How to reinstall Windows 10

Restore, refresh, reinstall

So, you’ve run into a bunch of Windows 10 problems, and you’ve tried everything, but what are your options if you’re not quite ready to reinstall Windows 10?

Well, the next step would be to try using the Windows 10 System Restore tool. System Restore works similarly to File History, only it affects system and program files instead of your personal data. 

Snapshots of these files, known as Restore Points, are taken at key moments during general use, and if you run into problems, you can try rolling back to a previous Restore Point to see if it fixes the problem.

System Restore

System Restore usually works best when your problem has been caused by a recent change to your computer, typically through installing or updating new hardware, software or if you reinstall Windows 10 itself. The step-by-step guide below reveals how to access and use System Restore, either from within Windows or via your computer's recovery menu.

If System Restore doesn't do enough to fix the problem, then you can perform a more radical step: go back to the previous build of Windows 10.

When you perform a major update of Windows, or Windows 10 installs a major new version, it creates a backup of the previous build, just in case you run into any problems. This backup is stored in the 'Windows.old' folder – it can take up a fair bit of space, and can be removed using Disk Cleanup.

But if you have the spare capacity, leave it in place in case you ever need to use it to fix a problem.

Rolling back your system in this way works in a similar fashion to System Restore: your data is unaffected, but any changes made since the new build was installed, like changes to settings or programs, newly installed apps and so on, will be undone.

If you need to use the rollback feature, and Windows is working well enough for you to access it normally, open Settings before selecting 'Update & security' followed by 'Go back to an earlier build'. If Windows won't boot, use your recovery drive or select 'Troubleshoot > Advanced options' to access the option.

You'll see a message telling you Windows is getting things ready. You'll then be asked to give a reason for why you're rolling back Windows – this helps highlight issues that may require an urgent fix.

You'll then be given a brief summary of the changes being made (no specific details are available, unlike with System Restore, sadly), with a prompt to back up for safety's sake (if File History is turned on, you're probably covered).

Click Next, make a note of the warning about your logon password and then click Next again, sit back and wait while your PC is restored.

If all goes well, you should have a working version of the OS again, without having to reinstall Windows 10, and with just a few maintenance tasks to perform (reinstalling programs, updating settings, and so on) before everything's back to normal.

Beyond a rollback

Unfortunately, rolling back your PC to the previous version of Windows 10 won't always cure all issues. You may find your device still doesn't function as it should after you've refreshed it, or the procedure might not work.

If Windows comes across a problem, it'll inform you of the fact, try to resolve it and then, if the fix fails, undo all the changes it's made, leaving you back where you started.

If all else fails, fixing your PC will involve something more drastic: a complete wipe and reinstall of Windows 10 itself in what is now termed a 'reset' of your PC. The good news is that you can perform this action without losing your data or by wiping the drive entirely. However the end result is the same: you'll lose all your settings and apps.

1. System Restore

If you can boot into Windows, access System Restore via the desktop. Type 'System Protection' into the search bar and click 'Create a restore point' followed by 'System Restore...' If Windows won't start, you can use System Restore automatically.

Or, boot from your USB recovery disk, select 'Troubleshoot', 'Advanced options' and then 'System Restore'.

2. Restore Points

By default, Windows recommends you use the most recent Restore Point; in fact, you may even find it's the only Restore Point offered.

Make a note of the time and date it was taken, and click 'Scan for affected programs' to see which programs and hardware drivers will be affected by rolling back your PC to this point.

You'll see the programs that will be removed if you choose it, and others that will be restored. This should help you decide whether to use it or not.

3. Send your PC back in time

To restore a recommended Restore Point, click 'Next' and follow the prompts to roll back your PC. If this doesn't work, or you want to try an earlier Restore Point, select 'Choose a different Restore Point' and click 'Next'.

Browse through the available points, noting what would be affected by choosing each one. After restoring, you can undo the process if it doesn't have the desired effect.