Is Resetting Your PC a Good Idea?

Category: Windows

A despairing reader writes, “I’ve managed to mess up my Windows PC to the point of no return. I give up, and now 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, be sure to copy documents, photos, and anything else you want to keep to another location. That could be an external hard drive, a USB flash drive, or cloud storage. Popular cloud storage options are Google Drive, Microsoft's OneDrive, Apple iCloud, and Dropbox.

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 or optimize. See my articles Five Point Tuneup for Hacker Defenses and Free Hard Drive Tuneup Tools for some tips.

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.

Hit The RESET Button?

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. The "Keep files" option, which gives you a fresh copy of the Windows operating system, minus the software (or malware) that was causing problems may be just the ticket.

Similarly, on Windows 8, you'll find Refresh and Reset options by going to Settings > Update and Recovery > Recovery. See my article 3 Ways to Repair Windows 8 for details.

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.

Of course, there's always the option of restoring from a recent backup, if the problems you are experiencing are recent. A "system image" backup makes it relatively easy. I encourage you to read my ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS, where you'll learn about backup strategies and how to protect the data in your computer, tablet, smartphone and online accounts.

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

 
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Most recent comments on "Is Resetting Your PC a Good Idea?"

Posted by:

Stuart Berg
22 Apr 2019

Personally, I would ALWAYS try a non-destructive repair install of Windows 10 without losing user accounts, data, installed programs, system drivers, or past Windows updates BEFORE doing a reset. Here is a good website describing how to do it:
https://www.tenforums.com/tutorials/16397-repair-install-windows-10-place-upgrade.html


Posted by:

Stuart Berg
22 Apr 2019

I forgot to mention in my comment above that I describe a non-destructive repair install of Windows 10 as analogous to replacing the bones of a patient without damaging the patient.


Posted by:

Stephe
22 Apr 2019

I always keep a folder of all the programs I have downloaded and any subsequent versions that don't do automatic updates — but I agree, doing a full re-set is pretty a pretty drastic step to take.

It can be fun though, getting back some of the excitement of a new machine, and if you're anything like me there will be little things that you'll want to do slightly differently this time.

...But set aside a couple of days to get to a point where you're happy with your "new" setup.


Posted by:

Marty
22 Apr 2019

As regards Windows updates, I have found in the past, after I had needed to do a clean reinstall of Windows 7, that trying to use Windows update didn't work. Although I could connect to the update site, and windows actually told me which updates I needed, the machine just 'hung' when I told it to install the updates. When I Googled I found several posts that hinted that this is a common problem, and that it seemed as though Microsoft might actually be preventing the update from going ahead as they were wanted users to upgrade to a later version of Windows. I also believe this can be an issue with clean installs of Windows 8 as well.

Whatever the truth of that conspiracy theory, I have since used "WSUS Offline Update" (www.wsusoffline.net) to do the initial update after a clean install. It's completely free, and works like a charm. You do have to download all the updates to a separate folder on your hard drive (which can take an awful long time), but once downloaded you can used the software to update Windows.

Once you have done the initial update Windows will successfully download and install any future updates itself.


Posted by:

Sam
22 Apr 2019

All good advice, but rather than resetting to factory defaults, I recommend doing a clean install of Windows, even or especially on a brand new machine out of the box. A clean install removes all of the "bloatware" and usually reduces the data on the C drive by half. On a new machine, I crank it up, to be sure that the license is properly activated, and then use the Media Creation Tool to do the clean install. To be really clean, I have the tool delete all of the existing partitions, including the recovery partition, and let Windows create what it needs.


Posted by:

hifi5000
22 Apr 2019

The one thing we didn't learn was what the owner did to mess up his installation of Windows 7 in the first place.Maybe if we learned what he did,he wouldn't be in this position.It seems to me that the later version of Windows after XP is frustrating to a lot of users.


Posted by:

Ivan
22 Apr 2019

Oh yes how I remember the many times I have had to do the same things, reset the computer. Not anymore, I keep two copies of all my computer material backed up and when windows updates I make a new copy. I check it and scan it to be sure there is nothing wrong and within 1/2 hour it is like brand new. Always but always keep at least 2 back up copies from 2 different backups.


Posted by:

John
22 Apr 2019

This is why you make frequent disk image backups. You start with a solid build, before any tinkering, make an image back up. Tinker to your hearts content. If your changes are solid, make another back up. But if you mess up or download some virus, simply restore your last image and try again.


Posted by:

Gene
22 Apr 2019

Article doesn't cover another issue. If you upgraded from one version of Win 10 to another, say Home to Pro, the reset on your computer is the original version, less updates. Just about anything is better than that if your system is more than a couple months old. Disk Images are a much better option. Have been down this road before...


Posted by:

James
23 Apr 2019

I simply use Acronis to image my entire C Drive so I can restore it back to the state where I want it.

I take a new PC, one with NO bloatware, load all my programs and set all my settings and get it all how I like it.

Then using Acronis I take an image of the C Drive.

Then, as I go forward computing I keep a list of things I want to change at next restore.

Later, I'll use Acronis to restore it back to where it was and I do all the changes I wanted to do including Windows updates... then I take another image of the C Drive.

This saves time and money and it always works, unless of course there are physical components in the PC that go bad like the mobo or something


Posted by:

MmeMoxie
23 Apr 2019

Well, I am the Queen of resetting one's own computer back to the original Operating System. I can also tell you ... It is NOT fun, by any stretch of the imagination, either!!!

A couple of months ago, I had to go back to Windows 7 Pro. I have no idea how my computer got so screwed up, but it did. I suspect that I got a vicious malware, that even my Anti-Virus program didn't not detect. I couldn't even simply Restore to an earlier date!!!

I started from scratch, got Win 7 Pro loaded, then I re-installed Win 10 Pro. I had upgraded to Win 10 Pro when it was a free update. I found where to get the right information from Microsoft.com. I had to re-install once before, so I remembered where to go. Yes, it was very, very time consuming, but I am so glad that I did.

I thought at first that I would stay with Win 7 Pro. But, within a couple of weeks, I realized that I truly missed Win 10 Pro. So, since I had done it before, I got Win 10 Pro back on and my computer is running smoother than ever.

For those who have to do this and you got your Win 10 Operating System with the FREE Upgrade, here is where you need to go, to learn how to get Win 10 back. Remember, you have to have Activated your Win 10 OS, to be able to do this, okay?

This is the Microsoft webpage that you want to Re-install Win 10 when you used the FREE Upgrade. Read this page very carefully and it does explain exactly what you need to do. There are several options, depending on your particular issue.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-ca/software-download/windows10

It does work. I have done this twice and I have an Activated Windows 10 Pro, like I should have. I have also found that my latest Win 10 Updates have gone so much smoother than they were going. I was stuck with an Update previous to 1809, I think it was 1607. Lots of people with the Pro OS were having problems. Now, I am finally with the 1809. I am worried about the next Update, which is suppose to happen in May, I think. Anyway it is suppose to be soon.

This is my story. When you have to start all over again ... It is NOT any fun. The hardest part is re-installing ALL of your games, programs and so on. It simply takes time and there are no short cuts.

Yes, I have an external Hard Drive, but I couldn't even use that to get my computer back on track. As I said, I have NO idea what happened, but it was a real mess, until I started from scratch and re-did everything. I am a savvy computer person, but I also know that things happen and quickly can go down hill fast.


Posted by:

Greg C
25 Apr 2019

Windows 7 : for MARTY above.
My Win7 machine is old, but can access 7 0r 8 HDD on multiple controllers, which there are no drivers for since Vista. (Vistra drivers work)
I too have severe update issues, but I have learned what works for me, at least:
I start the update process, which invariably freezes the computer, apparently after the first update. I give it lots of time but I know its in a loop when the HDD light is constantly on, not blinking. Then I have to shut it off, usually, by shutting off the power.
Then I start the updates again, the first update completes the install and the others complete without issue. I might mention that during the update process the computer is so slow as to be totally useless. Hope this helps.


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