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 You Use “Reset This PC”?
Software breaks and bugs happen. Sometimes it isn’t a big deal — your browser freaks out, your game crashes, or a bloated Excel document decides to stop responding. But what happens if your operating system is the software with a problem? What happens if Windows — for any number of reasons — becomes corrupted and unstable?
For a long time, there were two options to deal with that. The first was to manually fix the issue(s). Fixing serious issues with Windows can be a daunting task, even if you’re knowledgeable and experienced. The second was the nuclear option: Completely reinstall Windows.
Despite the potential difficulty, you should try to fix your Windows PC before you jump straight to the “Reset This PC” option. You might save yourself the trouble of reinstalling all of your favorite programs, configuring Windows 11 all over again, and reinstalling essential drivers.
However, if you’ve tried fixing the problem without success — or don’t feel inclined to try — a reinstall of Windows might be your best option.
Tip: A lot of people will do a fresh install of Windows to try to fix frequent blue screens of death (BSODs). Try reinstalling all of your drivers before you reset your PC. If the BSODs persist after you use “Reset This PC,” you almost certainly have a hardware problem.
Luckily, we no longer live in the trying times when Windows had to be reinstalled manually. The process is now almost entirely automated.
What Does “Reset This PC” Do?
When you reset your PC, Windows will be returned to its factory state. If you bought a pre-built computer, that means it’ll look exactly like it did when you took it out of the box — bloatware and all. If you used a retail Windows license to install Windows, you’ll get a completely clean operating system.
The important difference is what happens to all of your files. You have to make a choice: Do you wipe your entire computer and reinstall Windows, or do you keep all of 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 itself.
Note: Some files that are deleted will be moved to the Windows.old folder and deleted a few days after you perform a reset.
The “Reset This PC” process is pretty reliable, but you should always take the time to manually back up any files that are important to you just in case something goes wrong. Backing up important files is prudent anyways, since you never known when your hard drive or SSD might fail.
RELATED: What’s the Best Way to Back Up My Computer?
Note: Selecting “Keep My Files” will not keep programs you’ve installed. Almost all programs you run on your computer modify the registry, which, by necessity, gets completely wiped when you reinstall Windows.
How to “Reset This PC” on Windows 11
The “Reset this PC” function can be accessed from within the Settings app. Open Settings, then navigate to System > Recovery. Alternatively, you can hit the Start button, type “Reset this pc” into the search bar, and then hit Enter or click “Open” to go directly to the necessary window.
There isn’t 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 need to choose between keeping your personal files or completely wiping the computer. You should usually keep your personal files unless you have a specific reason to delete them. It’s a lot easier to come back later and delete files than it is to recover them. It might even be impossible to recover them.
RELATED: Why Deleted Files Can Be Recovered, and How You Can Prevent It
Then you’ll have to choose if you want to reinstall Windows 11 from the cloud or from the files already on your computer.
Which you should use really depends on the circumstances. Generally speaking, if you’re performing a reset because something is malfunctioning and likely corrupted, use the cloud install. The cloud install downloads a new copy of Windows directly from Microsoft, and any potentially corrupted files are completely replaced.
Warning: The cloud download is about four gigabytes. That isn’t huge by modern standards, but it is worth keeping in mind if you’re on a network with a data cap.
If you just want to remove 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 very long — maybe 5-10 minutes — though 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 disk drive, it’ll take substantially longer. All you need to do is log in after the installation is finished, and you’ll be good to go.