Reset and Refresh Windows 8 PCs

Martin Brinkmann
Jan 5, 2012
Updated • Oct 30, 2012
Data recovery, Windows, Windows 8

Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system will ship with two new recovery modes called Reset and Refresh that users and administrators can use to reset the computer to factory state or to refresh it to a "good state".

The terminology may be confusing at first. The reset option basically removes all personal data from the PC before reinstalling Windows 8 on the computer system, refresh on the other hand restores some data on the system after reinstallation of the operating system.

Microsoft details both troubleshooting and repair options in a new blog post on the Building Windows 8 site.

Both options are available in the Windows 8 control panel. The Reset your PC screen looks like this:

reset windows 8

Windows performs several operations when the reset option is selected. The PC is booted into the Windows Recovery Environment, data on the Windows partition is erased, and the hard drive formatted which means that all personal data on that particular partition will become unavailable. A new copy of Windows 8 is then installed, which is then loaded once the PC restarts.

A refresh on the other hand preserves some of the personal data that is already on the PC. The process is nearly identical to resetting the PC. The only difference is that Windows 8 backs up data, settings and metro apps on the same drive to restore the data after Windows 8 has been reinstalled on the computer system. Windows 8 will only preserver Metro style apps, and not desktop applications which may seriously increase the the configuration and setup time after the refresh has been completed.

Microsoft mentions two reasons for this behavior:

First, in many cases there is a single desktop app that is causing the problems that lead to a need to perform this sort of maintenance, but identifying this root cause is not usually possible. And second, we do not want to inadvertently reinstall “bad” apps that were installed unintentionally or that hitched a ride on something good but left no trace of how they were installed.

System configuration settings that will be preserved include the PCs wireless network connections, mobile broadband connections, drive letter assignments, personalization settings like the desktop wallpaper and Bitlocker settings.

Some settings will not be restored though "as they can occasionally cause problems if misconfigured". This includes display settings, Windows Firewall settings as well as file type associations.

Windows 8 does ship with options to define your own baseline image for refreshing operations. The core benefit here is that this makes it possible to restore desktop applications as well.

Here is how this works: Configure Windows 8 the way you want it to be. Install applications and make changes to the system. Once you are satisfied you run the following commands on an elevated command line prompt to create the baseline image.

  • mkdir C:\RefreshImage
  • recimg -CreateImage C:\RefreshImage

You can naturally place the image into another directory, for instance on another partition or drive. Windows will automatically register that baseline image for use when the refresh option is selected by the user.

Microsoft has tested the resetting option on the developer preview PC that they handed out at the BUILD conference. A quick reset of the Windows 8 PC took 6 minutes and 12 seconds to complete, a more thorough reset with BitLocker enabled 6 minutes and 21 seconds, and a thorough reset without BitLocker 23 minutes and 52 seconds. Why the big difference between PCs with BitLocker enabled and disabled? Microsoft is only erasing the encrypted metadata on BitLocker enabled devices which takes significantly less time than erasing all data on the drive. A refresh of the PC took 8 minutes and 22 seconds.

Windows 8 Reset, Refresh FAQ

  • Can data be recovered after a reset? This depends. Microsoft mentioned that they will provide options in Windows 8 Beta to erase data more thoroughly to limit the effectiveness of data recovery attempts. The thorough option will overwrite every sector of the partition with random data.
  • Reset, Refresh and System Restore: System Restore serves a different purpose. It is mainly used to undo a single change on the system, for instance the installation of a new system driver that is causing issues on the system.
  • What can I do if the PC does not boot into Windows 8 anymore? Both refresh and reset options are available when booting into the Recovery Environment.

Here is a video demonstrating the refresh and reset functionality.

Update: Windows 8 has been released officially so that it is necessary to take another look at the operating system's refresh and reset feature.

You find both the refresh and the reset feature under PC Settings of the start screen interface. Here is how you get there:

  • Press the Windows key to open the start screen interface if you have not been there already.
  • Press Windows-C to open the Charms Bar
  • Select Settings > Change PC Settings from the options here to open the start screen specific settings. This is a different set of settings than the Control Panel makes available.
  • Switch to the General listing here and scroll down until you see the Refresh and Reset options on the screen.

windows 8 refresh reset

  • Refresh your PC without affecting your files - If your PC isn't running well, you can refresh it without losing your photos, music, videos and other personal files.
  • Remove everything and reinstall Windows - If you want to recycle your PC or start over completely, you can reset it to its factory settings.

Note that the reset feature has been renamed to make it more clear what is happening when you run it on the system. It is basically still the same feature though.

Just click on the get started button underneath the option that you want to make use of. When you do that, you get to a screen that highlights exactly what is going to happen when you continue with the operation.

Refresh your PC

Here is what will happen:

  • Your files and personalization settings won't change
  • Your PC settings will be changed back to their defaults
  • Apps from the Windows Store will be kept.
  • Apps you installed from disc or websites will be removed
  • A list of removed apps will be saved on your desktop.

refresh your pc

Reset your PC

Here's what will happen:

  • All your personal files and apps will be removed
  • Your PC settings will be changed back to their defaults.

reset your pc

The Reset your PC feature needs additional explanations:

  • If you have multiple partitions, you are asked during the process if you want to cleanup all partitions or only the one Windows is located on. This can be useful to avoid deleting data on another drive or partition that you use for storage only. Click on the "show me the list of drives that will be affected" link here to make sure only the drives that you want to reset are included in the operation.
  • You are also asked how to remove the personal files. Windows can either overwrite the data which takes longer but is more thorough and especially useful if you are giving the hard drive or PC away, or quickly, which is faster but makes it more likely that data can be recovered with file recovery software.

Tutorials & Tips

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  1. Dan Donx said on January 15, 2023 at 10:29 am

    What mental age of reader are you targeting with the first sentence? 10?

    Why not write an article on how to *avoid* upgrading from W10 to W11. Analogous to those like me who avoided upgrading from 7 to 10 for as long as possible.

    If your paymaster Microsoft permits it, of course.

  2. Dexter said on January 15, 2023 at 11:14 am

    5. Rufus
    6. Ventoy

    PS. I hate reading these “SEO optimized” articles.

    1. cdr said on January 15, 2023 at 3:32 pm

      I used Rufus to create an installer for a 6th gen intel i5 that had MBR. It upgraded using Setup. No issues except for Win 11 always prompting me to replace my local account. Still using Win 10 Pro on all my other PCs to avoid the bullying.

  3. sv said on January 15, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    bit pointless to upgrade for the sake of upgrading as you never know when you’ll get locked out because ms might suddenly not provide updates to unsupported systems.

    ps…. time travelling?
    written. Jan 15, 2023
    Updated • Jan 13, 2023

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 16, 2023 at 5:49 am

      This happens when you schedule a post in WordPress and update it before setting the publication date.

  4. Anonymous said on January 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Anyone willing to downgrade to this awful OS must like inflicting themselves with harm.

  5. basingstoke said on January 16, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I have become convinced now that anybody who has no qualms with using Windows 11/10 must fit into one of the following brackets:

    1) Too young to remember a time before W10 and W11 (doesn’t know better)

    2) Wants to play the latest games on their PC above anything else (or deeply needs some software which already dropped W7 support)

    3) Doesn’t know too much about how computers work, worried that they’d be absolutely lost and in trouble without the “”latest security””

    4) Microsoft apologist that tries to justify that the latest “features” and “changes” are actually a good thing, that improve Windows

    5) Uses their computer to do a bare minimum of like 3 different things, browse web, check emails, etc, so really doesn’t fuss

    Obviously that doesn’t cover everyone, there’s also the category that:

    6) Actually liked W7 more than 10, and held out as long as possible before switching, begrudgingly uses 10 now

    Have I missed any group off this list?

    1. Heinz Strunk said on September 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      You have missed in this group just about any professional user that uses business software like CAD programs or ERP Programs which are 99% of all professional users from this list.

      Linux doesn’t help anyone who is not a linux kid and apple is just a fancy facebook machine.

  6. ilev said on August 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    Microsoft has removed KB5029351 update

    1. EP said on August 24, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      only from windows update though
      KB5029351 is still available from the ms update catalog site

  7. Anonymous said on August 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    1. This update is labaled as PREVIEW if it causes issues to unintelligent people, then they shouldn’t have allowed Preview updates ot install.

    2. I have installed it in a 11 years old computer, and no problems at all.

    3. Making a big drama over a bluescreen for an updated labeled as preview is ridiculous.

    This is probably another BS internet drama where people ran programs and scripts that modified the registry until they broke Windows, just for removing stuff that they weren’t even using just for the sake of it.
    Maybe people should stop playing geeks and actually either use Windows 10 or Windows 11, but don’t try to modify things just for the sake of it.

    Sometimes removing or stopping things (like defender is a perfect example) only need intelligence, not scripts or 3rd party programs that might mess with windows.

  8. john said on August 24, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Windows 11 was a pointless release, it was just created because some of the Windows team wanted to boost sales with some sort of new and improved Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft cannot support one version well let alone two.

    1. John G. said on August 25, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Windows 11 is the worst ugly shame by Microsoft ever. They should release with every new W11 version a complete free version of Starallback inside just to make this sh** OS functionally again.

  9. EP said on August 25, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released a statement regarding the “unsupported processor” blue screen error for their boards using Intel 600/700 series chipsets & to avoid the KB5029351 Win11 update:–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–Error-Message-of-Windows-11-Update-KB5029351-Preview-142215

  10. EP said on August 29, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    check out the following recent articles:

    Neowin – Microsoft puts little blame on its Windows update after UNSUPPORTED PROCESSOR BSOD bug:

    BleepingComputer – Microsoft blames ‘unsupported processor’ blue screens on OEM vendors:

  11. Leonard Britvolli said on August 30, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    While there may be changes or updates to the Windows 10 Store for Business and Education in the future, it is premature to conclude that it will be discontinued based solely on rumors.

  12. sembrador said on September 5, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    My advice, I left win 15 years ago. Now I’m a happy linux user (linuxmint) but there is Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu depending on your needs.

  13. EP said on September 6, 2023 at 11:55 am

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released new BIOS/firmware updates for their Intel 600 & 700 series motherboards to fix the “UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR” problem (Sept. 6):–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–caused-BSOD-on-MSI-s-Intel-700-and-600-Series-Motherboards-142277

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