Windows 7 Clean Install Guide for ThinkPads

Welcome to PatchySan’s online guide to Clean Installing Microsoft Windows 7 on the ThinkPad. After numerous requests on how to perform this procedure on the ThinkPad I decided to port my PDF guide into what hopefully is an aesthetically pleasing online tutorial for you to follow (which did take a while to code up by the way =__=). Now while some are happy to do this on their own there are others who probably need a bit of a helping hand on doing the “Clean Install” procedure.

If you’re in this camp then you’re welcome to use this guide to help install your preferred version of Windows 7 on your ThinkPad. It does look like a daunting experience for those who are new to this but don’t worry, I try to make things easy to understand and hopefully you become such a pro that you’ll teach me instead!

Please note there isn’t a specific right or wrong way of setting up your Windows 7 installation, throughout the guide I be teaching my preferred method of installing Windows 7 which has been tried and tested (hundred times over!) but you may want to take a slight twist on some sections which you’re feel free to do so.


All information in this article are not officially supported or endorsed by Lenovo/IBM or Microsoft. Therefore Lenovo/IBM and Microsoft has no relation to the information given nor has Lenovo/IBM and Microsoft ever tested or approved these guides. Information from this article are provided “as is” without any warranties or liability from Lenovo/IBM, Microsoft and the author. Any attempt to replicate information is entirely at the risk of the end user, no liability or responsibility will be held by the author from misuse, incorrect installation, lost of earnings, loss of assets or anything the “big man” upstairs does to derail the user (massive respect to him).


There are three sections in this guide which are:

  • Recovery Phase – This section covers creating your factory image recovery discs.
  • Preparation Phase – This covers creating your Bootable Windows Media and obtaining the relevant drivers and software.
  • Installation Phase – This covers checking the BIOS Startup options, switching Legacy BIOS and UEFI modes (if applicable), creating partitions and loading the SATA driver.
  • Finalisation Phase – This covers setting up your Personal and Regional Settings, installing the missing drivers and software as well as Reactivating Windows if necessary.

Before Doing Anything…

This is quite an important section that you should read before proceeding with the guide. Now we all hope things will go smoothly but should something go wrong then it’s always best to have a “Plan B” and that Plan B is Lenovo’s Rescue & Recovery.

Basically when things go horribly wrong that renders your system inoperable, the Rescue & Recovery utility will work its magic and return your system back to its original working factory state as if nothing happened. Sounds good but where do you find this Rescue & Recovery CD? If you were shaking that Lenovo box hoping for a set of CD’s to fall out then it’s best to stop and put it down. Like most computer manufacturers today, many don’t provide users with recovery CD’s anymore. The reason is pretty simple, it saves them money!

Boo hiss – I know we all don’t like scrooges since sharing is caring, but there’s not much we can do about that I’m afraid. What we can do however is to make our own set of Rescue & Recovery CD’s which actually isn’t that difficult to do.

Updated Notes…

For those with Windows 8 preloaded, Lenovo no longer issue the Rescue & Recovery app for this operating system. The backup procedure is now handled by the Windows 8 Recovery Utility, a guide on how to use this program is available here.

As a result the following content below for Recovery Disks will be irrelevant for Windows 8 users and are advised to skip to the Preparation Phase of this guide.

Making Your Lenovo Recovery Discs

Step 1:  Assuming you haven’t tampered the system, switch on the ThinkPad and let it load Windows. Once loaded, go to the “START ORB” (or press the Windows key) and type in “Rescue” in the search bar. It should list up “Rescue & Recovery” and click on that.

Step 2:  You should be presented with a list of options as shown in the screenshot below but the one we’re interested in is the “Factory Recovery Disks” option. Click on it and confirm the prompts to start the process

Step 3: The next screen asks what sort of medium you wish to use for your Recovery procedure and whether you want to create the set now. Using the CD/DVD method tends to be the more reliable so we’re going to use this option, also make sure you check the “Create A Set of Product Recovery Discs Now” to get started.  You’ll need 1x blank CD-R disc and 3x blank DVD-R discs to create your set. Click the “OK” to initialise the process.

Step 4: Rescue & Recovery will start extracting the files from the OS and readies them to be burnt on the blank disc. It will take a bit of time but eventually it will prompt you to insert your first disc. The first disc is the initialisation media, basically this instructs the system to load up the Rescue & Recovery software at start up. Insert your blank CD-R in and wait for the program to finish the first disc. Once its done, simply take out the disc and label it (I called mine Recovery Disc CD1) so you don’t forget.

Step 5: With the first disc is completed it will then prompt you to insert the next disc. In this stage it will back up all the critical OS files and settings for the next 3 blank DVD discs. Insert the next blank disc and wait till its complete. Once done, label (CD2) and repeat again for the next two discs. And before you know it, you’ve completed your set of Recovery Discs! See it wasn’t that hard wasn’t it? 🙂

Installing Windows 7 On The ThinkPad – Preparation Phase

So you decided you want to remove Lenovo’s factory install and start things from scratch. Or maybe you have a shiny new hard drive or SSD that you want to put in but need help installing the OS back on. No problem, in this section we’re going to install a pristine copy of Windows 7 on to your system.


  • It is advised to use the latest version of the Windows 7 disc since certain drivers can cause the system to crash prior to SP1 in UEFI mode (i.e Intel Graphics).
  • Another word of note is that Fingerprint users are advised to use Legacy BIOS mode as there is no official way to get it working under UEFI mode at the time of writing.
  • Make sure you made your set of Recovery Discs before proceeding!

Step 1: Let’s prepare our Windows Installation Media. Assuming you have already downloaded your Windows 7 ISO on to your hard drive you can either burn the ISO into a Bootable DVD Disc or a Bootable USB Flash Drive. The easiest way to do this is to grab a copy of “Windows DVD/USB Download Tool” which you can get from here and follow the simple instructions to create your Bootable Window Media.

**NOTE** For those who want to do an UEFI installation with a Bootable USB Flash Drive the above tool will not work. You’ll need to convert the drive into a GPT partition along with a FAT32 file format. Also UEFI Installations can only be done with 64 bit versions of Windows 7. The easiest way to do it in my experience is to use the free utility called “Rufus” which can be found here.

Step 2: How you obtain your drivers will depend on the following scenario:

SCENARIO 1 – I have Windows 7 preinstalled by the OEM and want to use the same version for my clean install.

If you’re planning to use the same Windows 7 version for your clean install then using your existing Lenovo factory install, go to your “Local Disk” drive on the computer (typically C:) and search for a folder called “SWTOOLS”. Inside there should be a folder called “DRIVERS“, just simply copy this folder to your USB flash drive (this can also be the same USB drive as the Windows Installer). Also download Lenovo System Update and save this on the USB flash drive.

SCENARIO 2 – I want to use a different version of Windows 7 (i.e. 32bit to 64bit) or My ThinkPad system never came with Windows 7 originally.

On the safe side its best to gather the drivers from the Lenovo Support site to avoid compatibility issues. Simply go the Lenovo Driver Matrix site and gather at least the Video Graphics DriverNetwork Driver (this can be either your Ethernet Driver or Wireless Driver depending on how you connect to the Internet), Chipset Driver and Lenovo System Update then save it on an USB flash drive.


Once you acquired the basic drivers don’t forget to download the latest Intel Rapid Storage Technology Drivers and extract the drivers to a new directory (call it Intel RST). For ThinkPads with AMD Chipsets, acquire the AMD AHCI SATA Driver instead (name the folder AMD SATA). Whichever one you choose, place the SATA directory on to the USB Flash Drive.

Step 3: If you happen to have your own Windows 7 Retail Product Key on hand then you can skip this step.

* For those who have Windows 7 Preinstalled by the OEM regardless if it’s 32 bit or 64 bit version – now is the time to back up that Windows Activation Status.

Download and extract the contents (create a new directory called ABR in the process). Run the “activation_backup” application and it will create two new files that contains your product key information and OEM certificate. Copy those including the whole ABR directory on to the USB Flash Drive and proceed to the next step.

* If you happen to have a 32 bit version of Windows 7 that came as part of a Retail Upgrade and want to transfer that to a Clean Install of 64 bit version of Windows 7 then use the Token Restore application instead.

This will backup the upgrade Activation Status and transfer it over to the Clean Install. Extract the application (create a new directory called Token Restore in the process), run the application then click on Backup and select the same directory and it will proceed to backup your activation status for use the next time when you restore it. Copy the whole Token Restore directory on to the USB Flash Drive and proceed to the next step.

Step 4: If necessary backup any files that you may originally have from the system and ensure you have all the basic drivers required as we’re now approaching the Installation Phase of our guide. With the Windows Installation Media in the system, proceed to restart the system.

Installing Windows 7 On The ThinkPad – Installation Phase

In the Installation Phase I’m going to show you how to select either a Legacy BIOS/UEFI Windows installation, load up the Intel/AMD SATA Drivers drivers and create your own partitions.

Updated Notes…

The BIOS implementation has changed since I have written the first version of this guide. ThinkPads that come preloaded with Windows 8 are likely to be locked down with a Secure Boot method that prevents other operating systems to be installed which also includes Windows 7.

Therefore it is highly advised to Disable Secure Boot and Enable CSM Mode in the BIOS to allow installation of Windows 7 on these systems.

Step 1: When the ThinkPad logo appears on the screen, tap the “F1” button to access the BIOS. Depending on which installation type you’re going for check the Startup tab and ensure the DVD/CD-ROM drive or the USB FDD is present in the “Boot” section.

* This next section applies only for Sandy Bridge (and beyond) ThinkPad systems, systems made prior will only have a Legacy Boot option by default. If you have these systems then you can press “F10” to save the settings and go to the next step.

Next we’re going to select whether want to have an UEFI or Legacy BIOS boot up. UEFI are marginally quicker to boot up than Legacy BIOS but it does so at the expense of some compatibility. As mentioned earlier, Fingerprint users are advised to stick with the Legacy BIOS installation due to some compatibility issues. Whichever mode you decide to go for, go on the UEFI/Legacy Boot option and confirm either UEFI Only or Legacy Only and then press “F10” to confirm changes. This will restart the ThinkPad again.

Step 2: With the ThinkPad logo appearing on the screen, this time press the “F12” button to launch the Boot Options. From here, select the DVD/CD-ROM drive or USB Flash Drive to launch the installer. It will take a bit to load and go through the swirling splash screen but eventually you’ll be prompted to register your locale and keyboard layout. Choose whichever option is relevant to you then click on the “Next” button.

Step 3: Not much here but there will be a big button hinting you to “Install Now“. Click to proceed.

Step 4: If your Windows Install Media is version specific then you can skip to the next step, otherwise depending on what version disc you have, you may be prompted which version of Windows you would like to install on the system. Select the version of Windows according to the license you have and click on the “Next“.

Step 5: You’ll be presented with the Software License Agreement, to proceed check the “I accept the license terms” box and click “Next“.

Step 6: On the next screen you’ll be asked whether you want to do an “Upgrade” installation or a “Custom (advanced)” installation, since we’re doing a full clean install we need to choose the “Custom (advanced)” option.

Step 7: On this screen you’ll be shown a list of partitions that you’ll be able to install Windows on as shown below. But before we come to that we need to load our Intel RST/AMD SATA drivers first. On the bottom left there is an option called “Load Driver“, click on that to open a new prompt window.

Step 8: In the prompt window it will tell you the installer will search through the hard drives and external media in order to find the drivers.

This is where your USB drive will come in, click on the “Browse” button then guide the installer to either the Intel RST or AMD SATA directory containing the correct SATA drivers for Windows. If done correctly it should highlight the SATA driver, click the “Next” button to preload the driver ready for the Windows Installation.

You should return back to the Partition setup screen as shown in Step 7 but with a few extra options. Creating a new partition is actually very easy with Windows 7 installer, click on “New” and simply enter the desired Windows Partition size. This is calculated using Megabytes (MB) so if you’re unsure how to get the exact number then use following formula:

Size in GB x 1024 = Size in MB

So if I wanted to create a 60GB partition for example it would be 60 x 1024 = 61440 MB. Windows should also create a System Reserved partition for you alongside which you shouldn’t be alarmed about since it’s perfectly normal. Once you’re happy with the setup of your partitions, hit the “Next” button and Windows will start installing all the necessary components to get the OS running. This may take a bit so you can afford to take a rest and make a nice drink or something. The system may occasionally reboot during the process but you don’t need to input anything during the Installation stage.

Step 9: After Windows finished copying and installing the required components you’ll be presented with a black screen in which the system scans your devices and components. You’re almost done but will need to add a few more details in before entering the desktop. This pretty much covers the Installation Phase of this guide.

Installing Windows 7 On The ThinkPad – Finalisation Phase

The end is near as we approach the Finalisation Phase of our guide. In this section we’re going to reinstall our drivers, reactivate Windows 7 and make some general tweaks and personalisation to our OS.

Step 1: Eventually Windows will ask for your User Name and PC name. The PC name actually identifies your computer on the network so there is a strict protocol on how you can name your PC (generally you can’t have certain characters, exceed the maximum of characters allowed or have spaces in the name – Windows will prompt you if you fall foul of this). Once you’re done click the “Next” button to proceed.

Step 2: You’ll be prompted to enter a password and password hint to your Windows system. This is optional however, you don’t need to fill any details in if you don’t really want to (maybe except Enterprise Editions but I can’t be verify at this time). Once you’re done click the “Next” to proceed.

Step 3: Now you’ll be prompted to enter your serial key in the system. If you bought your own copy of Windows 7 then carefully input the keys and ensure the “Automatically activate Windows when I’m online” box is checked and click “Next” to carry on.

For those who had a pre-activated OEM version of Windows 7 beforehand your job is actually easier thanks to ABR Backup and Restore application, the same applies to those switching from 32 bit to 64 bit and have a preactivated Retail Upgrade activation using the Token Restore application. Leave the section blank and untick the “Automatically activate Windows when I’m online” box. Click “Next” to proceed.

Step 4: Windows will then prompt you to configure the Windows Update. If you use other Microsoft software such as Office for example, it isn’t a bad idea to get security updates for those as well so choosing the “Use Recommended Settings” is the most favourable option. Choosing the second option “Install Important Updates Only” is OK too but this will protect only the Windows system and nothing else. The last one “Ask me later” does absolutely nothing to your system so it isn’t advisable to choose this option.

Generally the first option, “Use Recommended Settings” is the most safest and easiest so choose that one to proceed.

Step 5: You’ll then be prompted to configure your Date and Time as well as the Time Zones you’re living in. Configure what is relevant to you and then click the “Next” button to proceed.

Step 6: For most new ThinkPad systems you probably won’t see this screen so you can skip this step. For certain legacy ThinkPads, your wireless adaptor may be picked up natively by Windows 7 to give you a choice of Network Location. Select whichever location is relevant to proceed.

Step 7: That pretty much should cover things at this stage as Windows 7 will register and finalise all the settings. Eventually you should see your new clean desktop but it will feel a little bit bare at the moment so we’re going to address those issues.

Step 8: Go to the “START ORB” and type in the search box “Device” which should list up “Device Manager” as an option. Click on that to open it.

Under the Device Manager there will be some missing drivers. For those who came from Scenario 2 during the Preparation Phase, you need to cover at least 2 devices which are the Display Adapters (at the moment its Standard VGA Graphics Adapter) and the Ethernet/Wireless Network Controller depending on your method to connect online so that you can run System Update to gather the rest of the missing drivers and utilities.

Ensure you extract the drivers from the Lenovo packages and run the installer when prompted. Most likely you’ll need to reboot to apply these new changes. After this go to next step. On some legacy systems you may find that these critical drivers had been installed by Windows 7 already, if this is the case then you can simply go to the next step. As for those who came from Scenario 1 where you simply copied the DRIVERS folder onto their USB drive, your task is quicker and much easier. Click on one of the missing drivers with the exclamation mark and right-click on it. It should have an option to “Update Driver Software…

The next screen will ask on how you would like to search for the driver. Since we already have the driver in place simply go to the second option, “Browse My Computer For Driver Software“. You’ll be prompted to locate the directory of the drivers, simply click the “Browse…” button and guide it to the “DRIVERS” folder on your USB stick. Click “OK” to confirm the location and then the “Next” button.

Hopefully in the end it will report that it had successfully installed the correct driver for that missing component. Just repeat the step for each missing driver along the list and you should have a clean Device Manager within minutes. Also don’t forget to run the Chipset installer too to update certain hardware. Restart the system for the new drivers to take effect.

Step 9: Once restarted, run the System Update setup from the USB drive and carefully follow the steps. It shouldn’t take too long before it prompts you to restart your system, do so by clicking “Yes“.

After the system had restarted, ensure that you’re connected to the Internet if you haven’t done so yet. This is to allow the System Update application to connect online and go gather the missing drivers and utilities for you. To start the application simply go to the “START ORB” (or press the Windows key) and type in “System Update” and you should see the program in the list. Click on it to start the application and follow the instructions.

Step 10: When the Introductory screen show up simply click “Next” to allow the System Update to scan your system for missing drivers and connect to its database. While System Update progresses it may ask you whether it is OK to send your model information to the System Update Server. Let it do so and check the box so it automatically remembers this preference for next time.

Eventually another window will pop up asking whether you agree with its “License Notice“. Click the “Accept” button and you’ll be presented with a list of drivers and utilities to download on your system. Feel free to choose what is relevant to you by checking the boxes and once you’re happy with your selection, click on the “Download” button so it retrieves the missing drivers and utilities from the server and installs them on your system. You may be required to restart the system once it had done installing the missing apps and drivers.

Step 11: Go to “Windows Update” and install all the required security patches, fixes and enhancements for the system and restart if required. Afterwards, if you already activated the serial key in Windows 7 then this pretty much is the last step of the Finalisation Phase of our guide. Otherwise for those who have yet to activate their Windows that require to transfer their Activation License, please go to the next step.

Step 12: Now we’re going to activate Windows, this section is split between those who are using ABR Backup & Restore and Token Restore.

For those who used ABR Backup & Restore to back up their OEM License:

Simply run the “activation_restore” application which will scan the two files you created earlier (backup-key and backup-cert) and will restore the activation status on your Clean Installed Windows.

Afterwards, check your activation status by going to the “START ORB“, the right-click on “Computer” and click on “Properties“. At the bottom it should describe the status of the Windows Activation status as in “Windows is Activated“. If this is the case then congratulations, you have now completed the final step of the Finalisation Phase of this guide.

For those who used Token Restore to back up their Retail Upgrade License:

Simply run the “Token Restore” application again and click on the “Restore” button. Using the files you created earlier with the program, it will transfer the activation license from the 32 bit OS to the 64 bit OS. To verify the activation status go to the “START ORB“, right-click on “Computer” and then click on “Properties“. At the bottom it should describe the status of the Windows Activation status as in “Windows is Activated“. If this is the case then congratulations, you have now completed the final step of the Finalisation Phase of this guide.

Final Thoughts…

Congratulations, you pretty much completed performing a Clean Installation of Windows 7 on your ThinkPad! You’re now free to install your own applications, give your desktop some personal touches with your own wallpapers and appearances as well as uploading all your personal files and folders.

As for optimising your system why not…

* Check “MSConfig” and disable unwanted applications from starting up to steamline the system during bootup.

* If you’re after a lean system why not visit BlackViper’s Windows 7 SP1 Services Guide to see which Services you can toggle off safely. Personally I use most from the “Safe” list section but of course, don’t just blindly turn off Services that you may need (such as Bluetooth Support if your system has this module). Each service has a description which tells you exactly what it does to aid whether it’s relevant to you or not.

* Have a SSD? Ensure it’s running at its best by having a look at these SSD Optimisation guides.

– SSD Tweaks and Tips

– The SSD Review Guide

* Personally I don’t like the chunky Windows 7 toolbar, if you prefer the previous style similar to Vista’s then you can revert by right-clicking on the toolbar, click on “Properties” then select the following options: – Check “Use Small Icons” and Taskbar Buttons as “Combine when taskbar is full“.

* A maintenance program is handy in keeping Windows running smoothly, use applications such as CCleaner to help clean up clutter on your system and fix registry errors.

* Need an antivirus quick? I personally recommend Microsoft Security Essentials as it provides decent protection, has a low memory footprint and best of all it’s free to use.

Thanks for reading my guide and I personally hope it gave you useful information on how to perform a clean install of Windows 7 on the ThinkPad.