System Restore or reinstall Windows. For most of us, those are the only two choices we had throughout most of Windows history. Ever wanted to reset Windows 7 without losing personal data? It wasn’t easy. Neither was resetting to factory settings.
Starting with Windows 8, we got two more goodies to play around with: Windows Refresh and Windows Reset. It’s great to have all of these options, but it can be confusing to know which one to use in which scenarios.
So, let’s explore a few scenarios to see which path is the right one to take. It’s actually quite straightforward when you know the difference between a Restore, Refresh, Reset, and Reinstall.
Your System Keeps Crashing
The Problem: You’re using your computer like normal, then out of nowhere the system starts acting up. It boots up fine, but randomly crashes for no apparent reason. You haven’t installed any new hardware lately, but you do remember installing new software and/or updating drivers around the same time that the crashes started.
The Solution: This is one situation where System Restore shines. System Restore works by taking snapshots of your system’s state (only important system files are tracked) and allows you to revert your system to a previously saved state.
This is exactly what we want. Our system was working fine, but it isn’t anymore. The most likely culprit is a corrupted system configuration, which should be remedied by reverting to a past configuration that wasn’t problematic.
However, this only works if you actually make restore points! If you don’t have any, Windows won’t know of any previous states to revert to. If you have too few restore points, you’ll need to roll back to a really old system state, which may cause compatibility issues with other changes made to your system since then.
We recommend creating automatic restore points once a day and dedicating enough system space to store several of them at any given time. However, depending on how often you make changes to your system, a weekly or monthly schedule might work as well.
In case System Restore isn’t working for you, you can make a couple of tweaks. If everything looks good but it still fails, here’s what you should do when System Restore fails. Worst case scenario, you should move on and perform a Windows Refresh.
You Have Persistent Malware
The Problem: You recently ran an anti-malware scan and discovered a few threats residing on your system. Being quick and decisive, you took all of the necessary steps to remove malware from your system — you made sure to do everything from removal to disinfection — but no matter what you do, the malware sticks around.
The Solution: There are a few instances where System Restore might clear out malware, but those situations are few and far between. Persistent malware once would’ve required a complete reinstall, but our lives are made easier now that we have Windows Refresh, which is the proper choice here.
Windows Refresh is similar to reinstalling the entire Windows system, except it won’t delete any of your personal files. This is ideal for a persistent malware infection because it’ll refresh all of the system files without impacting most of your data.
There is one downside to Windows Refresh, however, and that’s the fact that it will uninstall all of the programs you installed (Modern apps will stay preserved) and install any programs that came with your system that you may have uninstalled at some point.
One small consolation: Windows Refresh will save a list of all uninstalled programs to your desktop so you can go back and install them manually. Once Refreshed, your system should be clear of all malware, but we recommend running another scan afterwards.
Here are a few tips if Windows Refresh isn’t working for you.
You Want to Sell Your Computer
The Problem: You have a computer that you no longer need and you figure cash will be more useful, so you decide to sell it. However, whether you’ve only used it for five days or five years, there’s some personal information on there that you don’t want the buyer seeing.
The Solution: This kind of scenario is a perfect fit for Windows Reset. Unlike the previously-mentioned Windows Refresh, Windows Reset will reset the entire Windows installation and delete all of your personal files and folders. In other words, it truly is a “reset”.
Before you plow ahead with it, always remember to back up your data in case you need it later. Store it on a USB drive or external hard drive if you don’t have much. Cloud storage is another good choice as long as privacy isn’t absolutely critical.
Now, as useful as Windows Reset might be, it isn’t enough if you’re going to sell or give away your computer. A tech-savvy user might be able to scrape some data off of a hard drive even after Windows has been cleared and reset.
And that’s why you need to nuke your hard drive. When you delete a file, it’s still on the hard drive; Windows just marks it as “deleted”. To truly delete something, you need to write over it enough times so that it becomes unrecoverable. Once nuked, your computer is safe to give away.
Your System Won’t Boot Up
The Problem: If bad luck befalls you, you might wake up one day to find that Windows doesn’t boot up at all. Without access to Windows, you don’t know how to run any of the Restore, Refresh, or Reset procedures. Is your system dead and irreparable?
The Solution: Not quite. Depending on how corrupted your Windows configuration is, it might give you the option of booting into Advanced Startup Options. This menu lets you run Refresh and Reset without actually booting up the operating system.
If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to grab your Windows installation disc and run it. It should detect that Windows is already installed and offer you the option of Repairing the system. If you don’t have an installation disc, you can make a bootable USB, CD, or DVD instead.
If you get this far and your system is still broken, you have no other choice than to hit the last resort: a full Windows reinstallation.
Now It’s As Good As New
99% of the time running the Restore, Refresh, or Reset procedures will fix the issue you have without much incident. In the rare case that your system is inoperable, a Reinstallation will always work as a last resort. Either way, you should now be good to go!
In case you have an HP laptop, check out our specific methods for restoring an HP computer to factory settings.