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Windows Cleaning Formula / March 11, 2024

Reset your PC and start over. Here's what will happen: All your personal files and apps will be removed. Your PC settings will be changed back to their defaults.The power of personalization is something we all love about PCs, but sometimes there is good reason to want to roll back to an earlier state. Most consumer electronics devices today can be reset to some factory state, and so we built this capability into Windows 8 too. Desmond Lee is a program manager on the Fundamentals team and authored this post about “push-button reset.”

Many consumer electronic devices these days provide a way for customers to get back to some predefined “good” state. This ranges from the hardware reset button on the back of a wireless network router, to the software reset option on a smartphone. We’ve built two new features in Windows 8 that can help you get your PCs back to a “good state” when they’re not working their best, or back to the “factory state” when you’re about to give them to someone else or decommission them.

Today, there are many different approaches and tools to get a PC back to factory condition. If you buy a PC with Windows preinstalled, it often comes with a manufacturer-provided tool and a hidden partition that can be used for that specific model of PC. You might also use a third-party imaging product, Windows system image backup, or the tried and true method of a clean reinstall from the Windows DVD. While these tools all provide similar functionalities, they don’t provide a consistent experience from one PC or technique to another. If you are the “go to” person for your friends, relatives, or neighbors when they need help with their PCs, you may find that it’s sometimes necessary to just start over and reinstall everything. Without a consistent experience to do this, you might end up spending more time finding the recovery tool for a specific PC than actually fixing the problems, and this gets even worse if you’re helping someone over the phone.

With Windows 8, there are a few key things that we set out to deliver:

  • Provide a consistent experience to get the software on any Windows 8 PC back to a good and predictable state.
  • Streamline the process so that getting a PC back to a good state with all the things customers care about can be done quickly instead of taking up the whole day.
  • Make sure that customers don’t lose their data in the process.
  • Provide a fully customizable approach for technical enthusiasts to do things their own way.

As we began planning for Windows 8, we asked ourselves: “Wouldn’t it be great if you could just push a button and everything is fixed?” We really wanted to focus on the concept of “push button”, which translated into a design goal that represents a simple to use, predictable, and fast solution. We also wanted to build on the process many people already use today when they need to start over: back up your data, reinstall Windows and apps, and restore your data. The strength of this approach is that you start over from a truly clean state, but you still get to keep the things you care about. With that as the basis of the solution, our goal was to make the process much more streamlined, less time-consuming, and more accessible to a broad set of customers.

Troubleshoot / Refresh your PC - Reload Windows without losing your personal files. / Reset your PC - Put your PC back to the way it was originally and remove all of your files. / Advanced optionsOur solution in Windows 8 consists of two related features:

  • Reset your PC – Remove all personal data, apps, and settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows.
  • Refresh your PC – Keep all personal data, Metro style apps, and important settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows.

Reset your PC to start over

In some cases, you might just want to remove everything and start from scratch manually. But in other cases, you’re removing your data from a PC because you’re about to recycle or decommission it. For both of these situations, you can easily reset your Windows 8 PC and put the software back into the same condition as it was when you started it for the very first time (such as when you purchased the PC).

Resetting your Windows 8 PC goes like this:

  1. The PC boots into the Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE).
  2. Windows RE erases and formats the hard drive partitions on which Windows and personal data reside.
  3. Windows RE installs a fresh copy of Windows.
  4. The PC restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows.

(Note that the screenshots below reflect changes that we’re making for Beta, some of which are not yet available in Developer Preview)

Resetting your PC

For those of you who worry about data that may still be recoverable after a standard reset, especially on PCs with sensitive personal data, we also will be providing an option in Windows 8 Beta to erase your data more thoroughly, with additional steps that can significantly limit the effectiveness of even sophisticated data recovery attempts. Instead of just formatting the drive, choosing the “Thorough” option will write random patterns to every sector of the drive, overwriting any existing data visible to the operating system. Even if someone removes the drive from your PC, your data will still not be easily recoverable without the use of special equipment that is prohibitively expensive for most people. This approach strikes a good balance between security and performance – a single pass through your hard drive offers more than enough security for typical scenarios such as donation to a local charity, but does not bog you down for hours or days with multi-pass scrubbing operations that might be required for regulatory compliance if you are dealing with highly confidential business and government data.

Choosing how your data should be removed

Refresh your PC to fix problems

Resetting your PC can take you back to square one if you encounter a problem, but that’s clearly a very heavy weight solution, something you’d only do as a last resort. But what if you could get the benefit of a reset – starting over with a fresh Windows install – while still keeping your stuff intact? This is where Refresh comes in handy. Refresh functionality is fundamentally still a reinstall of Windows, just like resetting your PC as described above, but your data, settings, and Metro style apps are preserved. We have a solution to help you with your desktop apps, too, which I’ll talk about a little later.

The coolest part about Refresh is there’s no need to first back up your data to an external hard drive and restore them afterwards.

Refreshing your PC goes like this:

  1. The PC boots into Windows RE.
  2. Windows RE scans the hard drive for your data, settings, and apps, and puts them aside (on the same drive).
  3. Windows RE restores the data, settings, and apps it has set aside into the newly installed copy of Windows.

Unlike manually reinstalling Windows, you don’t have to go through the Windows Welcome screens again and reconfigure all the initial settings, as your user accounts and those settings are all preserved. You can sign in with the same account and password, and all of your documents and data are preserved in the same locations they were before. To accomplish this, we actually use the same imaging and migration technologies behind Windows Setup. In fact, the underlying setup engine is used to perform both Reset and Refresh, which also benefit from the performance and reliability improvements we added to setup for Windows 8.

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