How to ‘Reset your PC’ and ‘Refresh your PC’ in Windows 8 (step-by-step)

Reset your PC and Refresh your PC Windows 8 features

Learn step by step how easy it is to Refresh your PC in case you are having problems with your computer and you want to fix them easily and quickly, or how easy it is to Reset your PC if, for example, you are getting rid of your Windows system.

Like most today’s mobile devices that offer one-click recovery usually with a reset button, Windows 8 now includes the capability to reset the PC to factory state when you are about to get rid of it, or to go back to a good known state when things are acting up and you need a quick way to get back to what is important.

With the concept of “push a button”, here are the main differences between the two new system recovery features:

  • Reset your PC: Essentially Windows gets reinstall, personal data, apps, and settings from your PC will get removed.
  • Refresh your PC: Here all the user’s personal data, Metro style apps, and important settings in the PC are kept intact and Windows gets reinstall.

Read Pureinfotech’s previous article — Microsoft details Windows 8 Refresh and Reset your PC features — to get a glimpse of how every works in the background, then use the following guide to use each feature:

How to Reset your PC in Windows 8

Before you dive into resetting your PC process, there are a few things that you may want to consider: Using the “Reset your PC” feature will remove everything in your computer and you will need to start from scratch, meaning that you’ll need to restore your data, reconfigure all your personal settings, and install and configure every piece of software that was installed in your system manually. This should be your last resort solution. 

Most of the time you will use this feature when giving the PC away, recycling, or when you need to safely delete important data from the hard drive, so it cannot be easily recovered.

Follow these steps to Reset your PC:

1. Use the +C shortcut to bring the Charms Bar, click Settings, and then click More PC settings.

Charms Bar - Settings - More PC Settings

2. From the PC settings, click on General, scroll down and under Reset your PC and start over, click Get started.

PC settings - Windows 8

If you have a system with multiple partitions, you will be asked: “Do you want to remove all files from all drives?”, basically here choose if you want to perform a complete erase in all drives or only where Windows 8 is installed. Choose an option to continue.

You may also get a message that some files are missing. If this is the case, you’ll need to provide the Windows 8 DVD or recovery media to complete the process — Just as a note, I tried a USB drive with the Windows installation files when testing in a virtual machine but it didn’t work, it only accepted the DVD installation media –. Once you have inserted the media, click Cancel and then click Get Started one more time.

Reset your PC - Insert Media

3. The next steps is about security, this time around Microsoft is increasing the security of your data by offering two ways to erase your personal files. The more secure, but it takes more time, is the first option Thoroughly, choosing this option Windows not only will format the hard drive but it will also write random patterns on every sector of the hard drive, overwriting any piece of information that it is visible by Windows. This offers more than enough security for a typical computer and when trying to get rid of it in a secure matter.

The second options is Quickly, but your files might be recoverable by someone else. You should choose this option if you are keeping the PC or giving it to friend or family member that you trust. With this option, Windows will perform a quick format and continue with the reinstallation of the operating system.

Choose the option that is suited for your situation to continue.

Reset your PC - How to remove personal files

Then Windows 8 will restart and boot into the reset process. The amount of time that it takes to complete the process will depend on your system configuration.

4. Once the reset process finishes, you will be asked to enter the Windows 8 Product key — If you don’t remember you can grab it from here –, then click Next, of course, you can just click Skip and enter the Windows 8 license later. 

5. In the Windows license terms, click Accept to continue.

6. Once Windows is finished installing all the necessary components and restarted several times, you’ll be presented with the Personalize page. Personalize allows you to pick a theme color for the Metro style user interface and a name for your PC. Choose your settings and click Next.

Personalize - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

7. In Settings, you’re given the choice to Use express settings, which basically will automatically take care of various aspects of maintenance, it will help you better to find solutions to problems, send information to Microsoft, and more. I am going to deep using the Customize option.

Note: Using the express settings will automatically configure many of the PC settings, reducing most of the following steps.

Settings: Windows Setup - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

8. If you are at your home, you can choose the Settings’s option Yes, turn on sharing and connect to devices.

Settings: Networking - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

9. Now select how to update your PC using Windows Update and how to protect from unsafe data and websites. For the most part leave the defaults settings here and click Next.

Settings: Windows Update - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

10. Control if you want Microsoft to collect information from your computer, then click Next.

Send Microsoft Info - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

11. Turn ON or OFF how Windows checks online for solutions to problems and if you want apps to share information among themselves, and click Next

Solutions  - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

12. Because we took the step-by-step route resting Windows 8, we are going to configure the PC with an email address from Microsoft. The reason is because adding an email address will allow you to access the new Windows Store to download any Metro style app, you can have full access to your pictures and files remotely, and you can also sync various settings with other PCs. Once you’ve entered your email address, click Next.

Sign In your PC  - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

13. Enter your Microsoft account password and click Next. You already have an account if: you use Messenger, Hotmail, Xbox Live or any Windows Live services. If you don’t have either of these, you can click the Sign up for a Microsoft account link to create one.

Microsoft account  - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

14. Windows 8 offers a method to recover your password and to keep your account secure. You’ll need to supply a least 2 options in order to continue. When you are done, click Next.

Account verification - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

If you get the error “This service isn’t available right now–…”, choose a username and password with hint for your Windows account, and click Finish.

Windows account local - Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Windows will finalize the setup and your Windows 8 Consumer Preview is finally installed. Believe it or not, the whole process took me less than 20 minutes!

How to Refresh your PC in Windows 8

With Refresh your PC you can get the benefit of the “Reset your PC” feature of starting with a fresh copy of Windows installation, however all your important personal data, settings, and Metro style apps are kept intact. If you are interested on using refresh and also keeping all your desktop applications check the following article — How to create a custom Refresh Point with Recimg.exe in Windows 8 [Step by Step].

One of the most important and exciting part about “Refresh your PC” feature is that you won’t have the need to back up anything (e.g., documents, music, video, photos, etc.) to a network shared or external hard drive, and then spend even more time restoring your information.

Also something worthy noting is that a difference of when you install Windows from a DVD or USB drive, you are not going to see any welcome screen or reconfigure anything else such as your user profile, and other important settings are kept.

Because of many Windows issues are caused by incorrect configuration, to make sure that Refresh fixes the problem, Microsoft is preserving only the following settings — more settings to preserve may be added in future releases –:

  • Wireless network connections
  • Mobile broadband connections
  • Drive letters assignments
  • BitLocker and BitLocker To Go settings
  • Personalization settings like wallpapers and lock screen background

Settings that aren’t preserve, because they can cause problems are:

  • File type associations
  • Windows Firewall settings
  • Display settings

To Refresh your PC in Windows 8 do the following:

1. Use the +C shortcut to bring the Charms Bar, click Settings, and then click More PC settings.

Charms Bar - Settings - More PC Settings

2. From the PC settings, click on General, scroll down and under Refresh your PC without affecting your files, click Get started.

PC settings - Windows 8

4. Click Next, then Restart and just let Windows complete the refresh process. This may take some time depending on your system configuration.

When you use Refresh utility, Windows will only preserve the Metro style apps, and desktop apps need to be reinstalled manually. There are two reasons for this: First, an application can be the cause of the problem, and second Microsoft doesn’t want to reinstall a bad application in your system.

The new system recovery utilities that are now part of Microsoft next operating system not only makes it a lot easier than before for users to reinstall Windows 8, but also will aid the end-user to fix problems that may occur besides other system failures. Even though, today I showed you Refresh and Reset features within Windows 8, you can also get to these features at boot in the Advanced Startup functionality, under the Troubleshoot menu, that will also allow you to access the System Image Recovery, System Restore, and other advanced options. 

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].