Reinstalling Windows 10 is necessary for many scenarios, such as addressing severe infections or corruption, cleaning your computer, or downgrading from Windows 11. However, your drive needs to be prepared in order to set up the operating system – that means your data may become collateral during the cleanup.
This article is a guide on how to reinstall Windows 10 without losing data. Below are 4 safe methods with step-by-step instructions to secure your data before and during reinstallation. Read on.
Can I Reinstall Windows 10 Without Losing Files?
Yes! It’s possible to reinstall Windows 10 without losing files. In fact, there are a few different ways a user can do it. However, the ideal method for each user depends on a couple of factors. To make it easier for you to figure out which method to use, we created a menu where you can jump to the recommended method for your specific case.
Before proceeding with reinstalling Windows 10, we strongly suggest you follow the backup section of this article first.
I can’t boot into Windows and I have a bootable flash drive (like a USB stick).
I have Windows 10 Previous Versions.
I don’t have Windows 10 Previous Versions and I don’t have a bootable drive.
I can’t boot into Windows and I don’t have a bootable flash drive.
If you suspect Windows 10 is malfunctioning due to physical damage to the system drive, then we highly suggest you send your device to a professional data recovery service and have them secure your data before your computer stops working. DIY attempts on a physically damaged drive will likely result in permanent data loss.
How to Back Up Data Before Windows 10 Reinstallation
Before proceeding with reinstallation, we highly suggest that you first create an image backup of your drive in case something goes wrong. As opposed to a regular backup, an image backup copies your entire drive byte-per-byte, including cache files and other easy-to-overlook data.
Our backup tool of choice for this demonstration is a data recovery software called Disk Drill Data Recovery. It’s not only powerful and easy to use, but its byte-to-byte backup feature is 100% free. We’ll also be using Disk Drill in one of the methods in the next section.
- Download and install Disk Drill for Windows, then launch it.
- On the left sidebar, click Drive Backup. Then, select your hard drive from the middle pane and click Byte-to-byte backup.
- In the dialogue box that appears, select a destination folder on a separate drive (like a USB stick) for your image backup file. Click OK to proceed.
- Once the image creation is complete, you will see the screen below.
While Disk Drill’s image backup feature is free, recovery is free for only 500 MB. Disk Drill is an excellent software overall, but you can also choose to back up your files by copying and pasting them to a different drive. It’s just not going to be as comprehensive. For more info on Disk Drill, read our full Disk Drill review.
You can also use Disk Drill to recover files after a factory reset or for reinstalling Windows 10 without creating a backup, but this step ensures 100% recoverability.
How to Reinstall Windows 10 Without Losing Data
Below are 4 solutions that will allow you to reinstall Windows 10 without losing data. Whichever you choose should depend on your personal situation (we built you a menu here). We also highly recommend you read the last section if you haven’t, where we show you a reliable way to back up your data before proceeding with reinstallation.
Method 1. Repair Windows 10 from Installation Media
Method 1 is to use Windows installation media to perform a system restore on your computer. This process will repair Windows 10 without losing data, but it will clear out any recently installed apps or drivers (but you can opt to keep programs). However, you’ll need a flash drive to store the installation media and a working computer to install the tool on your drive. We’ll show you how to do it:
If you can boot into Windows on your computer, you don’t need a bootable drive. Follow this guide on your own PC but select ISO File in Step 6. Once the process is complete, right-click the ISO file and click Mount. Run setup.exe from the ISO and follow the wizard. On the “Choose what to keep” screen, you can opt to reinstall Windows 10 without losing apps or just keep your personal data.
- Connect your flash drive to a working computer.
- On the working computer, download the Windows Installation Media from Microsoft’s official website.
- Read the license terms and click Accept.
- Select Create installation media for another PC and click Next.
- Select your language, edition, and whether you want to install a 64-bit or 32-bit version of Windows. You can also allow Windows to recommend your settings. Then, click Next.
- Select USB flash drive and click Next.
- Select your flash drive and click Next.
- Once the installation process is complete, click Finish.
- Safely eject your drive from the working computer and connect it to your non-booting PC. Then, turn it on.
- Your computer should automatically boot into the installation media. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to change your boot order – check your computer’s manufacturer’s website for directions. In the initial screen, set up your preferences and click Next.
- Click Repair your computer.
- Select Troubleshoot > Advanced Options, and click System Restore to proceed.
Method 2. Perform Startup Repair
If you can’t boot into the Windows environment and you don’t have a bootable flash drive to repair Windows, you can perform a Startup Repair. This built-in tool diagnoses and automatically fixes startup problems. Once you can boot into Windows, you can proceed to Method 4. To access Startup Repair:
If you are dealing with a problematic operating system, performing just this method will allow you to fix Windows 10 without reinstalling.
- Turn off your PC.
- Then, turn it on and hold the power button once you see anything show up on your screen. Do this one more time (total of 2x).
- On the third time powering up your PC, let it continue to start until you see the Automatic Repair screen.
- Click Advanced options > Troubleshoot > Advanced options > Startup Repair and follow the instructions.
Method 3. Recover Windows 10 Using Previous Versions/Reset This PC
Windows has a built-in tool that allows users to reverse any changes to the operating system that caused problems. To do this, it rolls back your PC and removes recently installed apps and settings but keeps your personal files. Here’s how to use it:
- Hit the Windows + X keys and click Settings.
- Select Update & Security.
- Select Recovery on the left side bar and click Get Started under Reset this PC (or Go back to the previous version of Windows 10).
- Select Keep my files.
- Select Local reinstall.
- Click Next and follow the wizard to reinstall Windows 10 on your PC.
Method 4. Retrieve Data from Byte-to-Byte Backup
If you performed a byte-to-byte backup by following this guide at the beginning of the article, you can easily restore your data after formatting your computer, even if you don’t use any of the other methods we went through above and even after a fresh install of Windows 10 or 11. This applies to any backup tool and recovery tools you used.
However, because Disk Drill creates an image backup and not just a file backup, you can reinstall Windows 10 without losing programs as well as your personal data. For this task, we’ll use the data recovery function of Disk Drill and set the image backup file as our recovery target. Here’s how:
You can also use Disk Drill to recover your data after reinstalling Windows even if you don’t create a backup. Just set your system drive as the recovery target in the drive selection screen of the Disk Drill app and make sure to save the recovered data in a different drive to avoid overwriting. However, creating a byte-to-byte backup ensures 100% recoverability, while this method does not.
- Launch the Disk Drill app.
- At the bottom of the main window, click Attach disk image…
- Locate the image backup file we created earlier in the article and select it. Then, click Choose.
- Select your image backup from the main window and click Search for lost data.
- Wait for Disk Drill to complete its scan. Then, click Review found items.
- Disk Drill can usually recover data with original folder structure (especially from a backup), so you can review files and folders the same way as you would in Explorer. If you use the search bar in the top-right corner, you can recover deleted files by name or extension. Select your files one by one by ticking the boxes in the leftmost column or tick the box beside the Name category to select everything. Then, click Recover.
- Select a destination folder for your recovered files and click Next to proceed with the recovery.
The process of reinstalling Windows 10 will usually wipe your data – however, as we discussed in this article, it’s possible to do it without losing any data. You’ll just have to take a few extra steps to secure your files. For even more security, we strongly urge our readers to routinely create both image and file backups on external storage devices and in the cloud. There are a lot of factors out of the user’s control that can cause Windows and its tools to malfunction.
Alejandro Santos was both a tech guy and a writer early on in his life. As a kid, you’d find him in his uncle’s repair shop helping fix customers’ computers. Today, you’ll find his work on data recovery and software testing published on multiple tech websites, continuing to help users from afar.
Andrey Vasilyev is an Editorial Advisor for Handy Recovery. Andrey is a software engineer expert with extensive expertise in data recovery, computer forensics, and data litigation. Andrey brings over 12 years of experience in software development, database administration, and hardware repair to the team.