Skip to main content

How to reinstall Windows 10

There might come a time when you will need to reinstall Windows 10 on your computer. Maybe you’re trying to fix a severe update problem or get rid of a virus, or perhaps you’re prepping to sell your laptop on Craigslist. Whatever the reason might be, reinstalling Windows 10 can be confusing, especially given there are several ways to do it, and each has its own set of pros and cons. That said, let’s take a look at how to reinstall Windows 10.

How to back up your data

We strongly recommend that you back up your data before making this kind of significant change to your PC. Windows 10 even makes it easy, so you don’t need to search for an additional backup tool. Just follow the necessary File History steps below.

Step 1: Type “Windows update” into the Windows search bar and select Windows Update Settings from the results list. Alternatively, click on the Action Center icon in the lower-right corner of your screen, select All Settings, and look for Update & Security. Once there, select the Backup tab.

If you see an on-off indicator in the next window and it’s toggled to the “On” position, then that means File History has been automatically backing up your files. These files include your contacts, desktop files, and data housed in your OneDrive folder — meaning you probably don’t have to worry. The feature will back up your libraries as well, but it may not back up all general folders, so place valuable folders into a library to save them as necessary.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 2: If your File History tool is off, then you will see an option to add a drive.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Click on the plus sign (+) next to Add A Drive, and Windows 10 will search for an external drive to use for the backup.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Select the drive that you want to use for File History. Doing so will toggle File History on, and Windows 10 will automatically start backing up versions of files in your libraries. You can click More Options to change how often files are backed up and how long they’re kept for. You can also configure which folders and libraries are backed up. Depending on how much data you have, however, this can take some time, so get busy with something else and wait for the backup process to finish.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

You can check on your File History status by scrolling to the bottom of the Backup Options pages and selecting See advanced settings under Related Settings. Doing so will open the Control Panel File History window, where you can see the status and access to additional options.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Of course, if you prefer to transfer everything to an external hard drive or use a cloud storage service for your backups, please do! Whichever approach you choose, make sure nothing valuable can be lost.

How to roll back Windows 10

Now, let’s talk about reinstalling Windows 10 to a specific point in the past — perhaps a few days or weeks ago. This is an ideal solution when there’s something wrong with your computer, like a severe glitch resulting from a new app that you need to get rid of ASAP. There are a couple of different options for reverting to an earlier build or finding a recent point on Windows 10 to reset.

Step 1: In the Update & Security window, go to the Recovery tab. Here, you will see an option to Go Back To The Previous Version Of Windows 10. Click the Get Started button and wait.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 2: Windows is now going to look at how much information it has to work with. You will then fill out a brief survey as to why you’re going back and checking for updates to see if those might fix a problem. Follow the on-screen steps until you are presented with the choice of which Windows 10 build to work with.

Sometimes, however, the operating system can’t find the right files needed to revert to a previous build, especially if you’ve been cleaning your digital house lately. In such instances, it’s better to seek another solution.

Choose Previous Build
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 3: If the preparation works, then you’ll be able to revert to a previous build, which is great if a major update or recent installation caused something to go wrong. If available, look for the most current, trouble-free build you can recognize that is still using Windows 10. Sometimes you will only have access to previous operating systems on your computer, though, like Windows 8.

How to restore Windows 10 from a system restore point

You can also choose to restore Windows 10 from a system restore point, which may work better if you need to pull up more recent versions of Windows 10 instead of skipping back entire builds.

Step 1: Head over to the Control Panel — use the Windows search bar to find it, if necessary. Look for the Recovery section and select Open System Restore. Afterward, confirm that you want to enter this mode. You can also create a new restore point and configure your restore options from this window.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 2: This will provide you with a recommended restore point, and a description of what system action was performed before the restore point is created. Here, you can also select from other restore points. Click Choose A Different Restore Point and select Next if you want to check out other available options.

Keep in mind that Windows typically creates a restore point after every significant change, such as when you install a new app, driver, or update. If you don’t see the option you expect, your system protection may be turned off. If this is the case, you may need to perform a full reinstall or find another solution.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 3: Find the restore point from before the problematic change, if possible. Then, choose Next and confirm with Finish. Keep in mind that this option shouldn’t erase any personal files.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

How to reinstall Windows 10

Sometimes the problems are too widespread for recovery, and you need to perform a full wipe to remove corrupted data or possibly to prepare a computer you intend to sell. In this case, you can fully reinstall Windows 10. Thankfully, it’s easy to do.

Step 1: Head to the Recovery section again, the one within Update & Security. The first option you should see at the top is Reset This PC. That’s the one you want. Click Get Started to continue.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 2: There are several options depending on how much data you want to wipe. Select Keep My Files if you have a specific problem that you want to get rid of while retaining all other information on your PC. This option is convenient but doesn’t work 100% of the time, so you need a plan b. If you have any doubts, click Remove Everything – just make sure to double-check your back up first. Restore Factory Settings will roll back your PC to its original factory state and usually reinstall all the software that initially came with your PC. That option is usually your best bet if you’re selling your PC, though it’s not always available. If you have a valid license, you can also grab a new Windows 10 installation media image and use that to install from scratch.

Choose an Option Reset
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Step 3: Make sure your device is plugged in, so a dead battery doesn’t interrupt the process, then confirm your choice. All that’s left to do then is sit back and wait. The system should reboot automatically when finished.

How to activate Windows 10 (again)

You might need to go through the Windows 10 activation process again, depending on how you reinstall or roll it back. It usually happens automatically and isn’t a problem. But whether your device came with Windows 10 or you upgraded your PC with Windows 10 you bought from another source, you might need your product key to complete the activation. Thankfully, you can typically find it on your Certificate of Authenticity, assuming you kept yours and can find it.

Update your activation by opening the Update & Security and heading to the Activation tab. Here, you’ll be able to see your activation status or add a different product key. Reactivate your Windows 10 installation by following the instructions on the screen.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends
Tyler Lacoma
Former Digital Trends Contributor
If it can be streamed, voice-activated, made better with an app, or beaten by mashing buttons, Tyler's into it. When he's not…
Microsoft is adding a controversial app to Windows 11
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 sitting on a table.

A new Windows 11 build is rolling out in Microsoft's Beta channel, and it includes an app that's been caught up in some controversy. Build 22635.3646 includes the PC Manager app for devices in China by default. This app is already available through the Microsoft Store, but the update suggests the app might be part of Windows 11 more broadly soon.

PC Manager falls in the category of "system optimizers" along the lines of the  Razer Cortex Game Booster. It cleans out temporary files, frees memory that's not being used, and digs deep into your hard drive to clean out unused files. According to Microsoft, it can even "reduce ads and app pop-up interruptions." An system optimizer from Microsoft sounds great as an official release in Windows 11.

Read more
The Meta Quest 3 will get an exciting new type of app
A Windows app extends into 3D space via a Meta Quest 3 VR headset.

A Windows app extends into 3D space via a Meta Quest 3 VR headset. Microsoft

At Build 2024, Microsoft announced it partnered with Meta to extend Windows apps into 3D space with the help of a Quest VR headset. When working on physical objects, it’s important to have spatial awareness of components.

Read more
Game dev on Intel’s unstable CPUs: ‘I might lose over $100K’
Intel's 14900K CPU socketed in a motherboard.

Intel's best processors have been crashing for months, and despite many attempts, the issue is nowhere near being fixed. In fact, the impact might be far worse than we thought.

Original reports about stability issues with the Core i9-13900K and the Core i9-14900K came from PC gamers, but now, we're hearing that they're crashing in servers, too. That can lead to serious damage, with one game dev estimating the instability may cost them up to $100K in lost players.

Read more