Updated by Christian Cawley on 10 July 2017.
You’ve upgraded to Windows 10, or you’re about to. But once you’ve made the change, you want to be certain that you can back up and restore your data quickly and conveniently. System Restore and Factory Reset have been included in Windows 10, and are better than they were in Windows 8.x.
Windows 10 Has a Hidden Recovery Partition
When you open File Explorer, you see all of the disk partitions, right? Well, no. Several disk partitions are hidden, including the recovery partition. While initial versions of Windows 10 relied on the Windows 8 recovery partition (followed by an upgrade to Windows 10), the later operating system now has its own recovery partition.
While you can delete this partition, it isn’t advisable. Sure, deletion, in conjunction with file compression, can save over 6 GB on 64-bit systems running Windows 10, but the recovery partition is pretty vital for getting your PC back up and running following a serious crash. Meanwhile, if you’re using a small capacity Windows 10 device (such as the 64 GB SSD Surface Pro), it’s recommended that you use an SD card or an external storage device. Keep the recovery partition, and store personal data and apps on the secondary storage.
At some point, you’ll probably need the recovery partition, as it is the nearest thing to installation media. However, the reset, refresh, and reset tools should be sufficient to deal with the vast majority of issues, as long as you make the right decision between a system restore and refreshing Windows.
Using System Restore in Windows 10
If you’re having problems with Windows 10’s performance, the first thing you should look at is your list of restore points. If one of these coincides with when Windows started to misbehave, then you can use the System Restore tool to reinstate the settings and software that were in place at that time.
Open Start > Settings (or press Windows key + I) and in the search box type create a restore point.
Click the matching result, select the drive you want to use to store your restore point (typically the system drive) and click Configure > Turn on system protection. This action activates the system restore functionality. Click OK to confirm, and in the main window click Create… to create a restore point, and give it a name.
The system protection software will create the restore point, which you can revert to later using the System Restore button. Working through the wizard will restore your previous state. You may need to spend a few moments checking through what will be affected so that you can reinstall software and — hopefully — avoid any apps that caused the problem that prompted you to use System Restore.
Accessing Advanced Startup
But what if you need to roll back to a saved restore point, but cannot boot into Windows 10? The answer comes through Advanced Startup (accessible on a working system through Settings > Recovery). If your PC isn’t booting, you’ll need to access Advanced Startup via your PC manufacturer’s instruction. For instance, on HP computers, this would be by pressing F11 to prompt the System Recovery mode. Choose Repair your computer when Windows Setup launches.
In Advanced Startup, select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > System Restore, and then work through the wizard to find and apply the restore point.
This makes System Restore the fastest solution; at the same time, however, it is also the least reliable. Unfortunately, System Restore is unable to cope with a Windows installation that has been compromised by malware.
Refresh Windows 10
Was reverting to a restore point not enough to resolve problems with your computer? You may need to refresh your settings. This will revert your system to a state similar to how it was when Windows 10 was brand new.
The only difference here is that you will be able to retain your personal data and settings. However, it’s a good idea to sync these to the cloud regardless.
Open Start > Settings > Update & Security to begin, selecting Recovery in the left-hand menu.
Under Reset this PC, click or tap Get Started, and use the Keep my files option.
A warning will be displayed; a second may appear if you have upgraded to Windows 10 from a previous version and informs you that resetting will prevent you from undoing the upgrade. If you’re happy, proceed with the Reset.
You’ll need to wait for the process to complete, the length of which will depend on how many apps you’ve installed.
Consider refreshing Windows 10 the second string to your bow. If your computer is running slow, if you find it crashes or freezes regularly, this is the option to take if you don’t have the time to back up your settings and personal folders first.
Reset Windows 10
The “nuclear option” when it comes to getting Windows 10 back to its best is to reset it, much as you would a smartphone or tablet. This action restores the operating system to the “factory settings,” leaving it seemingly as new. As such, you will need to back up your personal data beforehand. Unfortunately, any bloatware you have removed will be reinstated. This is a strong argument against using the factory reset option.
On the bright side, since Windows 10 does not come with a recovery partition, software pre-installed by manufacturers is stored separately and skilled users can remove bloatware prior to refreshing their computer.
Find your way back to the Reset this PC option, and click Get Started. This time, instead of Keep my files, you will select Remove everything. Here you will have two options, Just remove my files for a quick reset, and Remove files and clean the drive. This second option will take longer, but is more secure, therefore making it more useful for wiping a PC clean before selling or giving it away.
When this is done, your operating system will seem as fresh as the day it was installed. However, you’ll need to reinstate your account (or create a new local profile) and restore your data.
Again, if you cannot boot into Windows 10, this option is available from the Advanced Mode screen. After booting into Advanced Options, go to Troubleshoot > Reset this PC and you’ll find the options as discussed above.
How Does Restore, Refresh and Reset Compare With Windows 8?
For experienced Windows users, especially those that have upgraded from Windows 8, the refresh and reset tools will be pretty familiar. Meanwhile, a version of System Restore has been in Windows since Windows 2000 (most domestic users will recognize it from Windows XP). Sadly, restore points made in older operating systems aren’t compatible with Windows 10.
Functionally, the system is more or less identical, but with multiple drives attached, there is more of a chance that Windows will offer to wipe these as well as the system drive. This is a feature that can prove useful but is also particularly dangerous. However, it isn’t new to Windows 10; it was present in Windows 8, but the regularity of its appearance seems to be related to the type of drives you have connected.
If Windows 10 offers to erase other drives on your computer, using the dialogue Your PC has more than one drive. Do you want to remove all files from all drives?, make sure you select Only the drive where Windows is installed.
Have you used the Windows 10 restore, refresh and reset system functions? Did you run into any problems, or were you impressed with how well it worked? Share your story in the comments.