Reinstalling Windows is never fun, but it is occasionally necessary. Windows 11 makes this process substantially easier with the “Reset this PC” feature, which was first introduced in Windows 8.
When should I use “Reset this PC”?
Software breaks and bugs happen. Sometimes it’s no big deal: your browser freaks out, your game crashes, or a bloated Excel document decides to stop responding. But what if your operating system is the software with a problem? What happens if Windows, for various reasons, gets corrupted and becomes unstable?
For a long time, there were two options to deal with it. The first was to manually fix the problem(s). Troubleshooting serious problems with Windows can be a daunting task, even if you have the knowledge and experience. The second was the nuclear option: completely reinstalling Windows.
Despite the possible difficulty, you should try to repair your Windows PC before going directly to the “Reset this PC” option. You can save yourself the hassle of reinstalling all your favorite programs, setting up Windows 11 again, and reinstalling essential drivers.
However, if you’ve tried to fix the problem without success, or don’t feel inclined to try, a Windows reinstall might be your best option.
Advice: Many people will do a fresh install of Windows to try and fix frequent blue screens of death (BSODs). Try to reinstall all your drivers before restarting your PC. If the BSODs persist after using “Reset this PC”, you almost certainly have a hardware problem.
Fortunately, we no longer live in the hard times when Windows had to be manually reinstalled. The process is now almost completely automated.
What does “Reset this PC” do?
When you reset your PC, Windows will return to its factory state. If you bought a pre-built computer, that means it will look exactly like it did when you took it out of the box, bloatware and all. If you used a Windows retail license to install Windows, you’ll get a completely clean operating system.
The important difference is what happens to all your files. You have a choice to make: do you wipe your entire computer and reinstall Windows, or do you keep all your files and reinstall Windows?
If you select “Keep my files,” most of the files and folders in your user directory will be preserved while Windows reinstalls.
Note: Some files that are deleted will be moved to the Windows.old folder and will be deleted a few days after performing a reboot.
The “Reset this PC” process is quite reliable, but you must forever take the time to manually back up any files that are important to you in case something goes wrong. Regardless, it’s wise to back up important files, as you never know when your hard drive or SSD might fail.
RELATED: What is the best way to back up my computer?
Note: If you select “Keep my files”, the programs you have installed will not be preserved. Almost every program you run on your computer modifies the registry, which, by necessity, is completely cleared when you reinstall Windows.
How to “reset this PC” in Windows 11
The “Reset this PC” feature can be accessed from the Settings app. Open Settings, then go to System > Recovery. Alternatively, you can press the Start button, type “Reset this PC” in the search bar, and then press Enter or click “Open” to go directly to the required window.
There’s not much on the recovery page, just look for the option that says “Reset this PC” and then click the “Reset PC” button on the right hand side.
You must choose between keeping your personal files or completely erasing the computer. Generally, you should keep your personal files unless you have a specific reason to delete them. It’s much easier to come back later and delete files than it is to recover them. It might even be impossible to get them back.
RELATED: Why deleted files can be recovered and how you can avoid it
You’ll then have to choose whether you want to reinstall Windows 11 from the cloud or from files already on your computer.
What you should use really depends on the circumstances. Generally speaking, if you’re doing a reset because something is wrong and probably corrupted, use the cloud install. Cloud installation downloads a new copy of Windows directly from Microsoft, and any potentially damaged files are completely replaced.
Warning: The cloud download is about four gigabytes. That’s not huge by modern standards, but it’s worth keeping in mind if you’re on a network with a data cap.
If you just want to clean up the clutter and try to speed up your computer, the local install option will be fine. It rebuilds Windows using the files already present on your PC.
All you have to do is wait while Windows downloads and reinstalls. The download itself shouldn’t take long, maybe 5-10 minutes, although it could be longer if you have slow internet. The installation process should be pretty quick, especially if your system is booting from a solid state drive. If you’re still using a conventional hard drive, it will take much longer. All you need to do is log in after the installation is complete, and you’re ready to go.