Windows 8: How to Refresh and Reset your PC [Video]

It always seems to happen for some reason or another. You find yourself in a position where you want to reset the PC to factory settings and in Windows 8, that process will be quite easy. In a new post on the Build Windows 8 website, Steven Sinofsky goes into detail about how a Windows 8 machine can either be reset or refreshed.

If you are wondering what the difference is between these two options, Sinofsky states that resetting your PC will remove all personal data, apps, and settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows and refreshing your PC  will keep all personal data, Metro style apps, and important settings from the PC, and reinstall Windows.

These two options will help users recover their machine easily from challenges that may arise in the future. Sinofsky states that they wanted to create a button that you could push and fix everything; the work behind that idea has evolved in to the two options mentioned above.

If you are going to reset the PC, the process will go as noted below:

  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.

Another useful feature is for those who are worried about sensitive data being retained on their drive after a reset. Microsoft is one step ahead of you on this front and has included the option to “Thoroughly” clean the drive. This option will write random patterns to every sector of the drive, overwriting any existing data visible to the operating system.

For those who do not need to completely clean the machine, another option exists. The "Refresh" option allows you to take your machines back to a fresh install but all of your settings and files will remain in place. Refreshing your machine follows the process below:

  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 installs a fresh copy of Windows.
  4. Windows RE restores the data, settings, and apps it has set aside into the newly installed copy of Windows.
  5. The PC restarts into the newly installed copy of Windows.

The best part about a refresh is that most of your settings and all of your files will remain as they were before you refreshed the PC. The settings below will not be altered during a refresh:

  1. Wireless network connections
  2. Mobile broadband connections
  3. BitLocker and BitLocker To Go settings
  4. Drive letter assignments
  5. Personalization settings such as lock screen background and desktop wallpaper

But, not all settings will be maintained. Items such as file type association, display settings and Firewall settings will be restored to their factory or default setting. When a PC is refreshed, only Metro style applications will be persevered and anything that did not come on the PC, must be reinstalled. 

Another frustrating event is when a PC wont boot and Microsoft is well aware of this: that is why they have enabled the ability to refresh or reset you machine from the Windows Recovery Environment (RE). 

There is also the ability to refresh a PC to a known state using your own baseline image via a command-line tool (recimg.exe). This should help with your parents who always download 10 toolbars or open attachments with the information about their millions of dollars coming from a Nigerian Prince. 

Using these new features, Microsoft has made it quite easy to recover and restart your machines. Using the PC that was handed out to BUILD attendees, Microsoft was able to recover the machine in a relatively quick fashion.

All of the new features should help to recover and repair a PC in much less time. For those of us who always get called up by their relatives to fix their machines after Bonzi Buddy broke free from his cage, these features will be a welcomed addition.

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Never thought of this until I saw this video...

So, buddy prefers to use touch instead of a proper mouse and keyboard for his demo. Which means that instead of a screen recording app, he's gotta point a camera at his screen to show the viewer where he's clicking (a screen recording app wouldn't see any mouse movement, and a viewer wouldn't know what was clicked).

Compare the results between a camera pointed as a screen, and a proper desktop video recording. Yeah, awesome. <rolls eyes>

Windows is moving in the wrong direction - I'm waiting for the day this function is REMOVED... when it is, you don't have to do it anymore!

I would prefer a disk image that, lets say, was created automatically (if so chosen) immediately after logon to the desktop; to be used for the reset feature! I wonder why a re-installation of windows 8 is chosen instead?

And to add to that, the ability to add apps etc. - then screen image for integrity for reset purposes(perhaps) and then update the 'Master Reset Image' RSI?(good abbreviation?). reminds people of repetitive keyboard and mouse sequences too

Edited by Stuart Middlemiss, Jan 5 2012, 8:54am :

Although User data should by default be installed on a second partition!!... Now i'm seeing the same partmgr sequence while installing windows, except transparently(perhaps?) another 'data' partition is created beside the system partition. I would so love this!! I always on standalone workstations, create a data partition and then set about redirecting everything (e.g. Documents)...

Edited by Stuart Middlemiss, Jan 5 2012, 8:09am :

If i refresh then will my applications which i installed in say D drive (not where Windows is installed) , they all will remain intact right? Only their registries etc would vanish? If so then its great

@X-byte, Nope. You can only restore desktop apps to the date when you last created the image baseline using recimg. Any desktop apps installed after you created the image are lost. So it's like restoring from a backup image. But what "Refresh" does for Metro apps is even if the baseline Windows image is old, it restores your latest Metro app you installed just yesterday before the crash. Get the difference?

This looks wonderful for resetting a Windows installation or refreshing (reinstall but keep configured Windows settings). What is disappointing though is that desktop apps will have to be reinstalled. It's understandable though as with so many diverse installer technologies, Microsoft cannot reliably restore every desktop app. Still, it would have been great if at least those desktop apps which used Windows Installer could have been restored.

xpclient said,
This looks wonderful for resetting a Windows installation or refreshing (reinstall but keep configured Windows settings). What is disappointing though is that desktop apps will have to be reinstalled. It's understandable though as with so many diverse installer technologies, Microsoft cannot reliably restore every desktop app. Still, it would have been great if at least those desktop apps which used Windows Installer could have been restored.
You can. Watch the video...

As long as there are users who can't find a program if the shortcut isn't on the desktop (alot) there will always be work.

The thing is, why bother with the command line tool when you could just use System Image from the get go? Also, why was it so hard to create a quick UI wizard for this command line recovery image option? Its 2012, the command line should be last resort or only for power users.

Mr. Dee said,
The thing is, why bother with the command line tool when you could just use System Image from the get go? Also, why was it so hard to create a quick UI wizard for this command line recovery image option? Its 2012, the command line should be last resort or only for power users.

The article says that only the first step and that it will be improved.

When you first install, I bet it takes an image of your PC, then when you reset it just goes back to that image.

Windows 7 has built in image taking, but not automatic like Windows 8 appears to be.

I doubt if this will work for many things such as iTunes on Windows, and/or in a domain, with anything that "tries" to use any stored user profile that needs security of any kind. It's looking like Windows 8 will be a botched up mess for businesses, but this is the MS hand trying to force the cloud on the public one step at a time. This "feature" seems like a ploy to promote M$ sanctioned software rights on a system, and "further" break anything that is not under the umbrella of "MS security" of nonsense and lies. Remember that it's always more important that MS fixes a money leak than actually making things work correctly. So I'll go on record now saying once you use this "feature" it will BORK your PC from that point forward, or at best it will work as well as rollback doesn't today.


justmike said,
I doubt if this will work for many things such as iTunes on Windows, and/or in a domain, with anything that "tries" to use any stored user profile that needs security of any kind. It's looking like Windows 8 will be a botched up mess for businesses, but this is the MS hand trying to force the cloud on the public one step at a time. This "feature" seems like a ploy to promote M$ sanctioned software rights on a system, and "further" break anything that is not under the umbrella of "MS security" of nonsense and lies. Remember that it's always more important that MS fixes a money leak than actually making things work correctly. So I'll go on record now saying once you use this "feature" it will BORK your PC from that point forward, or at best it will work as well as rollback doesn't today.


Are you using iTunes for Windows as an example of a software installation done correctly? Or are you saying this feature won't work because iTunes throws stuff where it shouldn't?

Enron said,

Are you using iTunes for Windows as an example of a software installation done correctly? Or are you saying this feature won't work because iTunes throws stuff where it shouldn't?

iTunes throws stuff where it is allowed, or must, because of the "not really security" on the files, and where things MUST be located in the already junked up Windows registry, but in the case of iTunes both parties are at fault.

So, no and yes.

justmike said,
....

Thurott? Really?
This is how you prove your point?
I thought real technical fellows dismissed his ramblings ages ago.
What's next, mary jo from ZDNet?

justmike said,
I doubt if this will work for many things such as iTunes on Windows, and/or in a domain, with anything that "tries" to use any stored user profile that needs security of any kind.

It's no different than say using Symantec's BESR for restores. With BESR, you need to join the domain when the system has been restored. No security issues there. Even AD groups that show up as GUIDs until you join the domain, come back showing domain group names after joining the domain.

It is interesting that this new feature brings people so much joy because this new feature really reflects a problem with the OS that it is needed at all.

A modern day OS needs to be able to handle whatever a user throws at it and not need resetting, I suppose that is the downside of 'open' ?

derekaw said,
It is interesting that this new feature brings people so much joy because this new feature really reflects a problem with the OS that it is needed at all.

A modern day OS needs to be able to handle whatever a user throws at it and not need resetting, I suppose that is the downside of 'open' ?

True, and I thought this myself. But an OS isn't an appliance; it doesn't do just one thing. Inevitably, some sequence of events, combined with end-user ignorance will cause the OS to fall-over in some way and require this sort of maintenance/recovery.

derekaw said,
It is interesting that this new feature brings people so much joy because this new feature really reflects a problem with the OS that it is needed at all.

A modern day OS needs to be able to handle whatever a user throws at it and not need resetting, I suppose that is the downside of 'open' ?


How can Windows knows that I'm selling my laptop and want to remove all my personal data from it? derp.

Anthonyd said,
I think this video shows how MS is years ahead linux

Windows NT technically has always been a generation ahead of Linux. Even NT 3.1 or NT 4.0 compared to today's Linux is far more technically advanced as an OS kernel and OS model technology.

NT is an object based OS model with horizontal and vertical layer with a highly optimized full HAL for architecture portability without the normal performance penality most portable OSes have.

Linux for example would require a 'reoptimize' code for each platform, which doesn't happen often as it requires a lot of recoding to the architecture, so it uses generic interfaces that are far from optimized for the platform.

Linux also uses the generic UNIX I/O models, NT uses Objects which don't break as new features are added or changed in the core OS.

With Windows Vista, Microsoft added a new video driver model that added in new kernel level GPU RAM and thread management technologies, and still left the older XPDM video model intact seamlessly. The reason this was 'easy' and both still work is DUE to the object based nature of NT and the extensibility it allows as it deals with Objects that can provide the features needed for multiple new and old technologies without breaking anything.

With Linux this was and still is impossible to add in a drastic new model, have it work with old and new systems and still have the luxury of keeping the older model if needed. Linux's lack of a being a true object based OS and using the UNIX model of communication, which are 'dumb' parameter based functional code will always keep it a generation behind Windows NT.
*This is why the NT team avoided the 'older' UNIX model that were far too limiting even in 1991 for what they wanted NT to be able to do even back then.

(Small techno rant, but it surprises me that people that want to be geeks, know a lot about Linux or OS X and yet have no understanding of what Windows NT is capable of, and why it was designed to NOT BE UNIX-like on purpose and those reasons that hamper OS X and Linux and now iOS and Andoid.)

i wonder if this can be done without a CD or not, if it can be without, how can it format the whole drive and then reinstall? or similar to HP/acer etc.? hidden partition?

Shadowzz said,
i wonder if this can be done without a CD or not, if it can be without, how can it format the whole drive and then reinstall? or similar to HP/acer etc.? hidden partition?

There's probably a setup/recovery partition installed, Even Win7 has this iirc, so it probably uses that and maybe has a mix of shadow copies of the core OS files from install time that it rolls back to.

GP007 said,

There's probably a setup/recovery partition installed, Even Win7 has this iirc, so it probably uses that and maybe has a mix of shadow copies of the core OS files from install time that it rolls back to.


ah yeah, makes sense.
windows 7 also has a 'refresh' option, just remove some system files that are required for windows start up windows will notice something is wrong, and reboot into win7's recovery mode and after fixing, it feels like a fresh new install. but afaik it uses the winsxs for this.
actual reset would mean theres must be quite some space in a hidden partition or somewhere. not so fun to waste SSD space on that i supose.

Shadowzz said,
i wonder if this can be done without a CD or not, if it can be without, how can it format the whole drive and then reinstall? or similar to HP/acer etc.? hidden partition?

Likely the install is saved somewhere on a partition like the GP007 said. This way it's diskless which is brilliant. Nothing beats having to dig out CDs and hope the code is on the front.

sam232 said,
lol @ that guys mouth. Dont they have someone who doesnt have facial features to laugh at?

Does this world have someone that doesn't laugh at someone's facial features?

Resetting the PC Thorough with Bit-locker enabled took only ~7 min but disabled took ~24 min that's weird.

still1 said,
Resetting the PC Thorough with Bit-locker enabled took only ~7 min but disabled took ~24 min that's weird.

I would bet this is due to the encryption as it would be unreadable without the key.

Nimitz said,

I would bet this is due to the encryption as it would be unreadable without the key.

This is what I think, since bitlocker encrypts the drive the way it does it doesn't have to really do a "thorough" wipe of the data to the same level probably.

Bonzi Buddy lol. But seriously, finally something appealing to W7 users. I was beginning to think that W8 was going to be little more than 7 with an optional Metro interface.

Fish said,
Bonzi Buddy lol. But seriously, finally something appealing to W7 users. I was beginning to think that W8 was going to be little more than 7 with an optional Metro interface.

Then you haven't been paying attention

Fish said,
Bonzi Buddy lol. But seriously, finally something appealing to W7 users. I was beginning to think that W8 was going to be little more than 7 with an optional Metro interface.

"Something appealing to Windows 7 users"? The Metro experience is appealing to many Windows 7 users. Nonetheless, you could probably benefit from checking out some of the previous posts on the Building Windows 8 blog, if you're not aware of some of the brilliant changes coming to the Desktop experience (http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/)

Fish said,
Bonzi Buddy lol. But seriously, finally something appealing to W7 users. I was beginning to think that W8 was going to be little more than 7 with an optional Metro interface.

As others stated, you haven't been paying attention, as there is imformation out of 'trendy' news sites like this one with more 'features' that will appeal to users beyond Metro. Even Metro itself is something you will look forward to when you learn more about it and how it works even for the average desktop user, as it opens up a new category of Applcations along with the new WinRT API sets for developing applications when combined with WPF/.NET that trully can make the Win32 API set obsolete with the benefit of new performance and functinoality.

Other things you might want to look up are the kernel changes and various changes to video, audio, networking, devices, HD technologies, etc.

Windows 8 gets press about 'touch' and 'Metro', sadly with not enough about Metro and how it works for everyday users as well. (Just slide flipping between the normal desktop and Metro Apps and UI and docked applications are brilliant and I would wager good money you find Metro features and the Apps involved something you use as much as you do your current desktop applications.

Go check out Channel9 on MSDN and also all the whitepapers and blogs that are coming out of Microsoft on core Windows 8 technologies.

(Heck just Microsoft pushing NT back to being used as the highly portable OS it is, that doesn't have the issues Linux and other semi-portable OSes have are impressive if you get geeky and do some reseach on why NT is so portable and extensible, on a level that yeilds higher performance and is far easier than porting Linux and similar outdate OS models.)

Lachlan said,
lol @ the awkward smile at the end of the video..

lulz we` may have found the replacement for the Joker

I am in so much pain with having to reinstall friends' and family pcs that I am considering putting them on Windows 8 beta as soon as it comes out. I love this.
Since you can capture .wim's for your recovery, this means that you can also service that wim offline. I love this even more!

Riva said,
I am in so much pain with having to reinstall friends' and family pcs that I am considering putting them on Windows 8 beta as soon as it comes out. I love this.
Since you can capture .wim's for your recovery, this means that you can also service that wim offline. I love this even more!

Do the reinstall and make a image of the install after it's done. Keep it on a DVD that's bootable. Honestly it's quicker then have to sit there format and run the cd and walk away. That or just use Ghost O.o

Riva said,
I am in so much pain with having to reinstall friends' and family pcs that I am considering putting them on Windows 8 beta as soon as it comes out. I love this.
Since you can capture .wim's for your recovery, this means that you can also service that wim offline. I love this even more!

You'd be the last person I'd call for support if I found out you were loading beta products onto customer's PCs. Bad move.

Riva said,
I am in so much pain with having to reinstall friends' and family pcs that I am considering putting them on Windows 8 beta as soon as it comes out. I love this.
Since you can capture .wim's for your recovery, this means that you can also service that wim offline. I love this even more!

A couple of tips from an old school tech...

The whole 'reinstal/reformat' method of fixing PCs is something that should be a absolute last resort. Even back in the Win3.1-WinXP days when I was directly managing corporate and consumer level repair, out of approximately 100,000 computers that were under just one tech team, a reformat/reinstall was need less that 50 times.

If you learn more about how Windows works, there is virtually nothing that cannot be fixed, even very vicious malware. Reformating a user's hard drive or doing a clean Windows install should be only occur in a few select cases, with the rest having high level techs that can manually trace the problems, fix the registry, etc.

Windows 7 is far easier than those days, with 'rollback' of drivers, 'Restore' of the OS to an earlier time, and the ability to isolate malware changes and fix them as well.

When a user goes to a company or a tech and they recommend a quick and dirty 'reinstall', it is when the user or company needs to find a better qualified tech.

I don't want to dismiss your abilities, but if you spent a bit more time learning more about the advanced repair and recovery abilities, you might save yourself a lot of time, and gain the respect of your friends and customers.

As a side note...
There are also other 'tricks' you can use to help your users, even with Winodws 7. Start using Live Mesh and Sync their Desktop, Documents, Pictures, etc to their SkyDrive. This way even if you are doing a new installation or they change computers, you can turn on Mesh for them, and reassign the Shared folders and they will automatically restore all the user content. (You can even back and restore registry settings as well if you get more advanced using SkyDrive and Live Mesh as the 'image' of personal documents and data for your friends and customers.

Other tips are to force them to get a cheap backup, and when it is plugged, Windows walks them through setting up their backup and turns on scheduled backups of their user data. With the added benefit of combining 'Previous Versions' with the backup to give the users a 'better' than OS X Time Machine feature of going back to prior versions of their folders and documents boht on volume and from the backups.

Good luck, and seriously consider learning more about how to repair and recover a user's system that is always faster than new install, and leaves their settings and data alone.

Jared- said,

You'd be the last person I'd call for support if I found out you were loading beta products onto customer's PCs. Bad move.

He said friends and family not customers?

thenetavenger said,

...

First of all I am not IT support and if you are stupid enough to visit dodgy sites and download that antivirus which pretends to be scanning your PC then you deserve to have everything reinstalled. I am not getting paid, I am doing it for friends and family. If it can be fixed then sure otherwise tough luck I can't spend my day trying to clean it up then resulting to format. And yes I setup live mesh for everyone