How to Restore Windows to Factory Settings
Factory settings also known as Factory Defaults, mean getting the computer back to the state when you first bought it. This includes the OS with all the third-party software they like to install with it. However, this may not be the most ideal choice.
Another option to think about, is to perform a clean install of the operating system, so that you are working with a bare bones version of the OS, then setting it up to your needs. The difference is that the clean install not include any junk or third party software.
Alternatively, performing a system restore reverts the OS to a previous state, which is like a clean install, but could help you get your system working properly.
There is also a repair install, which replaces all of the Windows system files, but keeps your data intact. This is a good option if your system has become infected with a virus or malware you can’t remove, but your data is clean. Windows and all apps will be wiped, but your data will be kept.
We'll expand on each one of these methods in the article below.
If you’re at this stage, your computer must be really in bad shape. Our recommendation is to perform a clean install, which is better than restoring the factory image that you either get on DVD or that is located on a hidden partition in the hard drive. If you’re scared to lose some data with a clean install, go for a repair install. System Restore is the safest, but usually can’t fix major malware infections.
Restore Factory Settings – System Restore
System Restore is a built-in tool in Windows that allows you to roll back the system to a previous state. Note that it only “restores” previous settings in the registry and Windows system files. It will also uninstall any applications that you might have installed after the restore point was created.
You can use system restore to get rid of spyware, but if system restore does not fix your problem, you’ll have to resort to either a clean install of the OS or to the recovery DVD/partition.
Restore Factory Settings – Recovery CD/DVDs
If you have one of these, you can access the recovery partition from within Windows or during startup.
The reason we don’t recommend this option is because all of the PC vendor recovery images include additional third-party software, which are annoying or slows down your computer.
Restore Factory Settings – Clean/Repair Install Windows
Your last and final options for restoring Windows to factory settings is to perform a clean install or repair install. Depending on your version of Windows, the process will be different.
For Windows XP, you can really only do this using a CD/DVD. A clean install basically consists of booting from the original XP CD, deleting all partitions, recreating new partitions, and then installing Windows XP from a CD.
It’s a fairly straight-forward process, but it’s important to note that you will lose all your data in this process.
If you need to fix corrupted or missing Windows system files without losing any data, it is recommended you try a repair install of XP.
If you are running Windows 7, you’ll need to have the DVD for the OS or create your own bootable USB device to perform a clean install. If you have the original DVD, then we can start the process from within Windows.
Go to the Control Panel and click on Recovery. If you don’t see icons, click on the little drop-down at the top right and choose from small or large icons instead of Category.
Next click on the link at the bottom for Advanced Recovery Methods.
Now click on the Reinstall Windows (require Windows installation disc) option.
Go ahead and put in the disc and the reinstall process will begin. First, you’ll be asked to backup your data if you want and then you’ll have to restart. Once restarted, a Recovery Options dialog pops up and then you’ll be asked to confirm whether you really want to reinstall Windows.
Once it detects the DVD, you’re good to go and the installation process will begin. Note that when you do this, it will move the old version of Windows into a Windows.old directory, which can end up taking up a lot of space. You can run Disk Cleanup and make sure to click the "Clean up system files" button.
If you want to perform a repair install of Windows 7, it’s a fairly complicated process. We suggest just copying your data off and performing a clean install. It's allot faster and usually solves most issues.
Lastly, if you don’t have the DVD, you’ll need to create a bootable USB drive with Windows 7 installed on it. Then you’ll boot from the USB drive and clean install Windows 7.
Starting with Windows 8, you no longer need a DVD or bootable USB device to repair install or clean install your PC.
It still might be worth the effort to create your own bootable USB device with Windows 8 or 10 because a lot of PC vendors add their own images to the OS so that when you perform a Reset or Refresh, it actually loads their customized image with extra software rather than a clean version of Windows.
With Windows 8 and Windows 10, you don’t even need a product key to create the bootable USB drive like you do with Windows 7, so it is really preferable to do that way if you can. If not, here’s how you can do it from Windows 8.1.
Click on the Start button to bring up the Start screen. Now just start typing pc settings and the charms bar will appear at the far right.
Click on Update and Recovery at the bottom and then Recovery. You’ll now see a couple of options.
Refresh your PC without affecting your files is the repair install option. It will keep your personal files and replace all the system files.
Remove everything and reinstall Windows will restore the system to factory settings, which is exactly what I described at the very beginning of the article. This means that a customized image might be restored that includes anything the PC vendor originally installed on the system.
Advanced Startup will allow you to perform a true clean install by letting you startup from a USB drive, which will be a clean version of Windows from Microsoft.
If creating the USB drive is too complicated, go ahead and do the second option and then simply uninstall any third-party software that might already be included after the restore.
The procedure for Windows 10 is a bit different than Windows 8.1, but not by much. In Windows 10, click on the Start button and then click on Settings.
Click on Update & Security and then click on Recovery.
Here you only have two options: Reset this PC and Advanced startup. When you click on Reset this PC, then you’ll get the option to reset while keeping your files or reset by deleting everything.
In Windows 10, if you choose to remove everything, you’ll also see a new option asking if you want to clean the drive, which means it will not only delete everything, but will try to securely erase everything so that data cannot be recovered.
Again, you can also create a USB flash drive with Windows 10 on it, boot from that and reinstall that way. This will ensure you are installing the latest version of Windows and that it’s a clean version.
Also, it’s worth noting that once you restore your system to a clean state, you should invest the small amount of time it takes to create a bootable recovery drive. This will allow you to quickly restore your system to a clean slate that you setup. Should you require any assistance, feel free to contact us.
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