Refresh and Reset

One of Windows 8’s most appealing new features for enterprises is something Microsoft calls “refresh and reset.” It adds the ability to automatically roll a busted Windows install back to a pristine state. The “refresh” functionality rolls back changes to system files and installed desktop applications (unless you create your own recovery image; more on that in a minute) but preserves user data, and the “reset” functionality reverts Windows to its freshly-installed state. This is analogous to the appliance-like “reset” or “restore factory defaults” functions present in many smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, and other electronics capable of storing customized settings and user data.

Refresh and reset, accessible from the “General” section of the Metro settings and from the WinRE recovery menu, both use the same image-based technology used by Windows Setup to do their thing. Since Vista, Windows install media has included (1) a collection of files required to enabled booting from the media and (2) a large, monolithic .WIM image file that is uncompressed and copied to the hard drive during install—this contrasts with the setup process for Windows XP and earlier versions, which expanded and copied individual files from the install media to the hard drive. Microsoft also offers a number of tools (many included in the Windows ADK) to let end users and IT admins create their own, customized .WIM images, which can be used to deploy a custom Windows installation to many computers quickly.

So, to continue the Windows Setup analogy, “refreshing” the PC acts as an upgrade install, replacing the operating system while preserving user data. Metro-style apps will also be preserved, but installed desktop apps will be removed and a list of them will be placed on your desktop in HTML format for reference—Microsoft’s reasoning for this behavior is that malicious desktop apps are more likely to be the cause of serious problems than are Metro apps from the Windows Store’s “walled garden”.

“Resetting” the PC acts as a clean install that blows away all user data, especially useful if a PC is being repurposed or sold or otherwise transferred from one party to another. The reset option also gives you the option of erasing the hard drive securely so that sensitive data won’t be at risk.

Recimg: Creating Custom Recovery Images

There’s one more major component to the refresh feature, and it’s probably the most interesting one—using the Recimg command-line tool, users can create snapshots of their systems to use as the reference point for a refresh. These snapshots, which are really just the same .WIM images used by Windows Setup, will store settings, drivers, and both Metro and desktop applications, and can be created at any time and stored basically anywhere, including the Windows partition.

These recovery images can even be used to replace factory restore partitions—suppose that you buy a cheap Windows 8 PC, as many people will do, and it comes with the requisite sea of crapware and no recovery DVDs or USB sticks. Thanks to Recimg, you can uninstall that crapware, update drivers, install programs you actually want, capture an updated crapware-free image, and then delete the old recovery image/partition from your hard drive to save the space. Relatives who have broken their PCs can then use the recovery image to revert their PCs to an unbroken state without losing their personal data.

Sounds useful, right? Let’s talk a bit more about how to use recimg.

First, you’ll need to run the Command Prompt as an administrator—otherwise, Recimg won’t run. From here, you can launch recimg with one of five different switches:

  • Recimg /createimage <directory> will create a new install.WIM image containing your installed drivers and programs to a directory you specify. The easiest way to do this is to store it on a local hard drive, but an external drive will also work as long as the external drive is plugged in when you initiate the refresh). The size of the .WIM file will vary based on what you’ve got installed, but images usually start at 3 or 4 GB and work their way up from there.
  • Recimg /setcurrent <directory> will set the install.WIM image in the specified directory as the one Windows will use when refreshing your PC. If you run Recimg /createimage but don’t use /setcurrent afterward, Windows won’t know to use your image.
  • Recimg /deregister will deregister the currently set recovery image. If a previously-created recovery image exists, Windows will revert to using it. If no image exists, Windows will ask for you to insert install media when you try to refresh the PC.
  • Recimg /showcurrent tells you where your current recovery image is stored.
  • Recimg /? tells you all of the stuff I just told you.

The primary downside of Recimg is that it can’t be used to reset a PC, only to refresh. My test PCs always asked me to insert Windows install media to use the reset functionality—OEM PCs that ship with Windows 8 may behave differently, but we’ll have to wait and see.

That aside, Recimg and the refresh/reset functionality do a solid job of making OS reinstallation a bit simpler—Windows Setup isn’t very hard now but it, combined with the challenge of reinstalling apps and drivers, has made reinstalling a fresh copy of Windows more of a pain than it needs to be.

Storage Spaces

Windows 8's new Storage Spaces functionality allows users to pool different physical drives together into one large logical drive, not unlike the now-discontinued Windows Home Server Drive Extender. You can pool drives connected by just about any common interface, including USB, SATA, and SAS.

Once you've created a storage pool using two or more drives, you can then set up one or more "spaces" that will be seen by the operating system as a logical drive which can be formatted, partitioned, and used just as a physical disk would be. To provide redundancy, you can either apply the "mirrored" attribute to your pool, which makes sure that a copy of every file in the pool is stored on at least two different physical drives, or the "parity" attribute, which uses some drive space to store redundancy information—in the event of drive failure, this information is used to rebuild your pool and enforce mirroring. Microsoft notes that while the two redundancy options are similar, the "parity" attribute is best used for large sequential files or less-frequently-accessed content, since it has a higher random I/O overhead. As with any redundancy technology, you'll give up maximum drive capacity in exchange for data integrity, so weigh your priorities carefully when you create your pool.

When creating a new Storage Space, you can specify a maximum size larger than the amount of available physical space—the system will prompt you when the storage pool needs more drives to work with. Microsoft calls this "thin provisioning," which means that drive capacity is only reserved as you store data to the drive rather than all at once. You can also expand the maximum size of the Storage Space at a later point if necessary. Creation of these spaces can be scripted using PowerShell.

My experience with Storage Spaces was a bit spotty—it didn't seem to want to recognize some of the USB sticks I plugged into my computer, and it wasn't clear why. It may be that there are some unspoken speed or hardware requirements that a couple of my drives just weren't meeting. Once I did get it working, though, it worked as designed—as you can see in the screenshot above, I unplugged one of the drives from the pool I had configured to simulate what would happen in the event of drive failure, and the redundancy features ensured that I was still able to access all files I had copied to the pool. One could then reconnect the drive or add a new one to the pool to restore redundancy.

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  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Yes it will. Reply
  • poisonsnak - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    As Andrew said it will run fine on AMD hardware. I've been running the Developer Preview since September on my Phenom II X6 1100T & Radeon 6970, which I then (side-graded?) to an FX-8150, and then upgraded to the Consumer Preview.

    The only BSOD or crash I've ever had was when I tried to install the AMD USB filter driver under the developer preview - it warned me the driver was unlikely to work, I gave it my usual "I know better than you" and promptly got to see the fancy new Win8 BSOD screen.
    Reply
  • rickmoranisftw - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Haters gonna hate man. I'm sorry people have blown up on you for no reason. Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    It's cool - mostly I'm just confused about it, but the constructive comments have far outnumbered the trollish ones at this point. :-)

    Either way, I'm working on getting an AMD system for future use.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Don't worry about it. He tested enough systems, and you can make a guess as where AMD would stand in those systems. I agree that a lot of people use AMD - it's all I buy for friends and family as the Microcenter deals are too hard to pass up. I don't think it effects the review at all - Windows 8 won't look any different on an AMD system. Reply
  • rickmoranisftw - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I too just created an account today. Ive been reading anandtech for a while now but havent bothered to make an account. But today i had too.

    There is absolutely no reason for you or anyone else to blow up on Andrew for only using intel systems for this review, a review of a preview at that, when his reasoning was extremely simple. He just didnt have an AMD system on hand. Who are you to blame anyone of being biased when you know nothing about them.

    I'm disappointed that i didn't read these comments until today (monday) or i would have commented sooner. I was so pissed off after reading these comments i messed up two different captcha's when making my account just now. I hope you're just saying this to try to feel some sense of superiority over someone who actually has a job on a real tech site, and not because you actually think andrew is that biased toward intel. Because that's just stupid.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Thanks. :-) Reply
  • AeroRob - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I don't see how anyone who's spent so much as five minutes along with Windows 8 on a normal desktop computer--let alone hours--could say that the new start menu system is even remotely an improvement on the old system. It is unequivocally worse. It creates a jarring, disjointed experience, with an interface that is less versatile and consequently makes simple tasks more difficult.

    Why must I jump through hoops just to shut my computer down? Or if I'm not sure Windows considers what I'm looking for an app or a setting, why do I have to do multiple searches, when previous versions of Windows would show me all the possibilities?

    It would be so simple for Microsoft to solve all these numerous (yet minor) annoyances: give a legacy desktop option. Just one little checkbox to where a user can specify that they would rather boot into the desktop than the Metro BS, and to restore the start menu to a Windows 7 state. You can't tell me that would be difficult in the least, but MS would rather be obstinate jerks, trying to force users into a "new experience" that they don't want, don't like, and that actively works to make their workflow more inefficient.

    Change isn't a bad thing, but only when that change is an improvement. Going from the XP start menu to Vista's added functionality and made things easier. Going from 7 to 8, though, is a step backward, and users shouldn't have to suffer just because MS wants to push their little pet project.
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I'm glad I'm not the only one. I find myself having to move left to right across the screen to do stuff that a simple rightclick/clcik would do previously.

    Having to use the keyboard for stuff that a mouse click did previously as I cant work out if there is a mouse equivalent or if it exists at all.

    No visual clues as to how to use it. Just clicking on all the empty space in the hope something useful happens.

    I see one thing makes the desktop bit shrink to a small size in the middle of the screen. I have no idea what that is for.

    I think Metro is fine for folks that have never used a computer for real day to day office work that brings home the bacon. You know the types.
    Reply
  • AeroRob - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Assuming MS doesn't reverse course on their "Abandon the Start Menu" decision, hopefully by time the RTM version rolls out, they will include some sort of tutorial the first time you switch into desktop mode.

    Really, though, the whole ordeal reminds me of when Apple made the iPod Shuffle without any buttons on the physical device, and insisted on making users learn a sort of Morse code on the remote to accomplish anything. You could argue that a single button makes things "simplified," but that doesn't prevent it from being an inane, unproductive input method.
    Reply

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