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How to reinstall Windows 8 while keeping your data using Refresh your PC

Over time as you install new programs, install new hardware, and use your computer, Windows can start to become slower and encounter problems that are hard to fix. These problems could be unable to print, crashes, freezes, or hardware not working. In the past, to resolve these types of issues you would need to backup your data, reinstall the operating system, and then restore your data to the proper locations. As you can imagine this is not fun task for someone knowledgeable in computers and incredibly daunting for a less experienced user.

To resolve these issues, Windows 8 introduces a new feature called Refresh your PC that allows you to reinstall your computer while at the same time preserving your data, preferences, and Windows Store apps. This allows you to perform a very easy and automated clean install of Windows 8 while not having to backup your data. Thus making a task that many people did not know how to perform and one that could take hours become something as easy as clicking a button in Windows.

When refreshing a PC in Windows 8, Windows will preserve the following data and preferences:

  • Your personalizations such as backgrounds, wallpapers, etc.
  • Your downloads, documents, data, music, pictures, videos, etc. Basically all your data will be preserved.
  • Windows Store Apps
  • Your BitLocker and BitLocker To Go settings
  • Your wireless network connections
  • Any mobile broadband connections
  • Drive letter assignments that you have configured. This way when you refresh you are not left with different drive orders than you had previously.

On the other hand, Windows will not preserve the following during a refresh:

  • Desktop applications that are not included with Windows. These are typically applications that you downloaded from the Internet or installed from a disk. This includes any anti-virus programs, games, or other applications you may have installed. To make it easier to reinstall your applications, a file will be created on your desktop listing the applications that were removed.
  • File type associations
  • Display settings
  • Windows Firewall settings
  • Network sharing settings.
  • Machine wide Windows settings

So even though most of the work is done for you, you will still need to reinstall any desktop applications that you normally use. With that said, you need to make sure you have any disks or license keys available so that you can reinstall your applications after you perform the refresh.


How to refresh your PC with Windows 8

To Refresh your PC back to a clean install, please make sure you are logged in with an account that has Administrator privileges and log off any other accounts that may be logged into the computer. Then go to the Windows 8 Start Screen and type Refresh. When the search results appear click on the Settings category as shown below.


Searching for Refresh


Now click on the option labeled Refresh, which will start the Refresh process.

Tip: You can start the Refresh process from the command line by using the systemreset.exe command.


Starting Refresh


To begin, click on the Next button. Windows 8 will now start preparing the Refresh process. If it detects that there is another person logged on, it will issue an alert asking if you wish to continue as there may be loss of data. If you see this alert, please log off the other users before continuing with this process. When Windows is ready it will display a prompt asking you are ready to continue the process.


Continue with the Refresh confirmation


When you are ready to refresh your Windows installation, click on the Refresh button. Windows will now restart your computer and begin reinstalling Windows 8.


Refreshing the PC


When Windows is done reinstalling Windows 8 and restoring your data, it will perform another restart and then bring you to the login screen. Once you login, Windows will reinstall any Windows Store apps and then prompt you for some basic configuration questions such as what you would like to share on your network. Once you answer these questions, Windows will be reinstalled and ready for use.

It is important to remember that when you perform a refresh, Windows will not reinstall any of your security software or other desktop applications. Therefore, please reinstall any anti-virus programs that you use so that your computer is protected. To make it easier to determine what applications were removed, the refresh process will create a file called RemovedApps.html on your desktop. To access the desktop you can use the Windows+D keyboard combination. Once you are at the desktop, double-click on the RemovedApps file to read the list of applications that were removed during the refresh process.