Vista Hands On #7: Move user data to another drive

Vista Hands On #7: Move user data to another drive

Summary: One of the smartest things you can do with a new installation of Windows Vista is to relocate user data folders to a different drive than the one that contains the Windows and Program Files folders. The advantage? By separating system files from data, you make it easy to back up and restore each. Here's how.

TOPICS: Big Data

Windows Vista introduces a fundamental change in the way user data is stored. The XP-style Documents And Settings folder is gone, replaced by the Users folder, which is located in the root of the system drive. Each user account has its own profile folder here, which contains 11 folders, each devoted to a different type of data.

One of the smartest things you can do with these folders is to relocate them to a different drive than the one that contains Windows and your Program Files folder. The advantage? By separating system files from data, you make it easy to back up and restore each. Create an image-based backup of the system drive (using the built-in Complete PC Backup tool in Vista Business or Ultimate editions or a third-party product like Acronis True Image) and back up data files using whatever method works best for you. If something happens to your system drive, you can restore the image, and your data files remain unaffected.

Although you can partition a single drive into multiple volumes, I recommend using two separate physical drives for maximum data security; in a two-drive configuration a hardware failure doesn’t wipe out everything.

Moving your user data folders is ridiculously easy. The instructions below assume you have added a second drive using the letter E:.

  1. Click Start, Computer, and double-click the icon for your data drive (E:, in this example).
  2. On the Windows Explorer toolbar, click Organize and choose New Folder from the menu.

  3. Type a name for the folder in which you want to store all your document folders. For convenience, I use my user name, but you can choose any legal folder name. Double-click this folder to open it in the current window.
  4. Click Start and then click your user name (at the top of the right column on the Start menu). This opens a second Explorer window containing your data folders.
  5. Press Ctrl+A to select all folders. Point to any selected folder, hold down the right mouse button, and drag to the folder you created in Step 3.
  6. Release the mouse button. Windows displays a shortcut menu asking whether you want to move or copy the selected items. Choose Move Here.

That’s it. You can verify that the data folders have been moved by returning to the user profile folder, opening the Properties dialog box for any subfolder, and looking at the Location tab.

If you want to leave some user data on the system drive and only move specific folders (Music or Videos, let’s say), you can do so by modifying the procedure in Step 5. Instead of selecting all folders, right-click and drag one folder at a time into the new location.

Topic: Big Data

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  • Finally!!!

    It is SUCH a PITA to do that in XP, because you not only have to move the folders but manually change the registry settings. This is long overdue.
    Michael Kelly
    • XP Data

      I agrre Michael. I have long ignored My Documents and configured the programs I use to access data on a separate HD which only holds data. Microsoft in their wisdom use three different methods in one package MS Office for directing Word, Excel and Access to use data which is not in their default folder. I use Lotus Smartsuite when not forced to use Office. In Lotus the user configuration is uniform throughout the package. It does not have all the bells and whistles of Office (most of which are little used) but it allows you to do things the way you want to while Office tries to enforce the Microsoft way whether it is suitable or not.
      • Steps for XP

        All you need to do for XP is to right click on the My Documents shortcut on your desktop, click Properties, click Move and then choose where you want the folder to be moved. I don't see why these steps are considered hard. I do it everytime I rebuild my machines.
        • move data folder

          I agree, i do this for my XP systems routinely. I expected to do the same for Vista (i.e. right click user/properties move to data disk), typical that microsoft has made this essential task more obscure than before :-(
          • You can still use that technique

            I think the drag and drop technique is useful, but if you prefer to use the Properties dialog box, you can do that.
            Ed Bott
  • Such Good Stuff!!


    You are really hitting the nail on the head in this blog!! Just the kind of stuff an everyday, heavy user needs to know while updating or getting and bringing up a new Vista system. I just ordered your book and have put this blog on my RSS feeds list. As long as Vista is here, I'll be reading and using your practical, to the point "Hands On" information and techniques.
  • but why only 11 types of data

    But where I supposed to keep my porn and warez? I need folders "My Porn" and "My Warez". May be they add this in the service pack.
    • No more "My"

      As you can see from the screenshot, there's no more "My Documents" or "My Pictures." Also, you need to work on your leet-speak. In Vista, your examples would properly be "Pr0n" and "War3z".

      Glad to be able to clear that up.
      Ed Bott
    • Running behind again

      [i]But where I supposed to keep my porn and warez? I need folders "My Porn" and "My Warez". May be they add this in the service pack.[/i]

      I'm sure the Linux distros (and MacMuffins for that matter) being so "progressive" and forward thinking already included those by default, no?

      Oh wait, has any Warez actually been written for the Mac yet? Uh, scratch the latter ... what was I thinking?
  • Just like we've being doing it with Linux for years ...

    Congrats to MS! They are finally getting it. This approach is lightyears ahead of the old scrambled disk approach of previous MS releases. It also means I can use an external drive for my personal data and configure it on ANY computer anywhere and wala! It just became MY computer. So COOL!
    George Mitchell
    • It's been available in Windows for years too.

      Perhaps if you took the time to learn Windows perhaps you might actually like it.
      • available

        Years... ha, that's all? what maybe 4-5 since XP was released.

        Of course *nix has had it for decades since they were designed as multi-user multi-tasking networked systems from the start.

        It took windows so long to finally do the obvious because it came from DOS, the single-user single-tasking no networking no vision OS.

        Learn Windows? Small learning curve since there's not much to the OS. I've used all versions of Windows and there's not much there to like.

        The past few years it's been nice to get back to real OS's with the *nixes, finally get some real work done.

        What's really said in all this is how MS and Windows has set the computing world back a couple of decades in progress.
  • #8 Install NEW OS over Vista

    Now, user data + OS are sound and safe.

    What's the compelling reason to invest so much in moving over to Vista? I do like the better looks but that's not enough.

  • Good grief.

    We did this under NT 4.0 *ten years* ago. All it took was a little configuration. All OS and user data were strictly separate. Replacing the OS was trivial and would never disrupt a user's data or settings.

    This is really sad.
    • Thanks grandpa

      "We did this under NT 4.0 *ten years* ago. [i]All it took was a little configuration.[/i]"

      So now you can do it without the extra configuring. You don't see an improvement there?

      As for a well measured dose of atavism, who say you can't learn (or borrow) something from Grandpa that maybe your Pop never dished your way. ;)
      • Grandpa? LOL

        By your reasoning, if you are over the age of ten then you must be a grandpa as well since you obviously must have done *something* ten years ago. Your comment is a poor reflection on you, not me. LOL

        It must be my advanced age, but I've always thought that changing things from the default was known as configuring. What's it called in these modern times?
        • Thanks grandpa x2

          lol you're misreading what I wrote (though when I re-read it I can see how). The key word was 'atavism', referring to something that exists during one generation, then disappears during the next, only to return thereafter. Much like the scenario you drew with NT4 + data separation. The 'grandpa' reference (analogy) wasn't meant to be aimed towards you but towards the scenario you offered.

          Now if this wasn't the case, it would make us BOTH grandpas as I've been hammering on these platforms since the NT4/W95 days too (my how fast 10 years can come and go indeed). As it is, I have nothing but respect for my elders (and the elderly in general), more so now that I have a few years under my own belt. You come to appreciate as time snakes along the things those who came before us spoke (and warned) of, from their more experienced and battle worn eyes.

          [i]It must be my advanced age, but I've always thought that changing things from the default was known as configuring. What's it called in these modern times?[/i]

          Well if you're referring to the new user-data consolidation found in Vista, I'd say 'leaving well enough alone'. As for moving the data elsewhere to keep it safe by the simple method outlined, I'd say 'old world, meet new'. What goes around eventually comes around! ;)
  • Oh Good Grief! This Is An OS Improvement?

    You can do this on any version of Windows XP and earlier versions. You always could. If this is the best Vista improvement you can find, you need to dig deeper.

    Stupid, meaningless info like this that implies a non-existant improvement just is misguided reporting.

    Oh. And how do you move your My Documents folder in XP:

    Click Start, and then point to My Documents. Or right-click on the My Documents icon on your desktop.

    Right-click My Documents, and then click Properties. Click the Target tab. In the Target box, do one of the following:

    Type the path to the folder location that you want, and then click OK . For example, D:\My Stuff . If the folder does not exist, the Create Message dialog box is displayed. Click Yes to create the folder, and then click OK.
    • Where did I say that?

      "Stupid, meaningless info like this that implies a non-existant improvement just is misguided reporting."

      I said it's a fundamental change. It is. There are 11 discrete user data folders in the user profile and they're organized differently than in XP. I've published the same instructions you listed for XP, but this technique is new.

      In fact, many people will take 20 minutes in Vista to do things the way you suggest. if they follow my recommendation, they can get the job done in 2 minutes or less. (If you want to stick with XP, that's fine. But get the Tweak UI powertoy to do this job much more effectively than the manual steps you list.)

      And I certainly never said this is "the best Vista improvement I can find." It's one in a series of 30 posts that each contain productivity-enhancing tools. This is one of them.
      Ed Bott
      • It's all about contradictions, Ed

        You're allways gonna have have those people that complain that "Windows users are stupid, so it should be done for them", so when the time comes where MS does it for them they come back with the "Windows users don't need this, they should have done it the old way".
        John Zern