Reset, Refresh, Restore, Rebuild, Reload, In-Place

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Laptop recommendations here!

What? What? What? What? What? What?

When a computer fails, chances are it’s due to software. Nothing outlined in this article applies to resolving hardware issues. However, a hardware failure can make one of these repair techniques necessary after the hardware failure is resolved.

What are my available options?

You may hear something about ‘Restoring’ the computer back to working order by running or doing something like this:

  • System Reload
  • System Rebuild
  • System Restore
  • System Refresh
  • System Reset
  • In-Place Upgrade

One is relatively harmless if it doesn’t work. The others can fix the issue or make a small problem into a gigantic one. Lets go over them in a general manner first..

  • Some or all are available depending on the version of Windows you are running. In this case we are talking Windows 7, 8, or 10.
  • Reset, Rebuild, and Reload will wipe out your data, programs, keys, etc. if not backed up up first or done properly.
  • System Restore is the least risky. It will try and revert your machine back to a time when it worked while not affecting data or programs. Probably. Maybe.
  • System Refresh will wipe out your programs but hopefully keep your data, but not all your data – probably.

What should I run?

System Restore

If your computer is still bootable, search for an option called “System Restore” and select a previous date to roll back Windows to. In theory, the previous dates listed are when the computer was working properly. 

A few things to note:

  • System Restore is the least risky.
  • It normally does not affect data. Restoring to an earlier time will not restore old data.
  • You will see one or more restore points listed by data. The farther back you go the less chance that the System Restore process will work.
  • If it works your computer will be put back to an earlier time. Windows may want to re-install various updates that have been removed. Sometimes the updates are the problem so the same thing may happen again.
  • It may work but it can replace one problem with another. This can happen if a recent, very large change was made such as a program install or Windows upgrade and you are trying to ‘undo’ it using System Restore. It can often leave behind a mess.
  • It may say the restore failed and nothing has changed. However, it may have worked good enough. See if the problem remains.
  • It may not work and nothing changes. You will be notified in a message if the System Restore process did not work.
  • If the computer is not bootable, you can access Restore Points using a boot CD or Flash drive or use Windows itself to boot into a repair mode ( WinPE ) that allows you to access the restore points. That is outside the scope of this article. 

System Reset or Refresh

Both are serious and not to be take lightly.

  • System Reset will remove all programs and data.
  • System Refresh will remove programs but preserve your data, but not all your data, hopefully.

We never trust either of these so we always copy the problem drive onto a temporary drive as a backup. Sometimes we will test the procedure on the duplicate drive first to see how things go. 

  • Both options are a serious change to your computer. They are used when all other repair options have failed, but Windows is still bootable either to the desktop or in Repair Mode. 
  • You will need to reload your programs, key numbers, registration, passwords, printers – everything. Prepare for the long haul.
  • Don’t even think about going this route unless the computer is unusable, is fully backed up, AND you have a lot of time to reload everything. 

System Rebuild

This is a rather generic term we use. It involves reloading Windows over an existing install of Windows. It covers two different ways to rebuild Windows:

  • In-place Upgrade
  • Reload over the existing install of Windows with a fresh install. User account data, among other things, is stored in a folder called Windows.old. The original version of Windows is not deleted or erased. Everything must then be re-installed and data restored. 

In-Place Upgrade

  • The term “In-Place upgrade” is misleading because you may not be upgrading Windows at all, just reloading what is already installed. It’s the process of initiating a re-installation of Windows on a computer that still boots to the desktop. 
  • This can work perfectly and you are left with a fully functioning Windows install just like before, without the problems. No reloading of programs or data needed. Reloading updates and upgrades will still be necessary.
  • It can fail completely, leaving behind no changes whatsoever or a hopelessly non-functional mess that cannot be recovered from. 
  • Because of the numerous variables involved in an ‘In-Place’ upgrade, we ALWAYS make a copy of the original drive and test the procedure on the copy to see how it goes.


  • If we get to this level, serious issues are present.
  • This process requires booting using a DVD, USB drive, or a built in recovery partition that never works.  
  • The drive is not formatted or erased.
  • A fresh install of Windows is performed, but the old Windows is saved elsewhere so data can be restored manually. 
  • We always copy the entire drive first before this using this option and confirm the copy works and is accessible. 
  • This is the second last resort used to fix a malfunctioning Windows install.

System Reload

This is it. The granddaddy of computer repair. System Reload is often done when a drive fails and not enough of the operating system is recoverable to make it work.

A true ‘System Reload’ is where the old drive is erased or replaced with a blank, new, drive. Perhaps after a failure.

  • Nothing is saved during the install process. Other means must be employed to save any data. 
  • Everything must be re-installed and restored. A very time consuming process.
  • Programs and especially updates and upgrades may take hours or a full day to re-install, depending on how old the Windows install media is. 
  • Any saved passwords and key numbers are lost unless there is documentation available that will allow it all to be re-entered or can be restored using backups.
  • We may get a machine where we don’t know how it was set up as far as the desktop layout or programs that were installed. The computer may not be bootable for us to visually see what is on the computer or how it’s configured. In those cases we have to study the file structure to determine what programs, printers, browsers, etc were being used unless the owner can supply us with that information.  

Suffice it to say a System Reload is the very last of the last of the last resorts to fall back on. We cringe when we get a computer into the shop where the owner was told to just “reload Windows”. No big deal! If Windows was, indeed, successfully reloaded the next question is always “Where’s all my stuff?”. Whomever recommends such a thing without a full backup has no clue what they are recommending. 

‘Nuf said.

Contact us with any questions!

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