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.

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