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How to Use “Reset this PC” to Clean Install Windows 10

Windows 10 has multiple recovery options to revert or roll back to an old configuration. The built-in recovery options include System Restore, driver rollback, in-place upgrade (a.k.a repair install), Reset This PC, Recovery disk, Go back to the previous version of Windows, etc.

The Reset this PC option reinstalls Windows 10 cleanly, but it also lets you choose whether to keep your files or remove them. Reset this PC is a “Push-button reset” procedure that utilizes the files from the Component Store C:\Windows\WinSxS as the source (if you choose the Local reinstall option) to rebuild the OS without requiring a recovery image or the ISO.

In this article, we’ll see how to use the Reset This PC feature to reinstall Windows cleanly with or without preserving your personal files.

Before using any of the reset or recovery methods, it’s advisable to back up your files. Backing up (a system image backup is preferred) is recommended even though the Reset this PC (Keep my files) feature keeps your data intact.

RELATED: Want to Reset the PC and update/upgrade to the latest Windows 10 version and build automatically? Check out the Fresh start feature or its equivalent Windows 10 “Refresh Windows” Utility. Using the built-in Fresh Start feature or the Refresh Windows utility will keep your personal files and some Windows settings. They remove your apps and start with a clean and up-to-date installation of Windows. An internet connection is needed to use these two tools.

Fresh start is available for Windows 10 versions prior to 2004. For version 2004 and after, Fresh start functionality has been moved to Reset this PC.

Reset Windows 10 using the “Reset this PC” option

To reset your Windows 10 computer:

  1. Open Settings, Update and Security
  2. Select Recovery.
  3. Click the Get Started button under Reset this PC.
  4. Choose one of the two options, namely, Keep my files or Remove everything. More information about each option is provided in the next paragraph.
    To launch the above dialog directly, run the command systemreset.exe or SystemSettingsAdminFlows.exe FeaturedResetPC via the Run dialog.
  5. Choose Cloud download or Local reinstall.
    The new cloud download option was added in Windows 10 v2004. This option would fetch Windows from the cloud to reinstall, instead of reusing the existing Windows files (from the WinSxS component store) to construct a fresh copy. This can be a more reliable way to reinstall Windows and, depending on internet speed, can be faster.

    (To know more about the new cloud download option, check out the Microsoft blog Optimize Windows 10 PC reset using the cloud.)

    If Windows 10 doesn’t start, you can access the Reset this PC option by booting into the Windows Recovery Environment using the Windows 10 USB setup disk or DVD. After you enter the Recovery Options, on the Choose an option screen, select TroubleshootReset this PC, and then choose one of the options.

Keep my files

Selecting the Keep my files (previously, this feature was known as “Refresh your PC”) will do the following:

The %AppData% (in each user profile) folder is not retained. But, some applications may have stored user data in the %AppData% folder. The %AppData% folder can be recovered from the C:\Windows.old after using the Keep my files feature.

In the Reset this PC dialog, you can configure whether to restore preinstalled apps (and settings) that came with your PC or not.

By default, the option is enabled. In non-OEM-branded systems or systems where you installed a retail copy of Windows, the following Preinstalled apps dialog doesn’t show up.

As you proceed to the next screen, you’ll be informed about what exactly does resetting do.

You can view the list of apps that will be removed.

All the apps you installed will be removed, and the preinstalled apps will be restored (if the option is enabled) at the end of the reset process.

Remove everything

The Remove everything option removes all your personal data, applications, drivers, and settings, and does a clean install of Windows 10. The system drive may also be formatted during the process. This option is handy if you want to remove everything and start from scratch. For instance, you may want to erase your data from the hard drive before you’re about to recycle or donate the system for charity (See also: “Security Note” below.)

During the reset process, you can click on the Change settings and configure additional settings.

Clicking on the Change Settings dialog opens the following dialog where you can choose whether or not to erase the hard disk completely or just remove your files.

Security note: However, it’s unclear if the Data erasure (On) setting erases the hard disk securely (e.g., using DoD 5220.22-M or any other standard) or simply formats the hard disk partition(s). So, if your disk has confidential information, be sure to erase it securely using a secure erase tool like SDelete, before donating the PC to someone.

SDelete implements the Department of Defense clearing and sanitizing standard DOD 5220.22-M to give you confidence that once deleted with SDelete, and your file data is gone forever.

Also, you can choose to remove files from all the drives or only from the drive where Windows is installed.

Once you confirm your choices, you’ll see the final dialog box, which lists the things carried out during reset.

The reset process takes less than an hour to complete.

Reset vs. Clean install

A clean install using the Windows 10 USB setup disk or mounted ISO also offers the choice to preserve your files and apps or not. The following options are provided;

  • Keep personal files and apps: This option keeps everything — your files, your user accounts, installed programs, data, registry settings, along with all associated data. You lose nothing with that option.
  • Keep personal files only: Your personal files and settings are retained, but the installed apps are removed.
  • Nothing: Wipes out everything (including your personal data and installed apps) and installs Windows 10 cleanly.

So, what’s the difference between Clean install and Reset?

Most of the time, resetting Windows 10 is preferred to clean install. It’s because, unlike clean installing Windows manually, you don’t have to use a USB setup disk or go through the Windows Welcome screens again and reconfigure all the initial settings. Also, with the reset option, your user accounts and those settings are preserved. You can sign in with the same account and password, and all of your documents and data are preserved in the same locations they were before.

You may also want to read this interesting Reddit thread Clean Wipe Install vs. “Reset this PC” – speed & space used. Mildly interesting factoids for some interesting observations by Windows 10 users.

Other Recovery Options in Windows 10

Other than the Reset this PC feature, there are many recovery/reset methods in Windows 10. Each method is intended for a different scenario. Here are the recovery options in Windows 10:

Which one of the recovery or reset options did you use? Let’s know your comments below.

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