by Shane O'Neill

Windows 8 How To: Quick OS Reinstalls

Jan 05, 20123 mins
Computers and PeripheralsOperating SystemsSecurity

A standout feature in early demos of Windows 8 is the ability to quickly refresh and reset the OS to its original state while keeping your data intact, thus speeding up a process that has long been tedious and unsteady.

In every version of Windows, it’s always been a huge ordeal if, God forbid, you need to reinstall the operating system.

You would back up all your data and applications to an external hard drive; insert original Windows DVD; wait awhile; restore all your backed up files and then reinstall software, etc. etc. In Windows 7, there is a feature that allows you to clone your system to an image file so you can restore the OS from a system drive in the event of a disaster. But it’s still time-consuming and not entirely foolproof.

With Windows 8, currently available as a developer’s preview with a beta release scheduled for late February, Microsoft has set out to revolutionize the reinstall process. A Windows reinstall is always a last resort to solve a problem, but if it has to happen due to a corrupted registry or a virus, Microsoft has made it fast and easy in Windows 8. If it works the way Microsoft describes it in a recent Building Windows 8 blog, returning Windows 8 to its “factory settings” will be as simple as hitting the reset button on the back of your wireless router.

There are two options for starting over with Windows 8: Reset and Refresh.

Windows 8 Reset. Removes all personal data, apps, and settings from the PC, and reinstalls Windows 8. This is ideal for when you are selling, recycling or reusing (mostly in a business setting) your PC. It’s a start from scratch scenario.

Windows 8 Refresh. Keeps all personal data, Metro style apps, and important settings from the PC, and reinstalls Windows 8. This provides all the benefits of a reset while still keeping your data, settings and apps intact. There’s no need to first back up your data and then restore it afterward. The data stays.

Both options can be set up in about 30 seconds, as shown in the video below. According to Microsoft, PC Reset can be completed in 6 and a half minutes (if encryption feature BitLocker is not enabled it will take almost 24 minutes). PC refresh takes about 8 and a half minutes.

Windows 8 Can Scrub Data from Disk, but Not Up to Tough Security Specifications

Compared to a baseline time of 24 minutes 29 seconds for restoring the same contents from a system image backup, the Windows 8 reinstall times are a big improvement. Of course, reinstalling Windows the old school way from an install DVD can take hours.

One wrinkle with Windows 8 Refresh is that it only preserves Metro style apps, and not desktop apps that Windows 8 users will have inevitably carried over from their old computers. Unfortunately, those apps have to be reinstalled manually. But there is a workaround to this problem, explained at the end of the video below.