Install a new hard drive and all Windows will do is give you an empty drive letter. If you have a small solid-state drive and a larger mechanical hard drive — or just two large drives — these tips will help you put that additional drive to use.
There are many things you can do with additional hard drives in Windows, including combining them with Storage Spaces, moving your user data folders over, and customizing the location of Windows’ system directories.
Use Storage Spaces to Mirror or Combine Drives
Windows 8′s Storage Spaces feature is basically an easy-to-use RAID-like system. With Storage Spaces, you can combine multiple hard drives into a single drive. You can do this in several different ways. For example, you could make two hard drives appear as the same drive, forcing Windows to write files to each of them. This ensures that you’ll have an up-to-date backup even if one of your drives fails.
Or, you could combine the two hard drives into one large pool of storage space. If one drive failed, you’d lose the data on both — so make sure you have backups if you do this.
Change The Location of User Data Folders
You can easily change the location of your user data folders — for example, your Downloads, Documents, Music, Video, Pictures, and other folders — just by right-clicking them in Windows, selecting Properties, and changing the location from the Location tab. You’ll be asked if you want Windows to move your files for you. After you’re done, your data folders will still be accessible in their normal location under your user directory and programs will see them in the normal location. They’ll just be stored on another drive.
If you use the Windows libraries feature, you can add folders from other drives to a single library. For example, you could have several different drives, each with videos on them. Add each folder containing videos to the Videos library and they’ll all appear in a single pane in the Videos library, allowing you to easily browse and search all your videos, even while they’re scattered across drives.
Install Programs to Other Drives
When installing a program, you can choose which directory you want to install it to. This can be particularly useful if you have a small solid state drive and a large hard drive. You can install large games to the large hard drive, saving space on your solid-state drive.
Valve’s Steam service now allows you to select a location for each game when you install it, so you don’t have to rely on any previous hacks if you’re using Steam.
Move Your Page File
Windows uses a page file to move data from memory to disk when your computer’s RAM fills up. The page file is saved to the root of your C:\ partition by default. To save space on your system drive, you may want to move your page file to another hard drive.
You should ideally have your page file on your fastest drive. However, if you have a lot of RAM and rarely use your page file, you may want to put it on a mechanical hard drive to save space on an SSD. This would slow things down if your computer did need to use its page file, but you’d gain more space on your SSD — the trade-off is up to you.
Store Media on Your Larger, Slower Drive
If you have a small solid-state drive and a larger, slower magnetic hard drive, be sure to put your media files on the larger, slower drive. You shouldn’t notice the slower access times while watching videos or playing music, so this will allow you to free up crucial SSD space for files that will benefit from the quicker access times, like installed programs you frequently use.
Change Windows Folder Locations
It’s actually possible to change the location of Windows’ default data folders. For example, instead of having a C:\Users folder, you could have a D:\Users folder. You could also change the location of your Program Files, Windows, and other system folders. Note that some programs may not work properly because they assume the folders are in their default locations, but most programs should be ok.
The ideal way to do this is by modifying your Windows installation disc with a tool like WinReducer for Windows 8 or RT Se7en Lite for Windows 7 and specifying your new system folder locations. Windows will then start using your custom directory locations from the get-go. Changing the location of the folders and moving the files over while Windows is already installed is more complicated.
Whatever you do with your additional drive, be sure to create regular backups of your important data. Many people don’t start creating backups until they lose important data in an unfortunate hard drive crash — don’t be one of them!
Image Credit: Justin Ruckman on Flickr