Windows 8 offers at least one major improvement over previous Windows versions — namely, the ability to refresh the underlying operating system while keeping personal files intact. That said, if you use the built-in Windows image file for that purpose on your Windows 8 machines, you’ll end up having to re-install all of the applications you added to the bare-bones version that Microsoft delivers to users and sysadmins alike. But you can avoid the extra work involved in those re-installs, and save lots of time and effort, if you generate a custom image file (.WIM) from a fully tricked-out version of Windows instead. Launching the refresh process is simple: from the Windows 8 Start screen, simply type “refresh,” then select the “Refresh Your PC” option that shows up among the Settings choices. But before you get anywhere near this command, create a more usable Windows image to refresh into, by following these instructions:
1. Launch the Command Prompt with Administrative permissions (right-click cmd.exe and choose “Run as administrator” or click Windows+X to launch system utilities, and select Command Prompt (Admin). Click Yes when the UAC warning appears.
2. Create a folder wherein the custom refresh image file will reside. On smaller SSD-based systems, you may want to select a different disk drive. On my test system I created a folder named
E:\RefreshImage. OTOH, you can create the image on your C: drive, then copy it elsewhere later on (on my Lenovo X220, I moved it to an external HD after creation, because it was much faster to build the image on the 120 GB SSD, then move it to the USB external HD thereafter). It can take 20-30 minutes to build an image file, even on a fast SSD, so be prepared to let the PC chunk away in the background on this task. On the Lenovo, the image file consumed just over 17 GB; on my i7 desktop, it topped 30 GB.
3. Type the create image command with appropriate parameters:
recimg /createimage E:\RefreshImage. It creates a file named
CustomRefresh.wim in the target directory.
Done! When you create your image, the
recimg command automatically registers that image with Windows 8, so the OS knows it should use this image when you run the refresh utility. If you maintain multiple images, you can select which one to register by using the
/deregister (to prevent Windows from using the most current image with
/setcurrent (to establish the refresh association you want) parameters with the
recimg command. Of course, now you need to remember to generate a fresh new image each time you add or remove another application from your Windows 8 desktop, or after applying patches or hotfixes to the OS. That way, you’ll keep your image current should you need to refresh it.
The refresh facility was a very nice addition to Windows 8. Using the recimg command to capture fresh images on an as-need basis makes it even nicer! Also, check out the free SlimUtilities RecImg Manager program, which puts a user-friendly graphical UI around the command line function.