How to Factory Reset Windows 10 and Why You Should

It’s good practice to factory reset your computer when you sell or dispose of it, regardless of whether it’s a Mac or Windows PC. It doesn’t matter if you use it every day for essential work or just the occasional picture viewing. Your device is bound to have all sorts of personal and sensitive information on it. One of the best ways to wipe the hard disk clean is to reset your Windows PC, and if you’re running Windows 10, it’s relatively easy to do. Just be sure to back up your important documents, videos, game saves, images, and other essential data.

If you need to factory reset your laptop or PC and get it back to its original default settings, this article guides you through the reset process, and it works on any Windows 10 laptop, PC, or tablet.

Here are some “Q & A” tidbits you should know before resetting your Windows 10 OS. You can also jump straight to the reset process if desired but do so at your own risk.

What’s the Difference between a Windows 10 Reset and a Fresh Start?

A Windows 10 Reset is designed to reinstall Windows OS in its original OEM state when you purchased it. Therefore, all PREINSTALLED third-party applications and licenses that came with the device will get reinstalled. A Windows 10 Fresh Start is similar to a reset, except it DOES NOT preserve OEM and preinstalled third-party software and licenses—it reinstalls Windows 10 from scratch.

Note: Windows version 2004 (not a year) and up merged the “Fresh Start” option into the “Reset my PC” option.

Is It Good Practice to Reset Windows 10?

Yes, it is a good idea to reset Windows 10 if you can, preferably every six months, when possible. Most users only resort to a Windows reset if they are having problems with their PC. However, tons of data get stored over time, some with your intervention but most without it.

The most commonly collected data includes your OS activities and your personal information. Actions like browsing history, social likes, social shares, news views, search history, seen videos, document auto-saves, temporary backup files, PDF view history, and more get stored on the system and used for specific purposes.

Data can accumulate rather quickly and continue to rotate and slow your system down the more you use your PC. If left unattended, the data can be obtained from malware, spyware, and other means. Resetting your PC (like you might do with your Android smartphone) ensures optimum performance and stability on a continual basis.

Does a Windows 10 Reset Save Documents, Music, Images, and Contacts?

Yes, Windows 10 preserves personal folders such as My Documents, My Videos, and My contacts when performing a Windows 10 Reset. However, YOU MUST specify that you want to save your personal data when it prompts you. Otherwise, the reset will erase everything except OEM/preinstalled software and start from scratch.

Does Resetting Windows 10 Keep Game Data?

Typically, a Windows 10 reset DOES NOT save game data or games. The process is intended to provide a clean Windows OS, but it does offer an option to save some of your data, such as documents, images, etc. Independently installed or third-party installed games will not get backed up.

If you have games from the Microsoft Store, the save data may get retrieved when you reinstall it, but that depends on the game’s functionality and options. Microsoft doesn’t personally handle game saves in the Microsoft Store.

It is always best to back up any valuable game data before resetting your PC, and this will require research and unique methods based on the game saves and settings you need to preserve.

Does a Windows 10 Reset Save Custom Drivers?

No, a Windows 10 reset does not preserve any drivers. The OS reinstalls the default drivers or ones that Microsoft has in its database, so you’ll need to reinstall third-party or custom drivers yourself.

Does Resetting My PC in Windows 10 Require Updates Again?

Yes, a Windows 10 reset does not preserve updates, so you will have to reinstall them. However, the latest Featured Update includes all previous updates so that it won’t be so bad.

Now that the essential FAQs are out of the way, here’s the information you’ve been waiting to see!

Using the Reset Your PC Option in Windows 10

It is important to note that the reset option may use the original OEM license if you upgraded your version of Windows 10, such as from Home to Pro. If that scenario applies to you, try to switch the license in the Settings menu.
If that process doesn’t work (most likely won’t), you’ll need to perform a clean install/upgrade using the newer license and software. Here are the steps to reset your Windows 10 device.

  1. Start by clicking on the “Settings icon” in the Start Menu, then select “Update & Security.” Alternatively, type “Reset” without quotes into the Cortana search box.
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  2. From the Update & Security menu, select “Recovery.” This option will bring up two additional options: Reset this PC and Advanced start-up. For restoring your PC, you’ll want to select the first option.
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  3. Now, you’ll have two options: (1) Keep my files, (2) Remove everything. The first choice will keep your personal files and is suitable for generally refreshing settings and removing installed apps. The second choice will also remove your personal files.
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  4. If you decide to use the Keep my files option, you’ll get presented with a list of apps that will get erased and then asked to confirm the reset. If you choose to remove everything, skip to the next step.
  5. If you select “Remove Everything,” the other option involves further questions. You’ll get asked to confirm the wiping of personal data and if you want to wipe all data on the OS drive or all drives.
  6. For Windows with May 2020 Update or later, you’ll get two choices to reinstall Windows 10: (1) Cloud Download, (2) Local Reinstall. The cloud option reinstalls Windows 10 with the latest version. The local option uses existing installation data.
  7. Finally, you’ll be given a breakdown of what will happen to your laptop if you restore it to factory settings. If you’re happy with this, click “Restore” and the process will begin.

After the reset is complete, you’ll see one or more HTML files on your Desktop, listing all deleted applications, so you can decide what to reinstall from scratch. Also, Windows 10 stores all old data in the “Windows.old” folder, so you always have that option to extract from too. Just remember that most applications won’t have license information in Windows Explorer, but you can still search for valuable data.

Depending on your choices, and the speed of your system, the reset will take up to an hour. You’ll know the process is finished when you’re prompted with the license agreement.

If you’re not ready to reset yet but will be in the future, you can set Windows 10 to backup your files and automatically keep them updated, between now and when you want to factory reset your laptop. However, the backup option is not for licenses and programs; it is for personally saved data. Some third-party backup programs offer independent file picking that allows you to restore installed programs (and licenses in some cases).

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