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How to restore your Windows computer to its factory settings

Windows computers are rarely quicker and easier to use than the day they ship from the factory. Over time, the accumulation of files, misconfigured settings, and other factors slows down performance and impacts programs. If you find that your applications don’t run the way you expect, and opening and saving files takes longer than usual, you may want to turn back the clock.

More: Stop procrastinating and back up your damn files already! We’ve got the guide

In addition, you might want to sell your Windows 10 machine or give it to someone else to use. In that case, you’ll want to make sure that all of your personal information and applications are removed to protect your privacy. Fortunately, there’s a relatively easy way to start over with Windows 10: the Windows 10 reset function. Here’s how to return Windows 10 to its most pristine state.

First, back up your stuff!

Before you reset your system, you’ll want to back up important information that you don’t want to lose. This includes documents, photos, music, and movies, but there are other items to back up as well. Make sure that you know all of your saved passwords, export all of your browser bookmarks, and have installation files for all the software you’ll want to reinstall — or know where to get them.

Also, make sure you back up app-specific data, like custom filters saved in a photo utility and save files from your favorite games. If you use Microsoft Outlook, you’ll want to export your email file as well so that you can back it up.


While you can backup these files manually, you may be better served by using backup software that automates the process, reducing the room for error and saving you time. You might be able to use the cloud for this, but there’s a great chance that the volume of data will exceed the capacity of a free Google Drive (15GB) or DropBox (2GB) account. If you’re willing to spend some money on a monthly basis, then you can go with a dedicated cloud backup solution like Carbonite.

Even cloud services can have issues, however, and so it’s not a bad idea to budget for an external hard drive if you don’t already have one. The best option is an external drive enclosure that holds two drives that can be mirrored, so that if one drive fails you have a backup. You can also use a non-OS internal drive in a desktop if enough space is available.

More: Which drives are the most reliable? BackBlaze’s testing find surprising

An even more advanced option is to purchase a network-attached storage (NAS) device that can be connected to your router and accessed by all of the machines on your network. A NAS device with mirrored drives lets you copy and back up all of your information scattered around in single, relatively reliable place that can even be easily removed in the case of emergency.

Whichever route you choose, configure your backup software to save to your chosen drive. Then, it’s important to make sure to disconnect your backup drive before you actually perform the Windows 10 reset. The following process shouldn’t delete data on a secondary drive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. We’ve broken the guide down below based on your current operating system.

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