How to reinstall Windows 8, 8.1 and 10 and keep your data and programs intact

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Reinstall Windows 8, 8.1 or 10 without losing any data, installed programs or settings.

If your Windows system is having trouble, sometimes it's a good idea to reinstall the operating system. This method retains your data, programs and settings.

Windows 8 and 8.1 have three ways to Refresh, Reset, or Restore Windows. None of the three built-in options retain third party programs.
- Reset: restores Windows to its original settings, no data or programs are kept.
- Refresh: reinstalls Windows, deletes third party software (from a DVD, CD, website, etc.). Apps that came with your PC and apps you installed from the Microsoft Store will be reinstalled. Windows puts a list of removed apps on your desktop after refreshing your PC.
- System Restore: restores certain types of Windows files (settings, drivers, registry keys) to a previous point. Personal data such as photos, videos, music, documents aren't affected.

Windows 10 has these reset/restore options:
- Keep my files: removes apps and settings, but keeps your personal files
- Remove everything: removes all of your personal files, apps, and settings
- Fresh start: removes all apps that aren't included in Windows, including other programs like Microsoft Office. If you're on an Enterprise or Education edition, Fresh start won't work for a clean installation.
- System Restore: reverts some Windows files to a previous state (system files, Windows Registry, and other system files) to a previous point. Personal data such as photos, videos, music, documents aren't affected. System Restore is disabled by default in Windows 10.

There is yet another way to reinstall Windows that keeps your programs, settings, and data. This article thoroughly outlines exactly how it's done. The basic method is running setup.exe from a Windows disc or USB flash drive.
It's an extensive and very well done article that covers options to try before you reinstall Windows, what the requirements are, creating a bootable DVD or USB, installation, activation, links to useful sites, and cleaning up after Windows is reinstalled.

Since this is a fresh install, any Windows Updates will have to be downloaded again. My experience with Windows 7 and 8.1 is that Windows Update offers updates in small batches, offering more after previous updates are downloaded and installed. It can take a while to get to the current updates.

I used this method last night to reinstall Windows 8.1. I've used it in the past with Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 with no issues, but your mileage may vary. Backing up your important information or creating a disk image is a good idea, just in case.

Non-destructive reinstall of Windows 8, 8.1 and 10


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Comments

Very helpful, thank-you!
It can also be used to install major updates. For instance, the 1809 update for Windows 10 repeatedly failed on my machine. I used the Media Creation Tool to download the update, then ran the Setup.exe from Explorer. Worked beautifully, thanks to you.

You're very welcome. It's good to have another way to get things done in Windows. :)

This article is Incorrect. Windows 8.1 has Refresh & Reset. Windows 10 has Fresh Start which keeps the users personal files and some settings and clean installs Windows 10. Windows 10 offers 2 (actually 3 but only going to cover 2 here) types of Reset (1. keep all personal files) and Reset (2. remove everything and reinstall Windows). System Restore does not restore your system to an earlier point - it merely reverses any settings changes, programs installed/uninstalled or registry changes made since the restore point used was created. Any documents, photos, or other personal files are not changed.

Thank you. I've updated the article to be more accurate and precise. :)