If you're getting rid of an old computer, it's important to completely wipe your data from it. We explain step by step how to reset your Windows 10 computer and remove all your data
Even if you're not recycling your old computer or giving it away, you might have cause to do a factory reset. For instance, you might wish to reset, restore or reinstall Windows to fix bugs or to get a speed boost if the operating system has been dragging its feet.
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Best order for a factory reset
For a 'complete wipe' of your computer (if you're getting rid of it), we recommend three steps, in the following order:
- Back up the data you wish to keep
- Use data shredding software to clear your computer
- Perform a factory reset
The exception is with Windows 10, which gives you a built-in data shredding option as you're performing the factory reset, so you can skip straight from Step 1 to Step 3. Scroll down for more on how to factory reset Windows 10.
Factory reset vs data shredding
A factory reset isn't a guarantee that all the data on the computer will be wiped. The data could still be hidden in a format that the computer itself can't 'see'. But, if someone were to use data-recovery software on your second-hand computer, they could piece the data back together quite easily - photos, files, the lot.
Want some more help with resetting your Windows 10 PC? Our friendly tech team can help you with one-to-one support on a range of tech issues. Find out more here.
Using data-shredding software is a smart way of ensuring that your personal files are gone, and gone for good. You can perform this process before factory resetting the operating system - it's a pain to do it after, because that way round, you have to set up a whole new laptop, simply to wipe it!
See our guide to wiping a hard drive with data shredding software
Back up your files and programs first
It sounds obvious, but it bears repeating: make sure all of the files on your computer are backed up before you wipe it. You can either do an automated backup, or manually drag and drop the files you want onto an external hard drive.
You can make automated file backups by clicking Start > Settings > Update & security > Backup, and you can create a system image of your entire PC by selecting Backup and Restore (Windows 7) and clicking Create a system image.
Beware that this could take up a lot of space on an external hard drive, so make sure you have enough room.
Once you're done with your files, don't forget your programs. Be sure that you have the licence keys for any paid-for software that you run. These may be available in the About section of the program's menu. Or they could be with the installation disc or purchase confirmation email you originally used.
You'll need these licence keys when you come to reinstalling paid-for software onto a new computer.
How to factory reset Windows 10
Windows 10 makes it easy to reinstall your operating system.
Click Start > Settings > Update & security > Recovery. Here, you should see various options. Each performs a different type of recovery.
On the Recovery screen, click Get started under Reset this PC, which offers you two choices – Keep my files or Remove everything.
The latter is what you want if you're getting rid of your computer and want to factory reset it first.
Windows 10 'refresh': Keep my files
Use this method as a last resort only for dealing with operating system errors or frequent crashes if you wish to keep your Windows laptop.
Important: while this method won't remove your files, it can remove your installed apps or programs. This means you'll need to have the product codes ready to re-enter when you re-install them. This is particularly important for paid-for software such as Microsoft Office or your security software. If you don't have your installation disks to hand, find and note down your unique software licence codes for when you reinstall apps.
This process leaves your personal files intact but replaces your system files. It uninstalls your apps and programs, so you’ll need to reinstall them manually once the process is complete.
Factory reset Windows 10: Remove everything
Remove everything wipes your PC with a fresh installation of Windows 10. It should speed your PC up, but you’ll have to restore your files and apps afterwards. This means copying files back over from a hard drive, and in the case of apps or programs, reinstalling them all over again.
You'll see an extra option called Remove files and clean the drive. This performs additional data-wiping, rather like using data-shredding software. This is the option to go for if you're getting rid of the PC or giving it or selling it to someone else.