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Refresh, Reset, and Reinstall Your Operating System

If your entire operating system is in serious jeopardy — that is, it doesn’t boot or it locks up every single time you use it as soon as your mouse cursor appears — you can refresh Windows (without losing any of your files) or reset your entire PC (which deletes all your files and restores most of the Windows 8 system files).

You can also choose to fully reinstall Windows 8 directly from the installation disc.

If you created a System Image file (before your system began exhibiting problems), you should always use the System Image Recovery feature on the Advanced Options screen to completely restore your PC before turning to any of these more drastic options.

Your System Image file can restore your PC to exactly the way it was — a refresh, reset, or reinstall always requires some amount of work on your part to bring things back to normal.

Naturally, you’ll want to try refreshing Windows 8 first. With a simple refresh, Windows keeps your documents, programs, and apps, but not any settings — this means you’ll likely need to reconfigure your programs when Windows is running again.

Unfortunately, not every critical Windows 8 problem can be solved with a refresh — if your PC continues to display the same problems after a refresh, you’ll have to consider resetting or reinstalling Windows 8.

The next step is a reset, which essentially returns your PC to a “vanilla” Windows 8 system — you’ll lose all of your personal files, apps, and programs, but resetting has a much higher chance of success in fixing a badly damaged Windows 8 installation. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to consider a full reinstall of Windows 8.

So-called learned people in the world swear up and down that you should never, never reinstall Windows. Mention such a drastic step to these self-appointed experts, and they immediately start whooping, “There’s no reason to do it, and you might possibly launch a thermonuclear warhead at Nepal if you diddle with a single setting. Just suffer! After all, it’s Windows 8 — enjoy the eye candy.”

You certainly won’t be resetting or reinstalling Windows 8 every weekend, but only as a last resort (after you try the System Recovery Options, attempt to restore from your System Image backup, and consult with the techs at your local computer repair shop). However, in some situations, resetting or reinstalling your operating system might solve your problem.

Manually back up whatever personal files you can from your system before resetting or reinstalling Windows 8. (Perhaps use Safe mode.)

If your PC came equipped with a System Restore disc, note that using a manufacturer’s System Restore disc isn’t the same as resetting or reinstalling Windows 8! When you use the manufacturer’s System Restore disc, your hard drive is probably erased and reformatted and the hard drive restored to the exact condition it was in the first time you booted your PC.

All your files, applications, and settings are gone, and you have to set up all your multiuser accounts as well! If there’s no other way, and refreshing or resetting Windows 8 doesn’t do the trick, please make certain that every file you want to save has been safely stored on a CD-R or DVD-R (or a much roomier external hard drive backup unit) before you use the System Restore disc.

If you received (or bought) a bona fide Windows 8 installation disc, you can also reinstall Windows directly from the disc. Follow the instructions that accompanied the disc to install Windows 8.

You can choose to keep settings, personal files, and apps when prompted, or throw all caution to the wind and just keep your personal files. (Naturally, keeping just your personal files has a greater chance of fixing whatever’s wrong because it may be a corrupted setting that’s causing the trouble in the first place.)

If you reinstall, here are a few tricks:

  • You need the same product key. If Windows 8 came preinstalled on your PC, you should find the product key on an official-looking sticker somewhere on the PC’s case.

  • You have to reactivate Windows 8. Remember how you had to activate Windows 8 when you first installed it or first started your new PC? Activation is the Microsoft antipiracy protection scheme; luckily, the folks in Redmond have made allowances for catastrophe and allow you to reactivate a legitimate copy of Windows 8.

  • You lose all your System Restore points. Of course, if you can’t get to them, they don’t do much good.

Once again, the best-laid plans of mice and trackballs (sorry about that) can go awry, but as long as you backed up your personal files and important documents, you will persevere (even if you have to format the drive, reinstall from scratch, and manually reload your files and applications)!

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