Windows 8 Makes System Recovery Simple

One Tool for All Systems

Refresh or Reset Windows 8
Image courtesy of Microsoft. Robert Kingsley

If you're using a computer, bad things can happen. Maybe you'll get a virus, maybe you'll get a corrupt system file or maybe you'll delete something important that you shouldn't have deleted. Regardless of the cause, there are plenty of things that can go wrong that can render your system unstable. If this happens, you may have no choice but to do a full system recovery wiping out everything - your personal data included - and reinstalling.

It isn't a pleasant thought, but if you've owned a computer for a number of years, you've likely experienced it once or twice. In the past, this process was a hassle. Every computer manufacturer handled the procedure differently. Some required that you have recovery discs, others included bootable recovery partitions. There was no standard procedure to follow.

Windows 8 is changing that. No longer do you need to navigate one of a dozen of manufacturer's recovery utilities to get the job done; no longer does a recovery mean you lose everything you had on your hard drive. Windows 8 has standardized the process by including two simple use utilities that make system recovery a cinch. The best part, you may even be able to save your personal files in the process.

You'll find the tools you need to perform a system recovery in the Windows 8 PC Settings. To access this area, open your Charms bar, click "Settings" and click "Change PC Settings." Once there, select the "General" tab and scroll all the way to the bottom of the list of options. In this section, you'll find two options for system recovery.

Refresh Your Windows 8 Installation and Save Your Files

The first option, "Refresh your PC without affecting your files" allows you to restore your operating system while preserving your personal data. This is the option you'll want to try first as it allows you to restore Windows 8 without sacrificing all of your data.

Though this may sound like a minor procedure with minimal consequences, you'll actually be losing quite a bit with a refresh.

  • Any application you installed on the system will be removed
  • All drivers you've installed will be deleted
  • Any personal settings you've changed that aren't synced to your Microsoft Account will be lost
  • All system updates or service packs you've installed will be removed

While that's certainly a lot to lose, a few things will remain that make this a much better option than a full System Restore.

  • All personal files including images, videos and documents will remain in your libraries untouched
  • All Windows Store applications will remain installed on your system
  • Any system settings you synced with your Microsoft account will be reapplied
  • Windows 8 will create a list of all programs removed by the procedure a place it on your desktop

As you can see, this is hardly a minor procedure to undertake lightly. A refresh drastically alters your system and should only be completed if all other options have been exhausted. That said, this procedure allows you to recover from severe system issues without sacrificing your personal files.

If you're sure you have no other options and you want to go through with a refresh, just click "Get started" from the PC Settings tab mentioned above. Windows 8 will warn you about what you'll lose in the process and may prompt you to input your installation media. After that, you just click "Refresh" and Windows will handle the rest.

Though you'll lose your programs and some of your settings, they're a small price to pay to return your system to working order. However, not all problems will be solvable with this procedure. If you complete a refresh and your system still isn't running normally, you may need to take more drastic measures.

Wipe and Restore Your Windows 8 Installation

Your second option for system recovery in Windows 8 is "Remove everything and reinstall Windows." The title in PC Settings describes the procedure perfectly. Your data, your programs, your settings; everything goes. Given the drastic nature of this procedure, make sure you only try it if you have no other options.

If you're certain that you want to "Remove everything and Reinstall Windows," go ahead and hit "Get started" from the PC Settings General tab. Once you begin, you'll be hit with a warning explaining that you'll lose your personal files and reset the system to its default settings. You may also be prompted to insert your installation media.

After you've gotten that out of the way, you'll be presented with two options on how to proceed.

  • Just remove my files - This option deletes your data, your programs and simply restores the system files over your current installation. It's faster than the next option but less secure as it doesn't format the hard drive. The procedure will leave a Windows.old folder on your C: drive that contains your old system files and program files. Your personal data will not be preserved.
  • Fully clean the drive - This is the most secure measure as it formats your hard drive and completely reinstalls Windows 8. This option gives you a truer fresh start.

If you choose "Just remove my files" the system will restart and boot a Windows Setup utility. Do not press any keys during the reboot even if prompted "Press any key to boot from CD or DVD…" Follow the on-screen prompts to work through the installer. When asked "Where do you want to install Windows?" choose the partition marked Primary where Windows was installed previously. Hit "Next" and allow the procedure to complete.

Do not select this option in the hopes that you'll be able to restore your old files or programs or retain data. You will still lose everything.

If you're in the position that you choose a full restore over the refresh mentioned in the last section, it makes more sense to go ahead and choose "Fully clean the drive" when presented with the choice. Once you make this choice, you'll simply need to agree to Windows license terms and wait while the operating system handles the rest. Windows will wipe the drive, reformat it using default settings and reinstall the operating system.

Regardless of which method you choose, you'll have to go through the account creation and first-boot setup you experienced when you first installed Windows 8. When you log in you'll find a fresh installation hopefully free of any bugs or problems.