How to Reset Your Windows 10 Computer

By Andy Rathbone

When dealing with a particularly sick computer, sometimes reinstalling Windows 10 is the only cure. In the past, reinstalling Windows took a lot of time and effort. When you add the time spent installing Windows with the time spent copying your files and programs back onto the computer, you could be looking at a half-day’s work.

Windows 10 aims to solve that problem. By pushing a few buttons, you can tell Windows to reinstall itself onto your computer. And while installing a fresh copy of itself, Windows saves everybody’s user accounts, everyone’s personal files, their apps downloaded from the Windows Store, and some of their most important settings.

Performing a reset saves settings from your wireless network connections as well as from your cellular connection, if you have one. The Reset tool also remembers any BitLocker and BitLocker-To-Go settings, drive letter assignments, and personalization settings, including your lock screen background and desktop wallpaper.

When your computer wakes up feeling refreshed with its new copy of Windows, you only need to reinstall your desktop programs. (The program politely leaves a handy list of those programs on your desktop, complete with website links, if possible, so you know exactly what to reinstall.)

The Reset tool can go one step further, if you like, by wiping your computer completely clean of everything: user accounts, data, and personal files. Then Windows 10 reinstalls itself, just as if it were on a new PC. That lets you either start from scratch or simply give away your computer to a relative or charity without worrying about leaking your personal information.

To reset your ailing PC, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and choose Settings from the Start menu.

    The Settings app appears.

  2. Click the Settings app’s Update & Security icon. When the Update & Security window appears, click the Recovery option from the left pane. Then, in the section called Reset Your PC, click the Get Started button.

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    If asked, insert your Windows disc, flash drive, or whatever else you used to first install Windows. Don’t have a Windows installation disc or drive? Then click Cancel. You can’t use the Reset option, unfortunately.

    Windows displays the window shown here, offering two ways to reset your computer.

    Unless you have a good reason, choose Keep My Files.

    Unless you have a good reason, choose Keep My Files.
  3. Choose an option and click Next.

    The Reset tool offers two options:

    • Keep My Files: The most widely used choice, this reinstalls Windows, but preserves everybody’s user accounts and files. The only thing you lose are desktop programs, which must be reinstalled from their discs or installation files. If you choose this option, jump to Step 6.

    • Remove Everything: Only choose this when you want to wipe everything away from your computer, including everybody’s user accounts and files, and reinstall Windows 10. Then you can start from scratch or safely sell or donate your computer to others. If you choose this, move to Step 5.

  4. Choose whether to just remove your files or to remove files and clean the drive.

    Windows offers you two choices:

    • Just Remove My Files: Select this option only when your computer will stay within your family. Although this option is relatively secure, somebody with the right tools may be able to extract some previously erased information.

    • Remove Files and Fully Clean the Drive: Select this option when you intend to sell or donate your computer to strangers. This option removes your data and then scrubs the hard drive extra clean. That keeps out everybody but the most dedicated specialists who own expensive data recovery equipment.

    When you click an option and click the Reset button, Windows removes everything from your computer, fully cleaning the drive, if requested, then reinstalls itself to leave your computer with a “like new” copy of Windows 10. At that point, you’re finished, and your computer’s ready to start afresh or be given away safely.

  5. Take note of what desktop programs will need to be reinstalled, then click Next, and click the Reset button.

Windows reinstalls itself on your computer, which takes anywhere from15 minutes to an hour. When your computer wakes up, it should feel refreshed and ready to work again. Expect any or all of the following things to take place when resetting your computer:

  • If you’ve inserted a Windows DVD into your computer in Step 2, be careful when your computer restarts. As it restarts, your computer may ask you to “Press any key to boot from disc.” Dont press any key; instead, wait a few seconds until the message disappears. Then Windows loads itself from your computer’s newly refreshed hard drive rather than the Windows installation DVD.

  • When your computer wakes up and you sign in, you find a shortcut called Removed Apps waiting on your desktop. Click it, and your web browser displays a page with links to any desktop programs that you need to reinstall — if you decide you miss them, that is. (And if you do miss them, you need the program’s installation discs to reinstall them.)

  • Shortly after Windows wakes up, it visits Windows Update to download and install oodles of security patches, as well as updated copies of its bundled apps. Grab a good novel.

  • After resetting your computer, reinstall your desktop programs one by one, restarting your computer after each new install. That gives you the best chance to weed out any misbehaving programs that may have caused the problems that messed things up.

  • If you’re connected to a network, you may need to tell Windows whether you’re on a home network or a public network. You may also have to rejoin your homegroup.

  • If you’ve wiped your hard drive completely clean, you can use a File History backup to restore the files that once lived in your Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders.