How to: Reinstall or Restore your original Windows Installation After Upgrading to or Evaluating Windows 10

Technical Level : Intermediate


Please note this article details instructions about migrating from preview builds of Windows 10 to a previous version of Windows (Windows 7 or 8/8.1). Although the article discusses pre-release Windows 10 builds, the same instructions work if you are running the final version of Windows 10 and want to reinstall your previous version Windows.

The Windows 10 Previews currently available will eventually expire. The expectation among users should be that they will either need to upgrade to the final release or reinstall their previous version of Windows after they have completed their evaluation of the Windows 10 Preview. Microsoft officials recently indicated the intention of having the preview releases support upgrades to the final version. This is the intention, but of course, things can always change on the road to RTM. With the excitement surrounding the arrival of a new major release of Windows and the more public approach to testing Windows pre-release version, a lot of persons who are normally not exposed to beta testing are jumping in without hesitation.

If you decide to pay for the final release or you would like to restore your previous version of Windows, you will need to be prepared if this becomes the eventuality. The following wiki article shows you how.


If you upgraded or migrated your previous version of Windows to Windows 10 you can consider the Rollback option. If you have been diligently updating to each new build of Windows 10, you will be able to go back to the most recent build. If you somehow migrated from Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7/8/8.1 to Windows 10 and find out there is no option to go back, then you will have to prepare to do so manually. Microsoft has indicated when users upgrade or migrate to Windows 10, the recovery partition used to restore your system to its original factory state becomes inoperable. The recovery partition is used in the event you need to reinstall Windows on your computer.

What is the recovery partition?

Some computers that come preinstalled with Windows often have what is called a recovery partition. This is used to reinstall the operating system in the event of a system crash. To access it, you will need to boot into when you start your computer by pressing a function key. This can be either F1, F2, F9, F10, F11, F12 or even DEL or Tab key.

For some Windows XP, Vista and even Windows 7 users, if you don't have a recovery partition, you might have to use the recovery media that came with your computer to reinstall Windows. The recovery media often comes on a DVD or set of CDs that are sometimes labeled Recovery, Operating System, Drivers and are installed according to how the disc is labeled (Disc 1, Disc 2, Disc 3). Unfortunately, sometimes these discs get lost or damaged. Your best course of action is to request recovery media from the manufacturer of the computer.

Below is a link to all OEM contact numbers you can use to request recovery media from the maker of your computer.

What if you upgraded to a retail copy of Windows?

If you upgraded to a retail version of Windows, then you can use your reinstall disc to reinstall Windows on your computer. See links below for

instructions. If you have an upgrade version, this will require that you first reinstall the qualifying license in order to use the upgrade

version. Please see the links below for work arounds for doing a clean install with the upgrade version:

Reinstall Windows XP:

Install,reinstall, or uninstall Windows - Help & How-to ...

Reinstall Windows Vista: Installing and reinstalling Windows Vista

Reinstall Windows 7:

If you lost your reinstall disc, you can request a new one from the following link or for Windows Vista/Windows 7 users you can download a copy

from the following links and create a bootable copy.

How to Replace Lost, Broken, or Missing Microsoft Software or Hardware

Download the corresponding edition of Windows 7 you have a license for from the following link. You can identify the edition on the COA sticker attached to your machine, at the bottom or within the battery compartment (laptop) or top/side if its a desktop computer.
COA Certificate of Authenticity:
What is the Windows Certificate of Authenticity?

Windows Vista SP1:

(The above Windows Vista image allows you to install the appropriate edition by having the appropriate key).

UPDATE: Since publishing this article, Microsoft has discontinued availability of Windows 7 and Windows Vista ISO images through Digital River.

For the past 5 years Microsoft made it quite easy for users of the Windows 7 operating system to obtain reinstall media. If you lost your retail installation disc or recovery media; either it was damaged or faulty; you could download a copy of the edition you have a license for from an affiliate website named Digital River. Most recently, Microsoft ended availability of reinstall media which you could download as a .ISO file from Digital River, which is a digital replica of a optical disc.

This was especially handy for persons who could not easily obtain recovery media from the manufacturer, did not want to pay the cost required to obtain it or preferred a clean configuration without the manufacturers bundled software or even a non-functional recovery partition. It was easy to use, all you had to do was reinstall and reactivate using the product key located on the certificate of authenticity and download any appropriate drivers from the manufacturers website.

Since this option is no longer available, what are your options? See article for details:

How to: What are my options for obtaining Windows 7 reinstall media?

32 vs 64 bit

Is my PC running the 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows?

ImgBurn – In addtion to supporting the creation of CD’s from .ISO files,
it supports a wide range of other image file formats, and it’s free.

Note: Always use the slowest burn speed (4x or 2x) if offered a choice.

Windows 8/8.1

Windows 8/8.1 users are sometimes limited in this respect, this is especially true for owners of certain form factors such as Ultrabooks that do not have optical drives normally used to facilitate the restoration of a system. In this case, you will have to manually download a copy of Windows 8/8.1 in order to reinstall the operating system. Unfortunately, this can be quite a chore. Fortunately, due to possible feedback and ongoing refinements and third party advancements, reinstalling Windows 8/8.1 since its release in 2012 is a lot more convenient.

Downloading Windows 8/8.1 - things to take into consideration

If you were running Windows 8.0 prior to upgrading to Windows 10, think deeply whether you want to go back to this release or just go directly to Windows 8.1 with Update 1 which can be easily downloaded. Windows 8 users have until early 2016 to upgrade to Windows 8.1 with Update 1 in order to continue receiving support. January 2016 might seem like a long time away, but its best you do it now to save you all the trouble. Besides, its way more reliable, considering that for Windows 8 installations, upgrading to Update 1 is a staged process, you have to first upgrade to Windows 8.1 through the Store, then install Update 1 through Windows Update. By simply downloading Windows 8.1 with Update 1 media, you avoid all this.

How do you do it?

Microsoft recently released a new Media Creation Tool which you directly download and create a .ISO file for Windows 8.1 with Update 1.

Lets take a look at how that is done.

First download the Media Creation Tool from the following link and save it to your Downloads folder:

Double click Media Creation Tool file to launch setup.

Wait while setup begins

The following window allows you to select the Language, edition (Core or Pro), Architecture (32 or 64 bit).

The above example shows all of the selected options.

To determine if your system came preinstalled with Windows 8 Core or Pro, look at the bottom of your laptop or on the chassis of the machine for one of the stickers.

Source: Arstechnica

Choose how you want to prepare your files.

Install by creating media

This I think is one of the most important steps, a lot of persons do not have fast Internet Connections, or they are using metered Internet Connections which prohibits them from downloading large files using their ISP over a period of time. Windows 8 is a 2 GB download which is still significantly large for some Internet Connections.

USB flash drive

If you have a thumb drive with 3 GBs of available space, you can use that to create a bootable copy. Thumb drives are very cheap these days, so pick up a couple and create one as your first backup option. This is especially recommended for persons using Ultrabooks which do not include optical drives (DVD) or Netbooks. There are some desktop systems that do not include one.

ISO file

An ISO file is a digital or virtual replica of a physical disc. In order to use an ISO you must burn it to a optical disc. In the case of Windows 8, a blank DVD. If you are using Windows 7, you can create the .ISO and burn it using the built in Disc Image utility. If you are running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you can using a third party burning tool such as ImgBurn or Roxio/Nero.

Creating a .ISO file

For the purposes of this exercise, we are gonna use the .ISO option.

Select ISO file, then click Save

Select your location and click Save.

Wait while the .ISO image is created.

After obtaining the .iso file you use the Microsoft .iso to USB/DVD tool to create a bootable DVD or USB (requires a blank DVD or USB flash stick of at least 4 GB).

Starting the installation.

To learn how to change your BIOS options to boot from the DVD drive, see the following tutorial:

Once your computer is set to boot from the DVD, you should see this option.

If you are installing from a thumb drive, see the following instructions how to prepare your computer to boot from one:

The Windows logo will appear on screen, this might be here for a while, as long as you see the indicater, everything should be ok.

The setup screen will eventually appear, select your time and currency format then click Next.

Click Install Now

Wait while setup starts up

You will be prompted for a product key during setup. You can use a generic key which you can find at the following link.

Accept the End User License agreement and click Next

Click Custom install Windows only (advanced)

Select the system drive where Windows 8 is installed.

You will receive the following warning:
The partition you selected might contain files from a previous Windows Installation. If it does, these files and folders will be moved to a folder named Windows.old. You will be able to access the information in Windows.old, but you will be able to use your previous version of Windows.

(At all cost, do NOT click anything named Format or Delete or Partition. So even doing a custom install, your personal files are still preserved. Click OK
Setup will now start the installation. During the installation, your machine will be restarted several times.

When the installation is complete, you can complete the Out of Box experience such as selecting your computer, create a username, password, your time zone. You can then proceed to download the latest updates for Windows and reinstall your applications and drivers.

Windows 8 Out of Box Experience page

You can then recover your personal files from the Windows.old folder and reinstall all your applications and drivers. Or you can use Windows Easy Transfer to restore your backup.
How to retrieve your files from the Windows.old folder – Microsoft

Retrieve your product key:

With Windows 8, Microsoft has changed from stickers that have the product key that the user has to type in when installing the operating system to new BIOS embedded product keys. The idea is that by eliminating the sticker, you eliminate one of the easier ways for nefarious users to get a legitimate product key. Eliminating the product key sticker also removes any worry that the sticker might get damaged while at the same time eliminating the long and irritating process of typing in various letters and numbers when installing the operating system.

If the user has to reinstall the operating system on a machine that came with Windows 8, the installation process automatically grabs the software product key from the motherboard BIOS with no input from the user. This means that those familiar Windows product key stickers will no longer appear on the Windows 8 computers.

If Windows 8 setup did not retrieve your key and you had to use a generic key from the link provided, here is how to retrieve the product key from the BIOS.

Windows 10 Embedded Product Key tool by Neosmart

Designed for users of Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10, our embedded product key tool will retrieve and display the Windows setup product key embedded in the BIOS or EFI, allowing you to store it for safe-keeping or use it to reinstall Windows with an official Windows setup image.

You can download it at the following link:

Press Windows key + R

Type: slui.exe 3

Hit Enter

Enter the product key and click Next to activate over the Internet.

You can also use phone activation:

Press Windows key + X then clickRun, then type: slui.exe 4

2. Next press the 'ENTER' key

3. Select your 'Country' from the list.

4. Choose the 'Phone Activation' option.

5. Stay on the phone (do not select/press any options) and wait for a person to help you with activation.

6. Explain your problem clearly to the support person.


How to dual boot the latest Windows build with previous versions of Windows

How to setup a virtual machine using Hyper-V

Please do not hesitate to share your feedback and suggestions, this is a huge undertaking and again underscores the benefits of dual booting instead which is a lot more convenient and less destructive.


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Last updated June 25, 2019 Views 107,692 Applies to:

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Earlier press about Windows 10 hinted that the switch from IE to a new browser (Spartan?) would provide Microsoft with a pathway to somehow gain revenue from the browser. I am wondering how this may affect the ability to stay on the Win 10 technical preview and transition to the Win 10 sans IE system?
You said the press, which means, its speculation. Microsoft has not even acknowledged the existence of Spartan. Microsoft will clarify the future of Windows and its web browser strategy on January 21st 2015.
Windows Insider MVP
MVP-Windows and Devices for IT
Thank you for this article! It's the only one of about fifteen web pages that told me what happens to the recovery partition when installing Windows 10. (It gets wiped.) I have an 8 inch tablet with no keyboard or mouse, and only a micro USB port, so I really needed to know.
You can grumble. We won't byte.

Hello Teo,

The Windows 10 Preview is not syncronized with my live.account but displays old recovery gmail address. What do I do?  Reinstall or uninstall?

Please advise or refer.



hi guys you can go back by going to settings< system<go back to previous version of windows 

Thanks , just decided to let a technician fix it for me and restore it out of the box.
Can't I recover the working Windows 7 from the backup I made before "upgrading" to Windows 10?
so i have been looking for help and not getting none from any one but my windows 7 home desk top was running fine, tell i got a virus so i did a factory reinstall and now it keeps asking for a product key witch it never did before. i have a windows.old folder but how do i find the product key in the windows old folder please help.

When I am clicking on Activate Windows. It is not working.

My start menu and cortana are not working. But my computer is running fine where else some windows apps are not working.

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