[RESET BUTTON] 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; 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. (See my related article Stashing Your Stuff Online for lots of cloud storage options.)

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)

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 "[RESET BUTTON] Restore Your PC To Factory Defaults?"

Posted by:

Doug Walker
08 Aug 2017

system restore is a godsend for fixing "recent" screw-ups, if your screw-ups go far enough back so they can't be fixed, buy a new hard drive or computer or give up using them !!!

Posted by:

08 Aug 2017

If Windows "SystemRestore" feature is the equivalent of an aspirin for a gnarly toothache; Then, the Windows "SystemReset" option has got to be like a root-canal for the same exact, gnarly toothache.
Continual dental-hygiene in your real-life is as important as periodic archiving/imaging in your digital-life.
Be true to your teeth (and/or your data) and they'll will not be false to you!

Posted by:

08 Aug 2017

I have an HP computer that took the free upgrade from Win 7 to Win 10 . If I select Reset and Remove Everything, do I go back to the factory condition(Win7)? The upgrade to Win 10 is no longer free!

Posted by:

Wild Bill
08 Aug 2017

Nat, if you upgraded to Win10 for free, Microsoft
will "remember" your system, as I understand it,
and if you do a reinstall or a clean install you
will automatically be reactivated, unless you make
major system changes (like replacing your mother
board) in which case you will probably have to call them for reactivation.

Posted by:

08 Aug 2017

i find it better to get a fresh download from https://www.heidoc.net/joomla/ use minitools partition wizard to zero out the drive,use snappy drivers to update all your drivers and xml backup to back up your drives first. Also make sure you download your network card driver first and put on a usb. Zeroing the drive will unpartition the drive and ensure all virus are removed

Posted by:

bob rice
08 Aug 2017

Be sure to have a bootable restore USB device before starting. I tried to restore two Dell laptops following Dell's instructions and both came back with msgs, "No partition System found" [or such words]

Nothing came with the laptops so called Dell. They actually gave me a hard time asking why I needed one, but after enough complaints they sent one.

It arrived a week later and restore was a breeze, but it took several evenings to re-install everything.

Posted by:

leel l.
09 Aug 2017

You might want to add Restoring Window 10. In I think one of the recent updates, Defender running by itself, solves the problem of having to update Windows from your factory setting. There is an option to remove windows from your computer and Microsoft via internet will install install according to them, the a new copy of windows updated to the most recent updates, but you do need to save your non-Microsoft software along with whatever data you need to keep, and reinstall it later.
I used this method to solve a virus which caused a message to pop-up that allegedly gave the message that Microsoft had block portions of my copy of Windows from working, and I should phone a specific phone number which you were led to believe was from Microsoft's tech department. Everyone should know that Microsoft never phones you to fix tech problems out of the blue, even if you let them get copies of your log files. Just out of curiosity I phoned the indicated number, and not unsurprisingly the tech who answered wanted to take remote control of my computer, and I wouldn't have been surprised if that group of criminals who posed as being employed by Microsoft, would have wanted a ransom, to remotely add other viral software to make sure I payed them. I think I spoke to this group before.

Once Microsoft Defender, I assume reformatted my hard drive download an updated version of Window, I have had no more problems with that undetected virus.

Posted by:

09 Aug 2017

Good article, and your correspondent's emotions are entirely understandable. But you are right to say there may be better ways.
Two points:
a. Save your drivers with double driver (free), in case anything doesn't work http://boozet.org/dd.htm

b. Try a repair install to fix - for W7, this is at:https://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/3413-repair-install.html?ltr=R
- this also allows you to not lose all your stuff - but back up everything first anyway.

Posted by:

09 Aug 2017

You will not lose your windows 10 free upgrade.

Posted by:

09 Aug 2017

The best way to reset a Windows machine is to replace Windows with Ubuntu Linux. I've been very happy ever since I did!

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