Before You Reset Windows, Make Sure You Back Up!
Before we look at how to reset Windows, you should ensure you have a recent backup of your data. Performing a factory reset will wipe out all your installed programs, and in some cases, your files. You don’t want to leave anything behind.
Make sure you know what to back up from your computer, then check out how to back up your Windows PC to the cloud. Once you have a safe copy of everything, you can proceed with reinstalling Windows.
1. How to Factory Reset Windows 10 Using the Built-In Method
Factory resetting Windows was once an inconvenient process, but Microsoft introduced a much easier way to do so in Windows 8. This is also included in Windows 10 and is the best way to factory reset a Windows computer in most cases.
To access this Windows reinstall option, head to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. You’ll see a Reset this PC header; click the Get started button underneath this to begin.
Keep Your Files or Remove Everything?
You’ll have two initial options to choose from when you reset Windows 10 this way: Keep my files or Remove everything.
Picking Keep my files sets your OS options back to default and removes all your installed apps (such as browsers, Microsoft Office, and games), but keeps your files like documents and music. True to its name, Remove everything is a full factory reset: it puts all options back to factory defaults and removes your files and apps. Afterward, Windows will be like it is on a brand-new computer.
Though the Keep my files option will retain your personal data, you should still back up before using it in case something goes wrong.
Cloud Download vs. Local Reinstall
On modern versions of Windows 10, you’ll next have to choose how you want to reinstall Windows. There are two ways: Cloud download or Local reinstall.
Local reinstall uses files on your current system to construct a fresh copy of Windows. While it saves you from having to download any files from the internet, it also won’t work if your Windows installation is corrupted.
With Cloud download, the process will instead download a fresh copy of Windows 10 from Microsoft over the internet. This reinstalls the version of Windows 10 you’re currently running (plus any minor updates), so it won’t upgrade you to a newer feature update.
Download Windows takes several gigabytes of data, so take care if you’re on a limited connection. If you have a fast internet connection, though, this option can be faster than the local reinstall.
Options When Resetting Windows 10
Next, you’ll see an Additional settings menu that has a Current settings section, containing a summary of what you’ve chosen to do so far. There’s also a Change settings link you can click for more options.
If you chose Keep my files earlier, the only option under Change settings is a redundant Download Windows? toggle for cloud or local reinstall. There are more choices when you pick Remove everything.
Enabling Clean data? will obliterate everything on the drive to reduce the chance of someone recovering it later. Though this process takes some time, you should use it if you’re getting rid of your computer. It’s not necessary if you’re keeping your machine.
Turn on Delete files from all drives? to erase everything on all drives you have connected to your computer. This includes external hard drives and recovery drives. Because you probably have backups and other important files on those drives, you shouldn’t use this unless you want to permanently erase everything associated with your computer.
If you purchased your PC off-the-shelf, you’ll also see a Restore preinstalled apps? slider here. Disable this, and Windows won’t include manufacturer bloatware and other preinstalled apps when it reinstalls. This option won’t appear if you initially installed Windows yourself.
Confirm the Windows 10 Reset Operation
Click Confirm when you’re satisfied with the options above. The final screen before you start the factory reset is titled Ready to reset this PC.
You’ll see a list of actions that the process will perform. Click View apps that will be removed if you want to double-check what apps are affected by this process.
Finally, confirm the operation by clicking Reset, then wait for the process to complete. If you’re factory resetting a laptop, make sure you plug it in to avoid losing power during the operation. You’ll need to walk through the Windows 10 setup procedure once it’s done.
Make sure you take the recommend steps after reinstalling Windows 10 afterward.
2. Factory Reset Windows 10 Using the “Fresh Start” Option (Older Versions)
If you’re on an older version of Windows 10, Microsoft offers a different way to factory reset your computer, called Fresh Start. Starting with Windows 10 version 2004, this option was replaced by the process described above, so use that if you’re on a modern version.
To access Fresh Start, on the Settings > Update & Security > Recovery page, click the Learn how to start fresh with a clean installation of Windows link at the bottom. This will open the Windows Security app, showing the Fresh start option. Click Get started to proceed.
Note that if you’re on at least Windows 10 version 2004, clicking this link text will open Microsoft’s Fresh Start page in your browser instead.
Here’s how Fresh Start works:
- Fresh Start always keeps your personal files, with no option to remove everything and do a full factory reset.
- Fresh Start downloads the latest version of Windows 10 from Microsoft, with no option to reinstall from local files.
- Because of this, Fresh Start avoids clutter by removing all non-standard Windows apps, including manufacturer bloatware. The only exception are Microsoft Store apps that were installed by the manufacturer, which stay.
- Finally, Fresh Start keeps “some Windows settings,” but doesn’t specify which ones. The above reset process does not keep any of your settings.
To summarize, Fresh Start downloads a fresh copy of the most recent Windows 10 version, keeps your files and some settings, and doesn’t leave any manufacturer bloatware, aside from Store apps. In comparison, the standard reset option lets you choose whether to keep your files, doesn’t save any settings, installs the same version of Windows, and lets you choose how to reinstall the OS.
Keep in mind that after doing a reinstall this way, you may need to enter license keys for premium apps again, and will likely need to update system drivers.
3. Reinstall Windows Manually Using Windows Installation Media
If you’re not using Windows 8 or 10, want to know how to factory reset Windows 10 without the Settings menu, or don’t want to use the methods above for some reason, you can always factory reset Windows using installation media. This allows you to install a fresh copy of Windows on your computer and wipe out everything currently on it.
For Windows 10, see how to install Windows 10 from a bootable USB drive. This will walk you through the process of loading the Windows 10 installer on a flash drive, booting from it, and erasing your current installation with a fresh copy. This is free and easy, as long as you have a spare USB drive.
If you want to reinstall Windows 7 or 8 from scratch, you can use Microsoft’s Windows 7 download tool or Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 download tool. These let you download an ISO to burn onto a flash drive or DVD so you can reinstall Windows. You’ll need to provide a valid Windows 7 product key to download its ISO, but that’s not necessary for downloading Windows 8.1.
Either way, simply insert the USB drive or disc containing your install media, then boot from the removable device. You’ll be greeted with the Windows setup screen, which you can proceed through to install a clean copy. Remember that doing this will remove everything currently on the drive where you install Windows.
Note that the methods in #1 above allow you to reinstall Windows in effectively the same way without manually creating a USB installer, so they’re much more convenient.
4. Factory Reset Windows 10 From Boot Using Advanced Methods
While the three methods listed above will work for the most users, there are a few advanced ways to reset Windows, if you need them.
To run a Windows 10 factory reset from boot (in case you can’t get into Windows normally, for example), you can start a factory reset from the Advanced Startup menu.
To launch this menu if Windows is working properly, visit Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. Under the Advanced startup section, click Restart now to reboot into Advanced Startup. Alternatively, you can open the Start menu and expand the power menu there, then hold down the Shift key as you click the Restart button.
In case you can’t do either of these, try pressing F11 as you boot, which will open Advanced Startup on some systems. Failing this, Windows will launch Advanced Startup on its own after three failed boots.
Once Advanced Startup is open, choose Troubleshoot, then select Reset This PC to begin the same factory reset procedure as #1 above. You can pick Advanced options for more choices, but none of them let you factory reset Windows 10 unless you have a saved system image.
Otherwise, you may be able to boot into the BIOS and directly load the recovery partition on your hard drive, if your PC manufacturer included one. However, if you factory reset with this method, you’ll reinstall all the manufacturer bloatware. While it’s not ideal, it can work if you have no other options.
You can also type “create a recovery drive” into the Start menu to access a tool that lets you make your own. However, this requires a fair bit of space, and you’ll have to do it before you have a problem. If you didn’t already make one, you’re best off making a new Windows 10 install disk, as described in #3.
Just to cover all the bases: there is no way to factory reset Windows from the BIOS. Our guide to using the BIOS shows how to reset your BIOS to default options, but you can’t factory reset Windows itself through it. There’s also no way to factory reset your laptop without turning it on; you need power to perform all the above operations.
Now You Know How to Factory Reset Your Windows Computer
You have several options for factory resetting a Windows computer. If you’re using Windows 8 or 10, the built-in factory reset option is quick and easy. Windows 7 users should download an image from Microsoft and perform a clean installation that way.
Whether you need to fully reset your laptop before you sell it, or just want to refresh your PC for a performance boost, one of these methods will have you on your way as fast as possible.
Next time, you might not even need to reset Windows. There are other ways to get your computer to a clean state without reinstalling.
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