How to Reset/Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Files

You can preserve your files when reinstalling Windows.

A man is using his laptop on a desk

It is common for PCs to malfunction, display errors and perform poorly. Sometimes, the only solution to fix some of these issues is to reinstall the OS, but this could mean losing your files. The good news is that you can reinstall Windows 10/11 without dealing with this inconvenience. In this tutorial, we demonstrate how you can do just that.

What Is the Difference Between Reinstall and Reset

Resetting and reinstalling may sound similar and, in a broad sense, have similar functionalities, but they are not the same.

You should resort to a reinstall if you’re facing critical errors and your PC is not functioning as it should. During a reinstall, all of the corrupted files are deleted, and any underlying issues that have been preventing your PC from operating normally, lowering its performance, are usually resolved.

Resetting means going back to your PC’s default settings. It’s a much softer approach to repairing any problems or corrupted files on your Windows PC. Your files won’t be erased, but you’ll lose your apps.

How to Reinstall Windows Without Losing Your Files and Apps

If your computer is functioning abnormally or you’re seeing errors when executing programs or commands, you should first consider other methods that could fix the issue before deciding to reinstall Windows.

However, if you’ve tried everything to no avail, then reinstalling Windows might be the best option for you. You don’t even risk losing any files or apps in the process if you follow the instructions below.

1. Create Installation Media

  1. Plug in an empty USB flash drive into your PC.
  2. Download Windows Installation Media for the operating system version you wish to reinstall by visiting Microsoft’s official download page.
Downloading the Windows 11 installation media from Microsoft's official website
  1. Launch the Installation Media from your Download folder and click “Accept” to agree to the license terms.
Clicking on "Accept" to accept the terms and services to install Windows 11
  1. Tick “Use the recommended options for this PC” or leave it unchecked if you want to use this Installation Media on other PCs also. Click “Next.”
Select or unselect the "Use the recommended options for this PC"
  1. Now, select the USB flash drive as the device to install the Installation Media on, and then click “Next.”
Selecting the USB Flash Drive to install the installation media on
  1. Choose your USB device from the list and click “Next -> Finish.”
  2. Remove the USB drive from your PC.

2. Reinstall Windows Using Boot Media

  1. Connect the USB drive to your PC and once File Explorer detects it, select the option to open the USB drive.
  2. Launch Windows installation by double-clicking on the “setup.exe” file and clicking “Yes” when prompted by the UAC dialog box.
Opening the setup menu of the installation media
  1. Select “Change how Setup downloads updates,” and then select “Not right now.”
Selecting the option "Not right now"
  1. Accept the terms by clicking “Accept.”
Accepting the license term to install the Windows 11
  1. Select “Keep personal files and apps” in the “Choose what to keep” window and click “Next.”
Selecting the option "Keep personal files and apps" before reinstalling Windows 11
  1. Click the “Install” button in the “Ready to install” window to start the Windows repair installation.
Clicking the "Install" button to reinstall Windows 11
  1. Allow some time for this process to complete. Don’t disconnect or turn off your PC while it’s going on.
  2. Once the installation is complete, you can log in with your Microsoft or local user account.

How to Reset Windows Without Losing Data

If you don’t want to reinstall Windows but simply take it back to its factory settings, then the reset option might be for you. If you opt for this solution, keep in mind that all your software will be removed. On the other hand, you do have the option to keep your files intact.

  1. Open “Settings” in Windows using the Win + I key combination.
  1. In the “System” section, scroll down and click “Recovery.”
Navigating to the sub-menu called "Recovery" under Settings
  1. Click on the “Reset PC” button under “Recovery options. In Windows 10, you’ll find the option under “Settings -> Update & Security -> Recovery.”
Clicking on "Reset PC" to proceed with resetting the PC
  1. Select “Keep my files” on the next screen.
Selecting the option "Keep my files" before resetting the PC
  1. Hit “Cloud download.”
Selecting the option "Cloud download" to store files in the cloud before resetting the PC
  1. Click “Next” in the “Additional settings” window.
Confirming the settings before resetting the PC
  1. Click on “Reset” to begin resetting your Windows PC.

How to Prevent Losing Data on Your Windows PC

Even with these methods available, you might want to take some precautions to prevent data loss in case of unpredictable hardware malfunctions or file corruption.

  • Back up your files regularly: regular file backups are the simplest way to reduce your risk of losing important files. You can use Windows’s own backup and restore tool or a third-party tool like Macrium Reflect to create your backups.
  • Make sure your computer is protected: Windows 11 ships with Windows Defender so you don’t need third-party antivirus software. However, you can install such software if you want access to more features or want to feel more secure against the threat of malware and other dangers online.
  • Create an image backup: an image backup is basically creating a copy of your OS, your entire drive or a partition. This type of backup is useful if you want to make sure you can preserve your desktop or server in its exact state and recover it in case of an emergency.
  • Use a surge protector/UPS: frequent power failure or surges can damage electronic items, and your computer is no exception to that. If you frequently experience such issues at home, protect your computer with a surge protector or use a UPS.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I back up my Windows computer?

You can back up your Windows computer using “File History” or “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)”.

If you are on Windows 11, open “Control Panel -> System & Security -> File History” for the first option. Click the “Turn on” button if your backup drive already shows up in the list. Next, go to “Advanced Settings” and select how often “File History” should create an incremental backup of your files.

On Windows 10, go to “Settings -> Update & Security -> Backup” to find “File History.”

As for the second option, it will create an image backup. Find it by going to “Control Panel -> System & Security -> Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” in both OS versions.

What's the difference between cloning and backing up your computer?

Cloning lets you create an exact copy of your computer so you can use it on another computer if you are migrating or restoring the information. Macrium Reflect can also help with that. The second option creates a backup of the files, folders, partitions, or hard disk that you want to save for later use. Both the backup and the system image can be stored on a USB flash drive or an external hard drive.

If I downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10, can I keep my apps and files?

Yes, you won’t lose any of your apps or files. You can downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10 using the “Go Back” feature inside the “Settings” menu within 10 days of updating to Windows 11.

If it has been more than 10 days and you want to downgrade, you will have to perform a clean install of Windows 10.

Image credit: Eduardo Dutra via Pexels.  All screenshots by Abdul Moiz.

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