Windows XP was lauded as one of the finest examples of an operating system to date. Considering it was still getting regular updates and security updates up until April 8, 2014–12 years after it was released to the public. It was never too flashy, nor was it jam packed with a bunch of useless programs, and it wasn’t sucking your system’s resources like a vampire. And it runs well. What’s not to like?

But let’s say you got your hands on a PC running Windows XP and you want to keep it. Well, the first step you’re going to want to take is setting it back to factory settings, otherwise known as a “factory reset.” It can give you a very clean version of Windows XP without leftover files, but what exactly is a factory reset? Will it hurt your computer? No, in fact, it can be very helpful if you’re troubleshooting.

So, how do you reset Windows XP to factory settings? Let’s first lay out what it entails and what you will need.

What is Factory Settings?

Imagine you just brought home a brand new PC with a fresh installation of Windows XP. It isn’t refurbished, it isn’t used, it’s brand new. Factory settings are, essentially, the state in which your Windows XP-based computer was when it was first removed from its box. Hence, “factory settings,” the state it was when it left the factory.

Before you make with the purging, you should be aware that perform a factory reset will deleting every single file from your computer. This means you should backup any important documents, pictures, videos, and so on, before you move on with the purging.

Resetting Windows XP to Factory Settings

Resetting Windows XP is a rather simple process, though it does take some time. In fact, it’s more time consuming than hard. With that being said, you’ll need a few things before you can make this happen, one of which is absolutely necessary if you wish to perform a factory reset.

What You WIll Need…

  • A cup of coffee and or tea (optional)
  • A comfy chair (optional)
  • Maybe a book (optional)
  • Windows XP installation CD/DVD (absolutely necessary)

Here’s the rub, that list entry, the Windows XP installation CD, you cannot reset Windows XP to factory settings without the installation CD. Though there are some alternatives, they may not work for your computer, and most of the time they cost more to use than buying a pre-owned Windows XP Home Edition CD from, say, eBay.

If you stick with the physical CD, do bear in mind that the CD must be:

  • Licensed by Windows
  • Includes a product key
  • Avoid brand-specific CDs that aren’t from your manufacturer (i.e. don’t use a Dell-specific CD on an HP computer)
  • Avoid “service pack” CDs
  • Digital versions of Windows XP (they do NOT come with the option to factory reset, nor are they legally sound)

Bringing It All Together

Now that you have your Windows XP Home Edition CD resting gently in your hands, it’s time to get to work.

1. Backup all data you want to keep. Photos, videos, personal files of any kind will be deleted when you factory reset.

2. Place the Windows XP installation CD into your CD-ROM drive.

3. When prompted, restart your computer. When it boots back up, press any of the keys on your keyboard when you see the message “Press any key to boot from CD.”

4. After a few moments you’ll see the Windows XP setup screen. Press “Enter” to get started.

5. Read the terms and agreement before pressing F8.

6. Follow along with the setup until you come to selecting your hard drive partition. Whichever hard drive you format it to, know that Windows XP will be installed to that very hard drive. Choose wisely.

7. Brew your coffee and or tea and read a good book in your comfy chair until the process finishes.

Reset Windows XP to Factory Settings with a System Restore Point

Restore Point
Restore points are similar to a factory reset

System restore points can be lifesavers, especially with your computer having so many moving parts, it’s bound to run into a few issues. It’s nice to have a safety net in the event something is terribly wrong. Or, alternatively, use them as a “lite” factory reset.

System restore points are, essentially, saved instances of your computer at various points. They contain data on how your computer was operating at the very moment a system restore point was created.

Let’s say you install a few questionable programs that, through deduction, you assume are causing a lot of problems for your computer. If you have a system restore point that was created before you installed the programs, you can use it like a time machine, revert back to a previous state and the programs will disappear.

System restore points do more than act like a time machine, they roll back updates, remove programs that weren’t installed at that time, but all the while keeping your personal files intact and available, such as: photos, documents, music, videos, and emails you’ve stored on your hard drive. It’s like starting over a game you just beat, and still having the knowledge of how to beat it.

Using a system restore point is great for making big changes to your system files without starting over from scratch, but there’s one itty bitty problem: restore points are created by you. Sure, you can schedule them, but if you weren’t aware of them before, you likely don’t have any.

With that being said, if you do have system restore points, it’s time you use them to perform a pseudo-factory reset. Here’s how:

1. Start by opening your Windows Start Menu, located in the bottom left corner of your screen, by default.

2. WIth your Windows Start Menu opened, hover your mouse cursor over All Programs in the bottom left column. This will open a menu.

3. In the following menu, hover and highlight Accessories near the top of the list.

4. In the third menu, hover and highlight System Tools. This will open a fourth menu.

5. In the fourth and final menu, click System Restore. It’s at the bottom of the fourth menu.

Restore my computer to an earlier time

6. After the System Restore window opens, look on the right hand side. You’ll see you have two options, to restore from an earlier time, or to create a restore point. Click “Restore my computer to an earlier time.” Then click Next > in the bottom right corner of the window.

pinpoint an exact date

7. On the following page, you’ll be presented with a calendar along with a list. Use the calendar to pinpoint an exact date and use the list on the right to select a restore point, provided one exists. When you’re ready, click Next > in the bottom right corner of the window

necessary changes

Your computer will then promptly restart, make the necessary changes, and boot up like normal. You’ll then be prompted with a notification expressing the system restore was successful.

In the future, if you do manage to perform a true factory reset, you should make a habit of creating system restore points. On a fresh installation of Windows XP, this can be a godsend. In fact, you should always consider creating a system restore point before installing anything, especially questionable software (or stay away from them).

Bottom Line

One of the greatest features that Windows XP has going for it is being an excellent operating system for running retro games. Newer versions of Windows can be a nightmare just from trying to run games that are no more than a decade old. Having a PC with Windows XP makes that process way easier. Now go enjoy your retro-fitted computer.