Updated, October 22, 2012: Updated to reflect the changes in the final version of Windows 8.
Since the days of Windows 95, users have had to deal with the inevitability of having to reinstall Windows to regain system stability and performance. This often entailed spending hours in front of the PC -- reinstalling Windows, applying patches, reinstalling programs, and setting personal preferences.
In Windows 8, Microsoft added two new features called Refresh and Reset, which simplify the entire reinstall process and reduces the amount of time required sitting in front of the PC.
The Refresh option reinstalls Windows, but keeps personalized settings and files. It does, however, reset PC settings to their defaults, but keeps apps downloaded from the Microsoft App Store and places a list of removed apps onto your desktop. A refresh does not require the Windows product key to be re-entered. Refresh is a good way to recover system performance, while keeping your data intact.
Step 1: Go to the Charms bar > Settings > Change PC settings > General, and scroll down to the Refresh section.
Step 2: Click on the Get Started button under the Refresh section.
Step 3: At the "Refresh your PC" screen, click Next.
Step 4: Once you see the "Ready to refresh your PC" screen, this will be your last chance to back out of the refresh process. If you've inserted any installation media, you should remove them before continuing.
Your computer will reboot and start the Refresh process. Once the process completes, your system will boot back into the Start screen.
Reset, reinstalls Windows and blows out everything, even allowing you to securely wipe your data, so you can donate or sell your machine. At the end of a Reset, you'll need to re-enter your Windows product key.
Step 1: Go to the Charms bar > Settings > Change PC settings > General, and scroll down to the Reset section.
Step 2: Click on the Get Started button under the Reset section.
Step 3: At the "Reset your PC" screen, click Next.
Step 4: At the "Do you want to fully clean your drive?" screen, decide which level of security you need. If you're going to sell the PC or donate it, select Fully clean the drive. This will write random patterns to every hard drive sector (one pass) and could take hours to complete. If you're going to keep your PC or give it to someone you trust, choose Just remove my files.
Step 5: Once at the "Ready to reset your PC" screen, click the Reset button to begin the Reset process. This will be your last opportunity to back out.
Your computer will reboot and start the Reset process. Once the process completes, you'll be prompted to enter your Windows product key to continue setting up Windows.
Refresh or Reset on boot
If you're unable to start Windows to get to the Refresh/Reset commands, you can also get to them by booting from your Windows 8 install media. Select Repair your computer, then enter the Troubleshoot section, where you'll find both the Refresh and Reset commands.