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How to reinstall Windows 10

There might come a time when you will need to reinstall Windows 10 on your computer. Maybe you’re trying to fix a serious update problem or get rid of a virus, or perhaps you’re prepping to sell your computer on Craigslist. Whatever the reason might be, reinstalling Windows 10 can be confusing, especially given there are several ways to do it and each has its own set of pros and cons. That said, let’s take a look at how to reinstall Windows 10.

How to back up your data

We strongly recommend that you back up your data before making this kind of major change to your PC. Windows 10 even makes it easy, so you don’t need to search for an additional backup tool. Just follow the basic File History steps below.

Step 1: Type “Windows update” into the Windows search bar and select Windows Update settings from the list of results. Alternatively, click on the Action Center icon in the lower-right corner of your screen, select All settings, and look for Update & Security. Once there, select the Backup tab.

If you see an on-off indicator in the next window and it’s it’s toggled to the “On” position, then that means File History has been automatically backing up your files — including your contacts, desktop files, and files housed in your OneDrive folder — meaning you probably don’t have to worry. The feature will back up your libraries as well, but it may not back up all general folders, so place valuable folders into a library to save them as necessary.

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Step 2: If your File History tool is off, then you will see an option to add a drive.

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Click on the addition sign next to Add a drive, and Windows 10 will search for an external drive to use for the backup.

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Select the drive that you want to use for File History. This will toggle File History on and Windows 10 will automatically start backing up versions of files in your libraries. You can click More options to change how often files are backed up and how long they’re kept for. You can also configure which folders and libraries are backed up. Depending on how much data you have, however, this can take some time, so get busy with something else and wait for the backup process to finish.

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You can check on the status of your File History by scrolling to the bottom of the Backup options pages and selecting See advanced settings under Related settings. This will open the Control Panel File History window, where you can see the status and access additional options.

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Of course, if you prefer to transfer everything to an external hard drive or utilize a cloud storage service for your backups, please do! Whichever approach you choose, make sure nothing valuable can be lost.

Installation methods

How to roll back Windows 10

Now, let’s talk about reinstalling Windows 10 to a specific point in the past — perhaps a few days or weeks ago. This is an ideal solution when there’s something wrong with your computer, like a serious glitch resulting from a new app that you need to get rid of ASAP. There are a couple of different options for reverting to an earlier build, or finding a recent spot on Windows 10 to reset.

Step 1: In the Update & Security window, go to the Recovery tab. Here, you will see an option to “Go back to the previous version of Windows 10.” Click the Get started button and wait.

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Step 2: Windows is now going to look at how much information it has to work with, after asking a brief survey question as to why you’re going back and checking for updates, to see if those might fix a problem. Follow the on-screen steps until you’re presented with the choice of which Windows 10 build to work with. Sometimes, however, the operating system can’t find the right files needed to revert to a previous build, especially if you’ve been cleaning your digital house lately. In such instances, it’s better to seek another solution.

Step 3: If the preparation works, then you’ll be able to revert to a previous build, which is great if a major update or recent installation caused something to go wrong. If available, look for the most recent, trouble-free build you can recognize that is still utilizing Windows 10. Sometimes you will only have access to previous operating systems on your computer, though, like Windows 8.

How to restore Windows 10 from a System Restore Point

You can also choose to restore Windows 10 from a system restore point, which may work better if you need to pull up more recent versions of Windows 10 instead of skipping back entire builds.

Step 1: Head over to the Control Panel — use the Windows search bar to find it, if necessary. Look for the Recovery section and select Open System Restore. Afterward, confirm that you want to enter this mode. You can also create a new restore point and configure restore options from this window.

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Step 2: This will provide you with a recommended restore point and a description of what system action was performed prior to the restore point being created. Here, you can also select from other restore points. Click “Choose a different restore point” and click Next if you want to check out other available options.

Keep in mind that Windows typically creates a restore point after every big change, such as when you install a new app, driver, or update. If you don’t see the option you expect, your system protection may be turned off. If this is the case, you may need to perform a full reinstall or find another solution.

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Step 3: Find the restore point from before the problematic change, if possible. Then, choose Next and confirm with Finish. Keep in mind that this option shouldn’t erase any personal files.

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How to reinstall Windows 10

Sometimes the problems are too widespread for a recovery, and you need to perform a full wipe to remove corrupted data or possibly to prepare a computer you intend to sell. In this case, you can fully reinstall Windows 10. Thankfully, it’s easy to do.

Step 1: Head to the Recovery section again, the one within Update & Security. The first option you should see at the top is Reset this PC. That’s the one you want. Click Get started to continue.

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Step 2: You will be given several options that specify how much data you want to wipe. If you’re trying to remove a problem but still want to use your PC, then you can choose to Keep my files (and be prepared for another option if this doesn’t fix your problem). If you have any doubts — and you’ve double-checked your backup — click Remove everything. If you’re selling your PC, consider Restore factory settings, which will roll back your PC to its original factory state. Keep in mind that the latter option isn’t always available, and will usually reinstall all the software that initially came with your PC. You can also grab a new Windows 10 installation media image and use that to install from scratch — as long as you have a valid license.

Step 3: Confirm your selection, sit back, and wait. If you’re doing this on a laptop or mobile device, make sure that it’s plugged in so that it doesn’t run out of power. The system should reboot automatically when finished.

How to activate Windows 10 (again)

Depending on how you reinstall or roll back Windows 10, you may have to go through the activation process again. This is usually automatic and not a problem, but if you bought Windows 10 from another source and upgraded your computer, or if your device came with Windows 10, you may need your product key in order to complete the activation. Thankfully, you can usually find this on your Certificate of Authenticity, which gives you a reason to keep those things around.

To update your activation, open the Update & Security and head to the Activation tab. Here, you will be able to see your activation status or add a different product key. Follow the on-screen instructions to reactivate your Windows 10 installation.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends


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