How to Restore a Computer to Original Settings Without a Disc

By Jean Brewer

All Windows installations eventually get buggy. Your computer will slow and begin acting erratically, eventually coming to a point where it will not run at all. Regular maintenance only does so much to prolong the life of your operating system and eventually Microsoft Windows will have to be reinstalled. Some computers like Dell and Compaq have a hidden partition called the recovery partition which carries within it everything you need to restore your computer to the same state it left the factory in without a disk. Within a few minutes you can restore your computer and get on with your life.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer with recovery partition, like a Dell or Compaq

Step 1

Back up all data that you wish to save. Microsoft Windows has a backup wizard called "Files and Settings Transfer Wizard." You can use the wizard to back up all of your files and settings to external media like a USB drive or CD/DVD.

Step 2

Disconnect all external devices other than the mouse, keyboard and monitor. If your computer came with a PS/2 mouse and keyboard but you have upgraded to USB devices, reconnect the original mouse and keyboard for the restoration process. The reason for this is that some older computers may not recognize the USB keyboard and mouse during the restoration process, especially if the computer did not come with them pre-installed.

Step 3

Uninstall any internal devices that were not installed when the computer arrived from the factory, i.e. upgraded video cards, wireless cards, etc. These devices can sometimes cause errors in the restoration and can be reinstalled after the restoration is complete.

Step 4

Turn on the computer or restart it by pressing "Ctrl" + "Alt" + "Del."

Step 5

Look for a message during boot like "Pressto start recovery." This message will be different for every brand of computer. Press the key combination specified in the message.

Step 6

Type "R" or "F" to instruct the computer to format the system and return the computer to the state it was in when it arrived from the factory. The exact letters to be pressed may be different on your computer. Read and follow the instructions carefully.

Step 7

Click "Confirm" to verify that you are aware that all data on the computer will be destroyed during the recovery process.

Step 8

Return the backed-up files to their proper places by using the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard.

Step 9

Reinstall any internal hardware that you removed prior to the recovery, and reinstall the drivers for them as well. The installation disc that came with the hardware will contain the drivers.

Step 10

Reinstall any external devices you removed and use the installation CDs that came with them to reinstall the drivers for the devices.

Tips & Warnings

  • Have the installation media available for any software that was installed after the computer was purchased, including any product keys. This software will be erased during the restoration process.
  • There is also a link to restore factory settings located within the "All Programs" menu.
  • Consult your user manual for the exact steps to access your recovery partition.
  • Protect your computer from static discharge if you have to work inside it. Static discharge can damage or destroy your computer.
  • Any data that you do not back up will be destroyed during the restoration process. Verify that you have retrieved all files for all users before beginning the process.
  • If your hard drive has been replaced, your computer may no longer contain a recovery partition. In this case, you must use external media like CDs or DVDs to recover your computer instead.