In a recent blog post, Refresh your Windows 8 system from a Recovery Drive, I showed you how to use Windows 8's Refresh your PC tool in order to revive a Windows 8 system that has become unstable. This allows you to start over with a fresh installation of Windows 8 while keeping all of your data and settings intact. However, Windows 8 also provides you with a tool called Reset your PC for rebuilding a Windows 8 system. Unlike its brethren, the Reset your PC tool removes all of your data and settings and then reinstalls Windows 8. The Reset your PC tool comes in handy if you really want to scrap everything and start over from scratch or if you are getting ready to decommission your PC and want to give it away.
In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use the Reset your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. As I do, I'll explain how it works.
What you need
In order to run the Reset 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 Reset your PC tool from the Recovery Drive. However, you should know that the Reset 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 Remove in the text box. You can then select the Remove everything and reinstall Windows command to launch the Refresh your PC tool.
Since you are going to wipe your drive anyway, I suppose that it doesn't matter how you launch the Reset your PC tool. However, for my example I'm going to show you how to run it from the Recovery Drive, which will perform a clean boot into Windows RE.
Launching Reset your PC
Running Reset your PC from the Recovery Drive is easy. While I am booting from a USB Recovery 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 Reset 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 are prompted to choose an option, as shown in Figure A, select the Troubleshoot tile.
When you are prompted to choose and option, select the Troubleshoot tile.When you see the Troubleshoot screen, as shown in Figure B, select the Reset your PC tile.
From the Troubleshoot screen, select the Reset your PC tile.When you select the Reset your PC option, you'll see the screen shown in Figure C. After you read through the information on the screen, which I have summarized above, you can click the Next button.
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 D. Now, when performing a reset operation, this seems to be a completely redundant task to have to perform. However, I suppose that the Reset your PC tool and the Refresh your PC tool share code and this screen is a part of that code. In any case, just click the Windows 8 tile to continue.
While this prompt may be redundant, you must click the Windows 8 tile.When you see the screen shown in Figure E, 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.
You'll be prompted to insert the Windows 8 installation DVD.
Choosing drivesAfter you insert the Windows 8 installation DVD, the system will verify the media and then display the next screen, which will prompt you to choose the drives from which you want to remove files, as shown in Figure F. This can be confusing at first glance if you only have one drive in your system. Let's take a closer look.
If you have more than one drive connected to the PC or your hard disk has more than one partition, you'll see this screen.
Of course, if you have more than one hard drive connected to the PC or your hard disk has more than one partition, this prompt makes sense and you can choose whether you want to remove files from all drives.
However, if you only have one hard disk in the system and there is only on partition, this can be a bit confusing. Now, the fact is that when you install Windows 8 (and Windows 7) on a clean hard disk, Setup automatically creates a small partition labeled System Reserved. (For instance, on my test system the System Reserved partition is 350MB.) This System Reserved partition is set aside for the Boot Manager code and the Boot Configuration Database. It also used for the startup files required by the BitLocker Drive Encryption feature.
So, if you were using BitLocker and depending on how thorough you wish to be, select an option by clicking on that tile. (During my testing, I ran the Reset your PC operation multiple times and selected each option. While it may have taken just slightly longer to clean the 350MB partition, the end result was the same.)
Choosing a cleaning methodOnce you choose a drive, you'll then see the next screen, shown in Figure G, which prompts you to choose how fully you want to clean your drive. As you can see, you can choose to just remove your files or fully clean your hard disk. The option you choose will depend on the reason that you are resetting your PC in the first place. For example, if you are simply resetting your PC to give yourself a completely new start, you'll probably want to select the Just remove my files option. On the other hand, if you are going to be passing your PC on to someone else, you may want to choose the Fully clean the drive option.
You can choose how thoroughly you want to clean the drive.
If you choose the Just remove my files option, Windows RE will simply perform a Quick Format operation on the hard disk. This procedure simply deletes the file table that contains pointers to the actual data files. It doesn't actually delete the data nor does it actually modify the disk sectors containing the data in anyway.
If you choose the Fully clean the drive option, Windows RE will perform a full format of the hard disk that will include a much more methodical and secure erasure of your data. This includes several passes over the hard disk writing 0's and then other random numbers to every sector on the hard disk. Of course, this will take a longer to perform.
ResettingOnce you've made all your selections, you'll see the screen shown in Figure H. If you are refreshing a laptop or tablet, you will want to make sure that it is plugged in and not running on battery because the next phase of the reset takes a while and you don't want the system to shut down in the middle of it.
Once you've made all your selections, click Reset button to begin.When you are ready, just click the Reset button and the reset operation will commence immediately. While the reset operation chugs along, you'll see a screen like the one shown in Figure I that indicates the percentage of the operation that is complete.
As the Reset operation progresses, you can keep track of the percentage counter.Once the percentage count hits 100%, the system will reboot and you'll see a series of screens, like the one shown in Figure J, indicating that Setup is getting your system ready and installing device drivers. This step will take a few minutes and then the system will reboot again.
As Setup prepares the system to boot on its own, you'll see a screen like this one.When it boots back up, you'll see the blue Windows flag logo and the progress indicator will spin, but no message will appear on the screen. After a few minutes, you'll see the License terms screen, as shown in Figure K. To continue, select the check box and click the Accept button.
When the system reboots, you'll be prompted to accept the license terms.Once you accept the license, you'll then go through all the steps in the first-time set up procedure. For example, you'll choose the color scheme and name your computer, as shown in Figure L, choose settings, and establish a connection to your Microsoft account among other housekeeping tasks. The system will then reboot again and then run through the introductory tutorial. You'll then see the Start Screen and find that you essentially have brand new copy of Windows 8.
You'll then have to run through the entire first-time set up procedure.
On my test system the entire procedure took about an hour to complete.
I had expected that at some point in the procedure I would have been prompted to enter the 25 character product key, but I wasn't as the system remains activated. In fact, when I went to the Windows Activation tool the activation date is the same date on which I originally installed Windows 8. (To access the Windows Activation tool, press [Windows]+W to bring up Search Settings and type Activation in the text box,)
While I haven't been able to verify this, I have it on good authority that if you had the standard edition of Windows 8 and then upgraded to the Pro version or added Media Center via the Add features to Windows 8 tool, and then run the Reset your PC tool, you will have to enter a Product key and then re-activate the operating system.
What's your take?
Now that you know how the Reset your PC option works, you'll be ready to use it should the need arise. Have you already used Windows 8's Reset your PC tool? If so, did it work like you expected? 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.
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.