You’ve probably noticed how Windows computers seem to get clogged up and slow down over time. Windows 8 introduced a new feature called “Refresh your PC” that provides a quick and easy way to clean things up and restore the operating system to factory-fresh condition. It can also be a lifesaver if your computer develops severe problems. Accessing the Refresh feature was described in this previous article. In this tip, I will give some details of how to create a custom Refresh.
The standard refresh process makes use of the system image that most PCs have stored in a hidden restore partition or your Windows installation DVD and will return the system files of the PC to the state they were in when the PC was shipped from the factory. It is very fast and usually takes less than 10 minutes. The beauty of the restore feature is that it preserves all your personal files and system data. It also keeps your installed Metro apps. However, a drawback is that desktop programs that you have installed will be deleted. The refresh process creates a list of what has been deleted but you would still have to reinstall things like Microsoft Office, alternate browsers, or legacy Windows programs.
How to create your own custom refresh image and avoid losing your installed programs
The way to avoid losing desktop programs that you have installed is to create your own version of the Windows image. There is a command-line utility that will create a new custom image that contains everything that you have installed yourself. It is, in effect, a snapshot of the entire system at some particular point in time. The best procedure when you have a new Windows 8/8.1 computer is to delete anything that came with it that you do not want, install right away as many of your regularly used programs as you can, and then create a refresh image containing this setup. The refresh process will then use this image and restore the installed programs. You can also create a new image at later times. In fact, you can create a series of images but they will have to be stored in different folders since the command–line utility always names the image it creates “CustomRefresh.wim” and will overwrite any existing images located in the same folder.
Here is how to create a custom refresh image
- Open the command prompt with administrative privileges. In Windows 8, use the keyboard shortcut Winkey+X as described here to access a menu with the entry “Command Prompt (Admin)”. In Windows 8.1, right-click the new Start button and choose “Command Prompt (Admin)” from the context menu.
- In the command line, enter: recimg /createimage <Somefolder>
Here, <Somefolder> is the complete path to a folder you have created in a convenient location. Make sure it has enough space to hold the system image. Even a new system with little else installed will need upwards of 10 GB or more, depending on your setup. An image file CustomRefresh.wim will be created and will automatically be used in a refresh process instead of the original restore image from the PC’s manufacturer. Be aware that the creation takes a very long time, several hours at least. It will sit at ‘1% completed” for quite a while so be patient. Depending on your system, you may want to do this overnight. However, as already mentioned, the refresh process itself is very quick.
To check what image is the current default for the refresh operation, use the command:
The location of the current default image will be given but in a notation different from the usual. For example, the C: drive may be indicated by “\Device\Harddisk0\Partition1”. If you have created several refresh images, you can set which one is the default with another command:
recimg /setcurrent <Somefolder>
where <Somefolder> is the complete path to the folder containing the image file you want to set as default.
As useful as the Refresh feature may be, it does not replace a backup drive image on a separate bootable medium. Everyone should also create a recovery disc or USB key. Windows 8 features for doing this are described here.
You can, of course, also use one of the free drive cloners discussed elsewhere at Gizmo’s instead. But the features included in Windows 8/8.1 have the advantage of being part of the operating system and avoiding any complications that might be involved with third-party software.
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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.
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