How to reinstall Windows like a pro

Reinstalling Windows is an important strategy for any geek, and a useful skill for anybody who doesn’t want to pay one. By starting over with a clean copy of the operating system, you can remove bloatware, wipe out malware, and fix other system problems.

A full, clean reinstall is different from the Refresh or Reset your PC options in Windows 8, or a manufacturer’s recovery partition or disk for Windows 7. Those built-in options will set your PC back to its factory-default state—which could include some vendor-installed junk you never wanted anyway. A clean install uses the generic Windows installation media that you can download from Microsoft, and it’ll have just the OS, no other frills.

You shouldn’t need to regularly reinstall Windows to keep it performing well. But, if a computer is bogged down by startup programs, context menu items, and years of junk, reinstalling Windows may be the quickest way to speed it up again.

Reinstalling Windows can also save a computer infected with malware or afflicted by blue-screens and other system problems caused by software issues.

Before we begin, back up all of your personal data. While you should back up your data regularly, it is especially important to do so before reinstalling an operating system.

Refresh or Reset Your PC (Windows 8 and newer)

Windows 8 includes ”Refresh your PC” and “Reset your PC” features that attempt to make installing Windows easier. Both of these options actually perform a Windows reinstall in the background, quickly installing a fresh Windows system from the recovery files on your computer’s drive, a Windows installation disc or USB drive.

The Refresh your PC feature saves your personal files and Windows Store apps, but it removes all your installed desktop programs. You’ll have to install all your desktop programs again, but that’s the point: You get a fresh Windows desktop system with all your system files in a known-good state.

windows 8 refresh pc

Refreshing your PC will delete all of your programs and system files, but leave your personal files intact.

The Reset your PC feature wipes everything, including your personal files. It can even wipe your system drive so no one can recover those personal files later. This is the easiest way to remove your stuff from a PC before getting rid of it.

windows 8 reset pc

Resetting your PC is a lot like the old nuclear option of wiping the entire hard drive and starting anew. Your personal files and all of Windows’ system files will be deleted before Windows is reinstalled.

Both of these options are available in the modern PC settings app under Update and recovery > Recovery. If your computer isn’t booting properly, it will boot to the advanced startup options menu, where you can select Troubleshoot to refresh or reset your PC. You can also access these options by booting from a Windows recovery drive.

windows 8 refresh and reset

In Windows 8, you can refresh or reset your Windows installation from the Troubleshoot menu.

Use your manufacturer’s recovery partition or discs (Windows 7 or earlier)

In Windows 7 and previous versions of Windows, it’s up to the PC manufacturer to provide a recovery partition or recovery discs. Most manufacturers don’t include Windows installation discs with their computers.

If your computer has a recovery partition, run your manufacturer’s recovery tool to reinstall Windows. On many PCs, you’ll have to press a key during the boot process to access the recovery tool. This key may be displayed on your screen. It should also be printed in your computer’s manual.

If your computer comes with a recovery disc, you can also insert it in your computer’s optical drive and boot from it to begin reinstalling Windows. You’ll end up with the manufacturer’s like-new Windows system on your drive. All the original drivers will be installed, which is good, but all that nasty bloatware will also come back—that’s bad. You’ll have to remove unwanted junk software after you reinstall.

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