Time For The Windows RESET Button?
A desperate AskBob reader says, “I’ve managed to mess up my Windows system to the point of no return. It seems hopeless, so 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 use the Nuclear Option...
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 you added, subscriptions or digital products you've paid for, files you've downloaded, irreplaceable documents, photos, videos, and more that you created or stored on that drive; all the settings that have been tweaked and tuned over the years to make your system “just right” for you.
In practice, you probably don’t want to lose everything that you have added to your hard drive since you acquired that system. That's why I call it the Nuclear Option. 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)
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 license or 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 and 11 have a straightforward “reset” button.
On Windows 10 go to Start > Settings > Update & Security > Recovery > Reset this PC > Get Started. On Windows 11 go to Start > Settings > System > Recovery. Next to Reset this PC , select Reset 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 10/11 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, 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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 15 Dec 2023
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Time For The Windows RESET Button? (Posted: 15 Dec 2023)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved