A question I get asked a lot, “I’ve managed to mess up my Windows PC to the point of no return. I give up, and now I just want to reset it to its factory-fresh condition and start all over. How do I do that?” Read on and I’ll tell you how, and why you might NOT want to do this…
How To Reset Your PC To Factory Defaults
Most Windows PCs can be restored to their fresh-out-of-the-box condition. The very rare exceptions are systems cobbled together in the basement of someone who takes shortcuts without regard for the long-term welfare of his customers. If you didn’t buy your system out of a car trunk in a Walmart parking lot, it’s safe to say you can restore it to factory defaults.
A properly configured Windows system contains a hidden, protected hard drive partition that holds an image of the factory-fresh system settings and software. Restoring that image to the main drive partition resets your system to its factory-fresh condition. Windows includes a special software routine that does system resets automatically, eliminating human error. It’s that simple, in theory.
But think about what’s missing from a factory-fresh system: software or digital products you’ve paid for, free software you’ve downloaded, irreplaceable documents, photos, videos, and more that you created or stored on that drive; all the registry settings that have been tweaked and tuned over the years to make your system “just right” for you.
In practice, you probably don’t want to lose everything that you have added to your hard drive since you acquired that system. So before resetting to factory defaults, be sure to copy documents, photos, and anything else you want to keep to another location. That could be an external hard drive, a USB flash drive, or cloud storage. Popular cloud storage options are Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple iCloud, and Dropbox.
Another consideration, which looms larger the older your system is, is that of Windows Updates. The factory-default image file contains the version of Windows that was the latest as of the date Windows was installed on the hardware. That date may be months or years before the system was sold to you. You will need to spend many hours downloading and installing perhaps hundreds of Windows updates after resetting to factory defaults,
But Wait, There’s More… (a lot more)
All of the third-party application software (paid or free) you now use will vanish when the system is reset. Be sure you have the CD or installation files for any apps that you want to re-install, and the registration keys if necessary. If the installation files you have are old, plan on spending time downloading and installing critical updates specific to that app. Don’t forget that your printer and other peripherals will need to be reinstalled as well.
Once that’s all done, you can restore your documents, photos and other personal files from the backup you made. Finally, redo all of the system settings to your liking. This includes your Windows theme, mouse settings, display settings, and any customization’s or extensions you’ve applied to Windows Explorer, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and other software.
Hit The RESET Button?
If all of these caveats don’t deter you, here is how to reset your Windows system to its factory defaults:
Windows 10 has a straightforward “reset” button. To find it, press the “Win” button plus the A button on your keyboard. Click “All Settings” on the resulting screen, followed by “Update & Security” and then “Recovery.” Choose “Reset this PC.”
A new window will appear, offering options to “Keep files” or “Remove everything.” The first option keeps your documents, images, etc. The second option removes them. Both options remove all installed software except Windows itself. The “Keep files” option, which gives you a fresh copy of the Windows operating system, minus the software (or malware) that was causing problems may be just the ticket.
Similarly, on Windows 8, you’ll find Refresh and Reset options by going to Settings > Update and Recovery > Recovery.
Restoring a Windows 7 System
Yes that’s right some are still using this dinosaur and refuse to change. I must encourage you to get the latest Windows 10 so you will be on the right page. When Windows 8.1 was released in October 2013, Microsoft made it clear to Windows 8 customers that they had two years to upgrade. Microsoft said then it would no longer support the old version of the operating system by 2016. Windows 8 customers can still use their computers. However Windows 7 you are not that lucky.
Windows 7 does not have a “reset” button. Instead, you must re-install Windows manually. There are two ways to do this.
Option 1: Your Windows installation or recovery files may be on a CD that was supplied with your computer at the time of purchase, or you may have purchased a Windows installation CD. Insert the CD, restart your computer, and follow the instructions to begin the process.
Option 2: Many OEMs (computer vendors) create their own customized versions of Windows, including with the operating system any “enhancements” they add to their systems. Such customized versions of Windows may be called “recovery disks” and reside on a hidden hard drive partition. OEMs also create their own customized recovery apps to manage re-installations exactly as they want them performed. Here is a list of OEMs and their recovery apps:
- Acer: Acer eRecovery or Acer Recovery Management
- ASUS: ASUS Recovery Partition or AI Recovery
- Dell: Dell Factory Image Restore, DataSafe, Dell Backup & Recovery
- Gateway: Gateway Recovery Management
- HP: HP System Recovery or Recovery Manager
- Lenovo: Rescue and Recovery, ThinkVantage Recovery (on ThinkPads)
- Sony: Sony Vaio Recovery Wizard
Running the appropriate app on your system will launch a controlled restoration of Windows and any other software the vendor originally installed on your system. As I described earlier in this article, restoring your computer to “factory fresh” condition can involve a lot of work after the fact to get back to good, because all of your software, personal files and settings must be restored. I recommend it only as a last resort.
Of course, there’s always the option of restoring from a recent backup, if the problems you are experiencing are recent. A “system image” backup makes it relatively easy. I encourage you to read this ebook Everything You Need to Know About BACKUPS, where you’ll learn about backup strategies and how to protect the data in your computer, tablet, smartphone and online accounts.
Have a great week from all of us at ZI