How to erase my hard drive and start over?

Updated: 12/30/2021 by Computer Hope
Computer hard drive

Most computers have a system restore disc or built-in restore process on the hard drive to reset the computer to the original or default settings (factory reset). Resetting, formatting, or restoring, a computer helps eliminate issues with computer software, including corrupt program files and virus infections. Instructions on how to restore your computer back to the original software are provided below.

Warning

Restoring your computer erases all the information on the hard drive and makes it like new. Once the steps below are completed, you cannot restore any lost data. Back up any files you do not want to lose before proceeding with the restore process.

Tip

If you have an OEM computer (e.g., Acer, ASUS, Dell, or HP), you likely have a hidden system recovery partition and don't need a disc to restore your computer.

Erasing the hard drive and reinstalling Windows

To erase your hard drive and reinstall Windows, select a link below for your version of Windows and follow the steps.

Tip

If you're erasing everything and reinstalling Windows, an administrator login name or password isn't needed.

Windows 11

Follow these instructions to erase or uninstall and reinstall Windows 11.

  1. Open the Start menu.
  2. Select the Settings app (Windows 10 Settings icon.).
Tip

If you don't see the Settings app in the Start menu, click the magnifying glass icon on the taskbar. In the text field at the top of the search window, type settings and press Enter.

  1. In the Settings window, click the System option in the left navigation menu.

Windows 11 Settings - System option

  1. Scroll down on the right side of the window and select the Recovery option.
  2. On the right side of the Recovery window, under Recovery options, click the Reset PC button.

Windows 11 Settings - Recovery options

  1. Choose the Keep my files or Remove everything option, depending on if you want to preserve your files or delete everything and start over.
  2. Follow the prompts to begin the recovery process.

Windows is reset, keeping your files intact or erasing everything, depending on the option you selected above in step 6.

Windows 10

Follow these instructions to erase or uninstall and reinstall Windows 10.

  1. Press the Windows key, type Settings, and then press Enter.
  2. In the Settings window, select the Update & security option.

Update & Security icon.

  1. Select the Recovery (A) option in the left navigation pane, and then click the Get started button (B).

Starting the recovery process Windows 10.

  1. Choose the Keep my files or Remove everything option, depending on if you want to preserve your files or delete everything and start over.

Reset this PC options.

  1. Follow the prompts to begin the recovery process. Once the process completes, Windows is reset.

Windows 8

Follow these instructions to erase and reinstall Windows 8.

  1. Press the Windows key+C to open the Charms menu.
  2. Select the Search option and type reinstall in the Search text field (do not press Enter).
  3. Select the Settings option.
  4. On the left side of the screen, select Remove everything and reinstall Windows.
  5. On the Reset your PC screen, click Next.
  6. On the Do you want to fully clean your drive screen, select Just remove my files to do a quick deletion or select Fully clean the drive to have all files erased.
  7. On the Ready to reset your PC screen, click Reset.

Your files or all files on the hard drive are removed, depending on the option you selected in step 6, and then Windows 8 is reinstalled.

Windows 7 and Vista

To restore a Windows 7 or Vista computer, you must have a set of restore discs for the computer or an original Windows 7 or Vista installation disc. If you do not have a set of restore discs, contact the computer manufacturer to order a new set or restore discs.

Note

Before following the steps below, make sure the computer is set to boot from the CD-ROM drive.

  1. Insert the Windows 7 or Vista installation CD in the CD-ROM drive and restart the computer.
  2. When you see the message "Press any key to boot from CD," press a key on the keyboard.
  3. Press Enter at the Windows Setup welcome screen.
  4. When prompted, press any key on your keyboard.
  5. On the Install Windows screen, select your preferred language and other preferences, then click Next.
  6. On the License Agreement screen, accept the terms and agreements, and then click Next.
  7. On the Installation Type screen, choose the Custom option.
  8. Select the Drive Options (advanced) option.
  9. For Disk 0, delete all partitions. When all partitions are deleted, a single entry named "Unallocated space" should be seen.
  10. Click Disk 0 and select Next.

The Windows installation process starts by creating a new partition, formatting the partition, and installing Windows on the hard drive. The formatting process erases the hard drive before installing Windows.

Windows XP and 2000

To restore a Windows XP or 2000 computer, you must have a set of restore discs for the computer or an original Windows XP or 2000 installation disc. If you do not have a set of restore discs, contact the computer manufacturer to order a new set or restore discs.

Note

Before following the steps below, make sure the computer is set to boot from the CD-ROM drive.

  1. Insert the Windows XP/2000 installation CD in the CD-ROM drive and restart the computer.
  2. When you see the message "Press any key to boot from CD," press a key on the keyboard.
  3. Press the Enter key at the Windows XP Setup welcome screen, then press F8 to accept the Terms and Agreements.
  4. Follow the on-screen instructions to select a hard drive partition to format and install Windows XP.
  5. After formatting the hard drive, which erases all data, see our steps for reinstalling Windows.

Earlier versions of Windows and DOS

Follow these instructions to erase and reinstall MS-DOS 5.0+, Windows 3.x, 95, 98, ME, or NT 4.0.

Formatting the drive

  1. Place the bootable diskette or disc inside the computer and reboot to get to the DOS prompt. In some cases, you may need to boot the computer with CD-ROM support or press a key to boot from the disk.
  2. At the MS-DOS prompt, type format c: /s and press Enter.
Note

If the "format c: /s" command does not work, you may need to download the format.com file to your boot disk.

  1. The computer asks "Are you sure you want to erase everything on drive c:?" If you are ok with doing this, enter "Y" for yes and press Enter.
  2. The computer begins the formatting process. While the computer is formatting, make sure no errors are encountered.
  1. Once the format process is completed successfully, at the MS-DOS prompt, type fdisk /mbr and press Enter. After entering this command, it should return you to the MS-DOS prompt with no message. This step is not required, but recommended.
  1. Once back at the MS-DOS prompt, reboot the computer with the boot disk still inserted and follow the steps below to reinstall Windows on the hard drive.

Windows NT 4.0

Windows NT can be installed in different ways. We recommend Windows NT be installed using the steps below as we feel that these steps by far are the easiest way to install Windows NT 4.0.

First, we recommend all users wanting to install Windows NT use the /b switch, which allows the users to not need to create the diskettes. We do, however, recommend the user create the emergency recover diskettes if they have not already been created after the installation of Windows NT.

Finally, before the installation of Windows NT, we recommend you run smartdrv, which helps the installation of Windows NT run a lot faster.

  1. Place the CD into the computer.
  2. Type X: (where X is the CD-ROM drive, often the D:).
  3. Once at the appropriate drive, type cd winnt and press Enter to get to the Windows 95 directory.
  4. Once at the X:\WINNT> prompt, type winnt /b.
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.

Windows 95 with a backup CD

  1. Place the CD in the computer.
  2. Type X: (where X is the CD-ROM drive, often the D:).
  3. Once at the appropriate drive, type cd win95 and press Enter to get to the Windows 95 directory.
  4. Once at the X:\WIN95> prompt, type setup to begin the installation.
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.

If you are encountering issues during the setup process, you can add additional switches to the setup command line. These switches are on our Windows 95 setup switches page.

Windows 95 with floppy diskettes

  1. Place the first diskette of Windows 95 in the computer.
  2. At the A:\> prompt, type setup and press Enter to begin the installation.
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.

Windows 3.x

  1. Place the first diskette of Windows 3.x in the computer.
  2. At the A:\> prompt, type setup and press Enter to begin the installation.
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.

MS-DOS

  1. Place the first MS-DOS diskette into the computer.
  2. At the A:\> prompt, type setup and press Enter to being the installation.
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.