Windows 8.1: Refresh – With and Without Refresh image

DellWindowsReinstallationGuide is written and maintained by Philip Yip. 



Thanks in advance for leaving any donations Philip.

Introduction – The Free Upgrade to Windows 10 Version 1709

Windows 8.1 Reached End of Mainstream Support in January 2018. Extended Support lasts until January 2023. For more details see End of Support.

Microsoft are keen for you to Upgrade to Windows 10. The Upgrade is Free and you may directly Clean Install Windows 10 Version 1709 (September 2017) or perform an Upgrade Install of Windows 10 Version 1709 (September 2017).

Windows 10 Version 1709 (September 2017 Build 16299) is a polished and a very stable build and I would recommend installing it in all cases instead of Windows 8.1:


Since Windows 10 Version 1511 (November 2015) was released Microsoft have a proper Digital Distribution and activation mechanism for Windows 10 supporting all Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 OEM licenses including Windows 8.1 with Bing and Windows 8.1 Single Language with Bing.

See Windows OEM FAQs and Downloads for instructions in Downloading a Windows 10 .iso, Creating a Bootable USB and Clean Installing Windows 10 or performing an Upgrade Install to Windows 10.

This guide has a complimentary set of tutorial videos.

What is a Refresh?

The Windows Refresh feature is essentially a Reinstallation of Windows for Windows 8 and later which does not affect the user files in:

  • Desktop
  • Documents
  • Downloads
  • Favourites
  • Music
  • OneDrive*
  • Pictures
  • Video

* Not tested in this example.

The following folders and all their contents are replaced during the Refresh. Any files added to these directories after the refresh image is made will be removed:

  • AppData
  • Program Data
  • Program Files (x86)
  • Program Files
  • Temporary Internet Files
  • Windows

The following folder in my test was removed using a refresh with Windows installation media but was left intact with a custom refresh image:

  • Recycle Bin

This includes any installed programs (which go in the Program Files (x86) and Program Files folders) and the Windows Registry.

These locations are all system folders and temporary files which can get clogged up and tend to slow down the overall performance of your system.

Windows Store Apps will be uninstalled and automatically reinstalled via the Windows Store when connected online. Desktop applications will all be uninstalled and listed in a html document on the Desktop.

There are two means of refreshing:

  • Clean Install – No Refresh Image → Requires Installation Media → No System Drivers or Desktop Applications
  • Clean Install/Factory Install – Uses Refresh Image/Factory Partition → System Drivers and Desktop Applications present when the Refresh Image or Factory Partition was created.

Installation Media for a Refresh

If you have not created a refresh image and hence require installation media for a refresh see Download Windows 8.1 OEM and Retail .iso. For the Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Center Edition use media from the base license.

e.g. if you went from Windows 8.1 Pro to Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Centre use the Windows 8.1 Pro .iso.

The refresh will keep your Windows 8.1 Pro with Media Centre product activation.

I have not done any testing with the Windows 8.1 with Bing Editions which are not downloadable but its likely that performing a refresh with another Edition of Windows 8.1 installation media will work fine for the Bing Editions retaining their product activation. I have used Windows 8.1 media to refresh a Windows 8.1 Pro install retaining the product activation.

Performing a Refresh

To begin the Refresh, right click the Start button and left click Shutdown or Sign Out and then left click Restart while holding down the [Shift] key.

refresh 1

Select Troubleshoot.


Then select refresh your PC.


Windows will then prepare to Refresh.


It will prompt you to login with an administrative account.


You may change your keyboard options, they should be at default otherwise you can just select your password and then select continue:


My keyboard options are set to United Kingdom for instance:


Windows will then look for a refresh image to begin the refresh. This is usually a factory partition or a user prescribed refresh folder:


If it cannot find one, it will prompt you to insert installation media and use the Windows files from the installation media to perform the refresh.

If Windows installation media is used, you will lose all Desktop applications installed including Dell system drivers and these will need to be reinstalled after the refresh. If a custom refresh image is utilised; it will use the copy of Window installation files from the time the image was made. For instance one can make a working refresh image with all the Dell system drivers and a select number of preinstalled software such as Microsoft Office.


Windows will then tell you what the refresh does. To continue with the refresh select next.


Select Refresh and it will begin.


Everything else is automated. When its finished you'll be prompted to login and will be presented with a fresh set of Windows installation files with your user files left intact.

Product activation should be maintained. My system was offline and retained the product activation.

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