I am dealing with some old Windows XP and Windows Vista systems on a job I am currently on.  When systems like that have not been updated in a while it can be a fairly time consuming process to get them up to speed.

Until Windows 7 I used to routinely flatten and reinstall Windows about every six months just to clean out the cobwebs and assorted collection of junk that ends up on a Windows system through the process of installing/uninstalling software etc.  That newly installed system always felt like a brand new one didn’t it?  I know it did for me.

In those days you had to get all your files, pictures, music etc. off that OS drive and then grab your Windows install media to do a clean install.  Of course, depending on how far past General Availability you were on that particular release of Windows you could end up with anywhere between just one and several cycles of Windows updates to get back up to speed.

Oh yeah, after that you had to reinstall all your software and other programs before you were completely back up and running.  Back in those days I had this down to a science and could get a system up to par within a few hours.

Well, even with Windows 7 and now Windows 8, you still have to go through those steps but some new features in Windows 8 does make the process much easier.

Two features were added to all versions of Windows 8 that give you the ability to either refresh or reset your Windows 8 machine.  You will find them in the PC Settings area under the General category.

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As you can see they each have profoundly different impacts on your Windows 8 system.

Refresh your PC without affecting your files – If your PC isn’t running well, you can refresh it without losing your photos, music, videos, and other personal files.

  • Your Modern/Metro Apps from the Windows Store will be reinstalled but any desktop programs will not.  The only exception is on Windows 8 RT for Office 2013 RT which will be reinstalled during this process.

Remove everything and reinstall Windows – If you want to recycle your PC or start over completely, you can reset it to its factory settings.

  • This one was called reset during the preview versions of Windows 8.  Everything is removed and you will experience Windows 8 like it was on the day you bought your system or installed Windows 8.  In Windows 8 RT the Office 2013 RT programs are installed since they are considered part of the OS as it shipped.  Back up your files for this one.

So, getting back to the title of this story, I decided to do a reset on my Surface RT just to run through the process and see how it might refresh the device.  If you have more than one Windows 8 system it is times like this when you want to be using a Microsoft Account to connect and sync data between them.  Also, of note, I previously removed my Recovery Partition from my Surface RT to save some space. To perform this resetting process I only had to make sure that flash drive was plugged into my Surface RT’s USB drive.

Here are my observations about the process:

  • It only took 15 minutes from the time I clicked the Remove everything and reinstall Windows link until I was seeing the Out of Box Experience for Windows 8. I did opt to skip the wipe process because the system was not going anywhere. The wipe option takes longer but reduces the chances that any of your files could be recovered if you were transferring your system to someone else.
  • For my Surface RT there were three cycles of Windows Updates for a total of 46 updates plus one firmware upgrade.  Still can not get away from having updates to install even on a 5 month old OS.
  • By providing my Microsoft Account during setup it makes any info I have used like accounts and app settings on my other Windows 8 installs available as necessary.
    • All of my email accounts were already setup in the Mail App.
    • My SkyDrive was setup.
    • OneNote 2013 knew about all of my notebooks.
    • In the Photo Hub my Facebook and Flickr accounts and their pictures were already present.
    • In the People Hub all of my previously connected accounts were there to include Messenger, Facebook, Skype, Twitter and Office 365.
    • In IE10 all previously stored username and passwords were there when I accessed those sites and my Frequently Used and Pinned sites were also available.
    • All of my Favorites were synched on both the desktop and Modern/Metro version of IE.
    • An initial install of Windows 8 RT required 15 of the Windows Store Apps to be updated.  It took less than 3 minutes for that to happen and I did not have to search for any installation media.

To give you an example of how data is synched between some of the apps lets take my The Weather Channel App.  On my other Windows 8 system and previously on my Surface RT I had it installed with three locations set up for reference.  When I ran that app for the first time my city was the default and the other two locations were available in the apps location list.

That one little thing may not seem like a big deal but between that and the other benefits of synching settings between Windows 8 installs and then the convenience it adds to setting up a new install of Windows 8 it does save some time and keystrokes.

Plus it gets you back to work much quicker than the old days of Windows.