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As far as disk space requirements go, Windows 10 is downright gluttonous with its minimum requirement of 16 GB (for the 32-bit version) and 20 GB (for the 64-bit version). Compare that to macOS Sierra, which needs just under 9 GB, and Ubuntu, which barely needs 5 GB.
This may not be an issue if you’re on a 1 TB HDD, but it can be frustrating to have so much space wasted on a 32 or 64 GB SSD. (And you should be using an SSD!) Fortunately, Windows 10 offers several features and ways to reduce the operating system’s footprint and reclaim some of that space.
1. Storage Sense
In the Creators Update, Windows 10 received a new automatic cleanup feature called Storage Sense. It doesn’t do anything new but exists as a quality-of-life upgrade that frees you from the responsibility of organizing and deleting files yourself. To enable the feature:
- Launch the Settings app.
- Navigate to System > Storage > Storage Sense.
- Toggle On.
For a more in-depth look, see our overview of Storage Sense.
2. Compact OS
Compact OS is a Windows 10 feature that uses compression to decrease the overall space taken up by system files and Windows Store apps. When you turn it on, it’ll need a few minutes to compress everything. But once it’s done, you could see an instant gain of anywhere from 1 to 7 GB.
Compact OS requires a little more RAM when accessing system files due to the decompression, but that’s about it in terms of performance loss. For benchmark details, potential risks, and instructions on how to set it up, see our overview of Compact OS.
3. NTFS Compression
Did you know that Windows can selectively compress individual files and folders while letting you use them as you would normally? The feature is called NTFS Compression and may be a better option than using an app like 7-Zip to compress and decompress files on demand.
- Launch File Explorer (Windows key + E) and navigate to any file or folder.
- Right-click on the file or folder and select Properties.
- In the General tab, click Advanced…
- Enable the checkbox for Compress contents to save disk space.
Note that there is a trade-off to NTFS compression! In exchange for reducing disk space usage, files and folders will use more CPU when accessed because they need to be decompressed. How much more? It’s hard to say because it depends on the file type. However, if you have a modern system with a relatively fast CPU, you probably won’t notice much of a performance hit.
We only recommend NTFS compression for infrequently used files, such as backup documents, reference materials, etc. Avoid using it for audio and video files because they’ve likely been compressed already according to their codecs. Do NOT use NTFS compression for system files or folders!
4. Apps and Media on External Storage
The first major update to Windows 10 introduced the ability to install Windows Store apps to external storage devices, including USB drives, SD cards, and external data drives. While most of the default Windows 10 apps aren’t great, there are plenty of awesome Windows Store apps worth trying.
It also works with media files, such as images, audio, video, etc. This can help free up a lot of space on your main drive. But before you do anything, make sure you plug in an external storage device and set up the media redirection:
- Launch the Settings app.
- Navigate to System > Storage > More storage settings.
- Click Change where new content is saved.
- For the file types you want redirected, change the storage device from This PC to the name of the plugged-in external storage device.
- Click Apply to save your changes.
5. Cloud Storage
You probably don’t use OneDrive — not many people do — but you may want to reconsider that. Microsoft offers a free plan that comes with a total capacity of 5 GB, and if you disable all syncing options, you can use it as a separate storage.
- Launch the OneDrive app.
- In the system tray, right-click the OneDrive icon and select Settings.
- In the Account tab, click Choose folders.
- Uncheck all of the folders you don’t want to sync.
- Click OK.
The only downside is that you’ll have to use OneDrive on the web to upload and download files as you need them. As such, we recommend reserving OneDrive for important but infrequently used files. Perhaps in the future, Microsoft will allow a direct interface for this in File Explorer without needing to sync.
6. Reserved Allocations
There are three major features in Windows 10 that reserve large chunks of your data drive for storing data: Hibernation, System Restore, and Page File. We don’t recommend tampering with the page file, but the first two can be adjusted to reclaim disk space.
Saves a snapshot of your current system state, saves it to a file called hiberfil.sys, then powers down the display, the ports, the data drive, and RAM. This is useful for when you want to step away for a few hours without shutting everything down, since waking up from hibernation is much faster than booting up cold.
But the hiberfil.sys file is big — by default, it’s about 75 percent of your total RAM. If you have 4 GB of RAM, then the file is 3 GB! And this file exists all the time, reserved in case you want to hibernate. To get rid of it, you have to disable hibernation altogether.
- Press Windows key + X and select Command Prompt (Admin).
- To disable hibernation, type: powercfg.exe /hibernate off
- To enable hibernation, type: powercfg.exe /hibernate on
Note that hibernation must be on if you want to take advantage of the Fast Startup feature in Windows 10.
Windows 10 lacks a system recovery partition. Instead, it relies on System Restore, a feature that creates and saves snapshots of your entire system that you can use to restore your system in case something ever goes wrong. Learn more about it in our overview of System Restore in Windows 10.
The problem is that these snapshots take up a lot of space, and the amount reserved is based on a percentage of your data drive’s capacity. By default, Windows 10 reserves 15 percent. For a 500 GB HDD, that’s a whopping 75 GB. You can either reduce the percentage or turn off System Restore altogether.
- Launch the Control Panel app.
- In the top right, search for system restore.
- In the results, under System, click Create a restore point.
- In the System Protection tab, click Configure…
- To disable System Restore altogether, select Disable system protection. Otherwise, under Disk Space Usage, move the Max Usage slider to however much space you want to reserve for System Restore.
Note that an average restore point takes up about 600 MB. We recommend reserving enough space for at least five of them, which is about 3 GB minimum.
7. Disk Cleanup
Running Disk Cleanup once every month can help keep your system clean by getting rid of unnecessary files. However, we also recommend running the system version of Disk Cleanup after every successful Windows Update.
When Windows updates, it keeps a backup snapshot of your system prior to the update in case something goes wrong and you want to revert. These snapshots can be huge. When going from the Anniversary Update to the Creators Update, my system’s snapshot was over 5 GB. Prior to that, the snapshots for the Fall Update reached as high as 24 GB!
- Launch the Disk Cleanup app.
- Click Clean up system files.
- Select all of the file types you want to delete. We recommend Windows Update Cleanup, Temporary Internet Files, Temporary Files, and Recycle Bin at the least. Just make sure the latest Windows Update hasn’t caused any issues and that you don’t need anything in the Recycle Bin!
How Do You Save Space in Windows 10?
Once upon a time, data drives were measured in megabytes. Gigabytes were a luxury most couldn’t afford. Isn’t it funny how we now have terabyte drives yet still run out of space way too easily? Using the features and tips above, hopefully, you can now fit a bit more onto your crammed system.
What other tricks and tips do you use for managing disk space? If there’s anything we missed, or if you have any other thoughts, we’d love to hear from you. Please share in a comment below!