Windows 10: Install a Fresh Copy of Windows 10 to Remove OEM Clutter

Richard Hay

Many of you may be building your own computers these days, but just as many computer users buy their next device right off the shelf of their favorite box store or from an online retailer.

If you are purchasing a device built by one of the many OEMs, it is very likely that device is going to arrive with a lot of extras pre-installed that come from the company who initially built the device plus some additional overlay style software/controls from the OEM themselves.

Of course, as long as you have drivers from the OEM for your device, and most are made available through the products support page, then you could always do a clean install of the operating system and have a pristine image ready for your own software and customizations. Microsoft is also working closely with many manufacturers to include hardware drivers right out of the box to avoid needing to track them down elsewhere.

In fact, any OEM devices sold in Microsoft Stores come in this configuration and they call it their Signature Edition PCs. This means they meet all the Windows hardware requirements and contain zero bloat from the manufacturer.

If you already have your device or purchased it through another channel, then that bloatware is likely already embedded in the recovery software that is included with the hardware. That means even using the reset options that are available in Windows 10 will result in those items being reinstalled alongside of the operating system.

Last year when they released the Anniversary Update for Windows 10, Microsoft included a new option that refreshes your Windows 10 device by downloading a clean version of Windows 10 directly from Microsoft that does not have any of the OEM bloatware. This is basically the equivalent of performing a clean install of the operating system except the previous version of the OS is backed up to allow the user to revert back to it within 10 days if necessary.

This tool, simply called the Refresh Tool does have a few caveats that you should be aware of before using it on your systems.

  1. It removes all apps from the Windows Store that do not come with Windows by default and any desktop software you have previously installed. Be sure to verify you have access to installation media for that software and your digital licenses and product keys so you can reinstall them later.
  2. Settings will be removed even if you decide to retain your personal files.
  3. As mentioned earlier, all of the extra software/apps installed by the device manufacturer including drivers, support apps, and utility overlays will be removed. The system hardware drivers should be available out of the box during the Windows 10 install or accessible from the manufacturers support website.
  4. You will be given the option to keep or remove your personal files however, just in case, always have a backup of those files because there could be an issue during the refresh process.
  5. The total download image is approximately 3GB so make sure you have room on the device for that file and space for the installation process to work.

After you have backed up your personal files you can begin the refresh install by visiting https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10startfresh and scroll down the page until you see the blue Download tool now button. Click/Tap on that to download the refresh tool to get started. It will prompt you to save the file and then you click/tap that downloaded file to begin the refresh process.

At this point just follow the prompts to go through the refresh install, but here is a rundown of what steps you should expect/things you will see on the screen during that process.

  • Accepting the License terms.
  • Select to either keep your personal files or nothing at all.
  • The image download will now begin but how quickly it completes will depend upon your Internet connection.
  • Once the image is downloaded it will then be validated.
  • After validation installation media will be created on the systems hard drive and it will be used for the installation.
  • A check will be made for updates and they will be downloaded and integrated into the installation files.
  • Your PC will be checked to make sure it is ready for the install and has enough space.
  • At this point the system will begin the install process and you actually still have time to cancel it before the first reboot.

Note: You can continue to use your device during the download, validation, media creation, and update download parts of this process.

Once the system reboots, by the way it may do this a few times during the installation, you will go through the normal out of box experience to setup Windows 10 on your device once the installation is complete.

After the entire process is wrapped up and you are back to the Windows 10 desktop, you will be able to reinstall your apps, software, and make your customizations so that the system is configured to your personal preferences.

If you are comfortable with the refreshed install, I highly recommend running the Disk Cleanup Tool with administrator permissions so that you can remove the Windows 10 installation files that were downloaded and the old Windows 10 installation. This should free up around 5-7GB of space on your systems hard drive.

And if you provide tech support for your family and they have upgraded to Windows 10 on an OEM device, this is a great way to give them a fresh install and eliminate all the extras that OEMs add to their hardware which have the potential to cause issues down the road.



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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2017-01-31:

Richard Hay

About Richard Hay

Richard, a 30-year Navy veteran, has been watching and writing about tech for over two decades. He is a Microsoft MVP and senior contributing editor at Penton's SuperSite for Windows.