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:
- 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.
- 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.