By default, Windows 8’s Refresh or Reset your PC feature restores Windows to its initial state. However, you can also create custom recovery images containing your favorite programs and system settings.

This feature also allows you to remove the bloatware that comes with a new PC from the recovery image. After you use Refresh or Reset, you’ll find your favorite programs installed, system settings tweaked, and bloatware banished.

How It Works

When you use the Refresh or Reset Your PC feature, Windows copies the contents of a recovery image onto your hard drive, replacing your current system files and programs with the the contents of the recovery image. All your desktop programs and other customizations will be lost. If you used the Refresh feature, your personal files and Modern apps will be preserved. If you used the Reset feature, all your personal files and Modern apps will be lost.

This recovery image normally contains the system’s initial state. If you install Windows 8 yourself, it will be a clean Windows 8 system. If you purchased a Windows 8 PC, it will include any helpful tools or horrible bloatware the manufacturer included.

The recimg command included with Windows 8 allows you to replace the recovery image with your own system image. This means that you could install your own favorite desktop programs or remove the manufacturer-provided bloatware you don’t like. When you use the Reset or Refresh feature, your PC will go back to the state you chose.

Important Note: the “Refresh” feature will just refresh the computer, but the “Reset” feature will wipe everything and basically reinstall Windows to the clean image from the factory. You should always try the Refresh feature first, and make sure to backup your files before using Reset.

First Thing’s First: Set Up Your PC

If you’ve been using Windows 8 for a while, you probably don’t want to create a custom recovery image now. You should create a custom recovery image immediately after setting up your computer the way you want it so it’s clean and customized.

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After getting a new computer, installing Windows 8, or just resetting your PC to its original state, set up the PC how you’d like it. Uninstall the bloatware you don’t like, install your favorite software, and change any system settings you always change. After your system is in your preferred state, you can create a custom recovery image to save that state.

Note that your Modern apps, user files, and user settings will not be preserved in the recovery image, so don’t worry about those. Only your installed desktop programs, system files, and system settings will be preserved.

Create a Custom Image With RecImg

You’ll need to run recimg from an elevated Command Prompt. To open one, type Command Prompt at your Start screen, right-click the Command Prompt shortcut, and select Run as Administrator. You can also press Windows Key + X and select Command Prompt (Admin).

Run the following command to create a new recovery image. You can place the custom image in any folder or give it any name you like, so feel free to change the “C:\CustomRefreshImages\Image1” part of the command.

recimg /CreateImage C:\CustomRefreshImages\Image1

This command creates a custom refresh image from the current system state and sets it as the default. When you refresh or reset your PC in the future, your custom image will be used. If this is all you wanted to do, you can stop now.

Create and Switch Between Multiple Images

Windows 8 allows you to have more than one image. In the future, you can run the command again to create a new image. For example, the following command would create another refresh image known as Image2 and set is as the default image:

recimg /CreateImage C:\CustomRefreshImages\Image2

If you wanted to use Image1 as your default image afterwards, you could use the following command to set your default refresh image;

recimg /SetCurrent C:\CustomRefreshImages\Image1

The following command will show you what your default refresh image is at any given time:

recimg /ShowCurrent

Revert to the Original System Image

After you’re done messing around with custom recovery images, you may want to revert to the original refresh image included with your PC. To do so, just run the following command:

recimg /deregister

This command deregisters the current recovery image. If your PC includes a recovery image provided by its manufacturer, Windows 8 will use that custom image when resetting or refreshing your PC. If there is no system image, Windows will ask for your Windows 8 installation media (a USB drive or DVD) when resetting or refreshing your PC. Either way, you’ll end up with your original system instead of a customized state.

Windows will also fall back to the original recovery image if your custom image is no longer present.

Use a Third-Party GUI

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Microsoft hasn’t provided a graphical interface for the recimg command. It may seem a bit weird that Microsoft is omitting graphical interfaces for important new features, but it isn’t too surprising when you think about it. Recimg is intended for system administrators and geeks, not for average Windows users. An average user might mess up their system and install malware on it before running recimg. At this point, they wouldn’t be able to use the Refresh or Reset Your PC features to return to a clean system state — they’d have to reinstall Windows from scratch.

If you do want a graphical interface, you’ll have to use a third-party tool. The free RecImgManager provides a graphical backup and restore interface that allows you to select between multiple images. It uses the underlying recimg tool to provide this backup functionality.

Recimg is a powerful tool, but it should be used carefully. Only create backups when your system is in a clean state. If you end up with a custom recovery image you don’t want to restore from, you may need Windows installation media to get your PC back to a clean, default state.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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