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Have you ever noticed the Windows.old folder in your system directory after re-installing Windows How To Make a Bootable USB, CD or DVD to Install Windows Using an ISO File How To Make a Bootable USB, CD or DVD to Install Windows Using an ISO File Need installation media to reinstall Windows? In this article we'll show you where to get Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 installation files and how to create a bootable USB, CD, or DVD from scratch. Read More ? The folder holds a copy of your previous installation. With its help, you can restore data or salvage personal files Turn Back Time: 4 Tools & Tips To Restore Deleted Files In Windows Turn Back Time: 4 Tools & Tips To Restore Deleted Files In Windows One of Windows' biggest flaws could be your rescue, should you ever accidentally delete an important file: The Windows file system does not actually delete files. Until they are overwritten, deleted files can be restored. Read More and program settings you forgot to back up.

Since Windows.old is a complete backup of your system and user data, it comes to at least 3GB, plus anything you installed or stored under your user profile on top of that. Should you be short on space, here’s where you can get a big chunk of storage space back Low Disk Space? 5 Native Windows Tools To Free Up Storage Space Low Disk Space? 5 Native Windows Tools To Free Up Storage Space Don't download a fishy third party tool to reclaim valuable disk space! Windows has its own tools for the job and they're easy to use. Read More . I’ll also discuss Windows Rollback for those of you running Windows 10 Technical Preview.

What Exactly is Windows.old?

When you upgrade or refresh Windows How To Restore, Refresh, or Reset Your Windows 8 Installation How To Restore, Refresh, or Reset Your Windows 8 Installation In addition to the standard System Restore feature, Windows 8 has features for "refreshing" and "resetting" your PC. Think of these as ways of quickly re-installing Windows -- either keeping your personal files or deleting... Read More or when you re-install on top of an existing installation without formatting the drive, your old Windows files will be preserved in a folder called Windows.old. You’ll find it in the root folder of your new Windows installation, typically C:\Windows.old

Windows Old Folder

Since it contains the files of an entire Windows installation, including user profiles and any personal files you might have stored within them, this folder often totals over 10GB, space you could probably use otherwise.

How to Retrieve Files from Windows.old?

You should hold on to the Windows.old folder until you’re certain that your current setup works smoothly and you don’t need any files from this backup. Should you notice you’re missing something, though, you can dig into your Windows.old folder. It’s even possible to restore the previous Windows installation, but that’s complicated and potentially messy. It’s best to start from scratch.

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To restore data from the Windows.old folder, you can either access it and extract files manually or you can run the Recover personal files tool. When the option Apply repairs automatically is checked (default setting), personal files from the Windows.old folder, including any Users folders and Documents and Settings, will automatically be copied back to their original locations. Click the following link for a direct recovery tool download from Microsoft.

Recover Personal Files

How to Remove Windows.old?

You could simply wait for 28 days. The creation of Windows.old also triggers a scheduled task How To Stop Your Windows Computer From Randomly Waking Up How To Stop Your Windows Computer From Randomly Waking Up Computers can have restless nights, too. Sometimes, they turn on for no apparent reason and eventually go back to sleep. Making your computer sleep through the night isn't hard and we show you how. Read More that will delete the system files contained within the folder after four weeks.

You have only 28 days to retrieve most files from the Windows.old folder, beginning from the time you install, upgrade to, refresh, or reset Windows. After that time, most of the content of Windows.old (…) is automatically deleted. Files and settings stored in the Users or Documents and Settings subfolders of Windows.old might still be available in Windows.old after 28 days, but other files, including Windows installation files, will be deleted.

Source: Microsoft

To remove the folder before its time is up, search for Administrative Tools, double-click on Disk Cleanup Need A Disk Cleanup? Visualize What Takes Up Space On Your Windows PC Need A Disk Cleanup? Visualize What Takes Up Space On Your Windows PC Oh the pressure when you run out of disk space. What to delete? The fastest way to locate junk files is to use a tool that helps you visualize your system's file structure. Read More , select the system disk, and click OK. In the results window (left), click the button Clean up system files and confirm the selection of the system drive again.

The following scan could take a little longer. The new results (right) will contain the option Previous Windows installation(s). Check it and click OK to purge these files from your computer. You will be asked to confirm the selection; click Delete files to proceed.

Disk Cleanup

How to Remove the Windows 10 Rollback Boot Option?

If you’re a Windows Insider dual or multi-booting the Windows 10 Technical Preview How To Install New Windows 10 Preview Builds Without Issues How To Install New Windows 10 Preview Builds Without Issues A new Windows 10 Technical Preview Build 9879 was released a few days ago. We'll show you how to get new builds automatically, upgrade manually, prevent errors, and where to download new ISO images. Read More , you might have noticed that a Windows Rollback option added itself to the boot menu. Here’s a word of warning: DO NOT select this option, unless you really want to revert to the previous build. The rollback process will launch immediately, without an additional confirmation and it is unstoppable. That said, if you do want to downgrade, it does work and it’s fast; I “tried” it twice.

It’s way too easy to accidentally select the wrong boot option. Once you find that the new build works fine, I strongly recommend you remove the rollback boot option. You can of course keep the Windows.old folder and thus maintain the option to roll back.

To edit the boot menu, click Windows key + R, enter msconfig and hit Enter. Switch to the Boot tab, select the boot option you’d like to remove, and click Delete. I already removed the rollback option, which is why it is not shown in the screenshot below.

Windows 10 Boot Menu

Has Windows.old Ever Saved Your Bacon?

Given how frustrating it can be to lose your personal files, Windows.old is a very smart feature. Even when Windows no longer boots, your files are still there. You can access them and make a backup with a rescue disk 5 Best Rescue Disks For A Windows System Restore 5 Best Rescue Disks For A Windows System Restore Every Windows user should be aware of at least one bacon-saving, data-recovering system restore disk. It can help you access your computer to make repairs and backups, even when it won't boot. Read More . Knowing that they will automatically be backed up, however, is reassuring. Just don’t format the drive before you re-install.

We’d like to hear from you! Has this automatic backup ever helped you recover files you would otherwise have forgotten about and lost? How could Microsoft make Windows.old better?

  1. Doc Horsley
    December 30, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    WIndows.old has, more than once, been a lifesaver for me. I don't know why, but the mandatory Windows 10 updates often remove software that I have installed. Thanks to Windows.old, I've been able to get the deleted stuff back from Windows.old. I'm not a full-time computer guy. I use the PC when I need to. For me, that means that unwanted changes may not be noticed for days or even weeks. So, I'm not messing with Windows.old any time soon.

  2. PlaGeRaN
    March 12, 2015 at 7:25 am

    another reason why having an external comes handy, save all the important stuff on there and rather do clean installs than dirty upgrades.

    and don't forget to backup your drivers aswell.

  3. Gordon
    March 10, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    You don't need to go through that first scan stage of Disc Cleanup, simply right click on it (in Administrative Tools) and click on Run as Administrator, it will go straight to the full system files scan.

    Also, the boot selection screen during Windows 10 start-up was a bug that was fixed/removed with the last update.

    • Tina
      March 10, 2015 at 2:53 pm

      Thanks for the feedback, Gordon.

      On my system the boot screen selection bug persisted, besides installing all updates.

  4. ryan
    March 10, 2015 at 2:16 am

    Whenever I've truly needed the 'restore' concept is after the computer has been infected with whatever (virus, Trojan, etc.). Windows has never delivered on this. I usually keep a couple of cleanup tools like Ccleaner or Glary on hand to keep the crud from stockpiling.

  5. CTDavid
    March 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    The easiest and quickest way that I have found for getting rid of Windows.old is to just boot up with most any version of Linux and erase the file from within the file manager. No muss, no fuss, no pesky permissions to deal with, and much faster than using Windows' Disc Cleaner

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