In this tutorial we will go over the ever changing configuration of options to recover your machine to a "factory install" state. In the last couple of years OEM's (Dell, HP, etc) have stopped shipping discs with machines, instead opting to have you create a "factory install" disc on your own, or more recently shipping with a Recovery partition.
Should you have an older machine, reformatting your hard drive with an included disc will erase all data on the hard drive and allow you to start fresh with all the software that came preinstalled on your computer. You will be taken through the reinstall process which is fairly automated and eventually have a functioning computer. Dell provides a driver reinstall disc as well that will allow you to get the hardware that shipped with your machine to a working state.
A repair install is a bit different than a reformat in that it will only repair Windows and its associated files. None of your files, programs or anything on the machine you created will be affected. This is useful if Windows becomes corrupt and you don't wish to reformat and lose all your data.
Similar to reformatting your hard drive, a Recovery Partition is a place on your hard drive that is cordoned off and not usable until evoked. Using the Recovery Partition options will revert your machine to a "factory install" or a "day you bought it" state. When purchasing a machine from a retail store the usually use recovery partitions rather than supplying discs. You will lose all data on the machine using this feature, but it is not as destructive as a reformat in that your computer will be fully functional after the restore.
Whichever option you choose, ensure your vital data is backed up to a location not affected by any of these options so it will survive the process.
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Reformat, Repair Install, Recovery Partition
which one is right for you