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.
When you Reset your PC, Windows will remove everything. Think of this like doing a complete Windows reinstall and formatting your hard drive.
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.
Under the Hood
Microsoft has explained what’s actually going on under the hood here. When you reset your PC:
- The PC boots into Windows RE, the Windows Recovery Environment
- Windows RE erases and formats the Windows partitions before installing a fresh copy of Windows 8.
- 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.
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