Refresh your Windows 8 system from a Recovery Drive

Greg Shultz explains how to use the default mode of the Windows 8 Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive.

While Microsoft went to every effort to ensure that Windows 8 is a solid operating system, sometimes your system can become unstable. Perhaps you have recently recovered from a nasty virus infection, or maybe you installed an incompatible software application, or possibly a wiggy device driver. You could have even installed an update patch that for some reason left your system behaving erratically. Whatever the cause, Windows 8 has several tools that you can use to revise an unstable system.

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Of course, in this type of situation, your first line of defense is to use System Restore to put your system back into the state that it was in when the last restore point was created. However, there could be any number of reasons why this would not result in an effective resolution. In the past, you would have had no choice but to restore your system from a backup or totally reinstall the operating system from scratch.

Refresh your PC

With Windows 8, you have a new intermediary solution called Refresh your PC, which you can access from the Recovery Drive as I showed in a previous post: Be ready to use the Windows 8 Recovery Drive. The Refresh your PC tool will essentially perform a fresh install of Windows 8. More specifically, when you choose this option from the Recovery Drive, the Refresh your PC tool will find and backup all your data, settings, and apps. It will then install a fresh copy of Windows and restore all of your data, settings, and apps. When your PC restarts, you can log in with your exact same username and password and find all of your data.

Now, in its default mode, the Refresh your PC tool does not backup and restore any desktop applications that you have installed. The reasoning is that it is possible that a recently installed desktop application could be the cause of the instability. To help you to remember what desktop applications you had installed, the Refresh your PC tool will create a list of those applications that were not saved or restored, so that you can decide whether you want to reinstall them later.

If you have been reading carefully, you noticed that I used the phrase in its default mode in the above paragraph. The reason is that there is a command line tool that will allow you to create your own custom image that will contain your applications. However, preparing for, creating, and using a custom image is a fairly detailed operation that comes with a couple of potential pitfalls. As such, I have decided that the topic warrants its own article, which I will write for next week.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll take a look at using the default mode of the Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. As I do, I'll explain how it works.

OEM recovery

Before we get started there is one more thing you need to be aware of and that is that the Refresh your PC operation works differently when there is an OEM recovery partition involved. In fact, it appears that each OEM has their own method of incorporating a recovery procedure in the Windows 8 Recovery Drive. As such, I cannot really cover an OEM recovery in this article since there isn't a generic procedure. Therefore, it is imperative that in addition to reading this article, you visit your computer manufacturer's Web site and investigate their recovery procedure for Windows 8 systems.

For demonstrating the Refresh your PC operation in this article, my example system had Windows 8 installed using the clean install procedure I described in the article The complete guide to a Windows 8 clean installation. So there is no OEM recovery partition.

What you need

In order to run the Refresh your PC tool as I'll describe in this article, you'll need to have created a Recovery Drive as I showed you in the article Create a Recovery Drive in Windows 8. You will also need to have your Windows 8 installation DVD.

In case you are wondering

As I mentioned in the introduction, I'm going to cover the use of the Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. However, you should know that the Refresh your PC tool can also be launched from within Windows. To do so, you would press [Windows]+W to bring up Search Settings and type Refresh in the text box. You can then launch the Refresh your PC tool.

However, when it comes to performing this type of operation, I prefer to launch the Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. My thought process here is that if the system is unstable and I don't trust the way that it is behaving, why would I want to launch a recovery operation from an unstable environment? I just think that it is much wiser to launch the recovery process from a stable environment, such as the one provided by booting your system using the Windows Recovery Environment, which is the platform that boots up the Recovery Drive.

Running Refresh your PC

Running Refresh your PC from the Recovery Drive is easy. While I am booting the Recovery Drive from a USB flash drive, you can just as easily boot the Recovery Drive from the optical disc. (As a part of my research for this article, I ran the Refresh your PC operation after booting from an optical disc and the procedure is basically identical.)

After your system boots from the Recovery Drive and you select the Troubleshoot option from the main menu, you'll see the Troubleshoot screen shown in Figure A.

Figure A

When you select the Troubleshoot tile, you'll see the Troubleshoot screen and can select the Refresh your PC tile.
When you select the Refresh your PC option, you'll see the screen shown in Figure B. After you read through the information on the screen, which I have summarized above, you can click the Next button.

Figure B

After you read through the information on the screen, you can click the Next button.
You'll then be prompted to choose the operating system that you want to refresh, as shown in Figure C. At first this seems to be a redundant question, but I suppose you could have a dual-boot configuration with Windows 7 and you want to refresh Windows 8 while leaving Windows 7 as it is. I'll have to investigate further by performing a refresh operation on a dual-boot configured system to see if this is indeed the case.

Figure C

Choose the Windows 8 tile.
When you see the screen shown in Figure D, which prompts you to insert the Windows 8 installation DVD, you will want to remove the USB Recovery Drive at the same time as you insert the DVD. The reason being that the system will reboot several times and having a bootable USB flash drive connected to the system will cause unnecessary delays. It is not needed from this point forward anyway. Obviously, if you booted from an optical disc, you will have to remove it to insert the Windows 8 installation DVD.

Figure D

You'll be prompted to insert the Windows 8 installation DVD.
Once you insert the Windows 8 installation DVD, the system will immediately recognize it and after a few moments display the screen shown in Figure E. If you are refreshing a laptop, you will want to make sure that it is plugged in and not running on battery because the next phase of the refresh takes a while and you don't want the system to shut down in the middle of it.

Figure E

Once the operation recognized your installation disc, you're ready to begin.
As the refresh operation chugs along, you'll see a screen like the one shown in Figure F that indicates the percentage of the operation that is complete. On my test system, this took somewhere around 40 minutes. When the percentage count hit 99%, I thought that is was ready to finish, but it actually sat at the 99% mark for quite a long time.

Figure F

The refresh phase takes a while to process.
Once the Refresh phase is complete, the system will reboot. When it does, you will see a screen like the one shown on Figure G, which prompts you to choose an operating system. You really don't have to make a selection, as both selections indicate the newly refreshed operating system. Just allow the countdown to complete on its own and the system will reboot.

Figure G

After the system reboots, you will be prompted to select an operating system, but there is no need.

Side bar notes

Now, I must admit that when I first saw the screen shown above, I was concerned that something went wrong. As I looked more closely, I saw that both options were the same and just let the system do its thing - I recommend that you do the same thing. When my test system rebooted, everything proceeded just fine. (Just to be sure, when the refresh operation was totally complete after the first time, I went into Disk Management to make sure that the process didn't inadvertently create another partition on the system, but it didn't. In fact, each time that I ran the refresh operation I saw this screen and everything worked fine, so either it is a normal part of the process or just something that occurred on my particular system. I couldn't find any description of it on the Web. Now, I should point out that on one my tests I did encounter another anomaly after this first reboot. This could have occurred because I ran multiple refresh operations one after another as I was testing, but I thought I would mention it here just the same. Here is what happened: After the Refresh phase was complete, the system rebooted and the following message appeared on the screen: BOOTMGR image is corrupt. The system cannot boot. At this point, I removed the Windows 8 installation DVD and pressed [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Del]. When the system rebooted, it picked right up where it left off and everything proceeded just fine. I performed several more refresh operation tests and it never occurred again.
When the system reboots, the setup operation will begin finding and configuring any attached devices. You will then see the Welcome screen shown in Figure H.

Figure H

During the Setup phase, you'll see the Welcome screen.
After a few moments, you will see your Login screen and will be able to log in with the same password - just like you always have. When you log in for the first time, some of the standard screens associated with Windows 8's first run will appear. As promised all of your customized settings will be restored, so you won't see those screens, but you will see the animated tutorial screens like the one shown in Figure I.

Figure I

After you log in, you will see the animated tutorial screens.
You will then encounter a series of three screens that change color as they inform you that Setup is getting your PC ready, reinstalling apps, and taking care of last minute details. This sequence is show in Figure J. In a moment you will see the Start screen and will find that all of the apps that you had installed are back in place.

Figure J

You'll see a series of three screens that change color as they inform you that Setup is completing the necessary tasks.
To see what desktop applications were removed but not reinstalled, access the Desktop tile on the Start Screen. When you get to the desktop, look for an html file called Removed Apps. Open the file in Internet Explorer and you'll see a display similar to the one shown in Figure K. As you can see in my example, I only had one desktop application installed, chances are that you will have a lot more, but this simple example allows you to see what this file will look like.

Figure K

An html file loaded into Internet Explorer shows you what desktop applications were removed but not reinstalled.

At this point, you can begin reinstalling your desktop applications. You can then get right back to work on a stable system.

What's your take?

Now that you know how the Refresh your PC option works, you'll be ready to use it should the need arise. Have you used Windows 8's Refresh your PC tool yet? If so, did it get your system back into a stable state? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.


I went through this process last night and it failed big time.  none of the personalizations or files were restored after the Refresh process.  I installed Windows Preview 8.1 and now that i want to go to the GA version of 8.1 Microsoft articles said you need to go back to 8.0 in order to go to the new version of 8.1...unreal.  Anyway i followed the refresh process from within Windows.

the interesting thing is that it kept the user accounts but didnt restore any files.

i do see a windows.old folder on the disk and believe it to be the copy of the file structure from before the refresh was done....will be checking that out but was very disconcerted to have the refresh process not work as advertised.

luckily i use carbonite and am in the process of restoring files.



I thought you said no hard data would be deleted? All my important bookmarks are gone.. (from google chrome).


Went through the "Refresh" on my Surface Pro. The "Refresh" fixed the issues was having, however it also de-activated my Office 365 (and does not mention this app in the "Removed Apps" html file) and also removed the associated data! l lost mail, contacts, and associated configuration including newly created menu structures. Word to the wise - ensure you have all your data backed up! Now l just need to find where these items are located so it doesn't happen again.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

As I noted in this article, when my system rebooted after the Refresh phase, I encountered the Choose an operating system screen shown in Figure G and was surprised to see two tiles for Windows 8. Well, I have since found an official answer as to why these two tiles appear. In a Microsoft article titled "Two Windows 8 boot entries appear during Refresh your PC repair process" [quote]When Windows Recovery Environment (Windows RE) is booted from a source that is not linked with the currently installed OS, Windows RE is unable to verify the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) boot entry for the current Windows installation. As a result, a new BCD entry is created for the Refresh process. On the first reboot of the Refresh process, two boot entries will be present in the BCD store for the same instance of Windows 8. As the Refresh completes and Windows boots into the refreshed environment, Windows is able to determine which BCD entry is needed and the duplicate entry is removed.[/quote]


Hey Greg, a second small question. Do "apps" include all non-OS software? Drivers, AV, Firewall, utilities, etc.?


Hey, Greg, great article. I find your writing very easy to follow. From your article, when doing a refresh, "the Refresh your PC tool will find and backup all your data, settings, and apps. It will then install a fresh copy of Windows and restore all of your data, settings, and apps." I presume that it reformats the Windows partition before installing the fresh copy. I would certainly hope so. In that case, where does it put the data, settings, and apps? These could be 100GB or more.


i eagerly await this week's segment--you stated in your last segment on using windows 8 refresh in default mode that you were going to address how to save your installed programs during the refresh process. I have that exact issue--I have picked up a rootkit virus, it seems; I need to refresh windows (I have already tried the default method on my cloned drive); I have one program I will have to repurchase if I lose it. your anticipated instructions may prevent that--thanks for this particular series of articles--very useful. diana wilkes


My suggestion for a new machine with Windows 8 OS (or any OS). Before anything else, follow the instructions to create refresh disk(s) (in my manufacturer's cas it was 6 DVD's). With this done, run the recovery to "back to as shipped from the manufacturer" You are losing nothing and you are taking this opportunity, while under warrnaty to verify that the recovery works, with no real impact (other than time). In my case running recovery from the revcovery partition, from the disks I created, and from the disks the manufacturer sent me all FAILED every attempt. It tuned out that there was a known hardware problem (wireless card) that was fixed by the manufacturer. The recovery process then worked. Again, IMHO it's better to find out right at the start on a machine with none of your applications and or data and while it is under warranty. Differetn story of course when installing Windows 8 on a Windows 7 system...

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I take a look at using the default mode of the Refresh your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. Have you used Windows 8's Refresh your PC tool yet? If so, did it get your system back into a stable state?

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...detail on what exactly happened? For instance, when you say it deactivated Office 365, were the apps actually gone from the Start Screen or just marked as deactivated? What about your other data, like documents, picture music? Did the Refresh access the Recovery partition on the Surface?

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...are kept are the Windows 8 apps. Drivers are kept too. Any other application that you install from a DVD or a download will have to be reinstalled.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...doesn't reformat the drive before installing a fresh copy of the operating system. The data, settings and apps are simply moved to a different part of the disk before the new installation commences.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...I'm working on that next article right now.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Makes perfect sense to test the recovery before you actually move it. Kind of like an extended test drive.


@Greg Shultz  i just lost my office 2007 and more importantly my pst file for work!! cant find in windows old, is there any where else i can look?

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