New Data Recovery Options in Windows 8


Microsoft introduces three new data backup and recovery features in Windows 8: File History, Refresh, and Reset. File History allows users to restore deleted files or previous versions of files. Refresh lets you restore the Windows system files—much like System Restore—and Reset is essentially a factory restore option. Here you’ll discover exactly what each of these recovery features does and how to use them.

File History Replaces the Previous Files Feature

The File History feature is basically an enhanced version of the Previous Versions feature introduced back in Windows 7. Both create incremental backup copies of files that you can restore in case you accidentally delete or modify them, or if they become corrupt. You can go in and restore a file or folder to a previously saved state.

In Windows 7, file backups for Previous Versions were made when Windows created a new system restore point (usually daily) or when a Windows Backup was initiated. Once you enable File History in Windows 8, however, it’s set by default to take snapshots of new or changed files every hour. Additionally, File History must backup to an external drive or network location, whereas Previous Versions in Windows 7 backed up to your main Windows drive. If using an external drive you can still use the drive for other storage purposes, but keep in mind you want it plugged into the computer as much as you can.

To access the File History settings in Windows 8, open the Control Panel: put your cursor in the bottom left corner of Windows, right-click, and select Control Panel, and then open File History.

Figure 1: File History settings in the Control Panel.

If you have an external drive plugged in you can simply click Turn On, otherwise you can choose a network location for the backups.

From the File History Control Panel applet you can click “Restore personal files” to open a File History browser to navigate through the saved versions of files and initiate a backup.

Figure 2: Browsing through the saved versions of files created from File History.

Alternatively, when you’re browsing through files in Windows Explorer, you can always hit the History button to view its saved copies of File History.

Figure 3: This is the button you can hit when browsing files to access it’s previously saved copies.

In the Advanced Settings of File History, you can customize how often to save copies of files, maximum percentage of disk space to use, and how long to keep the saved copies. For workgroup environments you might also want to recommend the File History drive to others in the Homegroup.

Figure 4: Here you can change the advanced settings of File History.

Refresh offers a New Repair Install Option

Refresh is like an improved version of the Repair Install option offered back in Windows XP. When you do a Refresh it backs up all the personal files and metro-style apps before reinstalling Windows. It doesn’t, however, retain the traditional desktop applications but it puts a list of them in an HTML file on the desktop. However, if a backup image of the PC was created ahead of time, Refresh will restore your PC to that image, which would include the desktop applications that were installed.

The best part of Refresh: Microsoft claims that the process can take less than 10 minutes regardless of how much personal data is backed up.

You can initiate a Refresh via the metro-style Settings app:

  1. Bring up the right charms bar and select Settings.
  2. Choose Change PC settings.
  3. Select the General settings tab.
  4. On the right under the “Refresh your PC without affecting your files” section, select the Get started button.

Figure 5: Here’s where you’d initiate a Refresh.

Performing a Reset

Reset is like the Microsoft approach to a complete factory restore, typically offered by PC vendors. It’s useful when you want to recycle or sell your computer. After you transfer your personal files over to a new computer you can do a Reset on the old one to completely wipe it, so no traces of personal data are left.

Performing a Reset would remove all data and then reinstall Windows, putting it in the same condition as when it was started the first time. This process take anywhere from less than 10 minutes to up to 25 minutes, according to Microsoft.

The Regular Reset option formats the drive before reinstalling Windows, while the Thorough option writes random patterns to every sector of the drive, to reduce the chances of data being recoverable.

You can initiate a Reset via the metro-style Settings app:

  1. Bring up the right charms bar and select Settings.
  2. Choose Change PC settings.
  3. Select the General settings tab.
  4. On the right under the “Remove everything and reinstall Windows” section, select the Get started button.

Figure 6: Here’s where you’d initiate a Reset.


We discussed three new data backup and recovery features in Windows 8. File History requires an external drive or network location, but offers better file backup options than the Previous Files feature of Windows 7. Refresh doesn’t backup some personal settings or installed programs by default, but offers a quick way to reinstall Windows while keeping your personal files intact. And Reset offers a quick and easy way to wipe your computer clean if you’re getting rid of it.

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