[RESET] Restore Your PC To Factory Defaults?

Category: Windows

A despairing reader writes, “I’ve managed to mess up my Windows PC to the point of no return. I give up; I just want to reset it to its factory-fresh condition and start all over. How do I do that?” Read on and I'll tell you how, and why you might NOT want to do this...

How To Reset Your PC To Factory Defaults

Most Windows PCs can be restored to their fresh-out-of-the-box condition. The very rare exceptions are systems cobbled together in the basement of someone who takes shortcuts without regard for the long-term welfare of his customers. If you didn’t buy your system out of a car trunk in a Walmart parking lot, it’s safe to say you can restore it to factory defaults.

A properly configured Windows system contains a hidden, protected hard drive partition that holds an image of the factory-fresh system settings and software. Restoring that image to the main drive partition resets your system to its factory-fresh condition. Windows includes a special software routine that does system resets automatically, eliminating human error. It’s that simple, in theory.

But think about what’s missing from a factory-fresh system: software or digital products you've paid for, free software you've downloaded, irreplaceable documents, photos, videos, and more that you created or stored on that drive; all the registry settings that have been tweaked and tuned over the years to make your system “just right” for you.

Windows Factory Reset - Recovery Disk

In practice, you probably don’t want to lose everything that you have added to your hard drive since you acquired that system. So before resetting to factory defaults, copy everything you want to keep off the hard drive. My article, “Free Online Backup And Software Options,” http://goo.gl/n1UNLR will help you backup critical files easily and with little or no cost.

Another consideration, which looms larger the older your system is, is that of Windows Updates. The factory-default image file contains the version of Windows that was the latest as of the date Windows was installed on the hardware. That date may be months or years before the system was sold to you. You will need to spend many hours downloading and installing perhaps hundreds of Windows updates after resetting to factory defaults,

But Wait, There's More... (a lot more)

A factory reset of your Windows computer is a drastic last resort. A better option in almost every case is to repair it. In my ebook Everything You Need to Know About Windows, I offer dozens of tips and tools you can use to diagnose and fix common Windows problems.

If you are struggling with viruses, spam, poor performance, or privacy concerns, you'll find answers in plain English.

All of the third-party application software (paid or free) you now use will vanish when the system is reset. Be sure you have the CD or installation files for any apps that you want to re-install, and the registration keys if necessary. If the installation files you have are old, plan on spending time downloading and installing critical updates specific to that app. Don't forget that your printer and other peripherals will need to be reinstalled as well.

Once that's all done, you can restore your documents, photos and other personal files from the backup you made. Finally, redo all of the system settings to your liking. This includes your Windows theme, mouse settings, display settings, and any customizations or extensions you've applied to Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and other software.

If all of these caveats don’t deter you, here is how to reset your Windows system to its factory defaults:

Windows 10 has a straightforward “reset” button. To find it, press the “Win” button plus the A button on your keyboard. Click “All Settings” on the resulting screen, followed by “Update & Security” and then “Recovery.” Choose “Reset this PC.”

A new window will appear, offering options to “Keep files” or “Remove everything.” The first option keeps your documents, images, etc. The second option removes them. Both options remove all installed software except Windows itself.

Similarly, on Windows 8, you'll find Refresh and Reset options by going to Settings > Update and Recovery > Recovery.

Restoring a Windows 7 System

Windows 7 does not have a “reset” button. Instead, you must re-install Windows manually. There are two ways to do this.

Option 1: Your Windows installation or recovery files may be on a CD that was supplied with your computer at the time of purchase, or you may have purchased a Windows installation CD. Insert the CD, restart your computer, and follow the instructions to begin the process.

Option 2: Many OEMs (computer vendors) create their own customized versions of Windows, including with the operating system any “enhancements” they add to their systems. Such customized versions of Windows may be called “recovery disks” and reside on a hidden hard drive partition. OEMs also create their own customized recovery apps to manage re-installations exactly as they want them performed. Here is a list of OEMs and their recovery apps:

  • Acer: Acer eRecovery or Acer Recovery Management
  • ASUS: ASUS Recovery Partition or AI Recovery
  • Dell: Dell Factory Image Restore, DataSafe, Dell Backup & Recovery
  • Gateway: Gateway Recovery Management
  • HP: HP System Recovery or Recovery Manager
  • Lenovo: Rescue and Recovery, ThinkVantage Recovery (on ThinkPads)
  • Sony: Sony Vaio Recovery Wizard

Running the appropriate app on your system will launch a controlled restoration of Windows and any other software the vendor originally installed on your system. As I described earlier in this article, restoring your computer to "factory fresh" condition can involve a lot of work after the fact to get back to good, because all of your software, personal files and settings must be restored. I recommend it only as a last resort.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[RESET] Restore Your PC To Factory Defaults?"

Posted by:

Raymond Coghlan
13 May 2016

All your advice and hints appear to only apply to PC platforms, do you ever cover the Mac platforms?

Posted by:

13 May 2016

If you have Windows disks (from Microsoft), sometimes you can do a repair install and keep your files. You will probably lose your settings but keep most other stuff. But I haven't tried that in a long time so I don't remember exactly what gets messed up.

Posted by:

13 May 2016

Too late for this despairing reader, but would a system image taken on a new computer after everything had been installed and updated given a less drastic option to try first?

I had thought that Windows kept a lot of restore points and you could go way back seems not to be an option. I just checked mine and there are only a few saved restore points, all fairly recent.

I do hope readers take note of your oft repeated advice to BACK UP regularly.

Posted by:

13 May 2016

Is there a way to update the image on the hidden partition so a factory restore can include all the purchased software and drivers?

Posted by:

Donald deMaintenon
13 May 2016

I reset my computer to factory specs, because I clicked on a news feed that was sponsored ,turns out it was that Adobe Flash, and just clicking on it deposited a worm virus, and of course a phone # to call, they claimed to be Microsoft, but wanted $400, a one time fee to fix my computer...That woke me up immediately..I had to unplug my computer and disconnect the internet, cause the guy un the phone was a real monster, anyway I rest to factory specs, I'm worried that worm might still be on my computer.??? is it ??

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you did a reset, nothing should remain from before.

Posted by:

13 May 2016

I agree wholeheartedly that a Windows "Reset" shouldn't be done blindly, but should be carefully planned for. I've done a number of them for customers as well as family members, with each version of Windows having different challenges... the distinctions you list, being spot-on. If people will take the time to read and follow those steps, they're very likely to be happy with the results.

Before starting, I always insist on creating a current, external backup of EVERY FILE on the person's hard drive, even if they tell me that they subscribe to a backup plan that takes care of it. (In the past, I found a few cases where a plan wasn't backing up some files that the customer definitely needed and they were very unhappy when those could not be recovered afterward.)

Posted by:

Chris Russell
13 May 2016

Would think running SCF and DISM would accomplish similar thing as reset, but no loss of 3rd party programs and anything else on the disc.


Posted by:

Est Phil
13 May 2016

I use a program called "RollBack Rx". It takes snapshots of your system at whatever intervals you wish to set it at and you can keep several of these snapshots. You can restore the computer back to any of these snapshots at startup which would eliminate any problems or viruses caught after the snapshot was taken. It's not perfect but it's saved me several times.

Posted by:

Calvin Brown
13 May 2016

To get my computer back, I use ESUSES tobo back up. It's not free but you can count on it to get your computer back to exactly the way it was, weather it be a day,week,or month. depends on how often you set it to back up. I mean it can put it back exactly the way the way you had it from the programs to the settings. and I don't think that the one time charge is that bad, I payed I think around $39.95 I swear on this product, it's help me in putting in a ssd hard drive, to getting rid of any thing that's not right with my computer back to the time of the last back up, and it does it in about and half hour.

Posted by:

13 May 2016

I go to some trouble to configure my C partition so that it only has the OS and applications. I configure a D partition to have all my data files, user directories, etc. It is a little bit of work to do this and requires some technical knowledge if you want to get everything not OS related to the D partition. For example, moving Outlook .pst files, etc. But the advantage is that when I take weekly image backups of my C and D partitions, I can restore a backup of the C partition without losing anything from the D partition. So if the OS gets messed up it is easy to get back to a good working system.

Posted by:

13 May 2016

I am the "despairing reader" in question. I always back up my files--thanks to Bob Rankin. The computer is now back to 99.99% of where it was--with one exception: Corel's WordPerfect will no longer allow me to install _only_ WordPerfect but insists that I install the entire WP X6 Office suite. I can live without WordPerfect if needed--am in touch with a Corel agent at the present time. A Dell tech. told me that the system needed to be re-set. While I know a good bit about computers, I'm nowhere near Bob's league and, thus, relied upon the Dell tech. (Bad mistake. Dell techs don't know the dangers of Adobe's Flash among other things. They also think that Avast and MBAM aren't compatible. Among the first things I re-installed were Avast and MBAM--2 very good resources.) We live &, hopefully, learn. Thanks once again, Bob.

Posted by:

Ralph Bruechert
13 May 2016

I'm in the process of selling an older laptop running Win10. The Reset function was perfect for me. I erased all account information and personal logins along with third party programs. The lucky buyer will get an opening screen that says: "Let's get started."

Posted by:

13 May 2016

I reset my computer once, and went through all the reinstalling you described. I forgot I had made an image, yes, my dumb mistake and should have restored from it. I hope to remember that if there is a next time.

Thanks for all the information you provide. I look forward to the articles.

Posted by:

14 May 2016

Thanks for the information. My Lenovo Seies M does an easy reset except for the huge Windows updates. It is easy to backup most of the files I want to restore bar Windows Live Mail. Any suggestions? The WLM Export Mail does not have a perfect restore.

Posted by:

14 May 2016

Similar issue. I got new laptop.
I am setting up old one [MSI a6200; Win 7, with i5-430, 4G Ram].
Previously, I had a shop restore Win7, so no factory setting is available. I did, however, make a drive Image shortly after that.
I just restored laptop to that image.
Now a BIG problem.
Previously, I had the laptop setup with a BIOS password. I think that is what you call it; you turn machine on and prior to boot, you type in password.Then it boots up.

As I was getting rid of machine, I had removed that password in BIOS.
I did not have the separate 'user' password.
Now with the old Image installed, windows boots and demands a password.
It will not accept the BIOS pass word and I never used any other password on the machine. I have gone into bios, it shows that I cleared the 'supervisor' password.
Any ideas on how to clear this up. I have a charity expecting the machine as a donation.

Posted by:

15 May 2016

Google "offline password remover" and follow the instructions.

Posted by:

16 May 2016

In response to Lucy - I do not use restore points. I have done that in the past, but when I later tried to restore to a previous date, when it completed, I got a (an error) message that the restoration could not be completed. This happened on several occasions. Phooey with that.

So now I make full image backups to 2 different ext. hard drives. Before I got the 2nd EHD, the first one stopped working but I was able to recover the data. So the odds of 2 failing at the same time should be quite rare.

Making backups seems a lot easier than Bob's protocol.

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