7 Ways to Repair or 'Factory Reset' Windows 10

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Gail N. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I have two HP laptops: one that came with Windows 7 and the other with Windows 8. I have already upgraded both laptops to Windows 10 using the 'get Windows 10 app' via the desktop. My question is: what happens if Windows 10 fails and I need to factory restore my laptop? Will I get back Windows 10 or will it reload the original operating system (Windows 7 or 8)? I ask because both my HP laptops have a 'factory restore' partition which I can access by pressing F11 on my keyboard during bootup. Also, is there any way to fix my laptop without issuing a full restore? "

My response:

This is a good question. If you were to issue a restore by pressing F11 during the boot process, your computer would be reverted back to Windows 7 or 8 and you would lose all your user data and installed programs. That said, there are a number of ways you can repair Windows 10 if there are problems, with the worst case scenario being a complete reinstall of Windows 10 using Windows 10 install media which can be downloaded for free from Microsoft. I'll explain more in detail below.

Option #1: Issue a Restore from a Disk Image Backup

By far the easiest way to make Windows 10 work again is to issue a restore from a disk image backup. For this task I recommend Acronis True Image, as it can backup the entire operating system, including installed programs and user files. If you make a backup now while the system is in perfectly working order, then restoring the backup will keep everything in tact. Since Acronis True Image uses its own environment to issue a restore, you can restore your backups even if your computer running Windows 10 can't boot. If you don't know how to use Acronis True Image or need help setting it up, contact me and I'll do it for you using remote desktop support.

Option #2: In-Place Upgrade / Repair Install

If you don't have a backup, another option is to download Windows 10 install media and perform an in-place upgrade (also known as a "repair install"). To perform a repair install, you must insert the Windows 10 install media from within the Windows 10 desktop environment, and then run the setup.exe file on the Windows 10 install DVD or USB. This will essentially install Windows 10 over top of itself, allowing you to keep all your installed programs, settings, and files. Note that you cannot issue a repair install by booting Windows 10 media - it must be done from within the Windows 10 desktop environment. If your system isn't bootable then you won't be able to do a repair install outside of the Windows environment, as Microsoft has removed this capability (for unknown reasons) with Windows 10.

If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Option #3: Repair Windows 10 using Install Media

Another option is to repair Windows using Windows 10 install media; usually this option would be taken if your PC cannot boot into Windows 10. In this scenario you would reboot the computer with the Windows 10 DVD or USB inserted, then press a key during the boot process to initiate the Windows 10 install media. Proceed through the screens until you get to the part where it says "Install Now"; on that same screen there will be an option to "Repair your computer"; click that link. This will take you the Windows 10 System Recovery Options where you can attempt various fixes. If you don't have Windows 10 install media handy, you can download it free using another computer.

If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Option #4: Refresh Windows 10 from within Windows 10

If you can still boot into Windows 10, you can also issue a Windows 10 Refresh. This is similar to a repair install using install media (Option #2), except the Windows Refresh uses Windows image files that are already present on your hard drive.

If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Option #5: Reset Windows 10 from within Windows 10

If you can still boot into Windows 10, you can also issue a Windows 10 Reset. In this scenario, Windows 10 performs a 'factory reset' where the hard drive is formatted and Windows 10 is installed fresh. Note however that you will lose all user data, settings, and installed programs if you choose this option.

If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Option #6: Use a Recovery Drive to Repair, Reset, or Refresh

Another option is to create a Recovery Drive using a USB memory stick. This will allow you to restore from system restore point, reset your PC, or use advanced troubleshooting options (including safe mode). This option is effectively the same as Option #5 (with a few extras); the main difference is that you would be booting from USB instead of performing the task within a Windows 10 environment. Also note that it is possible to create a Recovery Drive using another Windows 10 PC if your PC won't boot; that said, the recovery drive will only work if you are using the same operating system architecture on both machines (ex: 64-bit and 64-bit, or 32-bit and 32-bit).

If that doesn't work, proceed to the next step.

Option #7: Reboot and Install Windows 10 Fresh

If all else fails, you can always boot from Windows 10 install media and wipe out the entire hard drive and perform a new installation. This is similar to a Reset except you are manually performing the Windows 10 install using install media. If you don't have Windows 10 install media handy, you can download it free.

Re-activating Windows 10

It's worth mentioning that once Windows 10 has been activated on a device, you can reinstall it as many times as you want without ever having to re-enter the license key. That's because the device is digitally fingerprinted and registered with Microsoft's servers once it is registered for the first time. All you need is an Internet connection after Windows 10 is reinstalled and it will automatically register itself. This may take a day or two depending on your Internet connection and Microsoft's servers.

Hope that helps.

Additional 1-on-1 Support: From Dennis

If all of this is over your head - or if you: need additional help, or have a system that simply won't boot and you don't know what to do next - you can contact me for additional support using my remote desktop support service. Simply contact me with a brief message describing your problem and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. For the record, I am exceptionally good at recovering data from systems that won't boot - feel free to review my credentials here.

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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martian's picture

My 3 month old HP 15 laptop died recently with a BSOD stop code saying "CRITICAL PROCESS DIED".

What I'd like to know is if I follow your option #3 as described above, and pick the "Repair your computer" link, will I be able to repair Win 10 without overwriting my data or other installed programs?

Note that I have a month or so old restore point (though I'd rather not go down that path as I have much generated data since then), and believe the Recovery partition is intact (or at least I did before this fiasco!), though not even sure what that implies as far as using it goes -- does it keep a copy my data as well as the OS?

Kurt Hansen

Dennis Faas's picture

Backup the entire system first using a disk image, then you can try the repair option. It may or may not solve the issue. You are welcome to contact me to assist you over remote desktop (using my remote desktop support service) to carry out the repair if needed.

João Matos's picture

Hi Dennis,

I had some problems but I managed to fix on my own. Thanks for the great work!