I’ve been wanting to try out the Windows 8.1 Refresh setting. This is new with Windows 8.1. Instead of completely wiping your PC and reinstalling everything, you can choose PC Refresh and it keeps all your files, apps and personalization settings and reinstalls Windows 8.1, hopefully getting rid of accumulated cruft and enabling the machine to run faster.
I tried it recently on my Lenovo ThinkPad laptop and thought I’d blog my experience, so you will know what to expect if you decide to do a PC Refresh.
To begin, go to PC Settings, click on ‘Update and Recovery’, then click on ‘PC Recovery’, then click ‘Recovery’ and choose the option that Refreshes your computer.
You’ll go through some screens and you’ll see the below screen that tells what happens with the Refresh command. Just keep clicking next until your computer starts the refresh process.
Things to Know Ahead of Time
- You will need your Windows 8 install DVD – remember it’s like doing a clean install except it keeps your files, so find it.
- If you have email that is not cloud-based (like Cox or anything that isn’t Outlook.com, O365 or, Gmail), then you’ll need to export your .pst file and put it on an external drive so you can import after the ‘Refresh’.
- Microsoft Office was removed from my computer, and so my email was removed too. I wasn’t sure if Office would come back after the Refresh, but it did not, so make sure you have your Microsoft Office DVD. In my case, I use Office 365 Home and was able to re-download it and re-add my email accounts (all cloud based).
- Keep in mind all your browser bookmarks (along with all your browsers, except IE), will be gone. So if you store your passwords in your browser (not the best practice), they will be gone. If you had any browser extensions they’ll be gone, of course, too.
The PC Refresh Process
When you’ve taken the above into account, then you’re ready to completely go through the process and you’ll see your PC showing messages as it goes through the stages. This first stage took 15-20”, then there was a reboot and more time to set up. This is when all your documents are being put back in place. As I understand it, they are put in a temporary storage area while the PC is being refreshed.
Then there is more time while all my apps are being reinstalled that I got from the store. I was happy to see that my personalizations did make it through the process and my login picture and pin number were there for me and I had no difficulty logging in.
I was curious to look at the folder on my desktop of what was removed. There was quite a bit more removed than I thought. I was surprised to see that OneDrive for Business came back, but OneDrive did not. Things like Dropbox, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Live Essentials and much much more were gone. Below is just a partial list. It hit me that everything goes away except documents and apps.
How To Easily Reinstall Most of Your Software
I wanted to be back up and running fast, so I remembered this really helpful software called Ninite. I have a screenshot below. This is totally web based (no downloads), just go to the site, click the boxes for the software you want to install and sit back and wait – they do all the heavy lifting and show you what’s being installed. It was truly such a time saver. It even reinstalled Dropbox, FileZilla and other obscure-type programs that most people probably don’t have.
Tying Up Loose Ends
That was pretty much it. You do need to remember that there will be quite a few updates (think I had over 50), that will be installed to get Windows 8.1 updated (depending on how old your DVD is). Win 8.1 likes to install these on its own schedule, so you may not see them for several hours or maybe even a day. Since I re-installed Office a day or so later, I believe I will have some of those updates soon.
I’ve not read what the difference is (in how ‘clean’ or ‘back to factory settings’ is between the Refresh and a complete Wipe and Reinstall of Windows 8.1. I’ve heard some say to just go ahead and wipe the entire computer. Restoring your files via an external drive or a cloud backup is the only thing I didn’t have to do. So you decide what’s better for you.
As long as you’re prepared for what stays and goes and have the appropriate notes and backup, you should be fine with this process.