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Restore and Reset

A new way to clean all the crapware off your PC - even the junk installed by your PC's manufacturer.

If you've worked with Windows for any length of time at all, you know that from time to time Windows PCs simply go out to lunch . . . and stay there. The problem could stem from a bad drive, a scrambled registry entry, a driver that's suddenly taken on a mind of its own, a revolutionary new program that's throwing its own revolution, or that dicey tuna sandwich you had for lunch.

Windows is a computer program, not a Cracker Jack toy, and it will have problems. The trick lies in making sure that you don't have problems too. This tutorial walks you through the important tools you have at hand to make Windows do what you need to do, to solve problems as they (inevitably!) occur.

If you are the family's resident voodoo doctor - or the Windows go-to-gal in the office - this tutorial can save your hide.

Microsoft has gone through a great deal of effort to make restoring a recalcitrant PC much simpler than ever before. The goal is to keep you out of the details and let Windows handle it: Computer, heal thyself, as it were. To a large degree, Microsoft has succeeded.

R's - and an SF and a GB

When resuscitating a machine with Windows gone bad, consider the three R's - remove the latest update, reset but keep your programs and data, and reset with the data going bye-bye - as well as Start Fresh, a new method that first appeared in July 2016. Three of them are readily available, but they make major changes to your machine. One's not nearly so destructive, but it's harder to understand and use.

Here are the SF, GB, and three R's that every Windows medic needs to know:

  • Reset has two variants that are as different as night and burning day.
    • Reset with Keep My Files keeps some Windows settings (accounts, passwords, the desktop, Microsoft Edge and IE favorites, wireless network settings, drive letter assignments, and BitLocker settings) and all personal data (in the User folder). It wipes out all programs and then restores the apps available in the Windows Store (primarily the tiled apps). This one's pretty drastic, but at least it keeps the data stored in the most common locations - Documents folder, the desktop, Downloads, and the like. And as a bonus, the Reset with Keep My Files routine keeps a list of the apps it zapped and puts that list on your desktop, so you can look at it when your machine's back to its chirpy self.
    • Reset with Remove Everything removes everything on your PC and reinstalls Windows. Your programs, data, and settings all get wiped out - they're irretrievably lost. This is the most drastic thing you can do with your computer, short of shooting it. Most hardware manufacturers have the command jury-rigged to put their crapware back on your PC. If you run Reset with Remove Everything on those systems, you don't get a clean copy of Win10; you get the factory settings version. Yes, that means you get the original manufacturer's drivers. But it also means you get the manufacturer's garbageware.
      If you like, you can tell Reset with Remove Everything to do a thorough reformatting of the hard drive, in which case, random patterns of data are written to the hard drive to make it almost impossible to retrieve anything you used to store on the disk. But in the end, you get the same crapware that came with a new computer.
    If you've tried in previous years to bring back an older Windows machine from purgatory you may have encountered System Restore. In fact, System Restore still exists, but Microsoft doesn't want you to use it. Refresh is a combination of System Restore, safe mode, recovery console, and all sorts of minor earliersystem recovery techniques, wrapped into one neat one-click bundle - with none of the hassles, but none of the old controls.
  • Start Fresh is new in the Windows 10 Anniversary update, build 1607. Start Fresh, like Reset, has two options: Keep My Files, and Remove Everything. There are two big differences between Start Fresh and the built-in Reset. First, Start Fresh isn't built into Windows 10; it runs from a web page that Microsoft can update frequently (go to http://go.microsoft.com/ fwlink/?LinkId=808750). Second, Start Fresh is based on a blissfully clean, Microsoft-endorsed copy of Windows 10. No crapware in sight.
  • Go Back tells Windows to unapply the last cumulative update. Use it when one of Microsoft's mighty forced cumulative updates crumbles your machine. I've had mixed results with Go Back, but when it works, it's a fast and easy solution to a congenital problem - Microsoft forcing Win10 updates down your throat.
  • Restore is hard to find - Microsoft doesn't want everyday users to find it - but it rolls Windows back to an earlier restore point, which describe in the "Restoring to an Earlier Point" section, later in the tutorial. Restore doesn't touch your data or programs; it simply rolls back the registry to an earlier point in time. If your problems stem from a bad driver or a problematic program change you made recently, Restore may do all you need. If you're familiar with Windows 7 or earlier versions, Windows 10 Restore is almost identical to Restore in the earlier version; you just access it a little differently.
All three resuscitation methods play out in the Windows Recovery Environment (WRE), a special proto-Windows system. If you run Reset or Refresh, you won't even know that WRE is at work behind the scenes, but it's there.
When there's trouble and Windows can't boot normally, Windows instead boots into WRE, not into Windows itself. WRE has the special task of giving you advanced tools and options for fixing things that have gone bump in the night. Remove, Refresh, and Restore - and several more (Recycle, Reuse, Reduce?) are available in WRE.