Explained: if I Reset Windows 10, What Happens?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Gene R. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I installed Windows 10 when it first became available as a free upgrade, back in August 2015. However, since then my PC has been acting very erratic - as such, I have decided I would like to reset it. My question is: if I reset Windows 10 what happens? As far as I recall there is a hard drive partition on my system for resetting the PC - will I still get Windows 10 or will I get Windows 7? What does system restore do? "

My response:

This is a very frequently asked question, though your question in particular deal with three completely separate issues, with three completely different outcomes. I'll explain more in depth, below.

Explained: if I Reset Windows 10, What Happens?

First let's discuss the differences between a system restore (restore point), a Windows 10 reset (keep files / remove everything), a factory reset, and even resetting (reinstalling) Windows from DVD / USB media. Each method I've listed from left to right as least destructive to "most" destructive in terms of wiping out personal data.

Resetting Windows 10: using a Restore Point

Compared to a full backup of the C drive, a System Restores works like a 'partial' operating system backup.

In this case, parts of the operating system (including the Windows Registry, system files, and system settings) are backed up and then can be restored to a previous state. User files are left untouched, though some installed programs may lose their settings. A user might issue a system restore if parts of Windows are no longer functioning properly - for example, the Start menu stops working. A user can issue a restore point from within the Windows 10 desktop environment, from the Windows 10 DVD itself, or from a startup repair.

Restore points work sometimes - but oftentimes they do nothing to resolve deeply rooted issues. In that case, you may want to do a "Reset", described next.

Resetting Windows 10: Using the "Reset this PC" option

A "Windows 10 Reset" is similar to reinstalling Windows 10 from scratch with some exceptions (described below) - the major difference with a "reset" compared to a "reinstall" is that you don't need to boot from a Windows 10 DVD / USB drive in order to reinstall Windows. Here, Windows can "reset" itself from a pre-Windows environment, which basically overwrites Windows over top of Windows. Once that is complete, Windows 10 is reset from the beginning - as if it were brand new (similar to a reinstall), without any installed programs, patches, or operating system updates.

If you choose to do a Windows 10 "Reset", Windows will reinstall itself using two methods pertaining to user data:

  1. "Keep my files" - here, Windows is reset; settings and installed programs are removed, but your personal files are left in place. You might want to do this if your system is acting erratic, or something in Windows doesn't work properly.
     
  2. "Remove everything" - this is the same as option #1 above, except all personal files are removed. You might want to do this if you want a completely clean slate and don't care about losing all of your personal files. This is another good option to use if you want to give away your PC to a friend but don't want them having access to your personal data. For all intents and purposes this is similar to formatting the hard drive and reinstalling Windows.

With that said, many users have emailed me to say that oftentimes, the Windows 10 "Reset" feature is broken. Indeed, this is a very common issue. In that case, the next best option would be to make a Windows 10 DVD or USB drive, backup the system, do a clean install of Windows 10, then restore user data. That is easier said than done, as restoring the user data also means resetting file permissions on that data, then moving it to the appropriate location, then reinstalling all programs, re-importing data, etc. This can be very overwhelming for most users (and something I can help with if you need it) - I'll discuss more of this situation further down.

Before I get into that, please allow me to explain what a "Factory Reset" does.

Resetting Windows: Using a Factory Reset

Many users that upgraded from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10 (for free) have purchased PCs or laptops that came with a "reset DVD", or a "reset partition" on their hard drive. Often, vendors such as Lenovo, Dell and HP will provide this to users instead of giving them a Windows DVD for the purpose of reinstalling Windows. The option to "reset" is usually presented before Windows is booted (or you would insert the "reset DVD").

When the system is "factory reset", the hard drive is formatted, all user data and programs are wiped out, and Windows is reinstalled. The major difference to note here is that if you use this method to reset Windows 10, you will be reinstalling the operating system that - ORIGINALLY - came with your PC or laptop (such as Windows 7 or 8) - and not Windows 10. In other words, you most likely wouldn't want to use this method.

In that case, you will likely want to use the next option, described next.

Resetting Windows 10: from DVD or USB

Another method which has not been mentioned in your original question is to reset Windows 10 using a Windows 10 DVD or USB drive.

In this scenario you can use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool (free from Microsoft) to download the Windows 10 ISO file, then burn it to DVD (or USB thumb drive) and what you get is essentially the retail version of Windows 10 on DVD or USB sold in stores. From there you would boot from the DVD / USB and perform a clean install of Windows 10. You would likely use this method if the System Restore, or "Reset this PC" doesn't work, or if you prefer to wipe everything out manually.

That said, the best option for reinstalling Windows 10 (equivalent to a reset) is the "Custom" install method using the Windows 10 DVD / USB media. In this scenario, Windows will create a new install of Windows 10, leave your old Windows installation folder (renaming it to Windows.old), all the while leaving your old user data in tact. However, you will need to reinstall your programs and reset permissions on your previous user data - otherwise you won't be able to access the files. Explaining how to do this goes beyond the scope of this article - in that case you are welcome to contact me for additional support.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

Resetting Windows may not be as easy as it sounds - as I have pointed out: the system restore doesn't always work, and the "reset this pc" sometimes breaks. What you may be left with is the only option of reinstalling Windows manually. This can be very overwhelming, especially if you have important programs and data you need to re-import into a freshly formatted system.

If you need help in some way or another resetting your PC, I am an expert at getting this job done and can assist you using my remote desktop support service. Simply simply contact me with a brief message, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Got a Computer Question or Problem? Ask Dennis!

I need more computer questions. If you have a computer question - or even a computer problem that needs fixing - please email me with your question so that I can write more articles like this one. I can't promise I'll respond to all the messages I receive (depending on the volume), but I'll do my best.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of Infopackets.com. With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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Comments

sytruck_8413's picture

Dennis,

When doing a reset would it not be a good idea to use one of the programs out there or Control Panel to write down your product ID? If one doesn't have or has lost it The Office ID would be a good one also. There a number of "key finder" programs out there.

Thanks,

Don

kitekrazy's picture

W10 no longer relies on a product key. System imaging is a new found friend.

abdulhamidmalik34_5916's picture

Regards.
Every time I open a new folder it's view had changed.
Is there a way to configure for all folders as there was in WinXp and more