Make Your Windows 8/8.1 Computer Act Like New with the Refresh Feature


You’ve probably noticed how Windows computers seem to get clogged up and slow down over time. Windows 8 introduced a new feature called “Refresh your PC” that provides a quick and easy way to clean things up and restore the operating system to factory-fresh condition. It can also be a lifesaver if your computer develops severe problems. Accessing the Refresh feature was described in this previous article. In this tip, I will give some details of how to create a custom Refresh.

The standard refresh process makes use of the system image that most PCs have stored in a hidden restore partition or your Windows installation DVD and will return the system files of the PC to the state they were in when the PC was shipped from the factory. It is very fast and usually takes less than 10 minutes. The beauty of the restore feature is that it preserves all your personal files and system data. It also keeps your installed Metro apps. However, a drawback is that desktop programs that you have installed will be deleted. The refresh process creates a list of what has been deleted but you would still have to reinstall things like Microsoft Office, alternate browsers, or legacy Windows programs.

How to create your own custom refresh image and avoid losing your installed programs

The way to avoid losing desktop programs that you have installed is to create your own version of the Windows image. There is a command-line utility that will create a new custom image that contains everything that you have installed yourself. It is, in effect, a snapshot of the entire system at some particular point in time. The best procedure when you have a new Windows 8/8.1 computer is to delete anything that came with it that you do not want, install right away as many of your regularly used programs as you can, and then create a refresh image containing  this setup. The refresh process will then use this image and restore the installed programs. You can also create a new image at later times. In fact, you can create a series of images but they will have to be stored in different folders since the command–line utility always names the image it creates “CustomRefresh.wim” and will overwrite any existing images located in the same folder.

Here is how to create a custom refresh image

  1. Open the command prompt with administrative privileges. In Windows 8, use the keyboard shortcut Winkey+X as described here to access a menu with the entry “Command Prompt (Admin)”. In Windows 8.1, right-click the new Start button and choose   “Command Prompt (Admin)” from the context menu. 
  2. In the command line, enter: recimg /createimage <Somefolder>

Here, <Somefolder> is the complete path to a folder you have created in a convenient location. Make sure it has enough space to hold the system image. Even a new system with little else installed will need upwards of 10 GB or more, depending on your setup. An image file CustomRefresh.wim will be created and will automatically be used in a refresh process instead of the original restore image from the PC’s manufacturer. Be aware that the creation takes a very long time, several hours at least. It will sit at ‘1% completed” for quite a while so be patient. Depending on your system, you may want to do this overnight. However, as already mentioned, the refresh process itself is very quick.

To check what image is the current default for the refresh operation, use the command:

      recimg /showcurrent

The location of the current default image will be given but in a notation different from the usual. For example, the C: drive may be indicated by “\Device\Harddisk0\Partition1”. If you have created several refresh images, you can set which one is the default with another command: 

     recimg /setcurrent <Somefolder>

where <Somefolder> is the complete path to the folder containing the image file you want to set as default.

As useful as the Refresh feature may be, it does not replace a backup drive image on a separate bootable medium. Everyone should also create a recovery disc or USB key. Windows 8 features for doing this are described here.

You can, of course, also use one of the free drive cloners discussed elsewhere at Gizmo’s instead. But the features included in Windows 8/8.1 have the advantage of being part of the operating system and avoiding any complications that might be involved with third-party software.

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.

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Thanks. Tried this feature for the first time. Some questions:
1. The file was too big (145GB). Is that common or something going wrong?
2. It looks like the computer will make a new recovery partition each time you use recimg and store in a new folder (instead of rewriting the existing one). Am I right?
3. Is "Rec" mnemonic for something? I can't find or figure if any.

The image can be pretty big, depending on what you have on your computer. I do not recommend placing the new image on your main hard drive. Put it on an external drive. As the tip says, create a folder to hold it. Also, as the tip says, make sure you have room on the drive where you are putting it. The recovery partition on most PCs is really only big enough to hold the original image. Once you start adding your own programs and files it is going to be too small. The command is "recimg" whch I presume comes from "recovery image".

Yes, I put the .wim file in a portable drive. But I had it originally in the main drive. When I copied and made it the recent image file, the number of recovery partitions in the main drive went up by one, I guess (since I did not make a deliberate attempt to notice before). I am guessing the computer is keeping all the small batch and font files needed for restoration in that partition and a pointer to the image file (that resides in another drive). I can check this out if I go ahead assign letters to the various partitions, mount etc. Or I might do it on another laptop noting the number of partitions before and after.
The reason I am mentioning is that if one tries to keep all the backup image files as you suggested, you might end up with too many partitions (of very small size, of course). Also, this could be a problem if the main drive crashes leaving you without the ability to load the saved (in another drive) image file.

Hello every one
I have stuck in one problem since last week. I have forgotten my Admin account password for my Windows 8.1 PC. But i have access to guest account and i can Login in to pc using guest account. I want to reset my Windows 8.1 Admin account password . I have tried lots of solution but nothing worked so if any body has solution please share it.Microsoft is suggesting to re install windows 8.1 in my condition so please help me guys.
Thanks in advance

The full path to that command was Command Promt Run as Administrator then type recimg/createimage-somefolder-

This is the wrong syntax. so am not sure were to go from here, any help would be helpfull. Thanks

Bushranger, I have edited your comment, and put "-somefolder-" in the place of earlier ... as it was not appearing in the comments. Anyways, please note that you should put proper spaces in between the words as shown in the article. In place of ... you should replace the full path of the folder, where you wish to store the image in. For example, if it's a folder named Backup in your D: drive, then the path would be D:\Backup, in place of . I hope it's clear now.

v.laurie, reply from Bushranger. The text I was trying to enter was recimg /createimage command promt said sytax from command is incorrect. Hope this helps.

You have to also include the complete pathname of the folder where the image is to be created.

I came across this article on how to "repair install" Windows 8 and 8.1 without losing anything including 3rd party desktop applications, games, etc. unlike the Refresh feature in Windows 8 that removes all your 3rd party programs and applications except Windows Store apps. It's the only reference to a "repair install" of Windows 8 like one could do with old operating systems I have found anywhere on the web. ( Is this true??

Other references to this procedure are usually buried in other guides. It is an in-place upgrade but most guides focus on upgrading from earlier versions rather than repairing an existing installation.

Yes I'm aware of the repair install function in Windows 7 as cited in your link but the link I posted is the only one that the repair install in Windows 8 or 8.1 that I have seen mentioned. Microsoft hasn't declared anything about a repair install for Windows 8,only Refresh and Reset in which even in the Refresh mode, one loses all 3rd party programs and applications and maybe even some drivers.

I wonder if you could help the command promt keeps saying incorrect syntax, I typed it in just as you stated not quite sure what else to do.

What text is it exactly that you are entering? Are you using the elevated command prompt with administrator privileges?

A well made point - noted, and thanks again.

As usual an excellent article, but would it not be prudent to also save said refresh image off the system, once created? Backups are kept separate, so would it also be the same for a refresh image?

I'd appreciate your view on that

Dave Lawrence

The system has a record of the path to the refresh image. If you put the image on a removable external drive, be sure that the drive assignment is the same if you plug the drive back in to use the image. Or you can use the command line to reset the default refresh image to a new location. Personally, I maintain a variety of backups with several on external removable drives but I have kept this particular refresh image on a second internal drive with a copy of the image file CustomRefresh.wim on an external drive.

Thanks for taking the time to reply

Given that my backups (incremental) are sent to a permanently connected WD Passport using WD Smartware I'm assuming that if I create a refresh image in the manner described and locate it such that the WD Smartware can access it, job done.

Only one way to find out, and as I can't break anything, no reason why not !

I would add that some malware infections will seek out any connected external drives and could possibly infect your backups. That is why I keep a backup drive that I disconnect except when backing up. Some people even keep a backup in a distinct geographical location in case of fire or other disaster. I even have a friend who takes a backup drive to his bank vault.