In a previous article, I looked at how to use System Protection and System Restore in Windows 8.1. In addition to using System Restore to fix issues with the computer, Windows 8.1 has some additional tools that can be used for resolving issues with the operating system. These tools include refreshing the PC to its original operating system configuration. This option will retain user’s personal data, settings, and apps from the Windows Store. The tools also include resetting the PC to factory settings which will remove all user data and programs. Before trying either refreshing or resetting the PC, make sure that the Windows 8.1 installation media is available as Windows 8.1 may prompt for it if there are any missing files that Windows needs during the processes to refresh or reset the PC to the original configuration.
Users can get to the options for refreshing or resetting the PC in two ways. Refreshing the PC and resetting the PC use the same steps initially to get to the screen where both options are located. In this article, I will show how to get to the options from within Windows 8.1 and from the Windows Recovery Environment. I have covered most of the steps for accessing the advanced boot options previously in my How to Access Advanced Boot Options in Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 article. Instead of selecting Advanced options in step 3 as shown in that article, select either Refresh your PC or Reset your PC.
Users also can access the options for refreshing and resetting the PC from within Windows 8.1. As the steps to get to where users select to either refresh or reset their PCs are the same from within Windows 8.1 initially, I am going to go through the shared steps in this section. I will show the steps specific to either refreshing or resetting the PC from the Windows Recovery Environment or from within Windows 8.1 in their respective sections below.
Accessing the Recovery Section
To get to the Recovery screen shown in the next section in step 1 for both recovery options, please use the following steps:
1. Move the mouse to the bottom right corner of the display until the charm bar opens. Click on the Settings option. The graphic for Settings is a gear icon.
2. Using the Settings frame that opens, click on Change PC Settings at the bottom of the frame.
3. From the PC settings window, click on Update and Recovery.
4. On the Update and Recovery screen, click on Recovery to load the screen needed in the next section.
Refreshing the PC is similar to System Restore but instead of the user selecting a specific restore point to use, Windows 8.1 is reset to its original configuration. With this option, users retain their personal data, settings, and apps from the Windows Store. All other applications are removed during the refresh of Windows 8.1.
Resetting the PC restores the PC to the factory settings or to the original operating system configuration. If the computer was purchased as a prebuilt system, resetting the PC will restore the factory settings. There may be additional applications that the manufacturer included in the factory image. If users previously had uninstalled those applications, they will need to do so again after the PC has been reset to the factory settings. If Windows 8.1 was installed by the user onto the PC, resetting the PC reverts the PC to the configuration immediately after Windows was installed but Windows 8.1 will load to the initial PC setup process instead of booting up to the user account login screen. One important item to note is that user data is not saved with this option to reset the PC. As such, users will need to restore their data to the PC. Users also will need to reinstall any applications that they had previously installed.
Using the Recovery Tools Within Windows 8.1
In this section, I am going to go through the steps needed for refreshing or resetting the PC from within Windows 8.1.
Refreshing the PC
To refresh the PC from within Windows, please use the following steps starting from the Recovery screen.
1. On the Recovery screen within Update and Recovery, click on the Get Started button just below the Refresh your PC info. Note: There are 2 Get Started buttons here. The other button is for resetting the PC. If refreshing the PC, users need to click the top Get Started button.
2. After Windows 8.1 processes the request to refresh the PC, the following screen will appear. Click on the Next button to continue.
3. A message window will load stating that Windows is ready to refresh your PC and that the PC will restart. Click on the Refresh button to start the refresh process. Once the refresh process has started, it cannot be cancelled.
4. After the PC restarts, the following screen will appear as Windows refreshes the PC.
5. After the refresh is completed, Windows 8.1 will reprovision the user account to restore the user’s data, settings, and Windows Store apps. If the user is using an account that has a password, the user will need to enter it during the reprovisioning process. Users will need to reinstall any other applications that they had installed.
Resetting the PC
To reset the PC from within Windows, please use the following steps starting at the Recovery screen.
1. On the Recovery screen within Update and Recovery, click on the Get Started button just below the Reset your PC info. Note: There are 2 Get Started buttons here. The other button is for refreshing the PC. If resetting the PC, users need to click the bottom Get Started button.
2. After Windows 8.1 processes the request to reset the PC, the following screen will appear. Click on the Next button to continue.
3. A message window will load asking if the user wishes to fully clean the drive. Two options are listed. The first option to Just remove my files should be used if the PC is still going to be used by the same person as this is a quicker process than the second option. With the second option to Clean the drive fully, the process can take several hours as this option will remove all user data from the drive. The second option is recommended when the PC is being wiped before the PC is given or sold to someone new who will be using the computer.
4. After selecting whether to just remove the files or to fully clean the drive, a message window will load stating that Windows is ready to reset your PC and that the PC will restart. Click on the Reset button to start the reset process. Once the reset process has started, it cannot be cancelled.
5. After the PC restarts, the following screen will appear as Windows resets the PC.
6. After the reset is completed, Windows 8.1 will prepare the computer for the first use of the operating system. When the PC is reset, the first time the computer is booted after the reset acts like the computer did when it was new. During the preparation process, users will need to select some configuration options such as the region and language and accept the license as well as personalize and name the PC. Users also will have to either create a new local or Microsoft account or sign in with a Microsoft account. After the configuration is completed and the user account is created, Windows 8.1 will load to the desktop.
Using the Recovery Tools in the Windows Recovery Environment
When necessary, users can boot to the Windows Recovery Environment to refresh or reset the PC. Using the directions from my Advanced Boot Options article that I linked near the beginning of the article, users can access the Advanced Boot Options menu. The directions to access the Windows Recovery Environment are the same for the first two steps but starting with Step 3, users need to click on either the Refresh your PC or Reset your PC options instead of the Advanced options button.
Refreshing the PC
To refresh the PC, please use the steps below:
1. Click on the top button, Refresh your PC. The PC will restart and users will see the screen shown below.
2. As the preparation to refresh Windows 8.1 starts, the user is prompted to choose an account to continue. In this case, I clicked on my account Ralby as the account to use. As the account has a password set up, I was prompted on a second screen to enter the password before the refresh process would continue.
3. After the account selection, Windows will finish preparing for the refresh process.
4. A window will appear to tell users what will happen during the refresh process. Click Next to continue.
5. One final screen will appear prior to the refresh process starting. Click Refresh to start the refresh process. As with the refresh performed from within Windows 8.1, the refresh process cannot be canceled when it has been started.
6. At this point, Windows 8.1 will use the same process described in steps 4 and 5 from within Windows 8.1 to complete the refresh process.
Resetting the PC
To reset the PC, please use the following steps:
1. Click on the middle button, Reset your PC. The PC will restart and users will see the screen shown below.
2. The PC will restart and then the preparation for the Reset your PC process will start. Click Next to continue.
3. The Windows Recovery Environment version of resetting the PC uses the same choices that the Windows 8.1 version uses. Users are prompted whether they wish to Just remove my files or Clean the drive fully. Select the option needed.
4. One final screen will load before the reset process begins. Click Reset to start the process.
5. At this point, Windows will use the same steps as steps 4 and 5 from within Windows 8.1 to complete the reset process.
This article looked at two additional recovery tools used with Windows 8.1 for resolving problems with the operating system. These tools are Refresh your PC and Reset your PC. There are two ways that users can access these tools. One option is accessed via the Recovery screen in PC Settings. The other method is accessed using the Windows Recovery Environment. In this article, I looked at how to perform refreshing and resetting the PC both in Windows 8.1 and in the Windows Recovery Environment. I hope the methods discussed in the article help if issues with Windows prevent people from using Windows 8.1. If there are any questions or comments, please post them below or email me at the address linked in my bio.