How to factory reset Windows

Is your PC slow? Here's how to restore Windows 10 to factory settings

Windows 10 Laptop
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

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 slow 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 wouldn’t be the first to wish you could turn back the clock.

You might want to sell or give away your Windows 10 machine (so you can buy something much more powerful). In that case, you’ll want to make sure that all of your personal information and applications are removed to protect your privacy. Fortunately, the Windows 10 reset function gives you an easy way to start over. Here’s how to factory reset Windows 10 and return it 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, save files from your favorite games, and back up emails if using an offline client.

Windows 10

Windows 10’s reset feature is found in the primary Settings menu. This feature returns your Windows 10 installation to the default state it was in when Windows 10 was first installed. Note that this might be technically different from a “factory reset” depending on your machine’s manufacturer.

Check your documentation or give technical support a call if you want to return your PC to how it was when you first pulled it out of the box. The manufacturer might have special partitions set up on the hard drive or might be able to provide a factory restore image.

Step 1: Access the settings menu by clicking the Notifications icon on the taskbar or pressing the Windows button + A. Then click All settings.

windows-10-all-settings
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 2: Click Update & Security, then choose Recovery from the left-hand menu.

windows-10-update-and-security-option
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The next page contains two options. The first, Reset this PC is the method we’re going to go with, but the second is worth considering if you have a little more technical skill.

Advanced startup is used for modifying your computer on a deeper level or installing a completely different operating system. This comes in handy if your manufacturer provides a factory restore image or external drive containing the image to return your machine to its factory state. Unless you’re completely sure you understand what each of the options in this setting does, it’s probably best to leave it alone.

Step 3: When you’re ready, click the Get started button under the Reset this PC heading. A new window will appear with two options, Keep my files and Remove everything.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 4: Decide whether you want to keep all of your files and folders, or truly start from scratch and then bring your personal data back from your backup solution. Whichever one you pick, all of your applications will need to be reinstalled, and your settings, such as your Start menu, will go back to the defaults.

Step 5: Click whichever option suits you. If you chose Keep my files, skip to Step 7.

Step 6: If you chose Remove everything, you now have the option to Just remove my files or Remove files and clean the drive. The second option formats the drive itself, and it’s better if you’re planning on selling or giving away your computer. It takes much longer, so if you’re just resetting the PC for yourself, choose the first option and skip forward to Step 8.

windows-10-clean-drive-options
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

If your computer has multiple internal drives, you’ll also have the option to wipe only the primary drive (the one with Windows) or all the connected drives. Click on Show me the list of drives that will be affected to know exactly what will be included in the reset process.

windows-10-multiple-drives-reset
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 7: If you chose Keep my files, on the next screen the system will display a list of conventional programs installed on your computer (ones not installed from the Microsoft Store). This list will be saved to your desktop when you finish the recovery process. Click Next.

windows-10-reset-apps-removed
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 8: Once you’ve gone through the steps in preparing for the reset, you’ll be presented with the final choice. Click Reset to proceed.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Your PC will then reboot automatically and begin the reset process. This might take an hour or more, so if you’re using a laptop, it’s a good idea to plug in the power cord. It may reboot itself several times. Wait for Windows to restart and begin the setup process, then enter your personal information and login.

Once you’ve confirmed everything’s working, make sure to update all of your important drivers and install good antivirus software so you’re protected.

Windows 7

Windows 7 does not have the built-in refresh and reset options found in newer versions. Users with these operating systems have two choices when looking to perform a factory reset. The first is to re-install Windows from scratch, which isn’t a factory reset at all unless you have all the original, factory-provided install media available.

Step 1: Open Recovery by doing a Windows search for it.

Step 2: Select Advanced Recovery Options.

Step 3: Click Reinstall Windows.

Check out our Windows 7 reinstall guide for more detailed instructions.

Your second option is to use a manufacturer-provided recovery tool or recovery partition. Here are common names for recovery software from each major PC manufacturer. Entering these terms into Windows’ desktop search tool can help you find them.

  • Acer: Acer eRecovery or Acer Recovery Management.
  • Asus: Asus Recovery Partition or AI Recovery.
  • Dell: Dell Factory Image Restore, DataSafe, Dell Backup & Recovery, and a variety of other names.
  • HP: HP System Recovery or Recovery Manager.
  • Lenovo: Rescue and Recovery or ThinkVantage Recovery (on ThinkPads).

You can also access recovery from outside Windows, which is useful if you can’t find the software or if Windows won’t load. To do this, reboot your computer, and pay close attention to the boot screen that appears before Windows loads. Keep an eye out for a shortcut key that brings you to the recovery interface. In most cases, the key will be F11.

windowsloadingscreen
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