How to reset any Surface device without a recovery image

You don't need a recovery image to reset your Surface, you can simply reinstall Windows 10 and let Windows Update take care of the rest. Here's how.

Surface Pro 3 with pen and Type Cover

Usually, when you’re having issues and your Surface won’t start, you visit Microsoft support to download a recovery image, which then you can use to create a USB recovery drive to reset the device to its factory default settings while reinstalling Windows 10 in the process.

While it may sound a little technical for many users, it’s actually an easy task to do. The only caveat is that many users get stuck when trying to download the recovery files from the support site and they get the message: “The recovery image for your device isn’t available for download through this page. Please contact us for help.”

However, this shouldn’t be a big deal, because technically, you don’t need a recovery image at all to reset your Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 3, Surface 3, or (soon) Surface Studio. The three things you need are: the files to reinstall Windows 10, an internet connection, and (just in case) the pack of drivers for your device.

In this guide, you’ll learn the steps to recover your Surface device running Windows 10 when you cannot download or you simply don’t want to use a recovery image.

How to reset your Surface when you can’t download the recovery image

In the case of a Surface device, a recovery image is just a special package containing the installation files for Windows 10, including all the device drivers, and any special software that may come bundled with the device — nothing more.

The only thing special about the recovery image are the device drivers, which also happen to be available through Windows Update. This means that you can reinstall Windows 10 and then simply check for updates to complete setting up your device.

Important: This is a friendly reminder. Resetting your Surface will delete all your personal files, reset your settings, and remove all your apps. Make sure to keep a backup of your data at all times before proceeding.

To reset your Surface to the factory default settings when you’re having problems, and you can’t download the recovery image, do the following:

  1. Use this guide to create a Windows 10 USB installation media with the Media Creation Tool.

  2. Download the drivers and firmware pack for your Surface from Microsoft support. We’re downloading this as a precaution, in the case you need to manually reinstall any drivers after the installation, such as the Wi-Fi network adapter.

    Quick Tip: When downloading the pack, make sure to download the most up to date .msi file for Windows 10. The .msi file will install all the relevant drivers automatically on your system.
  3. Make sure your Surface is powered off and plugged in.

  4. Insert the USB drive with Windows 10 installation files.

  5. Press and hold the volume-down button while you also press and release the power button of your device.

  6. When you see the Surface logo in the screen, release the volume button.

  7. While in the UEFI settings, change the alternate boot order to include USB first and SSD (hard drive) second.

    Surface UEFI settings
    Surface UEFI settings
  8. Once the Windows 10 wizard appears follow the on-screen directions to finish installing the operating system.

    Note: It’s a straightforward process, but you can use this guide to do a clean installation of Windows 10.
  9. After you finish the installation, make sure you can connect to the internet. If you can’t connect to the internet, double-click the .msi file you downloaded on step 2 to install all the relevant drivers.

  10. Make sure you connect to the internet, and open Settings.

  11. Click on Update & security.

  12. Click on Windows Update.

  13. Click on Check for updates to download the latest updates for Windows 10, firmware, and drivers to complete the task.

    Windows 10 Windows Update settings
    Windows 10 Update settings

At this point, your Surface (Surface Book, Surface Pro 4, Surface Pro 3, Surface 3, or Surface Studio) should be in working conditions once again and without using a recovery image.

Were you able to fix your Surface using this process? Tell in comments below.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].