Reinstall Windows on a new-to-you, used computer

Cydney Bulger bought a used computer that came with unwanted programs and content. What's the best way to make it like new?

Almost every major-brand Windows PC from the last decade came with a built-in restoration tool. This is usually a partition on the hard drive that contains an image backup of the hard drive's contents when it left the factory.

So you need to figure out how to launch this tool on your particular computer. This generally involves pressing a particular key or key combination early in the boot process--before Windows itself starts to load.

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But how do you find that key? Google your model name and number (for instance, Lenovo X220) and the words factory restore. You're bound to find the instructions.

Timing can be tricky when you press a key to interrupt the standard boot process. I suggest you press and release the key or key combination over and over again from the moment the manufacturer logo appears until either the restoration environment or Windows itself starts to load.

But what if this doesn't work? There are a number of reasons why it might not. Perhaps you don't have the original hard drive. Or maybe the previous owner fiddled around with the boot sector and it can no longer access the special partition. Perhaps the partition is no longer there.

Try contacting the manufacturer's technical support. They may have a recovery disc they can send you…or more likely, sell you.

This assumes you've got a brand-name PC. If it's homemade or by a small company, it should have come with a Windows OEM disc.

In that case, complain to whomever sold it to you. Demand the disc or a refund.

Worse comes to worse, you can always switch to Linux.

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