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Repair your computer in Windows 10, page 2

By , winhelp.us logo. Last updated: 2020-10-22

How to use Recovery Environment for resetting, recovering or restoring Windows 10

The first part of this article describes how to get into Windows 10 Recovery Environment (WinRE) and repair smaller problems such as file system corruption and corrupted Boot Configuration Data.

Options to try before restoring a backup image or using Reset this PC or Recover from a drive features in Windows 10

  • Always boot to Safe Mode at least once - this often repairs the corrupted file system and essential system files.
  • If Windows starts and runs properly only in Safe Mode, turn on Clean Boot mode to check if a non-Microsoft software or driver is causing the problems.
  • If Windows is able to boot, use System File Checker and icacls.exe to repair corrupted system files.
  • While Windows is running, use free WhoCrashed for determining BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) causes.
    Reliability Monitor might also reveal faulty drivers or software.
  • Try a non-destructive reinstall of Windows 10. Windows 10 must be able to boot to use this feature. It certainly takes a lot of time, but it leaves all your files, settings, installed programs, drivers, and apps intact.
    The repair install is also about the only option for fixing DISM RestoreHealth failure 0x800f081f. Windows 10 version 1511 (build 10586.36) users should ignore this DISM error, this is a known bug. Open the Start menu, type winver, and click the result to check the Windows version number.

Step 3 - restore a Windows 10 System Image Backup or recover your personal files

Windows 10 has a backup program hidden under the name of Backup and Restore (Windows 7). It actually has nothing to do with Windows 7, and if you automated it properly, you can click System Image Recovery in the Advanced options screen and follow instructions in the Restore a System Image in Windows article.
Windows 10, Advanced startup, Troubleshoot, Advanced options. Click 'System Image Recovery' to run full system restore.

In case you started Windows RE while Windows was running, your device restarts. After this, you need to sign in with the account that has administrative rights.

If you boot your device from Windows installation media or Recovery Drive/System Repair Disc, choose a target operating system by clicking on its button. In most cases, you should have only one Windows 10 installation visible.

In case you do not have any backups and you have not turned on File History in Windows 10, you can use Puppy Linux to copy your documents, pictures, videos, music, settings, etc to a flash drive or external hard disk.
After copying is complete, try other steps on this page to restore Windows 10 to a working condition, then copy your rescued files back to your computer if needed, and do start taking regular backups this time.

Step 4 - Reset this PC in Windows 10

In case Automatic Repair and System Restore did not help and you do not have any system image backups available, you can use the Reset this PC feature in Windows 10. This method has two options: keep your personal files (documents, videos, photos, etc), or wipe everything out.

In Windows 10, neither of the Reset this PC methods allows keeping desktop programs and apps that were not installed from Windows/Microsoft Store. The same applies to drivers. Windows 10 itself will be completely reinstalled in both cases.

Since Windows 10 May 2020 Update (version 2004), the Start Fresh method is also integrated into the Reset this PC functionality. If preloaded programs or apps are detected, you will be asked whether you want to keep or remove them.

If you synced your settings and apps using your Microsoft Account, your Windows Store apps and Windows-related settings will be restored after signing in for the first time, even if you choose to completely remove all data. Your OneDrive files will also remain intact as they are stored on Microsoft's cloud servers.

Please note that you cannot use the Reset this PC feature if Windows 10 is installed on a drive with GPT (not MBR) partition table until you force the "UEFI only" boot setting in BIOS/EFI. Windows will not detect GPT partition alignment correctly if BIOS booting is enabled.

Resolving common problems with the Reset this PC feature in Windows 10

The Could not find the recovery environment error means that the winre.wim file or the whole System Reserved partition/volume is missing. See the Restore Windows RE in Windows tutorial for instructions on how to resolve this problem.
A similar solution applies to the There was a problem resetting your PC, No changes were made error: scroll almost to the end of the Restore Windows RE article and follow instructions in the "Resolving recovery partition trouble with Recovery Drive and Reset this PC failures" section.

Some hardware configurations cause the There was a problem when resetting your PC. No changes were made. failure in Windows 10 May 2020 Update (version 2004). This can be resolved by launching the elevated Command Prompt or PowerShell window (Windows Key+X, click Windows PowerShell (Admin)) and running the DISM /Online /Cleanup-image /Restorehealth command.

The Unable to reset your PC, A required drive partition is missing and The drive where Windows is installed is locked, Unlock the drive and try again errors are the most common ones during the reset process. In most cases, fixing file system errors and/or rebuilding Boot Configuration Data helps. This might also resolve the problems that made Windows unable to boot.

Another cause of the "drive is locked" error is that hibernation/fast start-up has been enabled and the presence of hiberfil.sys file prevents any modifications to the file system. Please see how to resolve this hibernation-related error.

A less common cause is that Windows 10 cannot locate a proper driver for the hard drive controller and therefore cannot access partitions. If Windows is able to start, try installing proper chipset drivers (such as Intel or AMD) before using the Reset this PC feature.

Using the Reset this PC feature in Windows 10

If you are in Windows 10 Recovery Environment (aka RE or Limited Diagnostic State), click or tap Reset this PC in Troubleshoot screen.
Windows 10 Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot. Click or touch 'Reset this PC' to reinstall Windows with or without keeping your files.

In case you started Windows RE while Windows was running, your device restarts. After this, you need to sign in with the account that has administrative rights.

If you boot your device from Windows installation media or Recovery Drive/System Repair Disc, choose a target operating system by clicking on its button. In most cases, you should have only one Windows 10 installation visible.

In case Windows 10 is running, open the modern Settings app from the Start menu (keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I), choose Update & Security, open the Recovery tab from the left, and click Get started in the Reset this PC section. Please do note that the number of available options in this tab depends on whether the currently logged in account has administrative rights or not.
Alternatively, in Windows 10 Anniversary Update and newer, open the Run dialog with keyboard shortcut WINDOWS KEY+R or via the Quick Links menu (WINDOWS KEY+X), type ms-settings:recovery and click OK.
Windows 10, Settings app, Update & Security, Recovery tab. Click or touch 'Get started' in the Reset this PC section to reinstall Windows with or without keeping your files.

Please note that most of the following screenshots were taken in Recovery Environment. The options are mostly the same while Windows 10 is running, only the layout of dialogs is a bit different. This is to keep the length of this tutorial down.

Choose either Keep my files or Remove everything. The latter option does delete all your local files (but not those on OneDrive or other cloud services), so it is suitable only if you want to scrap, donate or sell your device. Windows 10 reinstallation process is the same in both cases.
If the device's drives are encrypted with BitLocker, the Remove everything option will disable encryption, the Keep my files option will temporarily suspend it.
Windows 10 Recovery Environment, Reset this PC, Choose an option. In most cases, choose 'Keep my files'.

Since Windows 10 May 2020 Update (version 2004), it is possible to download a fresh system image from the cloud while resetting Windows. This might be necessary when resetting fails due to missing or corrupted files, for example: after replacing a failed system drive or recovering from advanced malware infection.
Normally, the Local reinstall option is enough, but if you experience problems with it, click or tap the Cloud download button instead. Do note that this will download 2-5 gigabytes of data.
Windows 10, Reset this PC, How would you like to reinstall Windows. The 'Cloud download' option is needed only when the Local reinstall fails.

In case you started Reset this PC while Windows was running normally, and you chose to keep your files, an overview of apps you'll need to reinstall appears. This list will also be available on Desktop after the process is complete.
Click or touch Next.
Windows 10, Reset this PC, Your apps will be removed. This list will also appear on your Desktop after resetting completes.

If you chose to remove everything and your device has multiple drives (hard drives or SSD-s), you can choose to wipe only the system drive (where Windows is installed) or all available drives.
In most cases, use the Only the drive where Windows is installed option. Choose All drives only if you plan to recycle the device.
Windows 10, Reset this PC, Your PC has more than one drive, Do you want to remove all files from all drives? Click or tap 'Only the drive where Windows is installed'.

In case of removing everything while resetting your Windows 10 device, you have an option to securely delete only your files or whole drive(s).
Again, the recommended action is to click or tap the Just remove my files button. The Fully clean the drive option can add many hours to the reset process, depending on the size of the data to wipe. Choose this one only if you have important data on the device and you plan to sell, donate, or scrap it.
Windows 10, Reset this PC, Do you want to fully clean your drive? Choose the 'Just remove my files' option.

If you upgraded from an older version of Windows or updated Windows 10 within the last 30 days, Reset this PC will warn that you will not be able to revert to the older version after reset completes.
You can cancel the reset and use the Go back to the previous version of Windows 10 option in Windows Recovery Environment or the Settings app if you started experiencing the problems right after the upgrade.
In other cases, click or tap Next.
Windows 10, Reset this PC, This PC was recently upgraded to Windows 10. Click Next.

Have your device plugged in during the reset process as Windows 10 suggests.
Check and double-check that you are happy with the Resetting will (remove) list and click Reset to start the process.
Windows 10, Reset this PC, All ready to go, make sure that your PC is plugged in. Click or touch 'Reset'.

The reset process will take from 15-20 minutes to several hours, depending on the size of your data (in case you chose to keep your files) and the speed of the hard drive or SSD. It has several stages, such as "Resetting this PC", "Preparing", "Installing Windows" and "Welcome". In newer versions of Windows 10, downloading system files from the cloud might also take some time.
Windows 10, Reset this PC, Installing Windows. Stand by.

There are always some steps during Windows 10 install that take noticeably longer to complete than the others. Please be patient and do not turn off your device.

After Windows 10 install is complete, you will have to go through typical setup screens. There are more of those in case you chose to remove everything.

Windows 10 activation is fully automatic in case your device is connected to the Internet. No product key is required because Microsoft stores it on their servers along with your device's unique ID.

When you sign in the first time after a reset, a Welcome screen with changing colors and messages appears for about 3-10 minutes. This is normal and it happens only once. Stand by.

Windows 10 will restore your synced settings and Windows Store apps if you had syncing to OneDrive enabled before resetting - this takes some time and your device might be slower than usual during this.

Reinstall all removed programs after this: if you chose to keep your files, and started the process while Windows was running (not from the Recovery Environment), the list is available on your Desktop as an HTML document titled "Removed Apps" and it contains links to program downloads.
Windows 10, Reset this PC. The list of deleted programs is available on Desktop, entitled 'Removed Apps'.

In most cases, Reset this PC solves all problems and Windows 10 is able to boot and run normally.

Remember to configure Windows Update, System Restore, File History, and backups after using the Reset this PC feature. Update your Windows Store apps and create a Recovery Drive.

Step 5 - Recover from a Drive

Recover from a drive is a new feature that completely reinstalls Windows 10 from a Recovery Drive. This option is useful if all else fails (including Reset this PC).

This is available only if you created a Recovery Drive in Windows 10 with the Back up system files to the recovery drive option enabled, and you boot your device from this drive.

Warning 1: Recover from a drive always restores the whole system drive layout by formatting and repartitioning. The system drive is the drive where Windows 10 is installed.
This also means that you cannot use a Recovery Drive created on another device, as every Win10 Recovery Drive is unique to the PC it was created on.
Even replacing hard drives or SSD-s requires creating a new Recovery Drive. This was warning number one.

Recover from a drive removes everything: all your personal files, settings, installed programs, drivers, and apps. You can still restore Windows 10 settings and Windows Store apps if your account had the syncing to OneDrive enabled before using the Recover from a drive feature.

First, find the Recovery Drive that you created in Windows 10 on this very device you plan to reinstall.

Warning 2: Do not try using a Recovery Drive created on a different PC for this feature! You've been warned twice now.

Turn off your device, connect the Recovery Drive, and then boot your PC from it.
If you have problems with this step, please see the "Booting to Recovery Environment with Windows 10 installation media or Recovery Drive/System Repair Disc" section in the Repair your computer in Windows 10 article on how to boot your device from the Recovery Drive.

Choose your keyboard layout and click or touch Troubleshoot.

In the Troubleshoot screen of Windows 10 Recovery Environment (RE), choose the Recover from a drive option. If you do not see this button then this is not the Recovery Drive that contains all required data (probably created in an earlier version of Windows, or without copying system files).
Windows 10 Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot. Click or touch 'Recover from a drive' to reinstall Windows from Recovery Drive.

Recover from a drive asks whether you want to securely delete only your own files or whole drive(s).
I recommended choosing the Just remove my files button. The Fully clean the drive option will add many hours to the process, depending on the size of the data to wipe. Choose the latter one only if you have important data on the device and you plan to get rid of it.
Windows 10, Recover from a drive, Do you want to fully clean your drive? Choose the 'Just remove my files' option.

An overview of what is going to happen appears. I've warned twice about formatting the system drive (this means losing all data on it), so keep your device plugged in after clicking or tapping Recover.
Windows 10, Recover from a drive, All ready to go. Click 'Recover'.

The recovery process will take from 40 minutes to several hours, depending on the speed of the hard drive or SSD.
Windows 10, Recover from a drive in progress. Stand by.

There are always some steps during the Recovering this PC process that take noticeably longer to complete than the others. Please be patient and do not turn off your device.

After Windows 10 recovery is complete, you will have to go through typical setup screens.

Windows 10 activation is fully automatic in case your device is connected to the Internet. No product key is required because Microsoft stores it on their servers along with your device's unique ID.

When you sign in the first time after using the Recover from a drive feature, a Welcome screen with changing colors and messages appears for about 3-10 minutes. This is normal and it happens only once. Stand by.

Windows 10 will restore your synced settings and Windows Store apps if you had the syncing to OneDrive enabled before recovering - this takes some time and your device might be slower than usual during this.

After this is done, Windows 10 should start and run flawlessly.

Remember to configure Windows Update, System Restore, File History, and backups after using the Recover from a drive feature. Also, update your Windows Store apps.

Step 6 - Start fresh with Windows 10 Anniversary Update (version 1607-1909) to remove bloatware and keep your files

Windows 10 Anniversary Update from August 2016 (version 1607) added an option to perform a clean install while preserving your personal files and those of other user accounts on the device.
This option is useful either when you have a new or used device that has loads of useless software installed, or when Windows 10 starts normally but has a problem that previous steps do not resolve.

Since Windows 10 May 2020 Update (version 2004), this option is integrated into the Reset this PC functionality. If preloaded programs or apps are detected, you will be asked whether you want to keep or remove them.

In case you really want to use the Start fresh functionality in the newer Windows 10 versions, right-click or tap and hold the Start button, choose either Windows PowerShell (Admin) or Command Prompt (Admin) and launch the following command: systemreset.exe -cleanpc

You cannot use the Start fresh with a clean installation of Windows 10 option in Safe Mode (even with networking) while booting from Recovery Drive or installation media, or from Windows RE (Recovery Environment). Windows 10 must be able to start in normal mode and you must be able to sign in with your account.

Do note that a clean install removes all third-party drivers, apps, and programs that did not come with Windows 10; also Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software that is not part of Windows 10 will be deleted. If you use software that stores licenses locally in the Registry or as a file, these licenses will be lost unless you back them up first.
Your Windows 10 license is preserved and no license key is required during the installation.

Your device must have at least 4-5 GB of free space and be connected to the internet to download installation files. If necessary, run Disk Cleanup first.

To begin, visit your device manufacturer's support page and download all Windows 10 drivers for your device before you begin. Copy these drivers to a USB drive. This will avoid situations when your device is unable to connect to the internet or does not detect hard drive/SSD due to missing drivers.

If you keep important files outside of the standard Documents, Music, Photos, and Videos folders, please back them up to an external drive before continuing. If you have included your custom folders in File History, verify that it has a recent backup and skip this step.

Open your web browser and go to the Start fresh with a clean installation of Windows 10 page at Microsoft.com.
Alternatively, launch the Settings app (keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I), open Update & security, and choose the Recovery tab from the left. Scroll to the very bottom and click the Learn how to start fresh with a clean installation of Windows link in the More recovery options section.
Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Settings app, Update & Security, Recovery tab. Click the 'Learn how to start fresh' link to perform a clean install of Windows 10 while preserving your files.

Please read the page - it lists caveats and has links to guides on how to recover Microsoft Office license keys.
Click or tap the Download tool now button, save the program, and launch it.
Start fresh with a clean installation of Windows 10 page at Microsoft. Read the contents and then click the 'Download tool now' button to get the program that clean installs Windows 10 while preserving your files.

In the Windows 10 Setup program, License Terms screen, click Accept.
Windows 10 Setup, License Terms. Click or touch Accept.

In the Give your PC a fresh start screen, re-read all requirements and caveats, and double-check you've backed up everything you require later.
To preserve your personal files during the reinstall, choose the Keep personal files only option, and click Start.
Windows 10 Setup, Give your PC a fresh start. Make sure the 'Keep personal files only' option is selected and click Start.

Then, a typical Windows 10 setup begins: getting a few things ready, downloading Windows 10, creating Windows 10 media, getting updates, installing, restart, installing, etc. This might take from 30 minutes to several hours to complete.

After the installation part completes, the welcome/login screen appears. Sign in with your password (note that the keyboard layout may be US English at first!) and wait until the "Getting things ready, please don't turn off your PC" screen disappears. If you previously synced your settings to OneDrive, they will be applied in 5-30 minutes.

When everything works well, configure Windows Update, System Restore, File History, and backups. Update your Windows Store apps and create a Recovery Drive.

Step 7 - Delete everything and reinstall Windows 10 (clean install)

If absolutely nothing worked, you can still perform a clean installation of Windows 10. Please note that a clean install does remove all third-party drivers, apps, and programs that did not come with Windows 10; also Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software that is not part of Windows 10 will be deleted. If you use software that stores licenses locally in the Registry or as a file, these licenses will be lost unless you back them up first.
Your Windows 10 license is preserved.

This option works even when your device is currently unable to start Windows 10 in normal or safe mode.

Make sure you visit your device manufacturer's support page on another computer and download all Windows 10 drivers for your non-working device before you begin. Copy these drivers to a USB drive. This will prevent common problems, such as unable to connect to the internet due to missing network device drivers, or not detecting a hard drive/SSD due to the absence of third-party storage drivers.

  1. If necessary, back up your files using Puppy Linux (both CD/DVD and USB boot supported) first. The clean install of Windows will remove all user accounts and their personal files.
  2. Go to the Windows 10 page at Microsoft.com on another device, scroll down and click or tap the Download tool now button.
  3. On the same web page, expand the Using the media creation tool and Perform a clean installation using a USB or DVD sections and follow the instructions. Please make sure you create media for the correct edition (Home vs Pro) and hardware architecture (32- vs 64-bit) of Windows currently installed on your failed device.
    On the Enter the product key to activate Windows page of Windows setup, click or touch Skip: your copy will be automatically re-activated after connecting to the Internet.
  4. After the installation is complete and you've successfully signed in, configure Windows Update, System Restore, File History, and backups. Update your Windows Store apps and create a Recovery Drive.

 

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