If your computer's performance has taken a nosedive recently, reinstalling Windows 10 - also known as a PC reset - might be the perfect solution. This is a somewhat extreme way of spring cleaning your hard drive, but it's certainly effective. If you've picked up a serious virus or run into some buggy software that won't allow you to do anything, wiping the disk and starting again might be the only alternative to giving up on perfect hardware.
The good news is that if you're reinstalling Windows 10 onto a working computer that you can still use to make changes, there's no reason why you should lose any personal data at all. As part of its quick and easy reset-and-start-again process, Windows 10 gives you the option to save your personal files before it goes ahead with the reinstallation.
Having said that, we still recommend backing up any files and data that you want to keep. But, again, this is simply good practice and regularly backing up your information is a useful habit to get into.
To back up your data, drag (or copy and paste) everything you want to keep into an external drive of your choice. Most USB memory sticks are plug-and-play, and even those with eye-popping huge amounts of storage are now much more affordable than they used to be.
When Windows 10 was released as the successor to Windows 8.1 in July 2015, Microsoft announced that it would be available as an entirely free download to anybody who upgraded within 12 months of the launch date. Lots of people were concerned about potential costs further down the line if they upgraded their PC or needed to reinstall Windows 10 at some point.
And while the reality is that Microsoft has officially advised that Windows 10 and any future upgrades are - and will remain - free forever, you can avoid any potential reinstallation issues by confirming that your edition of Windows 10 is linked with your Microsoft Account.
To check your activation status, hit the Windows Key + I to open Windows Settings and then choose Update and Security. Then, from the headings in the left-hand pane, click Activation. This page will tell you the version of Windows that you're running, if and how it was activated, and if you've linked it to your Microsoft Account.
Chances are, if you're actively using Windows 10, it will already be activated. If these steps confirm that Windows 10 was activated with a digital license (acquired via the free upgrade) or with a product key (acquired when you purchased this copy of Windows 10) and is linked to your Microsoft Account, you're good to go. If it doesn't advise anything other than how Windows is activated, click the link to Learn More and follow the on-screen instructions for Linking Your Microsoft Account.
If your PC is still working enough that you can access your Settings, a full reinstallation of Windows 10 is only a few clicks away. Three ways of achieving this are outlined below.
Alternatively, you can hold Shift while you click Restart in the Power Options within your Start Menu. This will prompt your computer to load in Recovery Mode. You'll be presented with a menu from which you can select Troubleshoot and then Reset this PC. You can then follow the same instructions as above, starting from Step 3.
If you can't get all the way into your computer, but you can about make it to the initial sign-in screen, this is ok too. Holding Shift while selecting Restart from the Power Menu in the bottom right corner of the screen will also restart your machine in Recovery Mode. You can then follow the instructions above to complete a clean install.
During the installation process, your computer will reboot and load up several times. Windows will handle the whole installation process and requires little user input other than occasionally following instructions from the on-screen wizard.
If you purchased a physical copy of Windows 10, you could use this installation disc to restore your PC.
You may have already created a backup for the Windows 10 installation media on a USB drive for just such an occasion.
If your PC is too far gone to let you attempt any of the reset methods and you don't have an original installation CD or ready-made backup drive, don't panic. As long as you have access to another working PC, you can create the installation media you need to boot up from a separate USB drive.
You'll need a USB stick with at least 8GB of available space that you don't want to use for anything else. The download process will wipe any other data on the flash drive.
You can now use the installation media on this USB drive to perform a clean install. If your computer doesn't load to select this option from your Settings menu, you will need to boot from the USB drive directly. The process for doing this is almost the same as that for booting from a CD, outlined above. There are just a few minor tweaks to be aware of:
Whether you're looking for an extreme but effective way to refresh your hard drive or you've run into problems that leave you no other choice, reinstalling your operating system isn't as complicated as it sounds.
There are different methods of reinstalling Windows. Some allow you to keep your personal files, and some wipe everything, letting you start again with a clean slate. If you're able to log in and use your computer without it any issues, reinstalling Windows 10 is as easy as clicking the right box in your Recovery Options and following the on-screen instructions.
If you can't get into your system to do this, don't worry. You can reinstall Windows 10 on a non-working PC just as easily. Having no installation CD or disk drive shouldn't be a problem either, as Windows 10 allows you to download the installation media you need from its website right onto any USB drive with sufficient (8GB) space so that you can boot from that instead.
Make sure you've backed up everything you want to keep - just in case - and check that you've activated Windows 10 and linked it to your Microsoft account before you get started.
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