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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