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

When your PC suffers a fault and every fix fails, a frequent cure-all is to reset your PC. This can also apply to operating systems, including Windows 10. 

If you keep running into blue screen of death (BSOD) errors, or your PC is noticeably slower or hangs indefinitely, reinstalling Windows 10 is a safe bet to mitigate downtime and loss of work. Reinstalling Windows 10 may also reverse a faulty update, security patch, or driver installation or update. 

Microsoft eases the resetting process with the option to retain existing data during reinstallation. 

In this guide, we'll explain how to reinstall Windows 10 and reset your computer to its default settings without losing data, including important files, personal data, and programs.

How to factory reset Windows 10 without losing data

Microsoft offers three processes for resetting Windows 10 without losing the existing data on the system. You can choose either process and achieve the same results. 

Method 1: Using the “Reset this PC” option

To reset your Windows 10 PC using the “Reset this PC” option, use the following steps:

  1. Right-click on the Windows start button on the bottom left-hand corner of the screen to open the settings menu.
  2. Click “Settings.”
  3. Click on “Update & Security.”
  4. In the left pane, select “Recovery.”
  5. Under“Reset this PC,” click “Get started.”
  6. Choose the "Keep my files" option in the popup message. Keep in mind, after this step, your device will update to the latest Windows 10 version. 
  7. If you are upgrading your PC from a previous version of Windows to Windows 10, you will see a warning message stating that you won’t be able to undo the upgrade or rollback to the previous version of Windows. Click “Next” to continue. 
  8. Click the “Reset” button in the “Ready to reset this PC” interface. Your PC will reboot and begin to reinstall Windows 10.

Note: The “Reset this PC” feature on Windows is arguably the fastest way to reset your PC. There is a caveat: “Reset this PC” allows you to keep files only. The reset will uninstall all user-installed apps and programs. To avoid missing out on pre-existing apps, drivers and programs, make sure you have backups of all your important data before scheduling a 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 

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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