If you have a cheap Windows 8.1 tablet with just 16GB or 32GB of storage you might notice something odd when you upgrade to Windows 10 later this year: according to Microsoft, you should have more free space.

That’s because the company has done two big things to make its operating system’s footprint smaller.

w10 space

Compression

First up, the company has built compression for system files into the operating system. This frees up about 1.5GB of disk space that would otherwise be used by Windows on a system with a 32-bit build of the operating system. 64-bit Windows systems will get an extra 2.6GB of disk space.

Microsoft actually launched a configuration utility called WIMBOOT last year, which allows system builders to free up space in much the same way. But computer makers had to choose whether to use WIMBOOT when installing Windows. It wasn’t automatic and it wasn’t something most users could do by themselves. So few Windows 8.1 devices actually use WIMBOOT.

Since compression could have a negative impact on performance on slower computers, Windows 10 will automatically analyze your computer to determine whether it can handle compression and it will only be used on devices that have enough RAM and fast enough processors.

Compression will also be applied automatically to apps downloaded from the Windows Store.

Microsoft says data compression will be used on Windows 10 for phones as well as Windows 10 for tablets, notebooks, and desktops.

Somewhat ironically, if you do have one of the few devices currently using WIMBOOT, Microsoft doesn’t currently offer a way to update to Windows 10 — because there’s probably not enough space on your computer to hold Windows 8.1, the Windows 10 installer, and the Windows 10 operating system. Microsoft doesn’t erase your Windows 8.1 files immediately upon starting the upgrade process because if there’s a problem, it may be necessary to revert.

Recovery

The other major change in Windows 10 is that Microsoft is making it unnecessary for PC makers to include a full recovery image in local storage. This can free up between 4GB and 12GB of storage.

Instead, if you need to reset your computer to factory settings, Windows 10 will use its own runtime system files.

As an added bonus, this means that after restoring the computer you’ll have the latest version of Windows and won’t have to download every single Windows update that rolled out since Windows was first installed on your computer.

On the other hand, if you do want to be able to restore your system to an earlier state or you’re worried about what would happen if your system storage becomes corrupt, Windows 10 will also have tools for creating recovery media on a DVD or flash drive.

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24 replies on “Microsoft shrank the Windows 10 footprint to free up space on cheap tablets, notebooks”

  1. Is this built-in to the installer itself, and is there a way to opt-out of compression on, say, my desktop? An extra 2.6GB isn’t worth compressing all of the OS files when I have a 256GB SSD and a 1TB HDD…

  2. When I manually deleted the recovery image on my device it freed up 10GB which I really needed. Now I backup to an external HDD and don’t need to fuss with compression to save space

  3. Recovery is the real story here – (1) less crapware installed by OEM’s, and (2) NO MORE 100+ updates to deal with after a restore – you get the most current image when you restore – about time!

    1. The reason most people invoke restore is to wipe out cyber cooties. If those current Windows executables are infected, keeping them is not the winning move.

      They need to just ship a recovery media and avoid the whole problem of keeping a recovery image on the main storage entirely. It was a viable cost saving move at a time when the average person would never fill the primary storage anyway. Flash changes that equation so the previous solution no longer makes sense. Later, when huge flash storage is cheap and widely available the decision could be revisited yet again.

      1. Wiping out the ‘cyber cooties’ with a restore will still work. If those current Windows exe’s are infected, it won’t matter. They are wiped out and replaced with fresh new exe’s.

  4. Reminds me an awful lot of IBM’s PC-DOS (Stacker, SuperStor) and Microsoft’s MS-DOS (DriveSpace, DoubleSpace) “solutions” when DOS users were working with ~40mb hard drives in the mid-90s. I was still working with 20mbs myself (plus a 20mb Bernoulli Disk). It didn’t work out too well then. I used the built-in system compression on PC-DOS for a while and had to revert back to non-compressed mode.

    It was a kludge of a solution back then and from what I’m reading now, sounds like a kludge now too. Losing the Recovery Image is a big deal. Dealing with system-wide compressed OS files, also a pain in the neck.

  5. the problem is not the os itself. the problems are: ms since windows had been introduced announcing to low specs for cheap devices to run the os properly and the industry following this scheme producing and selling the chunk thereafter..

  6. This is the number one thing which keeps me from cheap Win tablets even to play with. I’ve seen more than one person complain they have run out of space to the point they can’t even do a Windows update.
    This is one place where ChromeOS has it all over Windows, which is trying its best to run on similarly spare hardware. With ChromeOS the updates are transactional and happen in a matter of seconds. Never a worry about having enough space, especially as the paradigm doesn’t invite a lot of heavy disk based storage anyway.

    1. Chrome OS might be nice, but the reason people go with
      Windows is the 4 million program library it has, which no
      other OS can have a prayer of coming close to. When
      netbooks first came out, they were all based on Linux.
      In short order, end users started replacing the Linux
      with Windows, so much so that within a year, almost
      all netbooks shipped with Windows, even the crippled Starter
      version. If any other OS had acceptable versions of the
      numerous Windows programs I run, I’d gladly switch to that
      OS. I’m no MS fanboy, but there’s no alternative.

      1. Almost none of which are viable on a $50 tablet. The $500 Windows tablets generally ship with enough flash that compression isn’t a pressing need because running out of space requires some real effort.

    2. I guess it depends on what you define “even to play with” as. I currently have 2 Winbook windows tablets, a 7″ with 16GB ($60) and an 8″ with 32GB ($100). The 7″ I built into a mini rotating display arcade (MAME) machine to play old arcade classics. Runs them all fine, have 2GB still available after updates and the games loaded. The 8″ is my nightstand web surfer, have a 32GB SD in it to store my documents and such and still have 20GB available for programs, admittedly of which I have none. Both of these are “play” devices for me, and both very inexpensive. The 8″ I will upgrade to Win10, the 7″ I won’t bother… maybe.

  7. I hope they are able to resolve the issue with Windows 10 on devices with WIMBoot. I know the HP Stream 7 has WIMBoot and it would be nice if it were able to upgrade to Windows 10. It’s got 32GB of space, but if that is not enough maybe they can make use of the SD card for the installation media?

    1. I have a HP Stream 7 and i was able to put Win10 on it without any problems…. i used a USB Win10 installer, the SD card i’m using for my personal data like movies, etc…

    2. Yeah, get the Windows 10 iso and put it on a USB using Rufus. Boot from it to install.

  8. So compression won’t be there when it’s most needed, in cheap devices that have less storage.

    1. Agreed. This would appear to be a chocolate fireguard…. Besides on my desktop with its i7.. I dont want a compressed OS on my substantial SSD. I want to eek out every drop of juice I can to play games at high framerates.

      1. If the CPU is fast relative to disk speeds, using compression improves performance (because reading from disk is faster). The whole point of the test is to avoid the very situation you fear, of reducing performance. (Not that this should affect game frame rates anyhow.)

        1. Yes it would impact frame rates. Consider the following scenario: You have a spinning hard drive and a fast enough CPU that compression yields faster raw read throughput. Microsoft would probably enable compression in that scenario. However decompression is not free. To get decompression fast enough to beat the hard drive implies more than a hundred megabytes per second of throughput, all directly through the CPU. Not only a lot of cycles expended on the actual decompression but totally blown caches and no benefit from bus mastering transfers. That -will- impact any other compute activity going on at the same time.

          1. That’s what loading screens are for, your ‘frames’ are simply data loaded from memory to the GPU’s VRAM, then processed through the GPU to the monitor while the AI and some basic lighting effects, AI, data crunching, and PCIE data flow is handled by the CPU. Your hard drive is only utilized when loading new areas, saving the game, and on demand data that is generally small in size. The only improvement games get out of faster storage is loading times, it has literally no involvement in generating frames.

    2. Yeah, I’m Not impressed either, here’s why:

      The Win10 OS files should be 4 GB maximum size.
      They still need 8 GB just for the OS files.

      MS should try harder next time.

      1. Nah, they can’t shrink it to 4GB…

        The extra 4GB are needed for the ultimate in Telemetry, recording your webcams and microphones plus all the code for the NSA they must include.

        Time to check out the OS the Chinese are working on.

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