If you’re dealing with a sluggish or unresponsive computer, you may be close to just giving up. While your misery is understandable, don’t throw in the towel just yet. Before you ditch your computer and spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars on a new one, there’s one last trick that can save you time and money: A factory reset.
Follow the steps below to easily and successfully reset your Windows 10 or 11 PC to its clean factory setting. And if you’re running into regular slowdowns, check out our guide on how to speed up Windows, too.
Before you reset your system, you’ll want to back up important information that you don’t want to lose. This includes documents, photos, music, and movies, but there are other items to back up as well. Make sure that you know all of your saved passwords, export all of your browser bookmarks, and have installation files for all the software you’ll want to reinstall — or know where to get them.
Also, make sure you back up app-specific data, like custom filters saved in a photo utility, save files from your favorite games, and back up emails if using an offline client.
Windows 10’s reset feature is found in the settings panel. It can rebuild a fresh copy of Windows 10 if you so choose, replacing all drivers and resetting all settings.
Note that this might be technically different from a “factory reset” option provided by manufacturers. Check your documentation or give technical support a call if you want to return your PC to how it was when you first pulled it out of the box. The manufacturer might have special partitions set up on the hard drive or might be able to provide a factory restore image on bootable media.
Step 1: Click the Notifications icon on the taskbar (or press the Windows button + A) and then click the All settings tile in the Action Center. You can also click the start button followed by the Gear icon on the Start Menu.
Step 2: Click Update & Security.
Step 3: Select Recovery listed on the left.
On the right, you’ll see two options. The first, Reset this PC, is the method we’re going to use for this guide.
The second, Advanced startup, is worth considering if you have a little more technical skill. It’s for modifying your computer on a deeper level or installing a completely different operating system. This comes in handy if your manufacturer provides a factory restore image or external drive containing the image to return your machine to its factory state — proprietary software included.
Unless you’re completely sure you understand what each of the options in this setting does, it’s probably best to leave it alone.
Step 3: When you are ready, click the Get Started button listed under Reset This PC.
A new window will appear with two options, Keep my files and Remove everything, as shown below.
Here you need to decide whether you want to keep all of your files and folders intact, or truly start from scratch and then use your backup to restore those files and folders. Whichever you choose, you will need to reinstall all apps and programs acquired outside the Microsoft Store. Your settings, such as the Start Menu arrangement, will go back to their defaults.
Step 5: Click on one of the two options.
In both cases, it rebuilds Windows 10 using the current installation. It’s Microsoft’s “imageless recovery” system so installation media doesn’t need to lurk on a hidden partition, taking up space. However, the Local reinstall option may not be able to repair Windows 10 if it’s too broken, too corrupted. That’s where the Cloud download option comes in: Windows pulls everything from Microsoft’s servers to rebuild the local copy.
Both options return all settings to their factory defaults and remove all software not installed from the Microsoft Store. However, the Keep my files option keeps your profile intact along with the associated files and folders. What it doesn’t do is update Windows 10 to the latest version if you never bothered to install patches and feature updates. The Cloud download option installs the latest version stored in Microsoft’s cloud.
Step 6: Select a source: Cloud download or Local reinstall.
Step 7: On the following screen, click the Choose settings link if you would like to alter the current reset settings. Otherwise, skip to Step 9.
The image above is based on the Remove everything option and using the cloud as our source. Since our example PC has multiple drives, we have an additional Delete files from all drives setting. Note that you can toggle off reinstallation, but if you’re having serious issues related to Windows 10 components, a fresh copy might be ideal.
Likewise, if we took the Keep my files route and selected the Local reinstall option, we would see two toggles: Restore preinstalled apps and settings that came with the PC, and rebuild Windows 10 using the local installation.
Step 8: Click the appropriate toggle next to the setting you want to alter and then click Confirm.
Step 9: Click Next to proceed.
Step 10: The Reset tool will present a summary. If you chose the Keep my files option, you’ll see a link you can click to see all the apps that will be removed during the reset, like Google Chrome, Steam, and even Microsoft 365. This list will be saved to your desktop when you finish the recovery process. You won’t see this link when you select the Remove everything option.
Make sure you are good with everything, and then click the Reset button.
Your PC will reboot automatically and enter the Windows Recovery Environment. The reset process might take an hour or more, so if you’re using a laptop, it’s a good idea to plug in the power cord. It may reboot itself several times. Wait for Windows to restart and begin the setup process, then enter your personal information and login information if prompted.
Once you’ve confirmed everything’s working, make sure Windows 10 is up to date and install the latest drivers from hardware manufacturers.
If you’re using the beta and wondering how to reset Windows 11 — betas can be a bit unstable, so this isn’t surprising — don’t worry: The reset procedures are more or less the same as Windows 10 with a slightly different appearance. Let’s run through the steps to highlight all the key points.
Step 1: Press the Windows and “I” keys together to open up important pinned apps. Here, look for the Settings menu with the gears icon, and select it.
Step 2: Select Update & Security. Look at the left-side menu and choose Recovery.
Step 3: Select the Reset PC option on the right.
Step 4: At this point, things should look like they do in Windows 10. You will need to choose to Keep My Files or Remove Everything. Then you will be able to choose between a Cloud Download and a Local Reinstall.
Step 5: Here things get a little different. Instead of another Settings menu, Windows 11 streamlines the process for clarification and shows you the current settings you have chosen in a summary window. If everything looks all right, select Next. Do one final check, then select Reset.
Microsoft ended support for Windows 7 in January 2020, which means that Windows 7 won’t receive critical security updates, leaving those using it vulnerable. It’s been a significant period of time with barely any security updates, which means everyone using Windows 7 should have already upgraded to Windows 10. You can still do this for free if needed.
Another method is to use the manufacturer’s recovery tool, usually located on a separate partition on your hard drive. You’ll find a wide variety of recovery software with name brands numerous enough to match the various brands of electronic devices in which you’ll install them. We have tried to make it less overwhelming by narrowing the list down to our preferred software. Each brand has a different name for what you are looking for, so here is a list of what to search for according to each brand:
- Acer: Acer eRecovery or Acer Recovery Management
- Asus: Asus Recovery Partition or AI Recovery
- Dell: Dell Factory Image Restore, DataSafe, Dell Backup & Recovery, and various other names
- HP: HP System Recovery or Recovery Manager
- Lenovo: Rescue and Recovery or ThinkVantage Recovery (on ThinkPads)
You can also access these recovery options outside of Windows, which means you still have hope if your OS won’t load. Every manufacturer is different, but you can find the method for accessing recovery just after powering on your machine. Read the text as your machine boots and look for the recovery mode key. Many devices use the F11 key as a shortcut to recovery mode.