For years, PC users have complained of an only somewhat illusory performance issue in Windows that some call "PC rot," where a Windows-based PC slows over time and could eventually require a complete re-installation. PC rot is absolutely real on older versions of Windows, though few people seem to understand that Microsoft has been slowly eradicating, or at least minimizing, this effect in recent Windows versions. But in Windows 8, finally, PC rot is a thing of the past. And the solution to this problem is a set of features Microsoft collectively calls Push Button Reset.
The theory behind Push Button Reset is simple: When a user encounters a problem with their PC, be it performance related or otherwise, they can now undergo a surprisingly fast process in which Windows 8 is wiped out and reinstalled. But this doesn't require mucking around with a Setup DVD or USB media, and it won't take half the day. Instead, Push Button Reset is built right into Windows 8. And it's surprisingly speedy.
There are two pieces to Push Button Reset, and which you use will depend on your needs. The first, called Reset Your PC, removes all of your personal data, apps, and settings from the PC, and then reinstalls Windows to its factory-fresh, day-1 condition. The second, called Refresh Your PC, performs similarly, but retains all of your personal data, Metro-style apps (but not legacy Explorer applications), and settings, reapplying them to Windows after its been reinstalled.
As noted, Push Button Reset is amazingly fast. According to Microsoft's performance analysis of the Windows 8 Developer Preview, most PC reset operations will finish in roughly six minutes. And a PC Refresh will take a bit over 8 minutes.
This is amazing because the process of clean installing Windows 7, itself a major improvement over previous Windows versions, is about 20 minutes, and that doesn't include post-Setup tasks such as installing updates, installing applications, copying back data, and reapplying personal settings. I typically spend the better part of day restoring a PC in this fashion, and it's a time consuming, boring, process with lots of downtime.
Now, critics will point out, correctly, that Push Button Reset's Refresh Your PC feature isn't a complete PC recovery solution because it doesn't help at all with traditional, Explorer-based applications like Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and the like. And that's fair enough, though I'd point out that these applications will soon only be used by power users and business users for the most part, and that PC Refresh will become a fairly complete solution for most average users, especially as we replace our old applications with new Metro-style apps over time. And regardless, even those that need to install and update a handful of traditional Windows applications after the fact will still experience an amazing reduction in the time it takes to complete the entire process.
Finding Push Button Reset
There are three ways to trigger Push Button Reset:
PC Settings. From the Metro-style PC Settings app (Charms, Settings, More PC Settings), navigate to General. You'll see two options near the bottom of the list, Refresh your PC without affecting your files and Reset your PC and start over.
Control Panel Classic. From the desktop version of Control Panel, simply search for "recovery" and then click "Recovery.") You'll see options for both Refresh and Reset.
Boot with the Windows 8 install media. When you boot your PC with the Windows 8 installation media (DVD, USB memory key) as outlined in Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Setting Up Windows 8, you can click "Repair your computer" instead of "Install now to continue" on the second Install Windows screen; this will load the Windows Recovery Environment, or WinRE, which provides access to the Windows 8 recovery tools. (You can learn how to create installation media in my guide, Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Create Bootable Install Media.)
Note: You can also reach the recovery tools, and thus Push Button Reset, by interrupting the Windows 8 boot process. This, however, is becoming increasingly difficult because Windows 8 boots so fast.
In the steps below, I'll assume you used the third method, but it shouldn't be hard to follow if you chose one of the other methods instead.
Using PC Refresh
On the Choose an Option screen, tap Troubleshoot.
Select a Windows 8 install to Refresh.
On the Refresh Your PC screen, tap Next.
Here, Windows will copy your data, apps, and settings to a safe area of the hard disk or device storage, wipe out Windows, and reinstall. During this process, the screen will note "Refreshing your PC" and will provide the progress as a percentage.
Push Button Reset will then reboot the PC. During the first boot-up process, Windows 8 will load devices and configure the PC. It will then reboot again.
On the second reboot, Windows 8 will return to the Choose an option screen in the Troubleshooting tools. Just click (or tap) Continue to exist and continue to Windows 8. The PC will reboot and then display the lock screen normally. Simply logon with the previously-configured account.
Using PC Reset
On the Choose an Option screen, tap Troubleshoot.
On the Troubleshoot screen, tap Reset your PC.
On the Reset Your PC screen, tap Next.
On the next Reset your PC screen, you must choose a Windows install to recover. Select the appropriate OS. (On most PCs, there will be only one choice.)
Now, PC Reset will ask whether you'd like to do a thorough or quick reset. This is new to the Consumer Preview, and Microsoft tells me that the thorough option, which takes longer, essentially does a three-pass wipeout of your hard drive, similar to what's available from disk wipe utilities. ("Basically, the NSA could get the data off the drive, but virtually no one else," I was told, in semi-tongue-in-cheek fashion.)
After presenting a final Reset button for you to push, Push Button Reset will wipe out Windows and all of your data, apps, and settings, and then reinstall the OS. The screen will note "Resetting your PC" and will provide the progress as a percentage.
You'll then be returned to the Choose an option screen of PC Reset. Choose Continue. The PC will reboot, and then display the lock screen and you're good to go: Simply logon with your Microsoft account normally.