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Edited from the full Ask Leo! Live Event video, available below.
I regularly end up advising people if they’ve got their Windows in such a state that it just looks like it’s something they can’t repair that they should consider doing a Reset this PC which is something I covered in a previous video, which is essentially the equivalent of a reformat and reinstall Windows from scratch.
This was something that in years past we did frequently. It was actually advisable to do it like once a year or once every two years simply because Windows seemed to get kind of, I don’t know, it would deteriorate over time. By that I mean that it would just start to get a little a little sensitive or a little fragile the longer you used it, it was usually a side effects of applications being installed and updated or not updated as the case may be, but the pragmatic approach in those days was, of course, to reinstall Windows from scratch every so often.
Now the problem with a reinstall from scratch or a Reset this PC is that everything’s gone. All of your installed applications, all of your data, all of your everything is is gone. It by definition, reformatting and re-installing means erase everything and reinstall and Reset this PC works basically the same way. There are some ways to protect some of your data, but you certainly end up losing all of your installed applications.
So you’re stuck having to reinstall all of those other applications and reinstalling or recopying back your data. Now the advice and it’s going to hold true for today’s exercise as well, is that before you do anything as significant as a reinstall from scratch or a Reset, this PC or the refresh approach that I’m going to show you today, I think it’s critical that, of course, you take an image backup beforehand.
There are two reasons for that. One is the image backup is by definition, the canonical resource. Should you need to get a data file back that you didn’t think to back up some other way? It’s all going to be there. Everything that’s on your machine will be on your image backup. The other is that if the results of whatever it is you do. Like I said, a reset or a reinstall or in our case, a refresh, if the results aren’t what you expect or it just doesn’t work for any reason, then of course you can revert to that image backup and carry on as if nothing had happened.
So with that caveat out of the way, let’s go ahead and look at what this looks like and step through the process. This is my Windows 10 Home machine. It is, as usual for these demonstrations, a virtual machine on my larger desktop PC. I want to point out a couple of things here, because those are going to become salient indicators that this is not a clean Windows machine. I actually have a couple of applications installed. I have Google Chrome here over on the left and VLC media player. I also have in Edge, the latest version of Edge and I have Edge is home page set to askleo.com.
None of that is default behavior. And I want to point out that a refresh that becomes important when we talk about a refresh. So what is a refresh? What am I calling a refresh? When, when you, like I said, with a reformat or a reset, you’re erasing everything. Ah, refresh is essentially a re-installation of Windows on top of your existing data and your existing applications. In other words, presumably all of your existing applications and data remain after the refresh is complete.
Now that does mean that the refresh can’t be as aggressive as a reinstall, but it can still do an awful lot. And if what I just described sounds really familiar, it’s because essentially what I just described is an in place upgrade and that’s exactly the path we end up taking to do a refresh install. So what we’re going to start with is downloading, going to the download Windows page for Windows 10.
Now, for whatever reason, I don’t bookmark that page on the Microsoft site. What I do instead, I seriously, I always do this when I look for the link as I actually go to my own article, “Where can I download Windows?” And on that page I actually download, go down to the download Windows 10 section and click that link there that takes you to the Microsoft page that has the software that you can download the most recent version of Windows 10 using the tool to upgrade this PC to Windows 10. I’ll show you that in just a second.
There is these instructions, but essentially what we end up doing is we do use the download that tool. We’re just not going to create installation media. I’m going to go ahead and run it. UAC kicks in, of course. And now at this point, with this tool running, we can go ahead and safely close the browser. Now this is where it’s going to take a little bit of time. This is a time consuming, I mean, you are reinstalling Windows. I want to explain exactly what it is we just did. What what’s this process we just initiated. I’m already running Windows 10. And in fact, the version we’re looking at that’s installed on this machine is the latest version of Windows 10.
But I’m about to upgrade it to Windows 10. Well, that’s the secret to a refresh install. We are, in fact, upgrading this PC now, which is what it’s asking us. We are upgrading it to the same version of Windows 10 that’s already installed. Fortunately, the upgrade tool, the installer, doesn’t check; it doesn’t check to make sure that there’s, in fact, a true upgrade happening here. It’s just going to go through all of the same machinations that it would normally go through. If I’d had an older version of Windows 10 installed on this machine; t’s going to upgrade it, but it’s going to go through all those machinations.
And the nice thing about that is that it ends up refreshing the installation of Windows 10 that’s on the machine. The other thing about this scenario is that it will end up rebooting at least once; I think at least twice. I did do a dry run on this exercise the other day and if I’m not mistaken, it rebooted two or three times throughout the, throughout the process. So you’ll see that we’re installing Windows 10 Home, which is, of course, the addition we already have installed, and we are keeping our personal files and apps.
Now, I could change what to keep here, but I’m not going to. I want it to keep everything. If you wanted to get rid of stuff. Well, that’s going to roll it back in a way to something closer to a Reset this PC. or reformat and install. And that’s not what we want here today. So I’ll go ahead and click install. So as you can see, we are back in Windows of the screen resolution was changed. What we’re actually looking at, it’s I think it’s what we’ll see here in a minute.
I’m going to go ahead and sign in. You’ll notice that it still accepted my pin, which is something that I had configured beforehand. But the fact that it took my pin actually is a really good clue and a portent of things to come. You really, whenever you upgrade a machine, be it from Windows 7 to Windows 10 without doing a reinstall, if you’re just doing an upgrade or whether you’re just doing one feature update to the next, be it 1903 to 1909 or 1909 to the upcoming, I think it’s gonna be 2004 might be 2005, you want everything to still be there. You want your configuration to have survived the upgrade and that’s almost the very definition of an upgrade. Leave everything alone, just upgrade the operating system. We’re leveraging that here too instead of literally upgrading to a different version of Windows. We are kind of sort of upgrading to the same version of Windows.
So it’s going through all the same machinations. Almost there. And we are, in fact, there. You’ll notice that we are, now to point out real quick, we still have the newest version of Edge, which I believe still needs to be downloaded separately. That didn’t happen automatically. I still have VLC media player and I still have Google Chrome. So basically the things that I installed, were, remained; the configuration changes that I made remained. However, and this is the thing that tends to get people. I can’t say that is necessarily true for absolutely everything you might have configured. For example, my screen resolution is wrong.
The screen resolution here on this machine has been changed to 1600 x 1200. That’s not where I started. The actual screen resolution that I use isn’t even listed here, which means that I need to go to my virtual machine manager, which I’m not sure if you’ll see this or not. It allows me to resize to the sizes that I really care about. I do all of these things at 1920 x 1080. So you can see that there was a little something lost in this process. And right now the screen resolution is in fact the only thing that I know of that’s been lost. And I think the kinds of things that might get lost in a situation like this are I’m reluctant to call them cosmetic because about that time I find that there are people incredibly passionate about some of these things.
But in the past, I have heard of the icon layout on your desktop being changed or lost. I have heard of starting new changes potentially being again changed or lost. These aren’t huge things. They really do boil down to some of the changes that like I keep calling them cosmetic because in the long run, compared to a working system, they’re very, very minor. But I know that some people do feel really passionate about them. In the case of like the screen resolution, right, that’s driven by your video card so nine times out of ten, your video resolution is going to come out just right. Here, I’ve got this weird, special case where I’m running in a virtual machine that doesn’t really expose everything that’s possible as a video driver. So it didn’t expose to Windows that 1920 x1080 was even an option. So I had to go outside of it and change the what the hardware looked like. But that is right there, a refresh of Windows without having done a reinstall.
It can be used. It is a useful, useful technique to potentially resolve issues that you’ve not been able to resolve other ways. Generally, the result of this is if this doesn’t resolve the issue that you’re trying to fix, you have two ways to go. You can live with whatever the issue you have is or you can do the next more severe issue, which is of course, doing a full reformat and reinstall of Windows using Reset this PC is where I would have you start.
Thank you all for being here today. I hope you found this helpful. I really do. Finally, a quick shout out to the patrons of Ask Leo or askleo.com/patron for more information on that. Basically, these are the folks that are helping me to pay the bills and make all this possible and available to you for free. Askleo.com/patron has information about what it’s all about and access to a bunch of patron specific content and features and access that I think you’ll appreciate.
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