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How to: Refresh, Reset or Install/Reinstall Windows 8


Sooner or later you are going to need to do one of the above on a Windows 8 machine, or maybe you want to upgrade an existing machine before the 1/31/13 – $39.95 offer expires. As I have dealt with almost every potential scenario since 10/26/12, I will try to prepare you for what to expect.

There are four ways to get Windows 8 (or Pro) on a computer;

– Download Windows 8 from Microsoft, after purchasing a license, and launch the EXE on your PC.

– Download Windows 8 from Microsoft, after purchasing a license, and burn onto a DVD, creating a bootable disc. Use the disc to install Windows 8 (Pro) onto a (any) PC.

– Purchase a Windows 8 Upgrade on disc and upgrade/install onto a PC.

– Purchase a new PC with Windows 8/Pro already installed.

I have already experienced three of the four options above, and for the sake of this discussion will assume 3 works exactly the same as 2 above.

Download from Microsoft

When you purchase and download Windows 8 (Pro) from Microsoft, the first thing to note is that the version downloaded, either 32bit or 64bit, will be determined by your machine and it’s processor capabilities. So, if you want to download a 32bit version of Windows 8 and then burn it to disc to install on a 32bit machine, you need to download the file to a 32bit machine. Not much difference between the two versions aside from the size; 64bit will take up 2.69GB on a DVD, and 32bit will be 2.22GB.

If you purchase,  download and install Windows 8 directly to the same machine, you won’t have anything left to do. Won’t even need to enter the Product Key, as Microsoft already has that figured out using their magic. If you choose to create a bootable disc from the downloaded ISO file, be sure to label the disc; 32 or 64bit version (depending on the machine you downloaded to). No worries on the Product Key, as your disc is only a generic version of Windows 8. When you use the disc to install Windows 8, the install process will ask for a Product Key, which you should have gotten with your purchase receipt.  Also no concerns about the Product Key being associated with a 32/64bit version of Windows 8. I used the same 32bit disc to install Windows 8 on my Fujitsu Lifebook as I did on my office Compaq desktop, both XP upgrades. My second Product Key came from a download of the Windows 8 install file to a 64bit machine (that’s how I learned all about this) which wouldn’t work on a 32bit install.

So, what if you need to do a Refresh or Reset on your upgraded Windows 8 machine? Well, depending on how you installed Windows 8, you may or may not need a disc. If you Refresh/Reset a PC that you downloaded and installed Windows 8 to directly, you won’t need a Product Key or a disc, as Windows has the necessary files stored somewhere on your PC. And as I did several Refresh/Reset’s last month while fighting an Nvidia Controller Card problem (thankfully resolved) I am certain this is how things work.

But, if you installed Windows 8 from disc and need to do a Reset (not sure about a Refresh) you will need the disc to complete the process. This is what I needed to do on my LifeBook to Reset when I was preparing for resale. Guess that’s not much different than it has always been.

PCs with Windows 8 Pre-Installed

If you purchase a new PC with Windows 8 already installed don’t expect to get a Windows 8 disc (those days are long gone), but your PC will most likely have a hidden recovery partition with Windows 8 installation files. Even though you have a recovery partition, and can use it for Refresh & Reset maintenance, hard drive failure is still a reality, and can strike at any time. So, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to create a Recovery drive (USB Thumb Drive) just to be on the safe side. Your USB Recovery Drive will need to be a minimum of 16GB, and although the Recovery Applet will format the drive before proceeding, you might want to do your own Format, especially if you pick up one of those SanDisk drives with the proprietary software pre-installed.

These are the steps to create a Recovery Drive.

Insert a “formatted”, minimum 16GB, USB Thumb Drive into an available USB port on your PC.

Open Control Panel > Recovery, and select the first option; Create a Recovery Drive


Click Next to go to the next screen


I labeled my thumbdrive with the model of my PC (when I did that Format, remember). Click Next again.


Click Create and wait for things to finish. You should keep your machine plugged in during the process.


Took about 40 minutes on my Asus S200e (only about 25 minutes on my Asus i7 Desktop). This is what the drive will look like. Note that this USB drive should not be used for anything else.  Best to label it and stow away for the day your hard drive quits.


On the Vista machine I upgraded to Windows 8 using the downloaded ISO file, there is obviously no hidden recovery partition. But you can still create a Recovery Drive.


The completed Recovery Drive looks a lot like my burned 64bit DVD noted above, consuming 2.45GB of the USB Stick. Not sure why there is such a ginormous difference between the two recovery drives ; 11.8GB vs. 2.45GB, but as long as they work, who cares. Also, as you no longer get a Product Key with new Windows 8 PC purchases, I assume (or hope) these Recovery Drives have the needed information to restore Windows 8 on a new hard drive, using the same motherboard.

Technically, after creating a USB Recovery Drive, you are free to uninstall the hidden recovery partition (if you can find it) but with the size of hard drives these days, it’s hardly worth the trouble. The one exception may be the Microsoft Surface RT, which also requires a 4GB USB Stick, with it’s limited available memory. But I suspect it would be much harder to find a copy of Windows RT somewhere, should the USB Recovery Drive fail, so I will keep things as they are.

Hope you never have to use any of this stuff, aside from the Windows 8 Upgrade that is. But if you do, better to be prepared.