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Everything You Need to Know About Refreshing and Resetting Your Windows 8 PC

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Windows users regularly reinstall Windows (or restore from a recovery partition) to fix system problems. Windows 8 includes easier-to-use “Refresh” and “Reset” options that quickly restore Windows to a fresh, factory default configuration.

Just as mobile devices have an integrated “reset to factory defaults” option, so does Windows 8. You can even create your own refresh image or access these options if your computer can’t boot.

The Difference Between Refresh and Reset

Windows 8 has two factory reset options, named Refresh and Reset. Both reset your computer to a fresh, factory default sate. Refresh preserves your files and installed Modern programs, while Reset removes everything on your system.

When you Refresh your PC:

  • Windows will save your personal files, personalization settings, and Modern apps installed from the Windows Store.
  • Windows will reset your PC settings.
  • Windows will remove all installed desktop programs. A list of the removed programs will be saved to your desktop.

By resetting your computer settings and removing all desktop programs, Windows 8 can “refresh” your PC so it’s more like a fresh install without deleting your personal files.

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When you Reset your PC, Windows will remove everything. Think of this like doing a complete Windows reinstall and formatting your hard drive.

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Should You Refresh or Reset?

If you’re experiencing problems with your computer and want to fix them, you should try refreshing your PC first. Windows will restore system files and desktop programs to their default state, saving all your important personal files (and Modern apps, if you use them.)

If you want to reset your computer to its factory default state – particularly useful if you’re getting rid of the computer and want to remove your personal data, or if you just want a clean start — you should reset your PC instead.

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Under the Hood

Microsoft has explained what’s actually going on under the hood here. When you reset your PC:

    1. The PC boots into Windows RE, the Windows Recovery Environment
    2. Windows RE erases and formats the Windows partitions before installing a fresh copy of Windows 8.
    3. The PC restarts into the new copy of Windows.

When you refresh your PC, the same steps occur. However, before erasing your Windows partition, Windows RE scans the hard drive for your files, settings, and Modern apps. It places them aside, installs a fresh copy of Windows, and puts them back where they were found.

Both refresh and reset involve a fresh installation of Windows, which is why your desktop programs aren’t saved.

Note that it’s always a good idea to have backup copies of your files. If something goes wrong, you wouldn’t want to lose the only copy.

How to Refresh or Reset

If your computer is still working properly, you can refresh or reset it from the PC Settings application within Windows.

If your computer is not booting properly, you can refresh or reset it from the boot options menu. We’ve covered several ways to access this menu. Once you’ve accessed it, use the Refresh your PC or Reset your PC option.

Creating Your Own Refresh Image

Refreshing your PC removes all your desktop programs. If you always install some critical desktop programs, you’ll have to reinstall them every time you refresh your computer. To save time, you can create a custom refresh image after installing the programs you use. They’ll be saved and will come back every time you refresh your computer.

Read More: How to Create a Custom Refresh Image in Windows 8


The refresh and reset features help quickly reinstall Windows. Even for experienced users, the refresh and reset processes are faster than reinstalling Windows the old-fashioned way.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/3/13

Comments (18)

  1. Ron

    My first thought after reading was ITs will run out of business because everyone is resetting.
    Then I remembered, most people who just check email, youtube & play online games don’t read these articles.

  2. nt0xik8ed

    every time i tried to reset/refresh it would restart with the error message saying it failed to refresh/reset. going on 2 weeks and my craigslist ad for a full version and and upgrade of windows 8 and still no hits.

  3. TheAngryPeguin

    “If your computer is still working properly, you can refresh or reset it from the PC Settings application within Windows.”

    If your computer is still working properly, why would you even consider refreshing or resetting it in the first place?!?

  4. Terry

    I did a refresh and ended up with Win 8 telling me my already installed Office Pro 2010 was incompatible with Win 8 (whilst it was running OK before the refresh). I have now reverted to Win 7.

  5. Paul in SF

    First things first. Here I sit, still trying to come up with a justification to “upgrade” from Windows 7 to Windows 8.

  6. Dave

    I find it fascinating that every article promoting Windows 8 features says that you can “quickly” refresh your PC. Working in a retail store where we sell Windows 8 machines (and subsequently return them 1 week later when people hate it) and not once have I gotten a refresh or reset to take any less than 4 hours. Refresh usually takes approximately 4-6 hours and a reset usually takes about 6-8 hours. The first PC I did I thought was broken after 3 hours and it was at 23%. It doesn’t take me 8 hours to fresh install windows 7, find the drivers and do all the updates.

  7. Jenn

    @Dave I just did a refresh on my 2 week old hp laptop that contains about 200 GB of personal files so i could get rid of bloatware and it took approximately 35 minutes.

  8. Jenn

    Well, never mind. Apparently a refresh does not get rid of bloatware. I was misled by another website.

  9. Verve

    We’re taking the advice to upgrade to Windows 8 the next time we buy another computer. It’s such as big time-waster to install a new OS.

    There are too many important matters to attend, liking living, and doing one’s duty.

  10. Paul

    We wouldn’t even need to refresh and/or restore if Windows just kept each app in its own folder and not allow them (without our permission) to touch any other folders. It can be done, so why don’t Microsoft do it?

  11. Alan

    Totally agree. Areas for saving files etc produced using Microsoft programs default to saving on the system drive. Wouldn’t it be better to partition and reserve the system areas for ‘the system’ and not programs and work. Invariably program updates cause system problems and visa versa. Separating these (although with a loss of performance) presumably would allow a user to identify cause and effect without major reloads. Gamers however would no doubt complain.

  12. Harry

    Wish I had read your article before “refreshing” my Win-8 PC. I did not realize that MS considers programs to be apps…thought instructions meant that only apps would be removed, not programs. Should have read instructions more carefully! BTW, my same problem occired in Win-8 and Win-7. A System Restore solved the problem in Win-7 but not in Win-8.

  13. Dianna

    Does Refresh remove personally installed applications, files, etc if they are on another partition and not part of the system partition?

  14. Mo Murphy

    I now know what my ancestors felt when they prepared to leave the old country and come to America. I am about to leave PC and move to Apple. I am worried. Will I be able to live over there with any comfort? Will I understand the language? what about all the possessions that I can’t bring with me? (If I had any!)
    Who will show me what to do and what to say and how to behave in this new Apple world? Will I lose all the things that I accomplished back there (wrote and photo’d and organized)? Damn I am worried. Tell me it ain’t that bad dad. That’s what all my kids who went to the new world before me tell me. But as usual they will say, stick with it Dad? Any suggestions other than stay where I was. This new 27″ IMac had better be kind to me. I just went way out of budget.

  15. Gerry

    Hi, I’m confused with the terminology – Apps and Programs.
    Can you please confirm that a Refresh will remove all the Programs that I installed on my computer many years ago when it was running XP and later Win 7?
    Thanks

  16. Pam

    Thanks, Jenn. I wanted to know if resetting would get rid of bloatware on a new PC. Apparently the answer is NO. And since reinstall disks are no longer available, I believe, with new PC’s, we are trapped unless we go through a long process of trying to uninstall garbage that will never let us uninstall completely! I’m holding on to Win7 as long as possible!

  17. katesisco

    Many years ago when I was young, I took several computer courses. Now I am not sure how to open and close files. What is so irritating about this Win 8 system is that I am prompted to ‘save file history’ which apparently on my computer (even tho it has a drawer) can only be saved to a jump drive and even tho I select monthly it saves daily. I even bought a Norton Security because it has automatic backup altho I am afraid to see if it does so.
    It is 2 months old and I have done two restores the last freezing and I had to take the battery out. It is now as slow as a snail. And the link between my two wireless samsung (computer and dvd ) have never recognized one another!
    What happened to plug and play?

  18. dpawlicz

    Also there was a x: drive involved and now after the refresh it is gone, dissappeard. what the hell is that all about.

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