How to reinstall Windows 10

Restore, refresh, reinstall

Windows 10 is pretty bulletproof. However if you are unfortunate enough that something should go wrong with it, what can you do to get your machine back up and running quickly and easily?

Thankfully the latest version of Windows comes with everything you need to take charge of the situation and fix problems, using a combination of different tools. In this feature, we'll show you how to make sure your important data is backed up first.

Then we'll investigate the various utilities that can bring your device back to life – from a simple rollback of key system files and settings, to a full-blown reinstall of Windows 10 itself. It could be that a simple restore will do the trick instead of a more radical reinstalling of Windows 10.

Take a backup of Windows 10

Taking the steps required to protect your saved files is crucial. Think about the priceless photos, home movies, music library, important work documents and other irreplaceable files and settings that would be lost in the event of a disaster.

The good news is that backing up your files couldn't be easier, and the tools you need are provided in Windows 10 itself.

When it comes to backing up your files, the File History tool is your first port of call. To access it, click Start > Settings > Update & security > Backup, then follow the step-by-step guide later on in this feature to set it up to work with your backup drive, whether that's an external USB drive, a network share or network attached drive.

By default, the built-in File History tool automatically backs up all the content from your libraries, contacts, favourites, OneDrive folder and desktop. If you want to back up any folders, as well, you can do so by adding them to a library, and you can then choose 'Exclude folders' from File History's 'More options' screen if you want to remove specific folders from the backup.

How to reinstall Windows 10

File History enables you to back up key files automatically

Earlier versions

Once you've got everything set up, click 'Turn on' (if it's not automatically done for you) and File History not only starts backing up your files, but backs up different versions of them, too, giving you the option to roll back through your files to earlier revisions, which can be really useful.

There are two ways to recover your files. Firstly, if you want to restore lost or accidentally deleted files, click 'Restore files from a current backup' in the 'More options' section of File History. From here, you can browse your backups by location or library, or search for specific content.

It's just as simple to restore an earlier version of a file. Browse for it in an Explorer window, select the file in question and click the 'History' button on the Home tab of the ribbon to see a list of previous versions of the file, before restoring the one you want.

When it comes to backing up other key settings and files, the guide opposite has all the tips, tools and tricks to keep all aspects of your PC safe.

Back up your files online

As anyone who's experienced a hardware failure will know, you can never have too many backups. So even after using File History to back up your files, you should explore another option, just in case.

We recommend using an online backup, because it means there's a copy of your files stored in a separate physical location for your extra protection.

The obvious choice for Windows 10 users is to use the free OneDrive desktop app, which enables you to sync up to 35GB of files to the cloud for absolutely nothing. You'll find it on your Start screen – just click (or tap) on the OneDrive title to launch it.

If you need more storage space, you can purchase additional gigabytes in the 'Manage storage > Upgrade' area of OneDrive online.

How to reinstall Windows 10

1. Back up your settings

If you log on to your Windows 10 PC using your Microsoft account, you can take advantage of Windows' built-in Sync Your Settings feature. Although this tool is designed to synchronise personal settings across your Windows devices, it also serves as a backup for key preferences so you don't have to set them up again should disaster strike.

Make sure 'Sync Your Settings' is on and choose the settings you wish to back up – to do this open Settings from the Start menu, select 'Accounts' followed by 'Sync your settings'. You'll find switches to turn the feature on and off, and you can also exclude settings from the backup, such as passwords or browser settings.

How to reinstall Windows 10

2. Take a drive image

Having a backup of your entire system enables you to quickly restore your PC to exactly how it once was. Windows 10 has a built-in drive image tool, but you can get better, more efficient results with Macrium Reflect Free.

There are two basic back-up options, but we're going to choose 'Create an image of the partition(s) required to backup and restore Windows'. Make sure the correct drives have been selected, then click the '...' button next to 'Folder' to select a location on your back-up drive.

Finally, click 'Finish > OK' and the backup will be created. Once complete, check that the backup is not corrupt by switching to the Restore tab and clicking 'Verify image' next to it. Finally, select 'Other tasks > Create rescue media' to create a Macrium recovery disc or USB drive.

How to reinstall Windows 10

3. Create rescue media

A recovery USB flash drive lets you access essential repair and recovery options that can save the day if your PC or tablet fails to boot. If your Windows 10 device has a recovery partition, you can store that on the drive, too.

A basic recovery drive without a recovery partition requires a 256MB USB flash drive, but you'll need a drive at least 4GB in size if you plan to make a backup of the recovery partition, too (which is recommended).

To create the drive, plug in your USB flash drive, then type the word recovery into the search box. Select the 'Create a recovery drive' option under 'Settings', then follow the prompts to create your recovery stick. After the process has finished, select the option to delete the recovery partition only if you're low on storage space.