Windows 10

Windows 10 post-upgrade cleanup tips

Your Windows 10 upgrade is complete. Now it’s time to reclaim some disk space.

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At the end of July 2016, the free upgrade from Windows 7 and 8.1 to Windows 10 will come to an end. In the meantime, lots of users and admins may find themselves electing to exercise their upgrade options, rather than let them go unused.

Having been through more than 100 such upgrades myself, and witness to thousands more, I've observed that the process is mostly trouble-free as well as fairly quick and painless. But once the Windows 10 upgrade process is complete, some additional tweaking and cleanup is a good idea.

This is particularly true for systems where reclamation of 20-30 GB of disk space on the boot/system drive could be either helpful or downright essential. That means it applies primarily to lower-end tablets, notebooks and laptops, with boot/system drives of 128 GB or smaller.

The post-install cleanup process can be broken into the following phases:

  • Cleanup and removal of install files
  • Driver catch up and cleanup
  • Additional cleanups where indicated

Ready? Let's get started.

Cleaning up and removing install files

If you take a look at the folder structure on the boot/system disk on a machine that has recently been upgraded to Windows 10, you'll see one or more of the following folders on that storage device:

  • Windows.old: When you upgrade a Windows OS, the Windows installer renames the base folder for the previous Windows installation from “Windows” to “Windows.old”. On my two test machines, those folders are 14.3 GB (Windows 10 Enterprise) and 13.6 GB (Windows 10 Pro) in size. Either way, that's a substantial chunk of disk space worth recovering on a smaller storage device.
  • $Windows.~BT: The dollar sign at the beginning of the file name means that the folder is ordinarily hidden from view. This particular folder usually includes the files used to perform a Windows update, along with supplementary log and data files. On the aforementioned Windows 10 Enterprise test machine, this folder is 3.76 GB in size; on the Windows 10 Pro test machine, it's 63+ MB. The disparity in folder size reflects that install files have been cleared from the $Windows.~BT folder on the Enterprise test machine, but not on the Pro test machine.
  • $Windows.~WS: This hidden folder stores Windows folders, profiles, the Program Files and Program Files (x86) folders, AppData and so forth from the previous Windows installation. It provides important information should one wish to revert from the upgraded Windows 10 installation to whatever Windows installation preceded it. I've seen sizes as low as 3-4 GB for this folder and as high as 10-12 GB.

Add it all up, and you're talking about somewhere between 18 and 30 GB of disk space altogether. Recovering that space can be a good idea, particularly on boot/system drives that are on the smaller side. That space recovery precludes another kind of recovery, though: if you decide to do away with the remnants of the previous Windows installation, you will be unable to revert to that installation. By default, Windows keeps these files around for 30 days, then automatically deletes them itself at the next scheduled disk cleanup.

On systems where boot/system disk space is scarce, I recommend plugging in an external USB drive and making an image backup of that drive before applying the Windows 10 upgrade. That way, if you decide to revert to your previous version of Windows after performing the Windows upgrade, you can still do so, even if you wait more than 30 days after the upgrade occurred to roll back. (See my article How to use Windows 10 backup and recovery features for the details.)

Doing the boot/system disk cleanup

Don’t let all of this background and context fool you, the actual cleanup operation is simple and straightforward. First, run the standard Windows Disk Cleanup utility (type "disk clean" into the Windows 10 search box and it will come right up). You will need to run the utility again because, after selecting Disk Cleanup the first time, you must click the "Clean up system files" button on the resulting cleanup report to put the tool to work on Windows install files. Figure 1 is a screen cap from the Windows 10 Enterprise test machine that shows the two big space suckers that appear after a Windows 10 upgrade.

disk cleanup screenshot Ed Tittel

Figure 1: Previous Windows Installation and Temporary installation files account for nearly 20GB!

Note that the “Previous Windows installation(s)” checkbox maps to the Windows.old folder, and the “Temporary Windows installation files” checkbox maps to the $Windows.~BT folder. You can also use Piriform's free CCleaner utility (grab the Slim version to avoid commercial add-ins) instead of Disk Cleanup to clean out these files, if you prefer. That's all there is to it!

Catching up and cleaning up drivers

The process of catching up drivers to a new Windows installation is interesting and can be time consuming. It's easy to explain but can be tricky to implement. The 10,000-foot view of the process looks like this, sans those devilish details:

  1. Check current installed Windows drivers.
  2. Identify out-of-date drivers.
  3. Find up-to-date replacement drivers.
  4. Install up-to-date replacement drivers.

While Windows 10 does a good job of performing those tasks automatically during the installation process, it sometimes fails to identify out-of-date drivers and therefore also fails to find and install up-to-date drivers.

The catch up and cleanup process basically consists of examining the Windows driver store, where the OS keeps all the device drivers that have been installed on a system, and deleting outdated and duplicate drivers. A simple tool called the DriverStore Explorer (aka RAPR.exe) makes this job easy and straightforward.

"But wait," I hear you saying, "if I just upgraded my OS, why do I need to clean up drivers?" Unfortunately, I've observed on many PCs following an upgrade (or a clean install, and subsequent driver catch-up activities) that the driver store is littered with dozens of duplicate items, or a series of obsolete items, in addition to the most current driver. When you consider that the Nvidia graphics card drivers routinely consume about 400 MB of disk space, dozens of such items start adding up to several GBs of wasted disk space.

I routinely recover up to 2 GB of disk space by cleaning up drivers after a Windows 10 upgrade, though your own results will vary according to the hardware components in the systems you upgrade. Remember, it's better to clean up and not really need it, rather than not clean up and waste disk space.

Beyond the basics: Additional cleanups

After the basics are attended to, a more aggressive form of PC cleanup is available to interested parties. It goes by the somewhat inelegant but entirely apt name of "decrapification," a term used to describe the removal of unwanted programs, applications, tools and utilities that often come pre-installed on PCs. Companies pay to get their stuff installed into the OS images that wind up on those PCs, and OEMs use those payments to bring down the cost of the hardware they sell you.

Several good tools are available to help with this task, though there's nothing wrong with using the Programs and Features item in Control Panel to identify and uninstall unwanted, unnecessary or unused applications (or to turn not-needed or unused Windows features off). One of those tools is Revo Uninstaller (be sure to grab the freeware version, unless you're prepared to buy the necessary license for the for-a-fee Professional version). The other is called PC Decrapifier (and it, too, comes in freeware and licensed versions). In most commercial situations, a paid license is required to use either or both of these programs.

The guiding principle here is best expressed as: "If you don't need it, don't want it or don't use it, get rid of it!" Any of these tools or methods will help you do just that. The result will be still more unused disk space on your target system's boot/system drive. Enjoy the extra space!

This story, "Windows 10 post-upgrade cleanup tips" was originally published by CIO.


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