By default, the Refresh your PC feature in Windows 8 and 8.1 restores your computer to a working state and keeps all your documents and most personalizations, but you will lose all installed Desktop programs and Modern UI/Metro apps that were not installed from Windows Store. This does not sound much like a good backup and restore, right?
Well, you can create a special kind of disk image (called baseline image or custom recovery image; often referred to as custom refresh image) that restores all installed Desktop programs and non-Windows Store apps. Sadly, all those programs and apps will lose their settings: when launched, they will act as if they were freshly installed. OK, this is so much better than nothing at all.
Creation of Custom Recovery Image is strongly recommended after upgrading from Windows 8 to 8.1 via Windows Store: after the upgrade completes, recovery partition still contains Windows 8 (not 8.1!) image and Refresh Your PC or Reset Your PC would restore the older version of Windows.
Please note that you should not create the custom image if Windows does not work normally (crashes or hangs, programs or apps do not run properly). Test your apps and programs and let Windows 8.1 run for at least 2-3 days before creating the recovery image after an upgrade.
Traditional disk image backups are still way better: they often run more reliably and restore everything exactly as it was, so you experience no lost configurations or Desktop programs. Check out Windows 8 built-in backup program that is somehow called Windows 7 File Recovery (or System Image Backup in Windows 8.1).
It is also possible to do a non-destructive reinstall of Windows 8 or 8.1.
Please note that you cannot use Refresh or Reset Your PC features if Windows is installed on a drive with GPT (not MBR) partition table until you force "UEFI only" boot setting in BIOS/EFI. Windows 8 and 8.1 will not detect GPT partition alignment correctly if BIOS booting is enabled. .
As Windows 10 has no Refresh your PC functionality, the recimg.exe program used for creating Custom Recovery Images has also been removed. You can use Backup and Restore for traditional file and disk image backups in Windows 10.
You can store the image on system drive (the drive where Windows is installed), another hard drive, on an external drive (hard drive or USB stick with sufficient free disk space) or Storage Spaces (my recommendation).
Of course, the two latter ones are much safer choices, especially in case hard drive in your PC dies or the computer is stolen.
If you choose the external drive or Storage Spaces option, the external drive(s) must be connected before using the Refresh your PC feature.
First, install all programs and apps you need and uninstall the ones you do not want. If you've been using your PC for a longer time, it is probably set up the way you want already.
If you want to store the image on external drive, open File Explorer (previously known as "Windows Explorer", keyboard shortcut Windows Key+E) and check the drive letter - it could be D:, E:, F:, G: and so on. Remember the drive letter.
You must have administrator rights to perform the following steps.
Launch elevated Command Prompt or PowerShell - open Start screen and type "cmd" to run Apps search/Search everywhere. Either right-click Command Prompt and click Run as administrator in App bar, or hold down Ctrl and Shift keys while clicking Command Prompt.
Alternatively, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+X to bring up the Quick Links menu (a list of system tools) and click Command Prompt (Admin) or Windows PowerShell (Admin). All Command Prompt commands work in PowerShell, too.
Now enter the following command: recimg -CreateImage <drive letter:>\RefreshImage . Replace the <drive letter:> variable with the drive where you want to store the image. For example, recimg -CreateImage C:\RefreshImage stores the image on system drive, in new folder named RefreshImage.
Having multiple Custom Recovery Images is also a good idea. Just add date to the name of target folder, for example C:\RefreshImage\2015-04-15 stores one image, and C:\RefreshImage\2015-08-23 stores another one. This way, you have more restore options in case something is wrong with the latest image.
Press Enter key to run the command.
The process will take some time, depending on the number of installed programs and apps - up to an hour is completely normal. Please note that the writing image process might get stuck at 1% for about 30-45 minutes, this is expected behavior.
There are several common errors that might interrupt the custom recovery image creation process:
- Error Code 0x80042316 - this means that Volume Shadow Copy service is currently running (for File History, System Restore or traditional backup). Try again in about 10 minutes or after a traditional backup has completed.
- Error Code 0x800423f2 - timeout occurred. By default, the image creation process can last for up to 10 minutes only. This might not be enough in several cases, so you might need to double the value. Download and launch the CreateTimeout.reg file - this will create the required entry in Windows Registry. Please note that you might have to right-click the link to actually save the file.
The file creates a new DWORD value CreateTimeout under the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\SPP key and sets its value to 00b71b00 (this equals 20 minutes in hexadecimal format).
- Error Codes 0x80070002, 0x80070003 and other "The recovery image cannot be written" messages. VeraCrypt users are out of luck, there is no workaround available. For others, restarting your PC can help removing temporary mount points. Please note that some programs (mostly backup and encryption) need to lock disks to work properly, so there might be no solution to this problem. Use Windows Backup and Restore (Windows 8 only) or System Image Backup in Windows 8.1.
Before you run Refresh your PC, it is best to verify the image is available - if it is not, you will lose installed Desktop programs and apps. Please note that you can do this only while Windows 8 or 8.1 is running normally - recimg command is unavailable in Recovery Environment.
In both normal mode and in Recovery Environment, Windows will look for available custom recovery images automatically - just make sure the right drive is connected.
Open elevated Command Prompt - open Start screen and type "cmd" to run Apps Search. Either right-click Command Prompt and click Run as administrator in App bar, or hold down Ctrl and Shift keys while clicking Command Prompt.
In the black Command Prompt window, type recimg /showcurrent and press Enter key.
If the last line is "Operation completed successfully", you are ready to go. But if you see error 0x80070490 and message "There is no active custom recovery image", the image is unavailable. Connect your external drive and try again after about 10 seconds.
Sometimes you might want to deregister an image created by someone else - it might be the image provided by your computer manufacturer (that normally includes tons of useless programs) or maybe you bought a used PC.
Again, open elevated Command Prompt - open Start screen (use Windows Key), type "cmd" and click Command Prompt while holding down Ctrl and Shift keys.
Type recimg /deregister and press Enter. Please remember that the custom image file or folder will not be deleted.
If you want to register an existing custom recovery image (you must do that after using Refresh your PC feature), type recimg /setcurrent <drive letter:>\RefreshImage\ and press Enter. As usual, replace the <drive letter:> variable with the letter of the drive the image is on.
Custom Recovery Images can be restored with the Refresh Your PC process. Just plug in the drive where you keep the custom image, use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I (touch-screen users can swipe in from the right side of screen and tap Settings) to open Settings Charm and click or tap Change PC Settings in the bottom of the bar.
Windows 8 users should open General tab on the left and click Get started in the Refresh your PC without affecting your files section.
In Windows 8.1, open Update & recovery tab on the left, then open Recovery tab and click Get started in the Refresh your PC without affecting your files section.
Then follow instructions in Step 3 section of the Repair your computer in Windows 8 and 8.1, page 2 tutorial.
If Windows is not able to boot, you can use Windows installation DVD or Recovery Drive to launch Refresh Your PC.