Resetting your laptop is one of the most powerful munitions you’ve got in your troubleshooting armory. It puts your Windows, macOS, or Chrome OS computer back to the state it was in when you first got it home from the store, and that means you’ve got none of the clutter, or bugs, that may have built up in the time since.
Thankfully, the process is much easier than it used to be. Microsoft, Apple, and Google have put tools for the job right inside their operating systems, while applications have come to rely more and more on the cloud, so your important data is most likely already backed up somewhere online ready to be redownloaded.
Resetting gadgets has become something of a cliché when it comes to getting them working again, but that’s because it’s actually an effective tactic. As time goes on, software can get bloated, settings files can become corrupt, and your computer’s drive can fill up with superfluous stuff you don’t really need—not unlike your house.
Not only that, but a reset wipes out most—but not necessarily all—malware and other unwanted programs that may have found their way onto your system. After you’ve put your computer back to square one, you’re essentially starting from scratch with the opportunity to load only the apps and files you really need.
Once upon a time, this process was fraught with difficulty and danger; one false move and your photo library could be lost forever. But nowadays it’s straightforward and swift enough for most people to manage it without much trouble.
That said, make absolutely sure that you’ve got everything that you need backed up before you get started. Where are your important photos, videos, and documents? Can you reinstall all of the software you rely on from the web? Are all your browser passwords and other data synced somewhere safe?
Services like Netflix and Spotify mean we no longer keep as much stuff on our computers as we once did, but do a full audit of everything you have saved locally. It’s going to be wiped, so make sure it’s safely stored somewhere else. If you haven’t already, signing up for a cloud storage service or attaching an external hard drive can help here.
With those preparations out of the way, you’re ready to reset your laptop and enjoy all of the benefits that it brings.
Open the Windows Settings panel via the cog icon on the Start menu, then select Update & Security and Recovery. Click Get started under Reset this PC to begin the reset process. Windows itself recommends that going through a reset might be a good way of improving the performance of a computer that isn’t running well.
On the next screen, Windows gives you the option of removing everything or keeping your personal files—essentially what you’ve got saved on the desktop and in the designated user folders (Documents, Pictures, Music and so on). Don’t assume that Windows will know where all your personal files are kept. In other words, make sure they’re still backed up, just in case.
Pick Keep my files to reset Windows core settings and files without interfering with your personal stuff; pick Remove everything for a more comprehensive wipe, which means you’ll need to add your files again later from your backup.
Before the reset starts, click Change settings to choose whether the Data erasure feature is enabled; this essentially overwrites data on disk and makes sure it can’t be recovered. It’s off by default, but it’s a good idea to turn it on if you’re selling your laptop or giving it away. Otherwise you can leave it be.
Click Reset to confirm and the process gets underway; it might take a while, so be patient. When Windows reappears, if you’ve chosen the Remove everything option, you’ll need to log in again from scratch using your Microsoft account credentials, and put all your programs and files back in place.
The process of resetting a MacBook is slightly more involved than it is with Windows, as there’s no option built into the main operating system interface. Once you’ve backed up all your stuff, you need to restart your Mac—Apple menu then Restart—and then hold down Cmd+R while the computer boots up, which should take you to the macOS Utilities screen.
Here you can pick Reinstall macOS if you just want to reset the key parts of the operating system without touching any of your personal files (though we’d still recommend having them backed up), just in case. This installs the latest macOS version you were currently running, and you’ll need to select the drive where the OS is located. On most Macs it’ll be the only drive listed.
You should try that basic reinstall first, but if it still doesn’t give you the performance and decluttering boost you need, you can move on to a more comprehensive reset of your laptop. Once you’ve made extra certain that anything you care about is safely backed up, you can blitz everything by choosing Disk Utility. When the Disk Utility appears, delete any drive volumes with “Data” labels—typically there’ll be one Macintosh HD – Data entry that you need to select and delete. With that done, select Macintosh HD—your main startup disk—and click Erase, then follow the prompts.
Choose a name to give the disk once it’s been reset; “Macintosh HD” will do just fine again unless you’ve got a good reason to change it. Then accept the suggested format. Once you’ve confirmed your choices, the utility goes about the business of wiping the drive.
After that’s done, you can go back to the Reinstall macOS option we mentioned above—choose the Macintosh HD drive, or whatever you called it, as the destination drive.
The good news when it comes to Chromebooks is that Chrome OS is inherently very cloud-focused. Just about everything is already stored on the web, which means there are no software programs or data files cluttering up the local disk. You probably don’t need to reset a Chromebook quite as often as its Windows and macOS counterparts, but doing so can still be useful.
You first need to log out to the main user account screen, then hit Ctrl+Alt+Shift+R. This brings up the reset screen. Click Restart, and when the computer restarts, choose Powerwash and Continue. The laptop is reset back to its factory settings, and you’ll need to register your Google account with the device again.