Freeing up Disk Space on a Windows 8 tablet


Image from Graeme Newcomb, Flickr
Is your hard disk overloaded?

Updated 12/05/2014: Included some new savings that can be made after installing Windows 8.1 Update 1

I love my little Windows 8 HP ElitePad but if I had one major complaint its that I got the one with only 32GB. I knew, from years of maintaining PCs, laptops & netbooks, that the space would quickly be eaten up by Windows Updates alone! In fact, when the ElitePad was brand new out the box it unbelievably only had 11GB free.

I went to upgrade to Windows 8.1 now it has been publically released but discovered that I only had around 750MB free on my c: drive! The Win8.1 Pro download was 2.1GB itself so I had to do some serious freeing up of disk space. Unfortunately, Windows is quite good at hiding this stuff and a lot of online guides make recommend pointless “tips” such as “to save space, flush the DNS cache”!

So here is my guide on several options you have to free up space on your restricted device. Some of them, like removing the recovery partition, are one-offs but others can be repeated whenever space starts to get a bit tight

Tip 1: Removing the Recovery Partition (reclaim 3-6GB)

This tip was mentioned a lot at the initial release of Windows 8 but I held off for a while because I thought it sounded complicated. It turns out, it is actually really easy! You could just delete it but I’d advise against that. You are better off buying a cheap USB drive and transferring the Recovery Partition to that using the Microsoft Built-in Wizard. I only needed a 4GB drive which cost about £2. I just followed Microsoft’s own guide and it worked flawlessly.

Creating a USB recovery drive

Bear in mind, the recovery drive is only valid for the original operating system, i.e. if your tablet originally came with Windows 8, and you subsequently upgraded 8.1

Tip 2: Reset to Factory Defaults (reclaim ~6GB)

One of the quickest ways to free up space is to reset the tablet to factory default settings, a bare-bones image with only the original OS and OEM drivers (and usually none of the bloatware).  This is one of the new built-in features of Windows 8 and I’d recommend doing it as soon as you take the wrapping of the box! Unfortunately, you are probably reading this article because you have already had your device for some time and only just starting to look at this option. The whole process only took about 15 minutes for me and also had the bonus of speeding up the performance of the tablet dramatically. I wasn’t bothered about taking a backup first as I new all of my personal data was in OneDrive or my SD card and any installed apps could be re-downloaded from the Store.

Performing a reset on windows 8
With no power comes great battery expectations

How to refresh, reset or restore your PC at Windows.com

If you have already removed you recovery partition, as I recommended in Tip 1 above, the ElitePad presents its own issue when trying to perform a reset . When trying to perform a reset from within Windows, it needs to be plugged in to a power source and have the USB recovery drive attached. This is impossible on the ElitePad as it’s one and only data connection port can only have one of them attached at a time! I got around it as follows

  • Fully charge the ElitePad
  • When charging is complete, log in to Windows
    • If you are using BitLocker, you need put it in Suspend Mode
  • Open the PC Settings app
  • Go to Update and Recovery > Recovery > Advanced Startup and click Restart Now
  • This will then restart your tablet and boot into the Advanced Startup mode
  • Tap Troubleshoot
  • Tap Reset your PC
  • The tablet will restart again and ask you to insert your recovery media
  • What options you pick next are up to you. Be careful if you also have an SD card in the tablet because one of the options will wipe that as well
  • After about 10-15 minutes you should be able to log back in to Windows and go through the First-Run setup again.
  • Apply all the Microsoft updates (which at time of writing was about 99, then Windows 8.1, then a few more!)
  • Run disk cleanup (see tip 5 below) in elevated System Files mode to remove the windows.old folder and any temporary update files
  • After all those file moves, I’d recommend a defrag too!

Tip 3: Add an SD Card (adds up to 64GB space)

This tip possibly sounds better than it really is but it is useful all the same. Most Windows tablets, like my ElitePad or Microsoft Surface, have a MicroSD slot hidden somewhere in the casing. This is great for saving large videos, music and photos to but unfortunately Windows 8 won’t let you easily use the card to save Windows Store apps or always increasing system files.

Windows 8.0 – add an external card to Windows Libraries

By default, you can’t access the files saved to an SD Card from the Modern UI, e.g. the Pictures app looks in the Pictures library which doesn’t allow locations from a removable drive. Fortunately, you can add them to your libraries if you jump through a few hoops.  I got the tip from WinSuperSite and it’s worth reading the article and the comments to get the full backstory – Microsoft Surface Tip: Use microSD with Libraries and Metro-Style Apps.

Essentially you use the Disk Management console to mount the card in an empty folder on your C: drive.  I created mine in C:\Users\Thom\SDMount and the created VideoSD, PhotosSD and MusicSD sub-folders. You can then right-click these folders and select which library to add them to

Windows 8.1 & SD Cards

If you update to Windows 8.1 the process is a lot more streamlined. You can move the location of each folder by simply right-clicking it in Windows Explorer and going to the Location tab.

Click the Move button and browse to a relevant folder on your SD card. This even works for the OneDrive  folder!

Moving the Location of the OneDrive folder

There is a switch in  Settings > PCs and Devices > Default Save locations that looks like it does the same thing behind the scenes, however,  it won’t move any existing files over. It also leaves behind a useless shortcut to the folders in “This PC” (a.k.a. My Computer).

I have my SD card set up as follows. There isn’t a “Documents” folder because I redirect that to a subfolder in OneDrive.

Contents of my SD card

Tip 4: Uninstall bloatware, Uninstall Apps, Uninstall Features

It’s is a real shame that you can’t just leave programs installed and just get on with enjoying your tablet, unfortunately that seems to be one of the compromises of having such a powerful device in such a small package.

Bloatware

My device is by HP but it’s my experience that all OEMs pack on similar junk software that is actually of no use to anyone. Mine even came with software and drivers for hardware that wasn’t even installed! The only thing I kept on mine was HP’s software updater. Everything else was uninstalled from the Control Panel’s “Remove a Program” applet (Run > appwiz.cpl). HP, in their infinite wisdom also decided to install a user guide in every language under the sun onto the hard disk! A simple link to a website would have sufficed! That took up about 2GB.

Apps (Modern UI/Metro ones)

Windows lets you view the size of your apps so you can decide which ones may need the boot first. You can access by simply typing “App Size” into the Start Screen and it will open up the correct Settings page. You can then go back to the start screen and uninstall the chunkier apps by right-clicking them and selecting Uninstall from the app bar

I had a great looking Starchart app that was over 1GB! Similarly, lots of the graphically intense games, like Adera, took up huge chunks of space.  This did free up a lot of space for me. I decided that from now on I’ll only install a few games/apps at a time on my tablet. If they are good they are welcome to stay but if I find I don’t use them then they get removed. One nice feature of using the Windows Store is that you can re-download any app easily from your App History

Warning! Not all apps uninstall cleanly

I found this out when I was scanning my hard disk and discovered that there was still an Adera folder in the C:\Program Files\WindowsApps hidden folder and it had 1.2GB just sitting around. I deleted this manually but because it is a protected folder you need to take ownership first and then give yourself full control. If you don’t know what I mean by that, you can follow a guide here – Get access to the %ProgramFiles%\WindowsApps folder and view apps source code

Uninstall Features (built-in components)

There are a few things that Microsoft bundle in to the basic image on Windows that are called “Features”. It’s worth having a look through the ones that are installed to see if you can get rid of them and save a bit more space. I had Hyper-V enabled and I really didn’t need that on my tablet. Just search “Remove Features ” from the Start Screen and you should find it

Tip 5: Disk Cleanup (reclaim ~2GB)

This little tool has been built into Windows forever but Windows 8 has got even better at finding unnecessary logs and temporary files that are hogging your precious blocks of space. Make sure you click the System Files button so it can search all of the hidden folders too.

There is an easy to follow guide here if you have never used it before – Free Up Disk Space

Tip 6: Turn off Hibernation & Shrink the PageFile (Advanced Users)

This one should be labelled with all sorts of warnings but if you’ve read this far you must either know what you are doing or are getting desperate!

To turn off hibernation, type “powercfg.exe -h off” from an elevated command prompt. That should get rid of the hidden hiberfil.sys file that would be around 2GB.

I experimented with moving my Page File onto the mounted SD card but the tablet complained every time I rebooted. I settled at shrinking it down from 4GB to 1GB and that seems OK at the moment. You can find that setting by searching “Pagefile” from the Start Screen

Tip 6: Search the Hard Disk for Large Files

Use free disk management  tools, like Treesize Touch or WinDirStat, to track down what is really eating into your hard disk space. I like TreeSize because of it’s touch-friendly modern app (it got really fiddly trying to use fingers on the old desktop version!) Run them as an administrator to ensure they look at all of the hidden Microsoft folders. No doubt you will find the WinSxS folder and probably a lot of other files you have missed.

TreeSize Touch UI Screenshot
Click to view on the Windows Store

My tablet had a folder, C:\swsetup, that was full of OEM drivers and software setups that were only needed for the initial install. I deleted them safe in the knowledge I could download them from the internet if I ever needed them again. That is also how I found out about the ridiculous amount of HP User Manuals stored as PDFs, as well as discovering the Adera app folder the uninstaller left behind.

Be careful when deleting files, especially if you don’t know what they do. Do some research and keep a backup before you get trigger happy on that delete button

Tip X

Do you have any tips for saving space on a tablet? Let me now in the comments

 

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6 thoughts on “Freeing up Disk Space on a Windows 8 tablet

  1. I have a recovery partition and a Winrectools partition on my Win 8.1 tablet, between the two these account for 6gb of space, the trouble is even when I tried deleting them to leave unallocated spaced for some reason Partition Wizard would not let me re-size the C: partition like it does on a standard PC HDD/SSD, any idea why not?

    1. Sometimes it depends on where the partition is. I.E. you can only extend in front of the partition, not back.
      You can try downloading a Live Boot USB version of gParted as that is better at moving partitions around

  2. Hi Thom
    I’ve just stumbled upon this old post, it’s great.

    I would like to ask you, if you have the Elitepad Recovery USB drive still?
    If so, could you please share an image of it, with me?
    See, I have aquired 3 Elitepads, all with the recovery partition removed and now I’ve bricked one doing the Win 10 upgrade.

    You can ping me on G+, if you can help me out.

    Thanks, Thomas

    1. I do still have it but I can’t guarantee it will work. Have you got a ace I could upload the image too or if you send me a USB/money I can post you a replica?

  3. How in the world do I run “TreeSize Touch” “As Administrator” on my Surface RT?
    I downloaded that app thinking it was my cure, only to find out it cannot see any of the files I REALLY need it to see. Namely, System and hidden files and folders. I thought it was useless and then uninstalled.
    Here you are suggesting that it is good, but I need to run it “As Administrator” and near as I can tell that is an absolute no-no for store apps. I’ve even found threads chastising users for even suggesting such a thing. As if!
    Seriously though. Run a metro app “as administrator”??? Do tell.

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