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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

"Have you tried switching it off and on?" is the famous catchphrase of Roy from The IT Crowd. It's funny because it's the most obvious place to start when your PC goes askew, and yet many people fail to think of it when the time comes. 

However, when your Windows 10 machine throws up the blue screen of death (BSOD), or you have a frustratingly sluggish PC, fully reinstalling Windows 10 could be the best way to manage the downtime or loss of efficiency. A reinstallation may also reverse problematic updates, niggling security patches or even driver installation. 

Brilliantly, Microsoft also allows for existing data to be retained during the reinstallation process. And, in this guide, we will walk you through the steps to reinstall Windows 10 and reset your machine to its default settings, without losing any data.

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 a 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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Windows 10 reinstallation can take a while, depending on your internet connection and size of the files you choose to keep. Plugging your device into a power source will ensure a low battery doesn’t interrupt the process. 

In situations where your PC is unable to boot, a recovery drive that stores a copy of your Windows 10 environment on a hardware source, such as a DVD or USB drive, can help restore your apps, programs and settings. 

Recovery drives are also useful when you’re unable to access the Windows desktop to reinstall or troubleshoot your device. Timely backup of data can also prove helpful in easing the reinstallation process.

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