go to the driver tab and select Hardware IDs. If you wish you can check the Windows Update Catalogue with this information. In order to help us assist you with driver issues on the forums, start a new post in the Microsoft OS forum, include the above information alongside the model of Dell and the Operating System.
Note restart your computer after installing all the drivers and then recheck for an error

Step 11a. 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 Malw_rebytes' 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.
My personal recommendation for security programs and many other programs may be found in my Useful Software for Microsoft Windows [Free] wiki where I list download links and then give an explanation to what most of the programs do. If you know of any other free high quality software please feel free to post in the comments at the bottom of the software wiki.

Step 11b. Install a Security Program and your Applications (Microsoft Office)

The full version of Microsoft Works, Microsoft Office 2007/2010 and Microsoft Works installation files may be found in my Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office Downloads wiki.
'3Cp style#3D"text-align: justify;">Microsoft Office 2003 is not downloadable and you should have a separate installation CD and Product Key for it.
For Office 2010 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.
Microsoft Office will require a product key, you will need to purchase one if you don't have one. Microsoft Works does not require any product key.
Any ideas/suggestions for improvements are always welcome. Please leave these in the comments below.

Step 12a. 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 12b. 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 12c. 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.

Step 13. Installing the Royale/Royale Noir Theme

To install the Royale (Media Centre Edition energy blue theme) and Royale Noir (black theme) on any version of Windows XP. Follow the instructions here.

Step 14. MultiMonitor Software

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 herefor a comparison between the professional and free version. I wrote a small wiki on their software here (it needs updated however).
Actual Windows Manager or Actual Multiple Monitors (Professional Version) will give Windows XP AeroSnap capabilities.#3C/p>

Step 15. 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 16. 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 XP 32 bit and the model of the Dell e.g. Dell Latitude D630).
Feedback for these wikies and your overall forum experience is welcome in the Has the Forum Helped You?thread.