Should You Press the Windows RESET Button?

Category: Windows

A desperate AskBob reader says, “I’ve somehow managed to mess up my Windows system 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 drive partition that holds an image of the factory-fresh system settings and Windows 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, subscriptions 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. You'll have an even harder task if you've upgraded from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 or 11 since you purchase your computer.

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 Seven 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, Microsoft Edge, Firefox, Chrome, Office and other software.

Hit The RESET Button?

If none of these caveats 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 and hold the “Windows” key and "A" button on your keyboard. Click “All Settings” on the resulting screen, followed by “Update & Security” and then “Recovery.” Click the "Get Started" button under “Reset this PC.” You can also type "Reset this PC” in the Windows search box to get there.

A new window will appear, offering options to “Keep my 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.

If you're still using Windows 7, it does not have a “reset” button. Instead, you must re-install Windows manually. Typically, your Windows installation or recovery files will 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.

On the Windows 10 Recovery screen (see above) there are some other options you may wish to explore. Among them are running a troubleshooter, restoring from a backup, going back to an earlier version of Windows 10, or starting fresh with a clean Windows installation.

As I mentioned 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 "Should You Press the Windows RESET Button?"

Posted by:

14 Jan 2022

Whatever you do, DON'T PANIC! Try everything else first. My grandson took my personal W7 to the woodshed, and gave it a good thrashing. I panicked, and did a full restore, not thinking about what was in-store for an up to date recovery. My machine was only 3 months old, I had saved my documents on removable media (something I learned from work. It keeps the office from changing things) so I was saved there. Reinstalling the software, and settings took a few hours. Most likely I could have done a restore, and avoided the slowdown. At work, I got IT! At home, I'm on my own. My advice, Follow Bobs Advice!

Posted by:

14 Jan 2022

Another caveat might be that the freeware you have used may no longer be available. Either it might have migrated to a paid version or another version with annoying adware. Perhaps the newer version might not have all the functionality of previous free versions.

Posted by:

Bob S
14 Jan 2022

Isn't this the same process that's required when you buy a new computer? Unlike Apple products, which can store all your apps and files for future recovery or installation on a new computer, Windows is extremely inconvenient. This comes from a Windows user, and I dread updating my still just fine working computer because Microsoft is abandoning W10 in a few years.

Posted by:

14 Jan 2022

That is why you should periodically do full backups (from Windows Backup and restore) and create a restore disk when done). Then it will restore windows with everything like the day you backed it up from the restore disk

Posted by:

14 Jan 2022

The answer I've used for over 10 years is to backup my boot drive with Acronis True Image. (I hear Macrium Reflect also works well, and it's free, unlike Acronis) Every time you download a major Windows update, monthly usually, then make a new backup of your boot drive. I try to back it up to a second internal drive, but if that's not possible then use an external drive. As Egbok said, back up your documents and personal files separately to a flash drive or an external drive. If your system crashes, it only takes 10-15 min to restore it from the latest backup.

Posted by:

14 Jan 2022

Another thing that is frequently missed when doing a restore is Office templates. They are stored in the Windows folders nested several levels deep. I used to always forget them and end up rebuilding all my templates from scratch or recovering them from files with data in them. Both are equally frustrating experiences. Bob’s advice is good. Don’t reset unless you have tried everything else first.

Posted by:

14 Jan 2022

@Alan. I would suggest that you consider backing up to an external drive as being preferable to using an internal drive. Should you be unlucky enough to have a serious power supply failure, you may very well fry any any internal hardware--including that backup drive.
Also, I quit using ATI about fourteen years ago in favor of Macrium Reflect. It is so good that I opted to buy its home user package for four computers for a very reasonable fee. It has proven its value several times, and it has allowed me to take chances on new or updated installs knowing I could quickly recover from any misfires.

Posted by:

Bill Pfeifer
15 Jan 2022

I volunteer at a homeless shelter, where i refurbish donated computers. What i do, is use a thumb drive with the latest version of windows, downloaded from Microsoft. I do a fresh install, not a repair, and when it shows all the partitions and ask which to use, i delete *all* of them and let the installer determine what's best. At this point, all the private stuff, passwords, viruses, p*rn all of that is gone, and the latest clean version is installed. When connected to the internet, practically every time, it will automatically activate. If not, then that machine gets recycled.

Posted by:

15 Jan 2022

System image every 6 months on flash drive, no problemo!!

Posted by:

15 Jan 2022

Having rebooted 8.1 back to win 8 after a freeze up, now upgraded to win 10, I found some programs/apps did not work on win 10, but a google for old versions making note you cant go back too old, I found the apps that I wanted and they work.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
15 Jan 2022

The Reset 'Button' is ALWAYS my LAST resort! I don't usually have any troubles with my PC because I perform my monthly maintenance routines the first day of each month. I keep the current version of Glary Utilities installed, and I use its Disk Clean-Up utility to get rid of most of the debris that most software collects. I run Windows Update, then Glary's software updater to make sure that nothing has slipped through the cracks update-wise. Glary's Software Update manager notifies me when a new version of any application I use becomes available, so there is usually nothing to update on the first, but I check anyway. I keep a text file with a list of installed applications. I check it against my Installers folder to make sure they are in sync.

When a new version of an application becomes available, and I get notified about it, after installation I move the installer to my Installers folder on drive D, update the version information in my installed software list, and remove the previous installer. That way, I always have the current installer for any application I use and my software list is always up to date. If I ever get to the point that I want to do a clean install of Windows, I have all the current installers I'll nee to get back to where I was before.

When I see an application recommendation that interests me, I get the installer, create a system restore point, then install the new application. I usually try it out for about a week (sometimes less). I create a reminder in Windows Calendar for 1 week after the initial install date so I don't forget I installed it. If I find that it is useful and I actually use it, I keep it and add the installer to my Installers folder, and to my Installed Software list. If I find that it is not so useful (or I have not used it enough to consider it useful), I uninstall it and delete the installer, then restore my system to the restore point I created a week earlier, so no trace of it remains on my system.

I sync my desktop PC with OneDrive so all my files are there, and become immediately available to me after any action such as a fresh install/upgrade of Windows. I also use Macrium Reflect Free to make a full system backup the first day of the month and a differential backup daily. I keep one full backup and seven differential backups so I can get back to where I was any day in the past week if I need to, although the Macrium reflect backups are more for insurance than anything else. So far, I have never needed them - Knock-on-wood :). As a security measure, I password=protect my Macrium Reflect backups.

I create an initial full system backup after any re-install or version upgrade of Windows, immediately following re-installation of the software applications I use. I keep a copy of it and of the most current monthly full system backup on Google Drive (I make sure to remove the older monthly full backup each time I copy the new one so my Google Drive does not get too full. This is usually the final step I take as part of my monthly maintenance routines.

I could probably automate most of these steps, but I have not gotten around to it yet. Perhaps someday :).


Posted by:

Howard Bretman
15 Jan 2022

When I started reading I thought the system was trashed and therefore it would not have been possible to do a windows reset. I thought you would have mentioned ways of getting it working again or made other suggestions.

Posted by:

15 Jan 2022

I run Belarc Advisor every month and store the report in a couple of clouds. I fix what the report tells me needs fixing.

Posted by:

15 Jan 2022

1. Everything that you save should go on a separate drive or partition, For me D: = DATA so a Windows crash doesn't take all your data with it.

2. BACKUP frequently - TrueImage works so well and is so convenient - backs up all my partitions in a few minutes to an external drive.

3. What about System Restore? I believe that it reviews your Windows system files and replaces ones that it feels are damaged. Might have the same end result as a restore with little or no loss.

Posted by:

01 Feb 2022

System restore may be useful but do not count on it. Windows updates have a habit to delete all previous restore points. Initially there were also reports that it does not back up the registry.

Posted by:

Jim Seiler
27 Mar 2022

Hi Bob,

I enjoy your newsletter and am very appreciative of the information you have provided over the years. However, the ads I am starting to see are so annoying, obnoxious and objectionable that I am seriously considering terminating my subscription ... I understand that there has to be a way to pay the bills, but this has gotten totally out of hand. I recently terminated a newsletter I have subscribed to for many years ... they are now posting an "ad" that purports to explain the best way to wipe your butt after a BM ... you, fortunately haven't gone that far, but the current fusillade of advertising has gone well past the limit of what I'm willing to tolerate.

Best regards,


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