Windows 10 does not always run perfectly. The repair often requires only a few interventions and is done quickly. Sometimes a radical cure only helps to return to the factory settings. Here you will find the necessary tips.
How to get Windows going again.
© Illustration: © TL
If error messages and crashes accumulate, it is important to first narrow down the cause of the problem. The last installed software can be responsible, new drivers or Windows updates are also possible. It is also possible that Windows is completely innocent and has a hardware defect. In the first part of the article (points 1 and 2), we therefore deal with some simple measures that may already be able to fix errors in Windows.
However, there are particularly tricky and confusing situations in which the cause of problems cannot be determined beyond doubt and therefore cannot be eliminated. Windows then offers several options that you can use to reset the system to a defined state. We present the different options and explain their advantages and disadvantages (points 4 to 8).
1. Repair or reset software installations
Error messages in the window: Messages of this type are caused by an application. It often helps to remove the last installed program or add-on, or to reinstall the application.
Symptoms of software errors are messages such as “Application error” or “Program no longer works” in a window. It may also be that an application quits silently and can only be restarted after a Windows restart.
A program crashes when you start it: try to repair the installation. To do this, go to “Settings” (Win-I) under Windows 10 and to “Apps -› Apps & Features “. Click on the desired application in the list and then on “Change” – if available. Some programs, for example
Microsoft Office 365
, offer one or more repair options. If this does not work, remove the program by clicking on “Uninstall” and reinstall it. When uninstalling or reinstalling, some programs offer an option to remove the previous configuration or create a new one. This fixes errors that are caused by invalid or defective configuration files.
For apps – pre-installed or from the Windows Store – a click on “Advanced Options” leads to a page with the “Repair” button. If that doesn’t help, there is often a “Reset” button. This will delete the configuration of the app, which will reset it to its initial state.
A program crashes when you open a certain file in it: if the error occurs only with one file, it is probably broken. Sometimes the file can be repaired or the content can be at least partially extracted, for example for Word documents. You can find detailed instructions for different file types
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2. Find and fix hardware problems
Blue screen: Remove the checkmark in front of “Automatically restart”. The blue screen then remains visible and you can read the error message.
Due to faulty hardware, Windows can run unstably or crash frequently. The typical symptom is a stop error, which can be seen in full screen with a blue background (“blue screen”). Windows will then restart automatically.
With a standard configuration, the blue screen can usually only be seen for a very short time, which is hardly sufficient to read the error message. To change this, press the key combination Win-Pause, click on “Advanced system settings” and then under “Start and restore” on “Settings …”. Remove the check mark in front of “Automatically restart” and confirm with “OK”. The next blue screen remains visible until you switch off the computer again.
The error message can sometimes tell you which driver caused the problem. Often there are only messages like “IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL”, “CRITICAL_PROCESS_DIED” or hexadecimal error codes like “0x000000EF” or “0x1000007E”. However, a clear indication of the cause cannot usually be determined from this.
In any case, you should investigate which drivers were last installed or updated. To do this, look in the “Settings” under “Apps -› Apps & Features “, sort the list by” Installation date “and uninstall any recently set up driver.
Cause of the crash: The blue screen often contains no clear information about the error. However, it is always an indication of defective hardware or faulty drivers.
You will not find drivers in the list that came to the computer via the automatic Windows update. To manage these, open the device manager, for example using the key combination Win-X. Select the desired device, such as the graphics card, right-click on the entry, select “Properties” in the menu and go to the “Driver” tab. Click the Previous Driver button and follow the instructions. This will install the previous driver version with which Windows was still working properly.
Examine hardware more closely:
An unstable system can also be caused by insufficient cooling of the processor or graphics card or defective memory modules.
The cooling can be easily checked by paying attention to fan noise or opening the PC and checking that the fans run smoothly. It is often sufficient to carefully clean the fan and interior with a vacuum cleaner and a brush. If this does not help, replace the affected fan. You can start the test tool for Windows memory diagnostics by clicking
Enter in the search bar of Windows 10 and click on the search result. Windows must restart for a memory test. After the restart, the tool starts with a blue screen with white text. The standard test starts immediately and runs two test runs. With 8 GB RAM, this takes around eight to ten minutes. If errors are found, replace the affected RAM modules.
3. Before any extensive repairs: create a backup
Most of the reset options mentioned in the following points have a disadvantage: personal files such as documents or images are retained, but installed programs and their settings are lost. In many applications this is no longer tragic. After reinstalling, simply reconfigure the desired options.
More complex programs store a lot of data that you may want to keep. Examples of this are user dictionaries or templates for office applications as well as bookmarks and saved access data for browsers. All of this will be lost if you reset Windows. An exception is the in-place upgrade (point 7), in which everything is retained. Nevertheless, with any repair method there is a risk of data loss if errors occur. It is therefore advisable to make a full backup of the Windows partition. A full backup is also useful if you do not want to reset Windows, but would rather restore a working installation from a backup.
User directories (“C: Users”) and configuration data for the applications (“C: ProgramData”) are also backed up separately, either with a backup tool or manually using Windows Explorer. If you want to save space, compress the backup
. Please note that not all configuration folders can be seen in Windows Explorer by default. To change this, go to the “View” tab and check “Hidden Items”
is suitable for a complete image backup of the hard disk and for regular differential backups, in which only the changes compared to the full backup are saved. Individual folders can be restored manually because the backup file can be easily opened in Windows Explorer. However, the free version does not support backup of individual folders.
Back up everything: Veeam Agent for Microsoft Windows can create backups of entire hard drives as well as individual folders. Only certain folders can be restored from the backup.
Veeam Agent for Microsoft Windows
is a free backup solution for Windows. This means that the entire computer or just the system hard drive can be backed up in one image. You can also use the tool to archive only individual folders. In the free version, however, multiple backup jobs cannot be configured.
Back up personal file: Duplicati is suitable for regular backups of documents and images. The backup jobs are configured via an interface in the web browser.
is suitable for regular backups of personal files. Somewhat unusual: The backup jobs are configured via an interface in the web browser. The backup can be encrypted if necessary. This makes sense if you are using cloud storage instead of a local target drive. Duplicati supports backups via FTP and SFTP as well as Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft One Drive and some more.
specializes in backing up individual directories. The program offers numerous options and is somewhat confusing. You can save backups to a local hard drive or a network drive.
4. Reset Windows 10 with and without data loss
Reset PC: You can choose to keep or remove your documents and photos. The installed applications and apps will be deleted in any case.
Windows 10 up to and including version 1909 offers two functions, via which Windows can be reset to a state almost like after the new installation.
Go to “Settings” (Win-I) and go to “Update and Security -› Recovery “. Under “Reset this PC” click on “Let’s go”. If you then click on “Keep my files”, the installed programs, drivers and Windows settings are deleted, personal files are retained. Windows shows you which programs are affected by clicking on “Show apps that are being removed”.
“Remove everything” is the radical cure and corresponds to a new Windows installation. After that, you not only have to set up the programs again, but also restore your own files (for a previous backup, see point 3).
Windows uses the files saved locally on the hard disk for recovery. This saves additional downloads, but has one disadvantage: if the backup files are defective, the restore fails. So there is no guarantee that restoration in this way will always be successful. Then use the Cloudd download (from Windows 10 version 2004, see point 5) or the repair installation (see point 7).
Clean reinstallation can also offer an alternative. This is faster than resetting, and you will have to reinstall your programs anyway.
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5. Reset Windows 10 (2004) from the cloud
New in Windows 10 version 2004: Windows restores fresh files and updates when restoring via cloud download. This helps to avoid errors that can cause defective system files.
The problems described in point 4 prompted Microsoft to install a new recovery option in Windows. First go back to “Settings” and then to “Update and Security -› Recovery “. After clicking on “Let’s go” under “Reset this PC”, you can choose between “Keep my files” and “Remove everything” as before.
Then you will see the options “Local reinstallation” – which corresponds to the previous behavior – and “Cloud download”. When downloading the cloud, the installation files are downloaded fresh from Microsoft. Defective files on the hard disk cannot hinder the recovery. You will also receive the latest drivers and Windows updates. With a sufficiently fast internet connection, the whole process should not be much slower than when restoring from the local files.
6. Use “Advanced Startup Options” for recovery
If Windows 10 runs so unstably that you cannot use the recovery as described in point 4, start the Windows recovery environment (Windows RE, Windows Recovery Environment).
In the “Settings” go to “Update and security -› Recovery ”and click on“ Restart now ”under“ Advanced start ”. Alternatively, boot from the Windows installation medium and click on “Next” to access the “Computer repair options”.
Click “Troubleshoot” and then click “Reset this PC”. Again, you have the choice between “Keep my files” and “Remove everything”. From Windows 10 version 2004 you also get the option “Cloud download” via Windows RE. Note: Since the recovery environment does not support WLAN, the computer must be connected via an Ethernet cable.
7. Use repair installation instead of “Reset PC”
When you upgrade from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 or a newer version of Windows 10, your personal files and the installed programs are retained. This fact can be used for a pseudo upgrade, for example, where you upgrade Windows 10 with Windows 10 (in-place upgrade). In contrast to “Reset this PC” (- ›point 4), installed desktop programs and apps are retained in addition to the personal files. After the upgrade, Windows is as up-to-date as the files on the installation medium. You should therefore update the system as quickly as possible in the “Settings” via “Update and Security -› Windows Update “.
You need an installation DVD or an ISO file that matches the installed system (see box). Determine the Windows version using the key combination Win-R and entering
on the open line. Windows 10 users can also use a newer version and upgrade right away.
Open the download folder in Windows Explorer and mount the ISO file on the file system using the context menu item “Deploy”. Start Setup.exe from the provided drive, click “Next” and follow the instructions of the setup wizard.
8. Set up programs after Windows recovery
If you used “Reset this PC”, you have to reinstall all programs. The original settings and the data saved by the programs can be restored from a backup (see point 3). Since every application stores its data at its own discretion, there can be no generally applicable instructions.
The recovery is relatively easy with most open source applications. Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird and Libre Office, for example, put the important data under “C: Users [Benutzer] AppData Roaming ”. The fastest way to open the folder in Windows Explorer is to type% appdata% into the address bar and confirm with the Enter key.
After the new installation, simply copy the “Mozilla”, “Thunderbird” or “LibreOffice” folders from the backup to “C: Users [Benutzer] AppData Roaming “. If you start the programs now, everything is as before.
In other applications, the configuration files are not so easy to localize. Microsoft Office 365 stores a few files under “% appdata% Microsoft Office”, templates are in “% appdata% Microsoft Templates” and the user dictionary under “% appdata% Microsoft UProof”.
If you don’t want to search for so long, simply back up the entire folder “% appdata%” from the backup. However, there is probably some unnecessary ballast from previous installations that can get back onto the hard drive this way.
Some applications also save data in the (hidden) folder “C: ProgramData”. This is mostly configuration data for all users of the PC. In some cases you can also find license files that are created after activating a product. If necessary, you can also restore these files from the backup. When you reinstall an application, you will be asked for the license key anyway, and Setup will create a new license file.