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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 them from your hard drive. In addition to functioning as troubleshooting features, Refresh and Reset are similar to the “restore to factory defaults” option found on many simpler devices.
We’ll explain how to use these features, but we’ll also explain what they do and when you’d want to use them. They’re all useful in different circumstances, from troubleshooting your computer to starting with a fresh system or cleaning your PC before passing it on to someone else.
Restore Your PC
What it Does: System Restore in Windows 8 functions just like System Restore in previous versions of Windows. Windows regularly takes snapshots of important system and program files. If your computer starts crashing or blue-screening — which may happen if you install buggy drivers, system files become damaged, or malware tampers with Windows — you can use System Restore and quickly revert your system files to their earlier state.
When You Should Do It: If your computer is crashing, freezing, or otherwise being unstable, you may want to try using System Restore. Unlike the Refresh and Reset options, System Restore won’t delete your installed programs or personal files. System Restore isn’t a guaranteed way to fix your computer, but it’s much faster than Refreshing or Resetting and can save you time if you need to fix a recent problem.
How to Restore Your System: Press the Windows key to access the Start screen, then type Recovery at the Start screen to perform a search. Tap or click the Settings option in the sidebar, and then select the Recovery shortcut. Click the Open System Restore option to open the System Restore wizard, which will walk you through selecting a restore point and restoring your system files from it.
Refresh Your PC
What it Does: The Refresh Your PC feature will give you a fresh Windows installation without deleting any of your personal files. It’s like re-installing Windows, but you don’t have to back up and restore your files manually. Desktop applications you’ve installed will be uninstalled, but Modern apps will be preserved. Any desktop apps that came with your PC will also be re-installed. A list of removed desktop apps will be saved to your desktop so you can re-install the ones you want back on your system.
When You Should Do It: If you want to re-install Windows and have a completely fresh system, but you don’t want to go through all the hassle of backing up your files and restoring them, the Refresh option is for you. Refresh will wipe out all of your installed desktop applications, which means you’ll have to spend time re-installing them. However, this is part of what makes it so useful — all desktop applications as well as their leftover files and registry entries will be wiped out. Any malware or obnoxious Windows software lurking on your system will be removed.
How to Refresh Your PC: Open the Settings charm (press Windows Key + I or swipe in from the right and tap Settings), and then tap or click the Change PC settings option at the bottom of the sidebar. Select the General category, and then tap or click the Get started button under Refresh your PC without affecting your files.
Reset Your PC
What it Does: The Reset Your PC feature will give you a fresh Windows installation and will also delete all of your personal files. It’s exactly like re-installing Windows — all your personal files and applications will be deleted and you’ll be left with an entirely fresh state. In other words, it’s like a Refresh that also erases your personal files. You’ll have to back up your files ahead of time or you’ll lose them when you Reset.
When You Should Do It: If you want a completely fresh Windows system and want to start over from scratch, the Reset option is for you. It’s also useful if you want to sell your computer or pass it on to someone new — it will wipe out all your personal files so the computer’s new owner can’t access them. You may still want to perform a secure wipe of your hard drive’s storage to ensure any particularly sensitive documents can’t be recovered, however.
How to Reset Your PC: Open the Settings charm (swipe in from the right and tap Settings or press Windows Key + I), and then select Change PC settings. Tap or click the General category, scroll down, and tap or click the Get started button under Remove everything and re-install Windows.
If Your Computer Can’t Boot
All the above Windows features help when troubleshooting your PC. System Restore can fix a variety of problems, but Refresh and Reset are like reinstalling Windows — always a favorite troubleshooting step among geeks who just want their Windows computers to work and don’t want to spend time hunting down the problem. For this reason, you may find yourself wanting to Restore, Refresh, or Reset your PC if Windows can’t boot.
If Windows can’t boot, it will hopefully boot you into the Advanced Startup Options screen. From here, you can Restore, Refresh, and Reset your PC — in addition to using other advanced startup options.
If your computer can’t boot — not even into the Advanced Startup Options screen — you can try booting from a Windows 8 installation disc or USB drive and selecting the Repair your computer option at the start of the Windows installation process. You can also boot from a Windows 8 Recovery USB drive and access the Advanced Startup Options screen.
If you don’t have Windows installation media or a Windows 8 Recovery Drive lying around, you can create Windows 8 recovery media from any Windows 8 computer.
Do you have any other tips for using the Restore, Refresh, or Reset options on Windows 8? Leave a comment below and share them!