Like it or not, a OS crash is part and parcel of the Windows experience. Microsoft is aware of this, and that is why they included a “System Restore” feature to allow you to easily restore to a previous working version when the system goes down. Windows 7 came with an advanced feature called “Previous Versions”. In Windows 8, it goes a step further and added a “Refresh” feature that is able to repair and re-install Windows. Let check it out.
Windows 8 Refresh Feature
Windows 8 Refresh feature does only one task – resets the core of Windows to the default settings while keeping all your data and applications intact. Here is how you can make use of the Refresh feature:
1. Go to Settings Search (Windows Key + W)
2. Search for and select “Refresh your PC”
3. This will start the full screen dialog of Refresh your PC.
The screen explains what will happen if you continue with the refresh. Here are some of the points mentioned:
- Your files and personalization settings won’t change.
- Your PC settings will be changed back to their defaults.
- Apps from Windows Store will be kept installed. Their settings will also remain intact.
- If any apps need to be removed, a list of removed apps will be saved on the Desktop.
4. When you press the “Next” button, Windows will prepare the system for the refresh
5. Clicking on Refresh button will actually start the process of Refresh.
6. The PC will restart and continue with the Refresh process. You will be able to login after the final restart.
Behind the scenes, the PC restarts into Windows RE (Recovery Environment), scans the drives for personal data, app settings etc. and saves them separately. Then a fresh copy of Windows core components is installed. After the installation, personal data and app settings are restored to their previous position.
What exactly is preserved?
In step 3, we have got an overview of what will be changed and what will be kept. Let’s go deeper and see which of the settings will be preserved.
- Network and Wireless connection settings including their security keys etc. If the computer is a part of Workgroup or a Domain, it will need to be rejoined after refresh.
- BitLocker and BitLocker To Go Settings
- Personalization settings like Desktop wallpaper, logon screen etc.
The following settings will not be preserved.
- All Desktop applications including their data and settings.
- File type associations
- Display settings
- Windows Firewall settings
Customizing Windows 8 Refresh
As you can see, all the Desktop applications and installed software except the Metro based apps are removed in the process. A fix for this is to create a baseline Windows 8 Refresh image. When we have created this image, Windows Refresh will revert to this image which will include all our required software.
Please note that the baseline Windows Refresh image should be created on a new install of Windows 8.
1. After Windows 8 installation, install all the applications and software that you think are necessary and will need even after using Windows Refresh.
2. Open command prompt with administrative privileges (Windows Key + X + A)
3. Issue the following command:
4. This will start the image creation process. Please note that this process may take a long time to complete depending upon the size of your installed applications.
5. This will create a Refresh image in “C:\RefreshImage”. You can change the directory as per your needs.
6. After the image creation process is complete, the recimg utility will automatically register the latest snapshot as your current Refresh image. If it doesn’t register or if you have multiple images, you can select one of the images as current Refresh image by using the following command:
Where “C:\RefreshImage” can be any directory path which has the refreshimage.wim file.
Reset vs. Refresh
There are two tools in Windows 8 which can be used to reset Windows 8 to a previous state. One is Reset feature while the other one is Refresh feature. They are quite different from each other even though their purposes are similar:
- If you are having problems with your Windows 8 computer, you can use the Refresh function because it will preserve your application data and settings.
- If you want to completely wipe out everything and start with a fresh installation of Windows 8, then you should choose the Reset feature. Reset feature is like re-formatting the Windows drive and then installing Windows 8 again. Nothing will be saved.
The reset feature can be pretty useful in cases where we need to re-install Windows 8 which can be done without a DVD-ROM or a USB Flash drive using Reset.
Windows 8 Reset Feature
Using the Reset feature is similar to Refresh. Let’s go through the PC Reset process step by step:
1. Open Windows Charms Bar (Windows Key + C) -> Settings -> Change PC Settings
2. Go to General menu and scroll down to “Remove everything and reinstall Windows”
3. Click on the Get started button. This will take you to the Windows Reset screen.
4. Clicking on “Next” will prepare your system for resetting. If you have more than one drive in your PC, you will be shown another dialog where you can select whether to wipe our all the hard drive or a selected drive only.
5. The computer will restart in Windows RE mode and re-install Windows 8. You will get a fresh installation of Windows 8 when the process completes.
My advice would be to take backup of all your data before trying out these processes. We have a long list of backup utilities and different ways to backup your data in any Operating System including Windows.
I hope this guide will be useful for everyone. The ones who have just installed Windows 8 should pay particular attention to using the “
recimg” utility to create a baseline Refresh image. What are your thoughts and experiences about these features? Do you find them useful?