It has a feminine name and an enormous devastating force. What is it? A hurricane? A terrible new computer virus? No. I’m referring to your beloved little sister Marta, and you know it. Admit it, how many times has she managed to wreak havoc on your PC this week? Ten? Fifteen? OK, I get it, that’s twenty. Another world record. Congratulations.
At this point, I think you are tired of reinstalling programs, rewriting documents and re-downloading files from the Internet that you have already downloaded with so much effort. You really need to put a stop to the systematic devastation of your computer by friends and family. How? Simple, by starting to make regular backups of your computer and, if necessary, learning how to take advantage of its recovery functions.
By taking these good habits, you’ll be able to sleep reasonably soundly in spite of your little sister and, in case of new “disasters”, you’ll be able to restore your operating system to its last working state, all in a matter of clicks. If you don’t believe me, read on and find out how to restore your PC quickly and easily thanks to the instructions I’m about to give you: you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to secure your computer!
Restore a Windows PC
Do you use Windows? Then you should know that you have several solutions at your disposal to restore your PC: you can restore the system to its last working state thanks to restore points, you can use the “Reset PC” function present in Windows 10 and Windows 8.x or you can reinstall the operating system using an installation media (DVD or USB key). Read on to learn more.
Restore points are the fastest and easiest way to restore Windows to its last working state. They are usually created automatically when you install new programs, drivers or updates on your PC, but you can also create them manually. By using them, and thus returning the system to a previous state, all files on the PC are kept intact, including those created (or downloaded) after the date to which the restore point refers. On the other hand, programs, drivers or updates installed after the date to which you decide to restore the system are deleted.
To create a new restore point “manually” (an operation that must be done when the computer is working well, so as to have a “reset” point to which to return the PC in case of need), you must click on the Start button (the flag icon located in the lower left corner of the screen), search for the terms “restore point” in the menu that opens and select the item Create a restore point from the search results.
In the window that appears on the screen, click the Create button located at the bottom right. If the button cannot be clicked, click the Configure button above it, put a check mark next to the Enable system protection item and click OK to proceed with the restore point creation.
Once you start creating a new restore point, you have to type the name you want to assign to it (e.g. last working state) in the window that appears on the screen, then you have to click the Create button and wait patiently for the operation to be completed. It may take several minutes. When the procedure is finished, click the Close button to close the window.
If you need to restore Windows to a previous state using restore points, click on the Start button (the flag icon located in the lower left corner of the screen), search for the terms “restore point” in the menu that opens and select the Create a restore point item from the search results.
In the window that appears on the screen, click the System Restore button and choose whether to restore Windows using the recommended restore point (i.e. the most recent restore point) or select a different restore point. I recommend you to opt for the second solution so that you are sure to choose the right restore point.
At this point, choose the restore point you want to use (clicking the Search for affected programs button at the bottom right corner will show the list of programs that will be deleted after PC recovery), click the Next and Finish buttons and the system will be restored to the selected date. The operation may take several minutes. The PC, as you can easily guess, will be restarted.
Reset your PC (Windows 10/8.x)
If you’re using a PC equipped with Windows 10 or Windows 8.x and the restore points didn’t help you, you can take advantage of the Reset PC feature, which allows you to reinstall Windows without deleting the personal data on your computer.
To take advantage of the Windows “Reset PC” feature, click on the Start button (the flag icon located in the lower left corner of the screen) and select the gear icon located on the left side of the menu that appears on the screen, in order to access the system settings.
In the window that opens, click on the Update & Security icon, select the Restore item from the left sidebar and click on the Getting Started button located under the Reset PC heading.
Now you have to choose whether to restore the system keeping the files that are currently on the PC (programs and settings will be deleted anyway) or to delete everything: in the first case (the one I recommend), you have to click on the Keep my files button available in the window that appeared on the screen, otherwise you have to click on the Remove all button.
If you have chosen the option to keep data on the PC, you will be shown the list of programs that are not present on the Microsoft Store and therefore, after restoring Windows, you will have to manually re-download and reinstall them on the PC. Once you have taken note of the list, click on the Next button and then on Restore to start restoring your computer.
If, on the other hand, you chose to erase everything, you have to choose whether to remove only your personal data (along with applications and settings) or to remove the files and wipe the drive (to perform a secure erasure of the drive and thus make the old files on the PC unrecoverable, which is recommended if you sell or transfer the computer), after which you have to click on the Restore button and wait for the reinstallation of Windows.
After the first step of Windows reinstallation, you’ll have to follow the initial configuration procedure of the operating system, the one in which you’ll set up the user account, preferences related to the geographical area, etc.
If you do not want to keep any programs or personal files, you can also command a clean Windows installation by opening the Windows Defender Security Center (you can search for it via the Windows Start menu), selecting the Performance and Device Integrity item from the left sidebar and clicking first on the Additional information item for the Installation from scratch and then on the Getting started, Yes and Next buttons. The reinstallation of Windows will take 20 minutes or more, depending on the performance of your computer.
If you’re using a version of Windows older than 8.x and/or can’t take advantage of the PC reset feature I mentioned earlier, you can reinstall Windows using an operating system installation media, so a DVD or a USB stick.
If you still don’t have a DVD or a USB stick with Windows installation files, you can take advantage of the tools provided by Microsoft itself, as I explained in my tutorials on how to download Windows 10, how to download Windows 8 and how to download Windows 7. For detailed instructions on how to create USB flash drives with operating system installation files, please refer to my guides on how to install Windows 10 from USB, how to install Windows 8 from USB and how to install Windows 7 from USB.
Once you’ve obtained the media with the Windows installation files, boot from it (if that fails, make sure you’ve configured the BIOS correctly) and, when asked how to install the operating system, choose the Upgrade option: install Windows and keep files, settings and applications. If the option is not available, you can install Windows on the same disk as your current copy of Windows (preferably on a separate partition, but it’s not necessary) and get a clean system without deleting files on the hard disk. Programs installed on the old copy of the operating system will be “lost” (i.e. they will still be on the disk but will not be usable).
If any step is not clear to you and/or you want more information on how to reinstall Windows, check out the tutorial I dedicated to the topic.
Other useful solutions
Creating a recovery drive – Windows lets you create a recovery drive, i.e. a USB flash drive, with which you can restore your system in case of need. To take advantage of this possibility, click on the Start button (the flag icon located in the lower left corner of the screen), search for the term “recovery drive” in the menu that opens and select the first search result. In the window that opens, click the Yes button, make sure that there is a checkmark next to the Backup system files to the recovery drive item, click the Next button and wait a few seconds. When prompted, insert a USB flash drive with at least 4GB of free space into the PC and follow the on-screen directions to complete the procedure.
Clone hard drive – hard drive cloning is an advanced data backup process, whereby you can “snapshot” the state of your system at a given time, save it to an image file and restore it when needed. Among the best free software that allows you to do this, I would like to point out Clonezilla and EaseUS Todo Backup, which I have talked about in depth in my tutorials on how to clone a hard disk and how to clone hard disk with operating system.
Formatting Windows – desperate times call for desperate measures. If you want to “raze” the system and reinstall it from scratch while deleting settings and programs, you can perform a full disk format. I have explained how to proceed in my tutorials on how to format Windows 10, how to format Windows 8.1 and how to format Windows 7.
Restore a Mac
Do you use a Mac? No problem, macOS also offers backup and restore features that allow you to restore your system to a previous state in case you need it.
Time Machine is the backup system included “as standard” in all versions of macOS. It allows you to create a backup copy of your entire Mac’s disk and restore it in case of need.
To activate Time Machine, you must connect an external drive with at least the same capacity as the Mac’s drive to your Mac (or to a supported network device, such as Apple’s AirPort Extreme router) and answer yes to the prompt that appears on the screen.
If no prompt appears on the screen, you have to go to System Preferences (the gear icon on the Dock bar) and click on the Time Machine icon. At this point, you must click on the Select Disk button, choose the disk you want to use for backup and accept its initialization by answering yes to the warning that appears on the screen. The disk will be formatted and all data on it will be erased.
Well: from now on, your Mac will constantly back up all the data on the disk (except for any data added to the exceptions, via the Options button located in the bottom right corner of the Time Machine configuration panel), so you’ll have several backups of your system to restore in case of emergency. For the backup to run automatically, there must be a check mark next to the Run backup automatically item.
To restore your Mac using Time Machine, you need to reboot your system and enter macOS Recovery mode by holding down the cmd+r keys on your keyboard during the boot phase (you can release the keypress when you see the apple icon appear).
Once you enter the Recovery menu, choose the option to use Italian as the main language, proceed to the next step by clicking the button with the arrow at the bottom center and, on the screen that opens, select the option Restore from Time Machine backup and click the Continue button at the bottom right twice.
Now, select the disk that contains Time Machine backups, click Continue, select the date to which you want to restore your Mac and click Continue again.
To finish, select the disk on your Mac, click the Unlock button, type in the system administration password (to unlock the disk from FireVault protection) and confirm the computer restore by clicking the Continue button.
The Mac will be restored to the state it was in on the date of the backup. All programs and data after that date will be removed from the computer. If you have any doubts or problems, check out my complete guide on Time Machine.
Reinstallation of macOS
If you do not have a Time Machine backup at your disposal, you can reinstall macOS on your computer using the Recovery menu. Restart your Mac by holding down cmd+r, wait for the Recovery menu to appear, set the language to Italian and click first on the Reinstall macOS item and then on the Continue button (bottom right) three times in a row.
After the download is complete, wait for the first macOS installation files to be copied to your computer and your computer will be restarted automatically. The next time you start your computer, the reinstallation of macOS is complete and you can start using your system again. Data and applications remain in place.
If any steps are unclear to you, check out my tutorial on how to reset your Mac. If, however, you want to perform a clean installation of macOS by formatting the contents of the disk, follow the directions I gave in my guide on how to format a MacBook (which also apply to iMacs).
Even on a Mac you can clone the disk and get, thus, a complete backup of your computer to restore in case of need (a bit like Time Machine works, but having a more granular control over the data to be saved and restored and, moreover, having the possibility to boot from the recovery disk).
To clone the disk of your Mac you can use the Carbon Copy Cloner program, which you can try for free for 30 days, after which it costs 34.65 euros: I told you about it in detail in my tutorials on how to clone the Mac hard drive and programs to clone hard drives.