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Repair your computer in Windows 8 and 8.1, page 2

By , winhelp.us logo. Last updated: 2020-10-07

How to use Recovery Environment for restoring, refreshing or resetting Windows 8 and 8.1

The first part of this article describes how to get into Windows 8 or 8.1 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 Refresh your PC or Reset your PC in Windows 8 and 8.1

  • Always boot to Safe Mode at least once - this often repairs 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 8 or 8.1. It certainly takes a lot of time, but it often works much better than Refresh Your PC. This repair method leaves all your files, settings, installed programs, and apps intact. It is also about the only option for fixing DISM RestoreHealth failure 0x800f081f.

Step 3 - restore Windows 8/8.1 from a System Image Backup, or recover your personal files

Windows 8 does have a traditional backup program that is well hidden under the name Windows 7 File Recovery. 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 8.1 has the disk imaging backup hidden even better. In case you've created a System Image Backup, you can restore it here. The process is exactly the same as shown in the "Restore a System Image in Windows" tutorial linked above.
Windows 8, Advanced startup, Troubleshoot, Advanced options. Click System Image Recovery.

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 8 or 8.1 installation visible.

In case you do not have any backups and you have not turned on File History in Windows 8 or 8.1, 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, run Step 4 (Refresh your PC, does not affect your documents or personalization settings) or Step 5 (Reset your PC, removes everything and installs a clean copy of Windows), copy your rescued files back to your computer if needed, and do start making regular backups this time.

Step 4 - Refresh your PC in Windows 8 and 8.1

In case Automatic Repair and System Restore did not help and you do not have any system image backups available, you can use the brand new option in Windows 8 and 8.1 - Refresh your PC. This method is pretty close to the Non-destructive reinstall of Windows 8 or 8.1, but you will lose all apps and Desktop programs that were not installed from Windows Store unless you have created a Custom Recovery Image.

If you synced your settings and apps using your Microsoft Account, your Windows Store apps and most Windows-related settings will be restored after signing in for the first time. Your OneDrive files will also remain intact as they are stored on Microsoft's cloud servers.
A list of removed programs will be available on your Desktop. All installed app settings will revert back to defaults to avoid possible conflicts.

Refresh your PC restores default contents of the following folders on the system drive (the one where Windows 8/8.1 is installed):

  • Windows
  • Program Files
  • Program Files (x86)
  • ProgramData
  • Users\<user name>\AppData

In most cases, you must have Windows 8/8.1 installation or recovery media (DVD) available. The media prompt will not appear if a custom recovery image is available.

Common problems with Refresh your PC in Windows 8 and 8.1

You cannot use the Refresh Your PC feature if Windows 8 or 8.1 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.

Those who upgraded from Windows 8 to 8.1 without a clean install, can encounter a problem where Windows 8 (not 8.1) is restored. This is because you need to update Custom Recovery Image after upgrading to Windows 8.1 - the image on Recovery Partition is still Windows 8.

Some users report "Unable to refresh your PC. A required drive partition is missing" and "The drive where Windows is installed is locked. Unlock the drive and try again" errors during the refresh 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 8 or 8.1 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 refreshing your PC.

Error messages A required drive partition is missing or Some files are missing, Your Windows installation or recovery media will provide these files or Could not find the recovery environment. mean 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.
Windows 8.1, Could not find the recovery environment. Insert your Windows installation or recovery media, and restart your PC with the media.

Using the Refresh your PC feature in Windows 8 and 8.1

If you have a custom recovery image on some external drive, make sure the drive is connected. If Windows 8 or 8.1 is running in normal mode, not Recovery Environment, you can also verify the custom image is available.

If Refresh your PC does not detect a custom recovery image, or one has not been created, it will use defaults, and all installed Desktop programs and non-Windows Store apps will be removed.

To start, click Refresh your PC in the Troubleshoot screen.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot. Click 'Refresh your PC' to do a repair install of Windows 8/8.1 while keeping your documents and personalization settings.

You can also launch Refresh your PC while Windows 8 or 8.1 is running - use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I to open Settings charm and click Change PC settings.

In Windows 8, open the General tab on the left and click Get started in the Refresh your PC without affecting your files section.

In Windows 8.1, open the Update & recovery tab on the left, then open the Recovery tab and click Get started in the Refresh your PC without affecting your files section.
The following process is nearly identical to the one described below.

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 8 or 8.1 installation visible.

An overview of refreshing will appear. Click Next if you are satisfied with the consequences.
If you started this operation some other way, you might have to sign in first.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Refresh your PC, Here is what will happen. Click Next.

If the process asks you to insert your Windows installation or recovery media, insert it and the process will continue automatically.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Refresh your PC, Insert your Windows installation or recovery media to continue. Insert the DVD and the process will resume automatically.

In case you launch Refresh Your PC while Windows is running normally, an overview of apps you'll need to reinstall appears. This list will also be available on Desktop after the process is complete.
Windows 8.1, Refresh your PC, Applications you will need to reinstall. This list will also appear on your Desktop after refreshing completes.

Windows 8 and 8.1 will remind you that you must have your PC plugged in. Click Refresh to start the process.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Refresh your PC, All ready to go. Click Refresh.

The process will take from 15-20 minutes to several hours, depending on the number of installed programs and the speed of the hard drive or SSD. It has several stages, such as "Preparing", "Getting devices ready", "System" and "Welcome".
Windows 8, Refreshing your PC. This will take from several minutes to several hours.

In most cases, this action solves all problems and Windows 8/8.1 is able to boot and run normally.

Windows 8.1 will restore your synced settings and apps after signing in (if you had OneDrive syncing enabled before refreshing) - this takes some time and your device might be slower than usual during this.
If necessary, reinstall all removed programs after this - the list is available on your Desktop as an HTML document titled "Removed Apps" and it contains links to program downloads.
Windows 8, Refresh your PC. The list of removed programs is available on Desktop, entitled 'Removed Apps'. Windows 8, Refresh your PC, Apps removed while refreshing your PC. Click any program name to download it.

If you restored a Custom Recovery Image, you must reconfigure all Desktop programs and non-Windows Store apps. Your File History is intact, but you must register the recovery image again.

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

Step 5 - Reset your PC

Reset your PC is the last resort - you should definitely try restoring a backup image or copy important files to an external drive first. Also, make sure your File History drive is not connected if you have turned the feature on and need to keep your personal files and Libraries.

Resetting means removing all user accounts, settings, personal files, installed apps, and Desktop programs and reverting to a clean (default) Windows 8/8.1 installation.

This option is useful if you want to sell, donate, or recycle your PC and make sure no one can recover your personal data.

You need Windows 8/8.1 installation or recovery media (DVD) and product key to run Reset your PC.

If you bought Windows 8 or 8.1 from a shop, the sticker is somewhere in the retail box or jewel case.

For online purchases, find the e-mail with your Windows Product Key.

In case Windows 8/8.1 came preinstalled on your computer, look for the key sticker on the side or top of the desktop case, or on the back of the laptop/tablet case. Tablets might also have a Microsoft Product Identifier card inside the box that your product came in.

For some laptops (several Dells, for example), you need to remove the battery to see the sticker.

If you cannot find your product key, use the free version of The Magical Jelly Bean Keyfinder.

Some latest PC-s have encrypted product key stored inside UEFI/BIOS. In such a case, download the latest version of RWEverything. Make sure you download the correct edition: 32-bit or 64-bit. In most cases, RWPortableV<version number>.zip works fine, you do not need the installer. After downloading, unzip the files by right-clicking on the .zip file and selecting Extract all (see more detailed instructions for compressed folders). Then navigate to the folder where you extracted the files, right-click Rw.exe, and select Run as administrator. Open ACPI from the top toolbar and then open the MSDM tab. The last line reveals your product key. If the MSDM tab is not available, the product key is not stored in BIOS/UEFI.

Common problems with Reset your PC in Windows 8 and 8.1

You cannot use the Reset Your PC feature if Windows 8 or 8.1 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.

Those who upgraded from Windows 8 to 8.1 without clean install/removing everything, can encounter a problem where Windows 8, not 8.1 is restored. This is because you need to update Custom Recovery Image after upgrading to Windows 8.1 - the image on Recovery Partition is still Windows 8.

If you encounter 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 during the reset process, try fixing file system errors and rebuilding Boot Configuration Data first. 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 far less common cause is that Windows 8 or 8.1 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 refreshing your PC.

Error messages A required drive partition is missing or Some files are missing, Your Windows installation or recovery media will provide these files or Could not find the recovery environment. mean 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.
Windows 8.1, Could not find the recovery environment. Insert your Windows installation or recovery media, and restart your PC with the media.

Using the Reset your PC feature in Windows 8 and 8.1

To reset Windows 8 or 8.1, click Reset your PC in Troubleshoot screen.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot. Click 'Reset your PC' to remove all your personal data, installed programs, and revert to a clean Windows 8 installation.

You can also launch Reset your PC while Windows 8/8.1 is running - use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I to open Settings charm and click Change PC settings.

In Windows 8, open the General tab on the left and click Get started in the Remove everything and reinstall Windows section.

In Windows 8.1, open the Update & recovery tab on the left, then open the Recovery tab and click Get started in the Remove everything and reinstall Windows section.
The following process is nearly identical to the one described below.

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 8 or 8.1 installation visible.

An overview of resetting will appear. Click Next if you are satisfied with the consequences.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Reset your PC, Here's what will happen. Click Next to start.

If the process asks you to insert your Windows installation or recovery media, insert it and the process will continue automatically.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Reset your PC, Insert your Windows installation or recovery media to continue. Insert the DVD and the process will resume automatically.

If your PC has more than one drive (e.g. two internal hard disks), Reset your PC asks whether you want to remove all files from all drives.
Click Only the drive where Windows is installed in case you are repairing your Windows 8 or 8.1installation.
If you're about to sell, donate or recycle the PC, click All drives instead.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Reset your PC, Your PC has more than one drive, Do you want to remove all files from all drives? Click the appropriate tile.

Next, two options for removing files appear:

  • Just remove my files will delete all files normally. This is a quick process and is suggested if you just want to reinstall Windows 8 or 8.1 and continue using this computer.
  • Fully clean the drive will delete all files securely so that most recovery programs are not able to restore these. This option is recommended if you are planning to sell, donate, or recycle your computer - and it will certainly take from several to many-many hours to complete.

Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Reset your PC, Do you want to fully clean your drive? Click the option you want.

A reminder of consequences appears with a suggestion to keep your computer plugged in. To start the process, click Reset.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Reset your PC, All ready to go. Click Reset.

If you chose the quick reset option, the process will not take long - much less time than refreshing Windows 8 or 8.1. Plan about 10-30 minutes for the process.

In case you chose to fully clean all drives, the process will certainly take at least a few hours.
Just like Refresh your PC, resetting has several stages, such as "Preparing", "Getting devices ready", "System" and "Welcome".
Windows 8, Resetting your PC. This will take from several minutes to several hours.

Like I warned, you will need the Windows product key after Reset your PC is complete. Type it in and click Next. If you do not have one right away, click Skip instead - but please remember that Windows 8 and 8.1 will work for only the next 30 days without activation.
Windows 8, Reset your PC complete, Product key. Type your Windows 8 product key and click Next.

The process will continue exactly like with brand new PC-s - License terms, Settings, Personalization, User Account, etc.
Windows 8.1 allows restoring your apps and settings from another synced PC (if you had syncing to OneDrive enabled before resetting), or setting it up as a brand new PC. Please note that syncing takes some time and your PC might be slower during that time.

After this is done, Windows 8/8.1 should run flawlessly.

If you're not planning to get rid of the device, remember to configure Windows Update, System Restore, File History, and backups.

Also, do not forget to create a custom recovery image after reinstalling all apps and Desktop programs.


 

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