On a desktop PC with a dedicated data drive, the most important change you can make is to get your everyday data files off your system drive. The difference in performance will be minor, and the savings in disk space can be extreme, especially if you have a large collection of digital media files.
Yes, it would be lovely if Windows was designed like other operating systems (cough, Linux, cough) and you could simply relocate an entire user profile to a different volume. But that’s not how Windows works, and in my experience trying to make this sort of radical change is unnecessary and dangerous. (Caution: If you search the Internet, you can find registry hacks that allow you to move an entire user profile. I strongly advise against doing this.)
You’ll find your data files in a subfolder of the Users folder, which is located by default in the root of the system drive. Each of the folders in this location is dedicated to a different type of data. To open this folder, click Start and then click your user name, at the top of the right column.
Each of the folders in your user profile is a shell folder that is associated with a physical destination. When you move one or more of those data folders to your dedicated data drive, you also inform Windows of the new location for that shell folder. Once that’s done, any modern Windows program will automatically find the correct locations for opening and saving files, and you can open those locations in Windows Explorer by just double-clicking the folder icon in your profile.
Although it’s possible to move every folder from your user profile, that isn’t necessary. The real space savings come from moving the Downloads, Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos folders. Here’s how the procedure works:
1. Open your data drive in Windows Explorer and create a new, empty folder for each of the data folders you plan to move. This step isn’t required, but it will make the remainder of the process easier. In the examples here, I’ve assigned the drive letter X: to my data drive.
2. Open your user profile in Windows Explorer, right-click the folder you want to move, and click Properties.
3. Click the Location tab, and then click the Move button. Browse to the folder you created in step 1 that corresponds to the folder you want to move, and select it.
4. Click Apply or OK. A dialog box will ask whether you want to move all files from the current folder to the new location (and delete the existing location). Click Yes.
Repeat steps 2-4 for the other folders you want to move. (Update: Some people prefer the drag-and-drop approach to moving these shell folders. If that describes you, then follow the steps I outlined for Windows Vista in this post from four years ago. The basic procedure is the same.)
After you make this change, there’s one additional setting you’ll want to tweak. As every Windows user knows, files you delete are actually moved to the Recycle Bin, where you can recover them in the event of an accidental deletion. Windows reserves space on each drive for the Recycle Bin. You can specify the maximum amount of space that Windows is allowed to use by right-clicking the Recycle Bin and choosing Properties.
If you have a single drive, as is the case with this notebook, you’ll have to decide how much space you want to allocate for deleted files. If you have two drives, you’ll want to set a low number for the system drive and a relatively high number for the data drive. Again, there’s no right number to choose here. Your setting should be based on your usage patterns and comfort level.
That takes care of your user data. On to Windows itself.