If your computer is running low on storage space, you should consider either reimaging or reformatting it. Both processes will free up space by deleting files. While similar, though, reimaging and reformatting aren’t the same. Each process works in a different way, so you need to familiarize yourself with their nuances before proceeding to reimage or your reformat your computer.

What Is Reimaging?

Reimaging is a recovery process that involves restoring a computer back to its factory settings. When you purchase a new computer, it typically comes with pre-installed software. Reimaging allows you to keep this software while deleting all other files on your computer.

To reimage your computer, you’ll need a recovery disc or drive. Most computers are sold with a recovery disc or drive. It contains the operating system, as well as other software, that originally came with the computer. Some computers even have a hard drive partition for the recovery drive.

What Is Reformatting?

Reformatting, on the other hand, is a process that involves deleting all files — including pre-installed software — on a computer’s hard drive. When you reformat your computer, you’ll erase all the files on the respective hard drive, including any pre-installed software.

Because the operating system is typically stored on a computer’s hard drive, reformatting requires you to reinstall the operating system. Without an operating system, you won’t be able to use your computer.

In Windows 10, you can reformat a hard drive by accessing Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer Management > Disk Management. Once on the Disk Management screen, right-click your desired hard drive and choose the “Format” option to begin the process.

When to Reimage Your Computer

You should reimage your computer if you want to keep the pre-installed software. If your computer came with productivity software or cybersecurity software, for example, reimaging will allow you to continue using this software.

When to Reformat Your Computer

Because it involves the deletion of all your computer’s files, reformatting should only be used as a last resort. If your computer is infected with a severe form of malware, for example, you may should try to reimage it first. If reimaging doesn’t work and the infection remains, reformatting may be your only option. Once reformatting, you’ll have a clean hard drive devoid of all files, including malware.

Reimaging and reformatting will both delete files from your computer. The difference is that reimaging retains your computer’s pre-installed software, whereas reformatting deletes all your computer’s files.