Windows 10 is still Windows, meaning it will need a fresh start every once in a while.
Why is that? With Windows 10 Microsoft is switching its operating system (OS) to a mandatory update process that is similar to Android and OS X. Rather than releasing major OS versions that have to be purchased separately every couple of years, the OS is updated internally on a regular basis. In other words, if you’re running Windows 10, you will always be running the latest and safest version of Windows.
While this process reduces friction and increases safety, it can also introduce or compound system issues. That’s because, by design, new stuff keeps getting added and you always keep your personal files, settings, and applications. Fortunately, you have a few options to flush out sour system files and remove irksome applications that managed to sneak in.
We show you how you can get a fresh Windows 10 installation with as little effort as possible. Be sure to create a backup of your personal files before you proceed with any of these solutions.
1. Reset Windows 10
Windows 10 comes with a reset feature similar to Windows 8. A system reset essentially gives you a fresh Windows installation, although in Windows 10 you have the option to keep your personal files.
To reduce the storage footprint of Windows 10, Microsoft redesigned the Reset feature “to rebuild the operating system in place using runtime system files.” This means the Reset feature draws on a (potentially customized) recovery image on your system drive (typically found under C:\RecoveryImage\) to initiate a fresh installation.
The beauty of this solution is that Windows does not need to download any files to initiate the setup and you don’t have to provide installation media, either. On the other hand, manufacturers can provide a custom system image for the Reset feature and inject bloatware.
To reset your computer from within Windows 10, press Windows + I to launch the Settings app, head to Update & security > Recovery, and under Reset this PC click the Get started button.
Note: If your issues started after upgrading Windows 10, either from a previous Windows version or an earlier build, rather than reset or reinstall Windows, you can also try a downgrade. This works because every time Windows installs a new version, it keeps a copy of the previous one in a folder called Windows.old. Press Get started under the respective option to go back to that previous Windows installation.
2. Refresh Windows 10
In Windows 8, a Refresh was a Reset, but with keeping your personal files. The Refresh option relied on a recovery image provided by the manufacturer and would thus re-install bloatware that came with the computer. As we’ve learned above, you can keep your files when you do a Reset in Windows 10. And seemingly just to confuse you further (or finally simplify things), Microsoft released a Refresh tool for Windows 10 that works slightly different than what we know from Windows 8.
The Windows 10 Refresh Tool (download here) requires an Internet connection and approximately 3 GB of available storage space because it downloads the latest version of Windows 10 before refreshing your PC. This ensures that your fresh Windows 10 installation will be completely free of manufacturer bloatware, though you will still find Microsoft bloatware.
A Windows 10 Refresh will not re-install any of your applications and to re-install hardware drivers, you may have to run Windows Update under Settings > Update & security > Windows Update after the installation has completed. As with the Reset option, you can choose to keep your personal files. If you would like to back up and restore your Windows 10 settings and apps, check out our respective article.
Note: At the time of writing this article, the Refresh tool comes with several caveats, such as only working on the latest build of the Windows 10 Insider Preview. It is expected to be fully functional with the upcoming Anniversary Update, expected in late July 2016.
3. Use Installation Media
This is an advanced method you can use in place of the Reset or Refresh options described above; for example, if your PC won’t boot or your Internet bandwidth is severely limited. Maybe you bought a copy of Windows 10 that came with installation media or you were wise enough to create your own Windows 10 installation media using the Windows Media Creation Tool.
If you need to re-install a particular version of Windows 10, you may be able to download the respective ISO file free from Microsoft and create your own install disc using Rufus.
Before you can proceed with the Windows 10 setup, boot into the UEFI / BIOS and make sure the boot order prioritizes booting from your installation media, i.e. your CD/DVD or USB drive, rather than booting from the system drive.
When your BIOS settings look good, insert your installation media and let your computer boot into the Windows setup. From here, follow the on-screen instructions and enjoy a fresh installation of Windows 10 in no time. Unfortunately, you will eventually have to run Windows Update to bring your system up to speed again.
Tip: We recommend keeping your installation media fresh by regularly updating the files with the latest updates. Otherwise, Windows Update might slow you down with massive downloads and multiple installation cycles.
4. Use a System Image
The methods above have one huge drawback: you lose all your personal settings and installed applications. To avoid this scenario, we recommend to regularly prepare an image of your entire system.
We have previously covered how to create an ISO image of your Windows system. An alternative to the native Windows solution is to use a free third-party tool like Macrium Reflect. We have covered this tool in our article on moving Windows from a HDD to an SSD. It lets you create both rescue media and an entire system backup.
Note: Rather than regularly creating full system images, you can also turn on System Restore in Windows 10 (which is off by default). We’ve covered that method in our ultimate Windows backup guide. Briefly, press Windows key + Q to launch the search menu, find Create a restore point, select your system drive, click Configure…, select Turn on system protection, and click OK.
You will need at least 20 GB of available storage and we recommend that you manually create your first system restore point.
Keep Windows Fresh
Whatever you do, never restore your computer to factory settings using the manufacturer’s system image. Use one of the methods above to make Windows 10 as good as new. If you can’t decide which one to go with, follow our guide on whether to refresh, reset, restore, or reinstall Windows.
Which routines do you apply to keep Windows fresh? Can you recommend any tools that work particularly well with Windows 10? Or are you looking for a solution for a specific issue? Please let us know!