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How to Reset your Microsoft Surface (or other Windows 8 PC) to start from scratch

Pete Brown - 06 November 2012

At Build, the Surfaces used by Jordan Rudess (and later provided to Jordan and his tech Gianluca Trombetta, just like we did with other Build attendees) were set up in advance with local accounts rather than Microsoft accounts. This made it easy for me to have everything ready for when Jordan took the stage.

One thing both Jordan and Gianluca needed to do to make the Surfaces their own was to completely reset them. Sure, they could have simply upgraded the account to a Microsoft account, but I felt that providing them with the full experience (complete with tutorial and personalization) was the best way to go, especially since Jordan already had another Windows 8 PC and would want his settings synchronized to the new Surface tablet.

Back up your Data

If you plan to do a full remove and rebuild, you'll need to back up your data. One way to do this is to simply copy everything to a USB key. Another is to add the files to SkyDrive. You can also use the built-in File History feature ( Paul Thurrott has a write-up on File History here.). Use your favorite method to back up the files in your documents folder.

Deciding Whether to Refresh or Remove

First, from any app or the Start page, pull up the charms bar on the right and select "Settings". From there, click the link at the bottom to "Change PC Settings"

Helpful keyboard shortcuts:

  • To invoke the charms bar, you can use Windows + C
  • To go directly to settings, you can use Windows + I without first invoking the charms bar

Once in PC settings, click on "General" on the left, and then scroll down on the right until you see the Refresh and Remove headings.

There are two ways to wipe your PC. The first, "Refresh", is good if you simply need to clean things up, but want to keep your data, music, videos, and more. The second, "Remove everything" is useful when you want to start from scratch, such as when you sell the device, or hand it over to another member of the family. (My old laptops generally end up with the kids).

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Remove Everything

In this case, I want to remove everything and start over, so I clicked the "Get started" link under "Remove everything and reinstall Windows".

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The first thing you get is a dialog telling you what's going to happen. Click "Next".

If you perform this on an x86/64 PC, you'll likely be prompted to insert your installation media at this point (it depends upon whether or not the device includes the install image on a dedicated logical drive). Up until now, I took screenshots from my Windows 8 Pro device. The remaining shots are from the Surface, using my hand-held camera; my apologies for the blurry shots. I didn't record the process with the other Surfaces, so I have sacrificed my own Surface for the benefit of mankind ;)

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You'll next be prompted to decide if you want to do a full clean, or simply remove the files. If you're going to give the machine to someone or sell it, I recommend doing a full clean to ensure the files are fully wiped and overwritten. Once you've selected the option and proceeded, the remove and rebuild process begins.

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The reset process took around 10 minutes. During that time, you'll see the spinning progress balls and the Surface logo.

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After that, you get the typical Windows 8 login and personalization prompts.

Of course, at the end, you get the very useful tutorial for how to use your new PC. This tutorial is super helpful for new users and is the "first boot" experience on all Windows 8 PCs. This plays while setup is busy handling some configuration.

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Settings

Now is when you'll find out just how many of your settings were set as roaming settings or otherwise stored "in the cloud". For example, my People connections with Facebook and Twitter came through, as did the accounts I hooked up to Photos (Flickr, Facebook, etc.)

Reload apps

If you wanted to pave the machine, but keep the same Windows Account, you can easily reload all the apps you've purchased from the store in the past. This is also a good way to synchronize apps across devices you own.

The easiest way to do this is to go into the Store app, and the swipe down from the top. In the top app bar select "Your Apps". At the bottom, click "Select all" and then "Install".

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With that, you'll have some layout to do on your Start page (use two finger pinch and semantic zoom to make moving groups of tiles easier. You can also select a tile, start moving it, and then drag it down to kick in the semantic zoom. This is killer for moving a tile long distances.) Once done, it's all yours. Your settings will have synchronized in the background, your apps loaded. Everything is ready to go.

   
posted by Pete Brown on Tuesday, November 6, 2012
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3 comments for “How to Reset your Microsoft Surface (or other Windows 8 PC) to start from scratch”

  1. Janesays:
    Hallo!
    Great article! It helped a lot. I ahd some problems with reseting my pc. And I found also an article, but not sure if it the same issue.
    <a title="http://www.excel-aid.com/reset-a-pc-in-windows-8-by-a-new-installation.html" href="http://www.excel-aid.com/reset-a-pc-in-windows-8-by-a-new-installation.html">http://www.excel-aid.com/reset-a-pc-in-windows-8-by-a-new-installation.html</a>
    Thx!
    Jane
  2. Nanielasays:
    Ha sucks for u my last kindle did the same thing try unntliasling ad and reinstalling it until ur kindle show up if it doesn't show up uninstall ash reboot computer and kindle plug it back up and it should show up google update.zip for kindle for download it and put it on kindle and then flash it (note this will unroot u but also unbrick so thank me later)

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