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How to reinstall Windows 10 without losing data

Reinstalling Windows 10 can wipe your system clean; here’s how to keep your files intact

Windows 10 startup screen on a monitor

Reinstalling your operating system is not a task to be taken lightly. There are so many things to consider before committing to such an impactful change but sitting at the top of most people’s minds will be preserving their personal files. Learning how to reinstall of Windows 10 without losing data isn’t a straightforward process - it requires time and patience to ensure no issues crop up.

The potential reason for wanting to try and reinstall Windows 10 are myriad. General performance issues such as slow-running of the PC is a primary one, but other more serious circumstances like the computer becoming infected with malware or ransomware could also force a business to resort to a clean install.

While a clean Windows 10 install might take some patience to complete, it’s perfectly achievable even if you’re not the most technically minded. Microsoft built the operating system (OS) knowing that re-installing the OS would be something many of its users would do over time and made provisions so users can keep hold of their data even with a fresh version.

How to factory reset Windows 10 without losing data

There are three ways to reset Windows 10 without losing your existing data, with each offering near enough the same results through different methods.

Method 1: Using the “Reset this PC” option

The first option is the classic "Reset this PC" which can be found with the following steps:

Screenshot of the PC reset popup displayed in Windows 10

Note: This is arguably the fastest way to reset the machine, though there is one caveat. "Reset this PC" only allows users to keep files. And all user-installed apps and programs will be lost. To avoid loss of pre-existing apps, drivers and programs, we recommend backing up all important data before going ahead with this method of reset. 

Method 2: Using the Advanced Startup menu 

To reinstall Windows 10 using the Advanced Startup option, use the following steps

  1. Click on the Start button on the lower left-hand corner of the screen.
  2. Click the “Settings” on the left pane in the Start menu.
  3. Click “Update & Security,” then click “Recovery.”
  4. Click on the “Restart now” under the “Advanced startup” section in the right pane. Windows will restart into the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) mode. Alternatively, pressing the ‘F11’ button as soon as you power on your PC will get you to the Windows 10 Advanced Startup options. This technique is beneficial when you can’t boot your PC the usual way. 
  5. Click “Troubleshoot” once you enter WinRE mode.
  6. Click “Reset this PC” in the following screen, leading you to the reset system window.
  7. Select “Keep my files” and click “Next” then “Reset.” 
  8. Click “Continue” when a popup appears and prompts you to continue reinstalling the Windows 10 operating system.

Note: Like method 1, you’ll need to take a backup of all your data before resetting, as Windows will only save your files and wipe out apps, drivers and programs during reinstallation.

Method 3: Using Windows 10 ISO image file

An ISO file, commonly known as ISO image, is an archive file that contains an identical copy or image of data found on an optical disc, such as a CD or DVD. It allows you to reinstall Windows 10 and keep files given your computer is bootable. 

Here are the steps you need to follow to reinstall Windows 10 using ISO image:

  1. Download Microsoft’s media creation tool to create Windows 10 ISO file.
  2. After downloading the newly-created ISO file, right-click on it and select “Mount” to continue. 
  3. Double-click the Setup.exe file at the root directory. 
  4. Choose the correct option when prompted to “Download and install updates.” Choose the option if your computer is connected to the internet. If not, select “Not right now.” Click “Next” to continue.
  5. Click on "Change what to keep" in the subsequent popup window.
  6. Choose between: "Keep personal files, apps, and Windows settings," "Keep personal files only," and “Nothing,” according to your storage needs.
  7. Click “Next” to install Windows 10.

Your PC will now reboot with the saved settings.

Restoring applications after reinstalling Windows 10 

Once you’ve reinstalled Windows 10, it’s time to restore applications.

Begin by verifying your account: Go to Start > Settings > Accounts > Your account and click the “Verify” link to get the code required to add your PC back into the saved accounts list. Once verified, log in to your Microsoft account. 

To restore previously installed apps:

  • Go to “Start” > “All Apps” > “Store.” 
  • Click on user (your) photo.
  • Select “My Library”  on the left pane to access all previously installed apps.
  • Click the “Download” button next to the app(s) you wish to restore.

Final thoughts 

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If after completing all these steps anxiety starts to creep in - perhaps over how long the process is taking - it’s important to stay calm and understand that it’s supposed to take a substantial amount of time. The operating system is working hard to understand how to apply itself to your machine and how best to do that while preserving your files. A slow reinstallation could also be caused by a slow internet connection.

Although Windows 10 was designed so that a clean install would be possible, it is still a computer program and as such, it is prone to malfunctions. It’s highly unlikely your reinstallation attempt will end in disaster but in the worst-case scenario, it’s always wise to keep backups of everything that’s important before attempting to start afresh. Keep both a backup of the personal files you’re trying to keep, and a backup of all your old Windows 10 files so that if one reinstallation attempt fails, you have exactly what you need to try again.

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