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July 5, 2020

Windows 10 – How to cope with small system disk

Many devices, especially laptops, ship today with a small SSD and a bigger HDD. The device used as the example in this post is an HP ProBook 470 G5 laptop. It’s equipped with a so-called hybrid disk: a 128 GB M.2 SSD and a 1 TB spinner, with formatted capacities of 119 GB and 931 GB respectively. To get the most most out of the laptop, of course I want Windows installed on the SSD. The problem is, with all the software I need to install and space required for user profiles and data, that drive is absolutely too small for my needs to store everything.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution for this. In fact, that solution reduces the space needed on the system drive so much that I could easily cope with a 64 GB system disk as well. With over 50 GB of software installed, almost 100 GB in user profile folders, over 300 GB for Hyper-V virtual machines and a full-updated version of Windows 10, my Windows system drive C: currently has 86 GB free space with less than 33 GB used (see featured image above the post title). In fact, if I’d remembered to change the installation path in the Office 365 deployment XML file, the space used would be about 3 GB less ;). And, best of all, this solution requires no meddling with the registry or file junctions. I say best of all because, believe me, I have tested those options, too, only to get an unstable and partially non-functional Windows. For those of you keen to experiment, you can test this yourself (although I strongly advise against it!) by creating respective folders on another disk and editing the registry and changing items highlighted in this screenshot on two keys to point to another drive:

The two identical keys you need to edit:

1.) HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion
2.) HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion

Should  you wish to edit these keys on an offline image, see my tutorial at TenForums.com.

Partitioning as with any device, I started by creating an autounattend.xml answer file to completely wipe both disks, re-partition them and take care of Windows Setup. See my earlier series of posts about how to create and modify answer files to make unattended Windows 10 install media. The main benefit from this is of course to get rid of all bloatware. I wanted the small SSD to contain the all UEFI system partitions and the partition C: for Windows, and the bigger HDD to contain a 120 GB partition D: to install software, a 200 GB partition E: to relocate the Users folder (all user profiles and their data), a 500 GB partition to host my Hyper-V virtual machines, and then to use the rest of the disk for a partition to occasionally deploy and store a VHD to let me play with native boot VHDs. This is how my setup looks in Explorer, drive C: on system SSD and the rest of my partitions on HDD (drives H: and I: are on an external USB3 disk):

Click to open enlarged in a new tab.

OOBE & Relocate Users folder

The other answer file, unattend.xml to take care of OOBE and relocate Users folder from C: to E: drive was next. The answer file shown in that series of posts about creating install media for unattended install I mentioned earlier required one change. In that series, I didn’t want even to mention relocating the Users folder, because I am sick and tired of hearing about and answering nonsensical rumours about how that makes it impossible to update and upgrade Windows.

Using Sysprep to relocate Users folder to another drive is safe, fully supported and I have been using it since early days of Vista. When done, all future user profiles and all their folders will be created on drive specified in the answer file. Because user profiles can grow quite fast, this in my subjective opinion is the single most important thing to do when a system disk is small.To make this happen, I added this one simple setting to my answer file (screenshot from Windows System Image Manager):

Click to open enlarged in a new tab.

The same seen in resulting answer file:Done. Now I just needed to create USB install media, see how-tos in that aforementioned series of posts about unattended install media. Post Install Signing in to desktop the first time after totally “hands-free” installation, one nice thing to notice is how little space is used on the C: drive. Equally nice is to notice that whereas HP’s pre-installed Windows consumed over 5.5 GB of RAM when booted to the desktop, idle and no software running, after wiping everything clean and deploying a clean image, it now uses about 2 GB less:The biggest benefit is of course that all user profiles really were relocated to E:\Users instead of C:\Users, and that the Windows environment variable %userprofile% really recognizes its new home location:In the next screenshot I show the contents of the C: drive, including all hidden items and protected system files and folders, just to show that the Users folder really isn’t there:

Click to open enlarged in a new tab.

Now it is up to me to remember to always install software on drive D: instead of the default Program Files folders on the C: drive. As long as I remember to change the install path, and I certainly do, my small system disk has all the space it will ever need:

Click to open enlarged in a new tab.

That’s it! I just love this laptop, having none of the issues typical for a small system SSD. As I mentioned at the beginning, I could in fact totally cope also with an even smaller system disk. Kari

Author: Kari Finn

A former Windows Insider MVP, Kari started in computing in the mid 80’s writing code for VAX / VMS systems. Since then, he’s worked in a variety of IT positions. He specializes in Windows image capture, customization, repair and deployment as well as Hyper-V virtualization. Kari is a proud Team Member at number #1 Windows site TenForums.com.

3 Responses “Windows 10 – How to cope with small system disk”

  1. Steve Howard
    August 9, 2018 at 01:29

    This is my third attempt at replying, so I hope it works. I have followed this procedure VERY successfully to install Windows on my tiny SSD in my laptop, although admittedly, at 32 GB, it’s a lot smaller than Kari’s 128 GB drive. I’ve been using my Dell XPS L521x for 2 years now with my Windows install on the SSD and ALL my other files on the 500 GB “spinner” storage drive. Kari, can you describe a way to move the “Program Files” and “Program Files (x86)” folders over to the D: drive or is it a “no-go”?

  2. August 9, 2018 at 02:10

    Hi Steve.

    See the beginning of this post, where I show what registry keys you need to edit to move Program Files. Please note that I also warn against it, but with your small system disk, I might be interested enough to test. In any case I would first create an image backup, then perform a clean install and test the registry method and ONLY if it works satisfactory, restore the image, copy both Program Files folders to bigger disk and change values in registry as told in this post.

    I feel it important to repeat, it is not supported by Microsoft and therefore I warn against it. At the sime time I understand that aa 32 GB system disk might make me to choose it, too.

  3. Steve Howard
    August 9, 2018 at 05:09

    Well, I take your warning to heart. Fortunately with a new version of Window 10 coming out about once a week (been an Insider for 2 years now) I really don’t mind pushing the envelope. And don’t feel like taking up a bunch of space with a Macrium image. Using the reg-tweaks you outlined earlier, I first notices ond GIGANTIC advantage…when I install a new program, it is automatically installed to my secondary “storage” drive, so now I can install programs without having to remember to choose “Drive D:” and/or having to uninstall if I forget to choose the correct drive. I just installed WIP Build 17733 just prior to doing the reg-tweaks and will let the PC run this way until the next WIP update to see how it goes. If things continue to run “trouble free” I’ll move my “Program Files” and “Program Files (x86)” directories over to my spinner and go from there. Thanks for the tips. Your posts and tutorials have added new life to my daily computing life. Thanks SO much!

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