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July 6, 2020

Windows 10 clean reinstall – How to prepare

Here’s a personal opinion: It’s a good idea every now and then to start from scratch, and clean reinstall Windows 10. This presents an often-welcome chance to fully clean your system and get rid of all the junk bloating it. The Windows 10 Reset feature basically does the same thing — namely, reset Windows to a clean state. Whatever method you use, clean installing from original Windows 10 install media, using your custom media, or resetting Windows, it really is a good idea to prepare before putting it to work.

Backup personal data

My preparations start with copying all personal data from the user profile folder to an external drive. I will copy all folders in all user profiles except OneDrive, OneDrive for Business and AppData folders. OneDrive folders do not need to copied as everything is already backed up in the cloud. AppData from a previous install or another PC should never be copied to a new install. That’s because there’s quite a lot in AppData that contains machine and user specific information which may make software fail to work (or work properly) when copied to a new installation.

Software licenses

Some software requires preparations before reinstall. One such program is Macrium Reflect, in my opinion absolutely the best imaging and backup tool available. If you do not uninstall the Reflect license, you might get issues when trying to reactivate it on new installation. Luckily, Reflect makes this quite easy:

Another good example is Office 365 subscription products. If you subscribe to O365 Personal or Home, you are good to go because they can be installed on an unlimited number of devices, as long as no more than five of them is used at the same time. But, the O365 Business and Enterprise subscriptions only allow 5 installations.

To remove O365 Business or Enterprise license from the computer before reinstalling Windows, first close all Office applications. When done, go to your account page and sign out from the device you want to reinstall:

Do this even if you want to use the same computer name after reinstalling Windows!

Windows license

Last but not least, if this is your personal computer, check that the Windows 10 Digital License is correctly registered to your Microsoft Account:

Automatic activation when reinstalling Windows 10 works remarkably well, but occasionally you might have some issues. If that happens, it’s good to have a transferable digital license at your disposal.

See my tips for storing the digital license data on your Microsoft Account: Windows 10 Digital License – How to transfer

That’s it geeks! Basically, there should be no need to remind you of these simple steps, but experience has shown me that the most common issues users have after reinstalling  Windows are related to stuff like this being forgotten. Data is lost, software reactivation does not work, and so on. All of that is easily avoided when preparing the reinstall.

Additional reading:
– Win10 Reset Gains Cloud-Based Option
– Create a custom Windows 10 “factory recovery” partition



Author: Kari Finn

A former Windows Insider MVP, Kari started in computing in the mid 80’s writing code for VAX / VMS systems. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of IT positions. He specializes in Windows image capture, customization, repair and deployment as well as Hyper-V virtualization. Kari is a proud Team Member at number #1 Windows site TenForums.com.

3 Responses “Windows 10 clean reinstall – How to prepare”

  1. Keith Donald
    February 10, 2020 at 13:47

    I did the Cloud based reset during the last Insider Bug Bash. It was really simple and problem free.

    • February 10, 2020 at 14:47

      That is a really good new feature. Unfortunately, if you want to do your clean installs from a customized Windows image, Windows 10 Reset cannot be used. But, if you are happy with default partitioning and install, Windows Reset is the tool to use.

      One thing, though, that I have noticed when experimenting with reset: it takes far longer than a clean install from USB media.

  2. Eddie Doherty
    February 22, 2020 at 03:03

    Hi. After the reset, are you supposed to copy all of the user profile folders back into the new installation?

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