How to Reformat a Drive Without Losing Your Data on a Windows PC
The Windows operating system is usually stable enough for average users, but there are times when problems develop after a while. Slowness, malfunctioning apps, and many more issues may only be fixed after a factory reset. However, the standard procedure wipes the whole PC clean.
Fortunately, there is at least one way to reset your Windows computer and keep all user data. Between Windows 10 and 11, the steps may differ slightly too. Read on for the details.
How To Format Without Losing Data in Windows 10
Even though Windows 10 isn’t the latest OS from Microsoft, many people haven’t switched to Windows 11 because of stability issues. Nevertheless, Microsoft still offers regular updates for Windows 10, at least for now.
There are two main ways to reset Windows and keep your pictures, videos, and other files. The first one is the standard method. As for the other one, you’ll need to use Windows Recovery Environment. There’s a little-known third option, but you’ll need some tech knowledge to execute it properly.
Sadly, you’ll have to reinstall your non-Windows apps separately. However, your documents and other important files remain intact.
Using Reset This PC
This process is much easier because you only have to follow on-screen instructions. Here’s how it goes.
- Type “Reset This PC” in the Windows search bar.
- Once the window appears, click on “Get Started.”
- In the green window, select “Keep My Files.”
- Go with “Local Reinstall.”
At this point, it’s best to stick with a local reinstall. Cloud downloads are for systems that don’t work with the local files. You’ll need a strong internet connection for this long download.
- Once you pick a reinstall mode, click on “Change Settings.”
- Toggle “Restore Apps And Settings Which Came With This PC” to “Yes.”
- Touch nothing else and click on “Confirm.”
- Make sure everything is correct and click on “Next.”
- Select “View Apps That Will Be Removed.”
- Ensure you’re okay with these apps being removed.
- Head back to the previous screen and pick “Reset.”
- Wait for the computer to finish reinstalling Windows.
Please ensure the AC adapter is plugged into the computer throughout the process. No matter what happens, don’t force the computer to shut down. You will only cause additional problems this way.
Using Windows Recovery Environment
Windows Recovery Environment, or WinRE, is a mode that lets users repair some common issues. There are ways to enter this mode manually, but below are situations when WinRE kicks in automatically.
- Windows failed to start twice
- Your Windows PC boots and shuts down within two minutes twice
- After two minutes post-boot completion, your computer reboots twice consecutively
- Except for Bootmgr.efi issues, a Secure Boot error
- Touch-only devices may experience BitLocker errors that also force WinRE to start
Here’s how to enter WinRE by using Advanced Startup Options.
- Search for “Change Advanced Startup Options.”
- Open it and click “Restart Now” under “Advanced Startup.”
- The computer will restart and enter WinRE.
The second way is to use a hotkey. Fast boot in BIOS should be disabled. Follow your BIOS menu and head to the boot section to disable it.
Because BIOS menus come in many configurations and styles, the same set of instructions may not work between two computers.
The hotkey for entering WinRE is F9, but some models use F12. Before starting up your PC, hold the hotkey and press the power button. Try F12 if F9 doesn’t bring up WinRE.
Once you’re in Windows Recovery Environment, follow these instructions.
- Click on “Troubleshoot.”
- Pick “Reset This PC.”
- Click on “Keep My Files.”
- Choose your account from the list if there is more than one.
- Enter the account’s password and continue.
If there’s no password, you can just click on “Continue.”
- Select “Local Reinstall” or “Cloud Download.”
- Click on “Reset” to begin the reinstallation process.
Let your computer stay plugged in and idle during this time.
On Windows 10, the process is straightforward. Simply follow the instructions, and your copy of Windows should be restored to perfect functionality after a while.
The only challenging part is navigating BIOS if you wish to use WinRE. Fortunately, the first method of resetting Windows doesn’t require it. BIOS is best reserved for users with some extra knowledge.
Even so, you may be able to look for guides to your computer’s BIOS menu. Some manufacturers have it uploaded for all to see.
Using an ISO File
There’s a way to create a Windows 10 ISO file using the media creation tool. You’ll need a valid Windows 10 license to use it. However, it will be a crucial part of resetting Windows 10.
- Launch the media creation tool.
- Select “Create Installation Media (USB Flash Drive, DVD, Or ISO) For Another PC.”
- Select “Next” on the buttom right corner.
- Choose the Windows 10 architecture, language, and version you want.
- Click on “ISO File” and proceed.
- Get your ISO File.
After performing these steps, you can now start the reset process.
- Right-click the Windows 10 ISO file.
- Select “Mount” from the options.
- Go to the root directory and double-click the file named “Setup.exe.”
- Choose a way to install updates, either from the cloud or locally.
- Click on “Change What To Keep.”
- Pick the option to keep your files and preferably the apps and settings.
- Confirm your choice and Select “Install”.
- Wait for the installation process to complete.
Using an ISO file is more challenging for people without tech know-how. Fortunately, these instructions will help anyone perform the steps without much trouble.
How To Reformat Without Losing Data in Windows 11
Windows 11 isn’t an operating system people struggle to navigate. Many of the controls are the same as on Windows 10, so there’s always some level of familiarity. There are also several ways to reset similar to the procedures above.
Reset This PC
Resetting your PC is incredibly similar to doing so on Windows 10. Here are the steps.
- Type “Reset This PC” on the search bar.
- Go to the Recovery menu and click on “Reset PC.”
- Click on “Keep My Files.”
- Pick from “Local Reinstall” or “Cloud Download.”
- Select “Next” if you’re ready.
- Review your settings before proceeding.
- Reset your PC.
A local reinstall is better because you won’t have to download 4GB of data before installing. It may take 30 minutes if your internet connection isn’t the best. Keep your computer plugged into a power source the whole time, and don’t touch anything unnecessarily.
Install With an ISO
The ISO process is incredibly similar to the one listed above. In this case, you’ll be using a different tool meant for Windows 11. Make sure you select the appropriate language and edition.
- Download the Windows 11 installation media creation tool.
- Run the tool.
- Choose the languages again if asked.
- Go to the next screen.
- Click on the ISO option.
- Create the ISO file.
With a valid ISO file, you can perform a system reset.
- Right-click the ISO file.
- Select “Mount.”
- Go to the root directory and find “Setup.exe.”
- Accept the license.
- Pick from one of two installation methods.
- Choose what you want to keep.
- Proceed with your choice and install.
You may notice that besides a few changes, the process is identical.
Use WinRE for Windows 11
Windows Recovery Mode is also included in Windows 11. However, you can access it just by holding down the Shift key and choosing to restart in the Power menu. It’s quick and safe.
- Once in WinRE mode, select “Troubleshoot.”
- Click on “Reset This PC.”
- Choose to keep your files.
- Pick between “Local Reinstall” or “Cloud Download.”
- Ensure your settings are correct.
- Start the reset process.
Resetting your PC will restore factory settings and potentially eliminate the problem your computer was facing earlier. In the past, you needed to back everything up beforehand. Today, users can perform this procedure in many ways and retain personal files.
When Windows removes third-party apps not downloaded from the store, you get a list of removed apps. Use it to recall what’s missing and download everything again.
You can download apps that help with backing up files, but these are now technically unnecessary. Should you choose to use them, you don’t need to select the options to keep your files.
They’re Still Here
Your files will always stay where you left them when you reset your Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC using the correct settings. While some apps may be gone, you can always consult the list and get everything again over time. These methods are all supported by Windows, and you won’t need any third-party software.
Which of these reset procedures do you prefer? What other ways are there? Let us know in the comments section below.