Other reinstall options for your PC
So far, we’ve covered both traditional reinstall techniques, but there are other reasons – and methods – for reinstalling Windows. First up is the recovery option. Most pre-built PCs come with a built-in manufacturer’s recovery partition that enables you to restore Windows to its factory shipped condition. The main advantage of this method – aside from being cheaper and easier for the manufacturer, of course – is that your PC is restored to a guaranteed working state, with all the drivers it needs to function. The downsides are that a lot of extra unwanted software is usually installed alongside Windows, you need to exercise extreme caution not to lose everything on the drive, and that if the recovery partition corrupts – typically due to hardware failure – you’re left with no means of reinstalling Windows.
If you’re planning to reinstall Windows by this method, look for a prompt to start recovery when you first boot Windows or look for the option under the ‘Advanced start-up’ menu (see below) – consult your computer’s documentation or manufacturer’s website for details. Remember that most recovery options are fully destructive, so be sure to have backed up your system before you begin – and that includes creating a complete drive image.
Another reason to reinstall Windows is to revert to an earlier version. If you’re pining for Windows 7 or 8.1, then it’s usually possible to downgrade your copy of Windows – remember support for Windows 7 ends in January 2020, and Windows 8.1 in January 2023. Before reaching for your old Windows media, however, you need to do some homework first.
First, if you upgraded your PC to Windows 10 from an older version of Windows, restoring that version should be straightforward in the sense you can use your manufacturer’s recovery partition if it still holds the original version, or you can try installing from an old, unused copy of Windows 7 or 8.1 – just follow the guides to preparing and reinstalling Windows earlier on in this feature. Do source the correct drivers for your PC first, though, and verify that your new software is backwards compatible (desktop apps should be, but Microsoft Store apps won’t work in Windows 7, and some may not work in Windows 8.1 either).
If your PC came with Windows 8.1 or 10 preinstalled, then going back to Windows 7 will be trickier and possibly even impossible. Before embarking on this, check the web to see if others have had similar success. You’ll need to source your own Windows 7 installation media and valid licence, and you’ll almost certainly need to have access to your PC’s UEFI settings – if Fast Boot is enabled, open Settings > ‘Update & recovery’ and click ‘Restart now’ under ‘Advanced start-up’. When prompted, select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > UEFI Firmware Settings.
Once inside your PC’s UEFI settings you need to locate and change three settings. First, disable the Fast Boot feature. Second, disable Secure Boot. And finally, look for a CSM (Compatibility Support Module) option and make sure it’s enabled. All three settings need to be made to support Windows 7 – if you can’t find them, consult with your PC or motherboard manufacturer.
Once done, you should find you’re able to boot from your Windows 7 installation media, enabling you to revert to the earlier copy of Windows.
Set up a dual-boot PC
Our final scenario is one where you install two versions of Windows side-by- side. This is a step for advanced users only, and if you’re merely planning to install an older version of Windows next to Windows 10 for compatibility purposes, explore alternative options, namely setting up a virtual Windows 7 machine using a tool such as VirtualBox (www.virtualbox.org), which runs inside your main Windows installation.
If you are determined to dual-boot your setup, the step-by-step guide on the facing page covers the process of installing an older version of Windows alongside your current one.
Before you begin also make sure you take a fail-safe drive image using Macrium Reflect Free and be sure to create the rescue media, too.
“If you’re pining for Windows 7 or 8.1, it’s usually possible to downgrade your copy of Windows”
Fetch the drivers for whichever version of Windows you install.
Look under the ‘Advanced start-up’ menu for factory restore options.