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How to Reformat Windows 10 with a USB on Your Laptop

Learn how to reformat your laptop and reinstall Windows 10 with a USB drive so you can refresh and hopefully speed up your laptop.

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Every now and then, every laptop starts to feel slow and sluggish. While you can run tools and clean up everything manually, the truth is it’s probably best to reformat Windows 10 on your laptop every couple of years if you have a high-end laptop more often if you are running a budget laptop with limited power. In my experience, that ensures that the systems run better and it’s really an easy way to get rid of any junk that’s sitting on your computer.

Now, you can use the built in refresh options in Windows 10, but, in my opinion, these tools don’t do a very good job of restoring your system to working order. In some cases, they don’t seem to work at all, in others they really don’t do much to speed up your system. When you reformat Windows 10 and reinstall Windows on your laptop, you can guarantee that any data that could be causing your problems is gone once and for all.

So how do you do it? Well, I’m going to show you how to format Windows 10 with a USB in as little time as possible step by step. The process is pretty easy but I won’t lie, this will take some time. Are you ready to get started?

1. Backup your files

Now just so there isn’t any confusion, when you reformat your laptop, you will erase the hard drive. That means that all your files and applications will be gone. Before you proceed, you must backup any files and folders that are important to you. These may be documents from Word or Excel, movie and music files, pictures, and everything in between. I would recommend either purchasing a quality external hard drive or using cloud servers such as Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive if your internet is fast enough and uncapped.

Take special care to find all of your files because once you reformat, there is no going back.  Most users store their files either on their desktop or in the Documents folder.  But, if you have been creative with where you save files, you may have to spend a good amount of time searching for all of your files.  If you don’t, you may not be able to install that one piece of software or game that you need more than anything because you forgot to back it up.

2. Track Down Your Copy of Windows

Depending on your laptop, you may or may not have an install disc for your operating system.  However, when it comes time to reformat, you are going to need one, meaning you may have to make one for yourself.  You can easily download the version of Windows your laptop uses and then use the product key found on the bottom of your laptop for your reformatting process.  You just need to make sure that you create the disc before you begin the process so you don’t find yourself without a way to actually create the disc if you do need to make one yourself.

3. Download the Windows Media Creation Tool

There are several ways to create a bootable USB to reformat Windows 10. But for the purposes of this guide, I want to use the easiest method, as I believe that is the way most of you out there will want to do it. Here’s what you will need:

  • USB flash drive
  • Windows 10 PC
  • Internet connection

On your PC, open a web browser and visit this link. Once there, click on the Download tool now button under the Create Windows 10 installation media section. When the download completes, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Advanced: Boot From HardDrive or USB Device

For advanced users who may prefer to boot from a disk image than a physical CD / DVD there is also the option of booting from a USB harddrive or flash stick . You can use a handy app called Rufus to burn a disk image onto your hard drive or flash stick, and from there plugin in your device, restart your laptop and access the boot menu on startup to run from the external device.

4. Insert Your USB and Create Your Windows Installation Media

Now that you have your creation tool downloaded, run the app. Be patient, it will take a minute for the tool to get going. Once it does, accept the terms and then wait again. Once it’s done, follow these steps:

    1. Select Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC and click Next.
    2. Uncheck Use the recommended options for this PC (unless you plan on using this on your laptop).

    1. Select your language, Windows edition and whether or not you want 64-bit or 32-bit architecture. If your computer was made in the last several years, you want 64-bit. Click Next.

  • Select USB flash drive and click Next.
  • Select your USB flash drive from the list and click Next.
  • Now wait for the process to complete. Once finished, you will have a fully-functioning USB flash drive with Windows 10.

5. Prepare the laptop to Boot to USB

I’m sorry to say that this step is going to be laptop specific. While every modern laptop can boot to USB, how you enable that boot will vary from laptop to laptop. In some cases, for example, you will need to enter the BIOS to enable it. In other cases, all you will need to do is press a specific key to give you boot options. Of course, that key also varies laptop to laptop, but is usually one of the function keys or maybe even Escape, although that key has fallen out of favor in recent years. Check with your laptop manufacturer on how to do it.

6. Reformat Your Laptop and Reinstall Windows 10

Now it’s time for the fun part. First, we are going to boot to the USB and start the Windows installation process. It’s during this process that we will reformat the hard drive.

    1. Insert your USB flash drive, turn on your computer and boot to the USB.
    2. Select your language and keyboard types and then click Next.
    3. Click Install now
    4. Click the checkbox to accept Microsoft’s terms and then click Next.

  1. Now here’s where the fun begins. Choose Custom: Install Windows only (advanced).
  2. You will now be brought to a window containing all your hard drive partition information. Delete all the existing partitions by highlighting them and selecting Delete. Now, you may have recovery partitions here from your manufacturer. You will need to keep this if you want to ever take your machine back to factory settings easily. For me, I would rather just reformat it again so I’m getting rid of all of them.
  3. Highlight your hard drive labeled unallocated space and click New. Accept the default sizes to use your entire hard drive and then select Apply. Click OK to the warning that Windows may create other partitions for system files.
  4. Highlight the primary partition and click on Format. Accept the warning and wait. Now there is debate on whether this is necessary or not, but I like to do it just to be thorough. And for all of you, it’s good to know how to reformat the partition. When completed, hit Next.
  5. Wait for Windows to install. This will take some time, so be patient. How long it takes will depend on the speed of your hard drive and the speed of your computer. During the setup process, your system may reboot several times.

7. Perform First Sign Onto Windows

Now that your install is complete, it’s time to sign on to your laptop. This process will be similar to the first time you turned on your laptop.

  1. First, I would turn off Cortana during the setup process. I mean, who wants your computer to talk to you? Click the microphone icon in the bottom to turn her off.
  2. Follow the prompts to select your personal settings such as Region and keyboard layout.
  3. Connect to your Wi-Fi. If you can’t, you may need to do this later after you install the proper drivers.
  4. Wait. Once you have selected everything above, you will have to wait for more setup to complete. Be patient and don’t reboot during this process.
  5. When it’s finished, you can sign on with your Microsoft account. Enter your Microsoft address and click Next. Then enter your password.
  6. From here, you can now enter a PIN number and set your privacy settings.
  7. Finally, you can enable Cortana. This is up to you but I admit I do find it handy.

8. Check Drivers and Update Windows

Once you are in your system, it’s time to perform a check to ensure that all your drivers have been loaded. Windows 10 is pretty good at this, but it’s impossible for Microsoft to maintain a database of everything, so you may need to find some yourself. To check your drivers, open Device Manager by typing it into Cortana. If you see anything with an exclamation point on it, you need to find a driver for it.

If you have all your drivers, you should be good to go, but you may need to run Microsoft Update to find more drivers or visit your laptop manufacturer’s website to find the drivers for your laptop. Unfortunately, every laptop is different so it’s tough to show you exactly what you will need to do in your case, but you may have to track down a few drivers. So be prepared. For a typical laptop, you will need drivers for the motherboard, network cards, video drivers, audio drivers, trackpads and more.  Visit your laptop’s manufacturer website and search for the drivers you need based on the make and model of your laptop to be sure you get the right ones.


Once you have updated all your drivers, go to Start – Settings (Cog icon) – Update & Security and run any updates that are available. Reboot when they are complete.

9. Reinstall Software Applications and Restore Data

Now that the setup is complete, you are ready to begin copying over your data and reinstalling our applications. This could mean connecting to the Internet and downloading your software, or inserting a disc or copying over an installer and running it manually. That will all depend on your setup and what you use. Once you complete the software installation, you are free to move all your files back to your fresh hard drive.

But, I would recommend keeping them in the cloud these days if that’s what you used. This will ensure that your files are safe and you won’t have to worry about backing them up if you ever have a problem with your machine again. Cloud storage today is more than affordable so, in my opinion, I would give it a try and see how it works for you.

Parting Thoughts

That’s all there is to it. See, it’s not too hard, after all. Still, this process can take anywhere from an hour to three hours or more depending on the speeds of your laptops and the speed of your Internet, so make sure you have enough time to complete the process.

Reformatting Windows 10 on your laptop is a great way to refresh your laptop and even speed it up a bit, although your mileage will vary depending on the hardware of your laptop. Newer laptops will feel more like new compared to old ones. Still, no matter what hardware you have, you will notice a different after a reformat.

Do you reformat your laptop periodically or did you find this guide helpful so you could do the same thing? If so, tell me about in the comments below. Did I leave anything out that people may find helpful? Tell me about it. I would love to hear from you. Until then, I hope you all find this guide helpful in your quest for a clean laptop.

By Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing on our sister ShopNinja sites where he enjoys talking about anything and everything tech.

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