There are two main reasons why you might need to recover your computer. Firstly, it might have stopped working properly: it could be behaving erratically after you’ve installed a program or update, or you might not be able to start Windows at all.
The second reason is that your computer feels bogged down, sluggish and in need of a complete overhaul (let’s face it, we all know that feeling). You can remember how efficiently it used to run when you bought it, and you fancy getting it back to its original, pristine condition. Whichever camp you fall into, this step-by-step guide has the answers. Read it carefully, making sure you pick the right options, and follow the part of the guide that applies to you.
Important note: if you need to do a full, destructive recovery, make sure you’ve backed up all your files first – and that means emails and photos, as well as documents – by following our step-by-step guide. Also, dig out any program installation discs, product keys or serial numbers before you start the process.
1. Create a recovery disc
If you can boot into Windows, we strongly recommend you create a set of recovery discs, so you’ve got a backup recovery solution if you can’t access the recovery files on your hard drive. To create it, click the [Start] button, then select 'All Programs'. Click the 'Advent' folder to open it and select 'Recovery Backup Wizard'. Follow the prompts to create a recovery USB stick or recovery DVDs.
2. Start recovery process
Whether or not you have a set of recovery discs, the quickest way to restore your computer is to use the recovery tools on your hard drive. You can access these by restarting your computer then tapping the [F8] key until the Advanced Boot Menu appears. Use the arrows to select 'Repair your Computer' then press [Enter].
If this doesn’t work, insert your recovery disc and restart your computer. It should be detected automatically (press any key if prompted, to boot from a CD or DVD ), and the recovery process should begin.
3. Make your choice
Which camp do you fall into? If you need to recover your computer to a working state without losing any data, programs or settings, keep following each step. If, on the other hand, you want to return your PC to its out-of-the-box condition, jump to step 7.
4. Fix start-up problems
If Windows won’t start at all, leave Start Microsoft Windows Repair Environment selected, to see if Windows can resolve its own problems. Click 'Next' and follow the instructions but be prepared to wait while the repair tool investigates ways of fixing the problem. Follow the instructions and – fingers crossed – it will all be sorted shortly.
5. Choose System Restore
If Windows loads but you need to undo recent changes to your computer, choose Reinstall Windows and click 'Next'. Leave Start Windows System Restore selected, and click 'Next' again. Read the description of what System Restore does, then click 'Next'.
6. Restore system files and settings
You’ll see a list of available Restore points, with the most recent one selected by default. Click 'Next', followed by 'Finish', to restore your computer and hopefully get it working. If this doesn’t work, return to System Restore and choose the previous Restore point until you’re able to get it up and running again.
7. Full, destructive recovery
Before you go ahead with this step, remember you’ll lose all your non backed-up files (including documents, photos, emails and other settings). If you still want to go ahead and restore your PC to the condition it was in when you bought it, choose 'Reinstall Windows', click 'Next', then select 'Start Full Destructive Recovery' before clicking 'Next' again.
8. Read warning and restore
Read the warning one last time, which will remind you that all files stored on your main hard drive will be lost (files on other drives will be safe). If you’re happy to proceed, tick the box marked 'Full Destructive Recovery' and click 'Next'.
9. Sit back and wait
The Full Destructive Recovery in Progress window will give you a summary of what’s happening to your computer while it’s being restored. The whole process can take up to 60 minutes, so don’t worry if it seems slow – there’s a lot to do. If you’re restoring from recovery DVDs, you’ll need to be on standby to swap them during the restore process. When it’s finished, you’ll be prompted to click 'OK' to restart your computer.
10. Configure new install
Windows will load for the first time, then Setup will keep configuring your computer. When the Setup Wizard appears, make sure United Kingdom is selected and click 'Next'. Now enter your username. It should ideally be your previous username, or something obvious to help your PC identify it on your network. Click 'Next'. Choose a password to protect your account, providing a hint if you’re likely to forget it, then click 'Next' again.
11. Set up Windows Update
Read both license agreements, tick both boxes then click 'Next' again. Click 'Use Recommended Settings' to switch Windows Update on, so your PC stays updated and protected. Verify the clock and time zone settings are correct then click 'Next'.
12. Set up network
If you’re wirelessly connected you’ll be asked to connect to your home network, so pick your network from the list and type in the pass key, if requested. Finally, choose 'Home' and let Windows complete the setup process. Once the Windows desktop appears, reinstall your core programs and let Windows update itself through Windows Update.
13. Restore your files and settings
Click the [Start] button, type ‘backup ’ and then click the 'Restore Data, Files or Computer' from the Backup link that appears. No existing backup will be listed, so make sure the drive containing your backup is connected to your PC and click 'Select Another Backup to Restore Files From', to access it.
You should see your backup selected – click 'Next' and then follow the prompts to restore selected files and folders, or your entire backup . Only choose to restore files to their original location if you set up your PC with the same username that you previously used.