If you own a Surface tablet of any kind, be aware that Microsoft offers a downloadable recovery image which you can use to recover the device to its original, factory-fresh state. This image is your final line of defense—barring a support call—in the event of an otherwise non-recoverable error.
I mentioned this recovery image previously in Tip: Be Prepared to Recover Your Surface Pro 3 No Matter What Happens. At the time, I thought these recovery images were only made available to Surface Pro devices. But as it turns out, they are also available for Surface RT, Surface 2, and Surface 3. So no matter which Surface you own, you can take advantage of this download should you need it.
To find the recovery image for your Surface, please visit the Surface support web site and sign-in to your Microsoft account.
Any Surface devices that are registered with your account will show up, and you can add other devices by selecting the device type and entering your serial number. This number, which is found on the Surface body under the kickstand, is as hard to read as possible, so you will need a magnifying glass. Or use your smart phone camera and then zoom in on the resulting image.
The recovery image is delivered as a ZIP file. Save that to disk and then prepare a USB flash drive—8 GB or more for Surface devices and 16 GB of more for Surface Pro devices—to use as a bootable recovery disk. It’s simple: Just format it in File Explorer and select FAT32 as the file system type. When it’s ready, just copy the contents of the ZIP file onto the flash drive.
To boot your Surface with this disk, make sure the Surface is powered off and plugged in to power. Then, while holding down the VOLUME DOWN button, power on the Surface, making sure to keep the VOLUME DOWN button pressed in until the Surface logo appears on-screen.
At this point, Surface will boot into the recovery environment. Choose your language and keyboard layout, and then at the Choose An Option screen, choose Troubleshoot, then Reset Your PC.
If you are prompted to enter a recovery key, the onscreen instructions will tell you what you need to know. From there, Reset Your PC works as expected.
In the event this isn’t obvious, this recovery image won’t usually be required. These tools are available on the Surface disk by default, and on a recovery disk if you make one with Windows too. But it’s nice to know the option exists is everything goes south.