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A reset to factory conditions is the quickest and easiest way to return to normal, whether your system has been running slow or caught a virus. Not only does it get your computer clean, but it will also run at optimal performance. Here are four different ways you can reset your Windows computer.

Use the Recovery Partition

Modern computers come with the operating system pre-installed and a recovery partition to restore it.

A partition How To Shrink & Extend Volumes Or Partitions in Windows 7 How To Shrink & Extend Volumes Or Partitions in Windows 7 In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, resizing your volumes or re-partitioning your hard drive has become a lot easier than in previous Windows versions. However, there are still a few pitfalls that will require you... Read More is a portion of the hard drive that is sectioned off. Primarily, they’re used to limit the amount of space that can be used for certain data. For example, a hard drive could have several partitions: a recovery partition which contains all the recovery setup files necessary for a clean refresh of the operating system, a partition for the operating system and all installed programs, and a partition for all extra data.

Starting a recovery via the recovery partition usually means that you have to press one of the “F” keys (such as F1-F12) the moment after you hit the power button. These should be:

  • Acer – Alt + F10
  • Asus – F9
  • Dell/Alienware – F8
  • HP – F11
  • Lenovo – F11
  • MSI – F3
  • Samsung – F4
  • Sony – F10
  • Toshiba – 0 (not numpad) while turning on, release key when Toshiba logo appears

Doing so tells the BIOS (the basic firmware that runs primitive functions The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults The BIOS Explained: Boot Order, Video Memory, Saving, Resets & Optimum Defaults Your computer’s BIOS (basic input/output system) is the low-level software that starts when you boot your computer. It performs a POST (power-on self test), initializes your computer’s hardware, and passes control over to the boot... Read More ) that you’d like to run the recovery setup rather than load your Windows installation. Then, simply follow the on-screen instructions to complete the recovery — it should be very similar to a full-screen installation of any other program.

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Once the recovery installer has completed, your computer will be in the exact same state as it was when you turned it on for the first time. This may also include all of the bloatware that came with it.

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Use Recovery Discs

If your computer doesn’t have a recovery partition, but it did come with the operating system pre-installed, it should have come with recovery discs. These are CDs or DVDs that contain all of the recovery setup data that would normally be stored in a recovery partition.

In other words, the experience with the recovery discs should be exactly the same as it is with a recovery partition. The only difference is that you have to boot off of the discs rather than a recovery partition.

Christian wrote up a general guide to creating a Windows 8 Recovery Disc How to Create a Windows 8 Recovery Disk How to Create a Windows 8 Recovery Disk The days of reinstalling Windows when it acts up are long since gone. All you need to fix Windows 8 is a recovery disk, either on CD/DVD, a USB or an external hard disk drive. Read More , including how to save it to a USB flash drive.

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Some manufacturers also include utilities that allow you to burn your own recovery discs, offering you another location for the recovery data. Or you could delete the recovery partition so you can use more of your hard drive for your stuff. Recovery partitions tend to be in the 20GB vicinity, so you’re gaining quite a bit of extra space.

Note that by deleting the recovery partition, you won’t be able to use the “boot by pressing an F key” method of starting the recovery; you’ll be forced to use the discs that you burned yourself from then on. Be careful not to scratch them!

“Refresh” or “Reset” Windows 8

If you use Windows 8 or later, you’re in luck. Microsoft implemented its own functions for “refreshing” and “resetting” your computer How To Restore, Refresh, or Reset Your Windows 8 Installation How To Restore, Refresh, or Reset Your Windows 8 Installation In addition to the standard System Restore feature, Windows 8 has features for "refreshing" and "resetting" your PC. Think of these as ways of quickly re-installing Windows -- either keeping your personal files or deleting... Read More , which make a factory reset quicker and easier. These options allow you to reset your computer based on what you want.

Refreshing” means that you get to keep your personal data as well as installed Metro apps, but it’ll delete all other applications.

Resetting,” which Windows called “Remove everything and reinstall Windows,” means that you lose everything, including your Metro apps, personal data, and other applications and return to a fresh copy of Windows. In other words, there’s no need to completely reinstall Windows 8 if there are any issues.

Resetting” your computer is also a great way to prepare it for sale to another person, so that Windows remains installed, but all of your personal files and programs are erased.

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To access these settings, open the Settings charm from the right sidebar, and then choose the Change PC settings option at the bottom. Select the General category, and then choose the Get Started button under your option of choice.

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You can even access these options in case your computer fails to boot Windows properly.

Reinstall Windows From Scratch

If your computer didn’t come with any recovery data at all, then you’ll have to reset your computer the old fashioned way: by installing vanilla Windows and finding all necessary drivers. This method is certainly more tedious, but it gives you more control over the reset process.

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For this method, you’ll need your Windows license key Getting a New Computer or Reinstalling Windows? Make a List Of Your License Keys Getting a New Computer or Reinstalling Windows? Make a List Of Your License Keys Imagine you re-installed Windows and discovered halfway through that you're missing the license keys to some of your programs. Save yourself a headache and keep a list of your product keys for emergencies. Read More and installation media When Is It OK To Borrow Or Download A Windows Installation Disk When Is It OK To Borrow Or Download A Windows Installation Disk Nowadays, most manufacturers no longer ship their computers with installation discs. Instead they deposit a recovery partition on the hard drive or provide software that allows you to create your own recovery media. Now what... Read More .

Once complete, you’ll also be free of any bloatware that may have plagued your computer in the past.

Be aware that if you choose this method although you have a recovery partition on your system, you need to be cautious when choosing which partition to install Windows to. It may try to use the entire hard drive and thereby wipe out your recovery partition (if you have one). You can consciously accept this fact and continue, but you may also want to keep it just in case.

Final Thoughts

With all these options to factory reset your computer, you will hopefully find one that applies to your computer if the need arises. If you’re unsure whether you can take advantage of recovery partitions or discs, check with your computer’s manufacturer as they should have documentation available. You might also be able to purchase recovery media directly from the manufacturer.

What do you think is the best way to factory reset a computer? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: Gateway System Recovery by Mr Tickle – Wachoo Wachoo Tribe Congressman via Flickr

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