How to Reformat a Drive Without Losing Your Data on a Windows PC

The Windows operating system is usually stable enough for average users, but there are times when problems arise after a while. Slowness, malfunctioning apps and many more issues can only be fixed after a factory reset. However, the standard procedure wipes the entire PC.

Fortunately, there is at least one way to reset your Windows computer and keep all user data. Between Windows 10 and 11, the steps may also be slightly different. Read on for the details.

Format without losing data in Windows 10

Although Windows 10 is not the latest operating system from Microsoft, many people have not switched to Windows 11 due to stability issues. Nevertheless, Microsoft still provides regular updates for Windows 10, at least for now.

There are two ways to reset Windows and keep your photos, videos, and other files. The first is the standard method. As for the others, you should use Windows Recovery Environment. There is a little known third option, but you need some technical knowledge to run it properly.

Unfortunately, you have to reinstall your non-Windows apps separately. However, your documents and other important files remain intact.

Reset Use this PC

This process is much easier as all you have to do is follow the on-screen instructions. Here’s how it goes.

  1. Type “Reset this PC” in the Windows search bar.
  2. Once the window appears, click on ‘Get Started’.
  3. In the green window, select ‘Keep my files’.
  4. Go with “Reinstall Local”.

At this point, it’s best to stick with a local reinstall. Cloud downloads are for systems that don’t work with the local files. This long download requires a strong internet connection.

  1. After choosing a reinstallation mode, click on ‘Change settings’.
  2. Set “Restore apps and settings that came with this PC” to “Yes”.
  3. Don’t touch anything else and click “Confirm”.
  4. Make sure everything is correct and click “Next”.
  5. Select ‘View apps that are being removed’.
  6. Make sure you agree to remove these apps.
  7. Go back to the previous screen and choose ‘Reset’.
  8. Wait for the computer to finish reinstalling Windows.

Make sure the AC adapter is connected to the computer throughout the process. Whatever happens, do not force the computer to shut down. This way you will only cause additional problems.

Using Windows Recovery Environment

Windows Recovery Environment, or WinRE, is a mode that allows users to fix some common problems. There are ways to enter this mode manually, but below are situations where WinRE is activated automatically.

  • Windows failed to start twice
  • Your Windows PC will boot and shut down twice within two minutes
  • After two minutes of booting, your computer will reboot twice in a row
  • Except for Bootmgr.efi issues, a Secure Boot error
  • Touch-only devices may experience BitLocker errors that force WinRE to launch as well

Here’s how to enter WinRE using advanced boot options.

  1. Look for ‘Change advanced startup options’.
  2. Open it and click “Restart Now” under “Advanced Startup”.
  3. The computer will reboot and enter WinRE.

The second way is to use a keyboard shortcut. Fast boot in BIOS should be disabled. Follow your BIOS menu and go to the boot area to disable it.

Because BIOS menus come in many configurations and styles, the same set of instructions may not work between two computers.

The keyboard shortcut for entering WinRE is F9, but some models use F12. Before booting your PC, hold down the hotkey and press the power button. Try F12 if F9 does not call WinRE.

Once you are in the Windows Recovery Environment, follow these instructions.

  1. Click on “Troubleshoot”.
  2. Choose “Reset this PC”.
  3. Click on ‘Save my files’.
  4. Choose your account from the list if there is more than one.
  5. Enter the account password and continue.

If there is no password, you can just click “Continue”.

  1. Select “Reinstall Local” or “Download Cloud”.
  2. Click “Reset” to start the reinstallation process.

Leave your computer plugged in and idle during this time.

On Windows 10, the process is simple. Just follow the instructions and your copy of Windows should work perfectly after a while.

The only challenging part is navigating the BIOS if you want to use WinRE. Fortunately, this is not necessary for the first method of resetting Windows. BIOS is best reserved for users with some extra knowledge.

Still, you may want to search for guides to your computer’s BIOS menu. Some manufacturers have uploaded it for everyone to see.

Using an ISO file

There is a way to create a Windows 10 ISO file using the media creation tool. You need a valid Windows 10 license to use it. However, it will be a crucial part of resetting Windows 10.

  1. Launch the media creation tool.
  2. Select “Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD or ISO) for another PC”.
  3. Select “Next” in the lower right corner.
  4. Choose your preferred Windows 10 architecture, language and version.
  5. Click on “ISO File” and continue.
  6. Get your ISO file.

After completing these steps, you can now start the reset process.

  1. Right click on the Windows 10 ISO file.
  2. Select “Mount” from the options.
  3. Go to the root directory and double click on the file named “Setup.exe”.
  4. Choose a way to install updates, from the cloud or locally.
  5. Click on ‘Change what to keep’.
  6. Choose the option to keep your files and preferably the apps and settings.
  7. Confirm your choice and select “Install”.
  8. Wait for the installation process to complete.

Using an ISO file is more challenging for those without technical knowledge. Fortunately, these instructions will help anyone complete the steps without much effort.

Reformat without losing data in Windows 11

Windows 11 is not an operating system that people have a hard time navigating. Many of the controls are the same as on Windows 10, so there is always a certain amount of familiarity. There are also several ways to reset, similar to the procedures above.

Reset this PC

Resetting your PC is incredibly similar to doing it on Windows 10. Here are the steps.

  1. Type “Reset this PC” in the search bar.
  2. Go to the recovery menu and click “Reset PC”.
  3. Click on ‘Save my files’.
  4. Choose from “Reinstall Local” or “Download Cloud”.
  5. Select “Next” when you are done.
  6. Please check your settings before proceeding.
  7. Reset your PC.

A local reinstall is better because you don’t need to download 4 GB of data before installing. It may take 30 minutes if your internet connection is not optimal. Keep your computer plugged into a power source all the time and don’t touch anything unnecessarily.

Install with an ISO

The ISO process is incredibly similar to the one mentioned above. In this case, you are using another tool intended for Windows 11. Make sure you select the correct language and edition.

  1. Download the installation media creation tool for Windows 11.
  2. Run the utility.
  3. Choose the languages ​​again if prompted.
  4. Go to the next screen.
  5. Click on the ISO option.
  6. Create the ISO file.

A valid ISO file will allow you to perform a system reset.

  1. Right click on the ISO file.
  2. Select “Mount”.
  3. Go to the root directory and locate “Setup.exe”.
  4. Accept the license.
  5. Choose from one of two installation methods.
  6. Choose what you want to keep.
  7. Proceed with your choice and install.

You may notice that except for a few changes, the process is identical.

Use WinRE for Windows 11

Windows Recovery Mode is also included in Windows 11. However, you can access it by holding down the Shift key and choosing to reboot from the Power menu. It’s fast and safe.

  1. In WinRE mode, select “Troubleshoot”.
  2. Click on “Reset this PC”.
  3. Choose to keep your files.
  4. Choose between “Local Reinstallation” or “Download Cloud”.
  5. Make sure your settings are correct.
  6. Start the reset process.

Resetting your PC will restore the factory settings and may fix the problem your computer faced before. You used to have to back up everything beforehand. Nowadays, users can perform this procedure in many ways and keep personal files.

When Windows removes third-party apps that were not downloaded from the store, you will be presented with a list of uninstalled apps. Use it to remember what’s missing and download everything again.

You can download apps that help back up files, but they are now technically obsolete. If you choose to use them, you do not need to select the options to keep your files.

They are still there

Your files will always stay where you left them when you reset your Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC with the correct settings. While some apps may be gone, you can always consult the list and retrieve everything over time. These methods are all supported by Windows and you don’t need any third-party software.

Which of these reset procedures do you prefer? What other ways are there? Let us know in the comments below.

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