How-To Geek

Everything You Need to Know About “Reset This PC” in Windows 8 and 10

Windows 10 includes a “Reset your PC” option that quickly restores Windows to its factory default configuration. It’s faster and more convenient than reinstalling Windows from scratch or using your manufacturer’s recovery partition.

Windows 8 had separate “Refresh your PC” and “Reset your PC” options. Refresh kept all your files and personalization settings, but set your PC settings to the default and uninstalled your desktop apps. Reset removed everything, including your files–like doing a complete Windows resintall from scratch.

On Windows 10, things are a bit simpler. The only option is “Reset your PC”, but during the process, you’ll get to choose whether to keep your personal files or not.

How Resetting Your PC Works

When you use the “Reset this PC” feature in Windows, Windows resets itself to its factory default state. If you purchased a PC and it came with Windows 10 installed, your PC will be in the same state you received it in. All the manufacturer installed software and drivers that came with the PC will be reinstalled. If you installed Windows 10 yourself, it will be a fresh Windows 10 system without any additional software.

You can choose whether you want to keep your personal files or erase them. However, all your installed programs and settings will be erased. This ensures you have a fresh system. Any problems caused by third-party software, system file corruption, system settings changes, or malware should be fixed by resetting your PC.

This process is very similar to reinstalling Windows from scratch or using a manufacturer-supplied recovery partition, but is more convenient.

Under the Hood

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

    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.
    3. The PC restarts into the new copy of Windows.

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

Whether you choose to keep your personal files or not, this process involves a completely fresh Windows system. That’s why your desktop programs are erased.

How to Reset Your PC From Within Windows

To reset your PC to its factory default settings on Windows 10, just open the Settings app and head to Update & Security > Recovery. Click or tap the “Get Started” button under “Reset this PC”.

On Windows 8, head to Change PC Settings > Update & Recovery > Recovery to find the equivalent “Refresh your PC” and “Reset this PC” options.

You can choose to either “Keep my files” or “Remove everything”. If you select “Keep my files”, Windows will reset Windows to its default state, removing your installed applications and settings but keeping your personal files. If you select “Remove everything”, Windows will erase everything, including your personal files.

If you just want a fresh Windows system, select “Keep my files” to reset Windows without deleting your personal files. You should use the “Remove everything” option when selling a computer or giving it to someone else, as this will erase your personal data and set the machine to its factory default state. Either way, it’s a good idea to have backups of your important files before using this feature.

In Windows 8, the “Keep my files” option was named “Refresh your PC” and the “Remove everything” option was named “Reset your PC”. Windows 10 simplifies things by calling this process “Reset your PC” and asking what you want to do with your files.

If you choose to remove everything, Windows will ask if you want to “clean the drives, too”. Select “Remove files and clean the drive” and Windows will copy data over the drive to ensure your deleted files can’t be recovered. This is the ideal option to use when you’re selling or giving away the PC (or its hard drive).

How to Reset Your PC From the Boot Menu

If your Windows PC isn’t booting properly, you can reset it from the boot options menu. We’ve covered several ways to access this menu. However, this menu will also appear automatically if Windows can’t boot.

Select Troubleshoot > Reset this PC to reset your PC from the menu.

How to Get a Fresh Windows 10 System Without the Bloatware

The “Reset this PC” option is convenient, but there’s one big problem with it: if your PC manufacturer installed a lot of junk software you don’t want at the factory, resetting your PC will bring all that junk back.

Thankfully, with Windows 10’s Anniversary Update, there’s now an easy way to get a fresh-from-Microsoft Windows 10 system.  Just click the “Learn how to start fresh with a clean installation of Windows” link on the Settings > Update & Security > Recovery screen.

The new “Give your PC a fresh start” tool will download a Windows 10 image straight from Microsoft and install it on your system, giving you a fresh-from-Microsoft system with none of that factory software installed. The hardware drivers you need should be automatically downloaded from Windows Update after you’re done. If you need a hardware driver or utility that isn’t automatically installed from Windows Update, you’ll find them on your PC manufacturer’s download site.

Windows 8 allowed you to create a custom refresh image. Whenever you refreshed or reset your PC, it would use your custom image instead of the default one. For example, you could uninstall bloatware that came with your PC, install important software, or change system settings and then create a refresh image with the current system state. However, this option is no longer present in Windows 10–but the bloatware-less option is at least a nice consolation prize.

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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