Repair a Windows install
If you’re trying to fix a problem, a refresh or repair install may be the best route to go down. Here’s what you need to do…
Not all reinstalls require a complete wipe of your hard drive. A repair or refresh installation leaves your programs, settings and files in place, and restricts itself to installing a fresh copy of your Windows files over the top of your existing copy. If your problem is linked to a corrupt file or Windows setting, the repair installation can usually fix it.
All repair installs share one common characteristic: you must launch them from Windows itself. You can’t boot from your install media and repair Windows through that; you need to boot into Windows, then start the repair process from there. If you’re unable to boot into Windows, therefore, you’ll need to skip to page 72 and perform a full destructive recovery instead.
Start the repair
Starting a repair install varies depending on your PC model and what version of Windows you’re running. Windows 8.1 and 10 users should (at least initially) avoid the Refresh/Reset options provided under Settings > ‘Update & recovery’. These options will preserve your files and any apps you’ve installed through the Microsoft Store, but any desktop programs you’ve installed will be wiped along with Windows itself.
Instead, you should ‘upgrade’ your copy of Windows, which performs a similar non-destructive reinstall to Refresh/Reset with the added bonus that your apps – including those you’ve installed outside of the Microsoft Store – will be preserved. To do so, you’ll need your Windows installation media – see the step-by-step guide on the facing page if you don’t have the latest version.
Why do you need the latest install media? It’s because upgrade installs only work if the version of Windows on your PC matches that on your install media, so if you’ve installed Service Pack 1 in Windows 7, for example, you need up-to-date installation media to avoid the laborious task of first attempting to uninstall Service Pack 1 through Windows Update (assuming that you’re able to), then reinstalling Windows and
“Start by seeing if the specific issue has been solved, then check to see that the rest of Windows still works”
then downloading and reinstalling Service Pack 1, along with all of your other updates.
Windows 10 users can also launch the repair process directly from the Media Creation Tool by choosing Upgrade when prompted, but given the amount of time it takes to download the files, you might as well create your install media instead – just in case the upgrade install doesn’t work and you decide to go down the path of a full-blown destructive install.
Launch the repair process
The procedure from this point onwards varies according to which version of Windows that you have. If prompted to download updates, do so to save time post-install.
Windows 8.1 and 10 users will be asked what they want to keep. Windows 8.1 users should find settings, personal files and applications are selected by default (click ‘Change settings’ if this isn’t the case), while it’s ‘Keep personal files and apps’ in the case of Windows 10 (don’t worry, in this circumstance, ‘apps’ also applies to any desktop programs that you have installed).
Windows 7 users need to pop in their install media, double-click setup.exe and follow the regular reinstall process. When prompted, click ‘Go online to get the latest updates for installation (recommended)’ to download post-SP1 security fixes now, then accept the licence agreement and choose Upgrade when prompted.
The upgrade process can take up to an hour on whichever version of Windows you’re repairing, even on the fastest machine, so be patient. Your PC will reboot several times. If you’re reinstalling Windows 7, you’ll be prompted to enter your product key again, so have it handy.
Windows 8.1 and 10 will relaunch with the same setup wizard you’d see when upgrading from an earlier version of Windows. It’s all very straightforward, but don’t skip through the Express settings (if they appear); make sure you review all settings to lock down privacy.
If all goes well, you should find yourself at the desktop, ready to see if your problem has been fixed – start by seeing if the specific issue that you were experiencing before has been solved, then check to see that the rest of Windows still works as it should – if it’s not, follow the advice in the ‘Post-repair steps’ box on the facing page. There’s also a possibility – particularly with Windows 7 – that the repair install will result in a non-booting PC. If this happens, dig out the rescue media you created using Macrium Reflect Free (see page 51 of issue 146 for how to do this) and use it to restore the drive image you took before embarking on the repair. Then turn the page for more options.
Windows 10 users can launch a repair install directly from the Media Creation Tool.
Both Windows 8.1 and 10 offer a similar way to repair your Windows installation.
Choose the Upgrade option when prompted to repair Windows 7.