How to Recover Files After a Factory Reset on Windows

Written by
Approved by
102

Recover files after factory reset

Usually, recovering accidentally deleted files is easy on Windows. The Recycle Bin holds on to deleted files for a while, giving you the opportunity to restore them whenever you want. But when you factory reset your computer, this method no longer works.

A factory reset wipes everything from memory, including installed applications and your personal files. This data cannot be found in the Recycle Bin either, making it seem permanently lost.

But that’s not true. The lost data is still there, hidden. And with the right methods, you can get it back.

Why might you need to factory reset your computer?

Factory reset is often the last recourse. When your PC is running at a snail’s pace or locked up by a virus, you have no other choice but to reset it. Here are some of the reasons why a factory reset might be needed by your computer:

To improve performance

By far the most popular reason to factory reset a computer is to get a performance boost. Applications and bloatware can clutter up your computer over the years, affecting its speed. You might have unwittingly changed some critical settings or installed apps that you rarely use.

Now, you can always go through your whole computer manually to weed out the trash. You can individually remove each application and fix every setting, and get similar results. But this can take too long, especially if you have been using the PC for a long time.

Factory reset is the quickest and easiest way to get your computer back to its original condition. You only have to reinstall the apps that you really need, and you are good to go.

To get rid of viruses

Another common reason to factory reset a computer is to remove persistent malware. Ideally, antivirus programs should be able to clean up all viruses and prevent them from doing any damage.

Some viruses, however, are not that easy to deal with. They can obtain root access to your computer and infect the boot record and the registry, making them impossible to remove. Your only recourse in such cases is to factory reset the PC.

To roll back an update

Sometimes Windows updates create more problems than they solve. It is not uncommon for a smoothly running PC to suddenly develop issues after an update. In such a case, you can usually roll back the update by uninstalling it.

Occasionally though, uninstalling an update doesn’t work. In such a case you might benefit from performing a factory reset, as that restores the PC to its default settings and a fresh installation of Windows.

To remove all data

Many people use factory reset to remove data from their laptops before selling or giving it away. This is seen as an easy and foolproof method to wipe a computer clean without having to delete each and every file manually.

But as we are going to demonstrate, it is possible to recover data from a factory reset computer. Anyone can use these methods to obtain your personal data. For permanently erasing information, you need to use a dedicated shredding tool that overwrites the drive multiple times.

How to recover files after a Factory Reset?

There are multiple ways of recovering lost files on Windows. You can use data recovery software or make use of a professional data recovery service. Here is a breakdown of how each of these methods works.

Paid Data Recovery Software (Disk Drill)

Paid data recovery applications are professional tools that can recover data from any type of storage media, no matter what the reason for losing that data. Formatting, accidental deletion, factory reset – these specialized applications can restore files removed due to any of these causes and more.

This is why it is recommended to use a paid data recovery application when you have a lot of data to restore, for example after a factory reset. We will be using Disk Drill for this guide, as it offers one of the best feature sets on both Windows and Mac. Of course, Disk Drill has a free version too, so you can follow along using that.

  1. To get the paid version of Disk Drill, head to the official website and click on the Upgrade to Pro button. You will be presented with a set of plans to choose from. You can buy any of the plans or just download the basic version to get started.Cleverfiles Disk Drill
  2. Run the setup to install Disk Drill on your computer.Disk Drill Setup
  3. Open Disk Drill and navigate through the initial setup screens. You will come to the main window displaying all the drives connected to your computer. Select the disk you want to scan and click on Search for lost data. For our purposes, it should be the drive with the biggest capacity.Disk Drill Main Screen
  4. While Disk Drill is scanning, it will keep sorting any files that are discovered by their file types. You can pause the scan and check out these files by clicking on Review found items.Disk Drill Scanning
  5. The files will show up in a File Explorer-like view, where you can expand folders to view their contents. You can also select which type of files you want to see from the categories on the left.Disk Drill Review Found Files
  6. To recover any files, select them by checking their boxes and then using the Recover all button.Disk Drill Recover File
  7. You will be prompted to choose a folder to save the recovered files to. Just make sure that the folder is not in the same drive you are recovering from, and you are good.Disk Drill Recovery Destination
  8. And that’s it. Your selected files will be recovered to the location you specified. If you are using a free version of Disk Drill, choose carefully, as these files cannot be of more than 500 MB collectively. On the paid version, you are free to recover as much as you like.Disk Drill File Recovered

Free Data Recovery Software (Recuva)

If you have more than 500 MB of data to recover and you don’t want to pay for it, Recuva might be a good option. Unlike other data recovery tools, Recuva does not limit the amount of data you can restore in its free version. You can save as many files as you want, free of charge.

The caveat? It is not that effective. The free version of Recuva can only recover the least ‘problematic’ files, performing only a basic recovery. To restore files that are more tricky to recover, or were overwritten, you need different tools.

Still, it is a great option to recover an unlimited number of files without paying a dime.

  1. Begin by downloading the free version of Recuva from the CCleaner website and installing it.Recuva Setup
  2. Running the application starts the Recuva Wizard. Click Next to continue.Recuva Wizard
  3. The first thing to select is the file type. You can choose to scan for just pictures, music, documents, etc, or go with All Files to find everything. Recuva Wizard File Type
  4. The next screen lets you specify where you want Recuva to scan. You can choose between common file locations like My Documents or even browse to a particular folder. Using the first option scans everywhere on your computer.Recuva Wizard Scan Location
  5. With this, you are ready to start scanning. There is an additional Deep Scan option that you should use when the normal scan fails to turn up with your files, as it takes much longer to get results.Recuva Wizard Ready
  6. The normal scan returns a list of results in a matter of minutes. All files are listed alongside their locations and chances of recovery, giving you a better look into what files you should save.Recuva Scan Results
  7. To actually recover any of the discovered files, check the boxes and hit the Recover button.Recuva Select File
  8. You will be prompted to specify a location to save the recovered files to. Make sure you do not use the same drive you were scanning as that can overwrite other files.Recuva Choose Destination
  9. And that’s it. Your files will be recovered and saved to the target location.Recuva File Recovered

Data Recovery Services

When all else fails, it is time to call in the experts. Many firms offer professional data recovery services to help regain lost data from any situation, even an unresponsive hard drive. If you cannot recover your files using any of the methods we mentioned, it might be worth trying this approach.

The recovery service offered by Cleverfiles is a good option, thanks to their ‘No Data – No Charge’ policy. Basically, if they fail to retrieve any useful data from your drive, you don’t have to pay a dime. They do not charge you for simply attempting a recovery.

Are there any ways to save data when restoring the PC?

Backups are an excellent method of preserving your data. The only problem? It needs to be set up beforehand.

There are many great applications that can create external backups. For built-in tools, there is File History, which backs up specified folders, and System Image, which backs up the whole disk. The problem with File History is that it is keyed to the specific system it was backed up with; it doesn’t work with a fresh Windows 10 installation. (Technically, you can make it work, but that is more of a workaround rather than a reliable feature).

What you need is a System Image. This option creates a perfect backup of the entire contents of your computer, including any installed applications. This way a factory reset can be completely reversed.

Creating a System Image

Before you factory reset your computer, you should take a few moments to create an external backup using a system image.

  1. The System Image will backup the entire contents of your drive, so you need an external hard drive with at least as much capacity as your current disk. Plug the external HDD into your computer.
  2. Now navigate to Settings > Update and Security > Backup.WIndows Backup
  3. The default backup option is by using File History. We don’t want that, so click on the Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7) instead.Backup and Restore Windows 7
  4. In the window that appears, there is an option to Create a system image on the left. Click on it.Create System Image
  5. All you now need is to choose the external drive you connected from the drop-down menu and click on Next. The entire contents of your Windows installation will be backed up to that drive.

Restoring from a System Image

Recovering data from a prepared system image is a rather straightforward process.

  1. First, you need to boot from the recover disk (or USB) you had created.Windows Setup
  2. Now head to advanced options, where you will find a button for System Image Recovery. Click on the icon and you will be prompted to choose the image file to recover from. Simply select the System Image and Windows will restore all data from it.Windows Setup Advanced Options

FAQ

Conclusion

Factory resetting your computer can be a good idea in many cases. The problem is, it is not easily reversible.

The best-case scenario is that you have made an external backup of your drive. That way, you can revert to how your computer functioned previously. Otherwise, you must use a data recovery tool to restore important files. Your applications, unfortunately, cannot be restored this way.

If all else fails, you should avail the help of a dedicated data recovery service. Usually, this step is not necessary, as data recovery software is good enough to recover files from a factory reset computer.

A frontend developer turned writer, Levin brings his in-depth knowledge to bear in breaking down complex technical topics into a layman's perspective. A believer in emergent technologies, Levin writes about Machine Learning and Internet-of-Things to explore how people and businesses can benefit from innovation. He also likes going into the nitty-gritty details of software or hardware products to bring an unbiased review that adds value to his readers.
Approved by
Strong knowledge in data recovery, computer forensic and data litigation. 12 years experience in software development, database administration and hardware repair.