Everything You Need to Know About “Reset This PC” in Windows 10 and Windows 11

A Windows 11 PC.

To use “Reset this PC”, navigate to Settings > Updates and Security > Recover on Windows 10, or Settings > System > Recovery on Windows 11. Reset This PC can be used to repair damaged Windows installations, remove bloatware that came pre-installed with Windows, or as a “nuclear option” to remove most malware.

Windows includes a “Reset your PC” option that quickly restores Windows to its factory default configuration. It’s faster and more convenient than reinstalling Windows 10 or Windows 11 from scratch.

How Resetting Your PC Works

When you use the “Reset this PC” feature in Windows, Windows resets itself to its factory default state. If you purchased a PC and it came with Windows 10 or Windows 11 installed, your PC will be in the same state you received it in. By default, all manufacturer-installed software and drivers that came with the PC will be reinstalled, though you can force it to install a clean version of Windows. If you installed Windows 10 or Windows 11 yourself, it will be a fresh Windows system without any additional software.

You can choose whether you want to keep your personal files or erase them. However, all your installed programs and settings will be erased. This ensures you have a fresh system. Any problems caused by third-party software, system file corruption, system settings changes, or malware should be fixed by resetting your PC.

If your computer came with Windows pre-installed, you may also see a third option, “Restore Factory Settings.” This will restore the original version that came with your PC — so if your computer came with Windows 10, and you upgraded to Windows 11, it will reset back to Windows 11.

This process is very similar to reinstalling Windows from scratch or using a manufacturer-supplied recovery partition, but it’s more convenient.

Note: Windows 8 had separate “Refresh your PC” and “Reset your PC” options. Refresh kept all your files and personalization settings but set your PC settings to the defaults and uninstalled your desktop apps. Reset removed everything, including your files — like doing a complete Windows reinstall from scratch.

Under the Hood

Microsoft explained what’s actually going on under the hood when it originally introduced this feature. When you reset your PC and remove everything:

    1. The PC boots into Windows RE, the Windows Recovery Environment
    2. Windows RE erases and formats the Windows partitions before installing a fresh copy of Windows.
    3. The PC restarts into the new copy of Windows.

When you choose to keep your files, the same steps occur. However, before erasing your Windows partition, Windows RE scans the hard drive for your files and personal settings. It places them aside, installs a fresh copy of Windows, and puts them back where they were found.

Whether you choose to keep your personal files or not, this process involves a completely fresh Windows system. That’s why your desktop programs are erased.

How to Reset Your PC in Windows 10 and Windows 11

To reset your PC to its factory default settings on Windows 10, just open the Settings app and head to Update & Security > Recovery. Click or tap the “Get Started” button under “Reset this PC.”

To reset a PC running Windows 11, open the Settings app, then navigate to System > Recovery instead. The rest of the process is identical.

Navigate to Settings > Updates and Security > Recovery to access

You can choose to either “Keep my files” or “Remove everything.” If you select “Keep my files,” Windows will reset Windows to its default state, removing your installed applications and settings but keeping your personal files. If you select “Remove everything,” Windows will erase everything, including your personal files.

If you just want a fresh Windows system, select “Keep my files” to reset Windows without deleting your personal files. You should use the “Remove everything” option when selling a computer or giving it to someone else, as this will erase your personal data and set the machine to its factory default state. Either way, it’s a good idea to have backups of your important files before using this feature.

Note: In Windows 8, the “Keep my files” option was named “Refresh your PC” and the “Remove Everything” option was named “Reset Your PC”. Windows 10 and Windows 11 simplify things by calling this process “Reset your PC” and asking what you want to do with your files.

Pick "Keep My Files" or "Remove Everything."

You must pick between downloading a new copy of Windows from Microsoft and reinstalling Windows from the assets on your PC. Whether you use the cloud download or the local reinstall depends on your needs. If you’ve got fast internet without a data cap, you have nothing to lose going with the cloud download.

Choose between a local reinstall and a cloud install.

If you’re okay with a factory reset, just click through the next few pages until you get to the “Ready to Reset this PC” page, then click “Reset.”

The final page before you reset your PC.

If you choose to remove everything instead of keeping your files, you’ll have an option to “clean” your drives, too. Whether or not you should spend the time on that depends on a few considerations:

  1. Is your boot drive a conventional hard disk drive (HDD), or some kind of solid-state drive (SSD)?
  2. Were you using Bitlocker, or any other kind of drive encryption?
  3. Are any of the drives you’re wiping hard disk drives (HDDS)?
  4. Are you planning on giving away, selling, or getting rid of your computer?

If you’re wiping conventional mechanical hard drives and you’re going to be selling or giving away your computer, and you were not using any kind of drive encryption, you should absolutely use the cleaning function. The clean function will overwrite the existing data on the drive to make it unrecoverable. Without that special precaution, it is easy to recover “deleted” data from an HDD. That means whoever winds up with your computer could conceivably recover pictures, videos, passwords, and other files if you’re not careful!

SSDs present much less of a security risk than older HDDs because of TRIM — files that you delete are typically removed from the SSD immediately, or at worst removed via a scheduled retrim.

If your drive was encrypted, you don’t need to worry as much about cleaning the data, regardless of whether it was an SSD or an HDD. Modern encryption schemes are quite robust, and while files might be recoverable, they’re going to be unreadable. Breaking into them would require an encryption backdoor, a supercomputer, or several trillion years of free time to spend brute-forcing the Bitlocker Recovery Key on an RTX 4090.

Note: Other attacks exist besides a brute force approach, but the odds of someone working that hard to get your data is very low.

The option to clean your drives, so that your files will be harder or impossible to recover.

How to Reset Your PC From the Boot Menu

If your Windows PC isn’t booting properly, you can reset it from the boot options menu. We’ve covered several ways to access this menu. However, this menu will also appear automatically if Windows can’t boot.

Select Troubleshoot > Reset this PC to reset your PC from the menu.

You can access Reset This PC through the Troubleshooting menu, too.

How to Get a Fresh Windows 10 or Windows 11 System Without the Bloatware

The “Reset this PC” option is convenient, but there’s one big problem with it: if your PC manufacturer installed a lot of junk software you don’t want at the factory, resetting your PC can bring all that junk back.

Thankfully, Windows 10 and Windows 11 include an easy way to ensure you get a fresh-from-Microsoft Windows system. Open up the “Reset This PC” utility like you normally would, but carefully look for the page that has “Change Settings” on it, then click “Change Settings.”

Make sure to click the toggle under “Restore Preinstalled Apps” to the “No” position, then click confirm.

Toggle "Restore Preinstalled Apps" to the "No" position to ensure that no bloatware is reinstalled.

Then just proceed with the reset like you normally would — it will download a Windows image straight from Microsoft and install it on your system or rebuild a clean copy from your existing local files, giving you a fresh-from-Microsoft system with none of that factory software installed.

The hardware drivers you need should be automatically downloaded from Windows Update after you’re done. If you need a hardware driver or utility that isn’t automatically installed from Windows Update, you’ll find them on your PC manufacturer’s download site. Typically, you’ll want to manually download drivers for your graphics card at least. If you have a dedicated sound card, or a fancy mouse or keyboard, you’ll probably want to manually download those drivers too.

Windows 8 allowed you to create a custom refresh image. Whenever you refreshed or reset your PC, it would use your custom image instead of the default one. For example, you could uninstall bloatware that came with your PC, install important software, or change system settings and then create a refresh image with the current system state. However, this option is no longer present in Windows 10 or Windows 11 — but the bloatware-less option is at least a nice consolation prize.

Original Article