How to Reset a Laptop to Factory Settings Without Backup Disks

By Jane Williams

With a recovery partition, you can return your laptop to factory settings.
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Just about everyone has needed to wipe a computer to enjoy a fresh, clean start or sell to someone else. In the early days of computing, you needed the original installation discs to return the machine to factory defaults. As of November 2013, you no longer need external discs to wipe and restore your computer, as Windows offers a built-in recovery partitions on your hard drive, giving you the capability to handle factory reset for you.

Before You Begin

As you prepare to reset your laptop to factory default settings, keep in mind this will completely wipe your hard drive and reinstall the operating system. All your personal data is erased, including the software you installed after originally setting up your laptop. Before starting the reset procedure, back up all your personal files and gather the programs you'd like to reinstall. Make sure you have all serial numbers and registration information to ensure a smooth reinstallation process and make sure that your system is back up and running quickly. Disconnect any external devices, such as printers or monitors, and collect the installation discs for them to reconnect later.

Windows 7 and 8

In both Windows versions 7 and 8, you can find the program to start the recovery procedure under Recovery Manager. Open “Start” and type “recovery” into the Search box, if you can't find it under the Programs list. Open “Recovery Manager” and select the appropriate “Recovery” option to return your system to factory condition. The software will walk you through the process, so read the prompts carefully to continue. If your laptop's recovery partition is still functioning properly -- meaning files weren't accidentally deleted or damaged via a virus -- the machine will wipe your data and reinstall all factory-installed software.

From the Boot Menu

If your laptop suffered some functional problem, such as malware attack or other issue preventing it from booting properly, you can start the recovery procedure from the boot menu. Windows 8 typically opens the Automatic Repair screen if it encounters a problem, allowing you to attempt to repair the damage from there and move on to restoring to factory default. Different laptop manufacturers offer an F number key as an entry to the boot menu, and this key differs depending on which brand of laptop you have. HP laptops use the F11 key, while Dell computers use F8. Check with your laptop manufacturer for the specific key and press it repeatedly as your laptop attempts to boot to open the boot menu.

If All Else Fails

Your laptop's recovery files must be in proper working order to perform a non-disc factory reset, and if any of these files are missing or damaged, it will not work. If your laptop can't perform a factory reset using its internal files, you may need to use backup discs. Most laptop manufacturers offers these for order from their websites, or you can look in your computer manual for information about recovery discs. Check your manufacturer's website for full information and technical support.