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How to Make the Most of a Windows 8.1 Tablet’s Limited Storage Space

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Some Windows tablets have as little as 32 GB of internal storage, and future ones may only have 16 GB! This is extremely cramped for a large Windows system, so you’ll want to make the most of the little space available to you.

Luckily, most Windows 8.1 tablets have a Micro SD card slot or USB port. You can add removable storage to expand your tablet’s storage, so you have more options than you do on an iPad or Nexus tablet. We’ll look at this as well as some other options for making the most of your Windows tablet.

Remove the Recovery Partition

Every Windows 8.1 device comes with a recovery partition. If you need to refresh or reset your PC, Windows will load the operating system files from the device’s recovery partition. This is convenient, but that recovery partition eats up gigabytes of space — about 6 GB on Microsoft’s Surface Pro 2, for example.

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You can free up this space by copying the recovery partition to a USB drive and erasing it from your computer. You’ll need the USB drive if you ever want to reset or refresh your PC.

To do this, press the Windows key to access the Start screen and type “recovery drive” to perform a search. Open the Create a recovery drive tool and use it to copy your recovery partition to a USB drive. After the process completes, you’ll be given the option to delete the recovery partition from your device.

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Add a Micro SD Card or USB Drive

Many Windows tablets have Micro SD card slots. You can insert a Micro SD card and leave it in your device all the time, effectively expanding its storage space. Sure, it probably won’t be as fast as your built-in storage space, but it’s a great place to store media files.

There was a way to install Windows Store apps to an SD card¬†in Windows 8, but Microsoft has removed this feature in Windows 8.1. Apps must be installed to the device’s internal storage. You can still install desktop apps to removable media, of course.

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USB drives can be used in a similar way, but USB drives tend to be larger and jut out — something that’s very inconvenient on a tablet. You may want to consider a small, low-profile USB drive. If you get a USB drive that’s small enough, it won’t stick out of your tablet very far and will be more like a small nub. If you have a free USB port, you can connect the USB drive to the USB port and keep it there most of the time.

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Use Micro SD Cards as Save Locations

Windows 8.1 allows you to customize your device’s default save locations. With this feature, you can store your media files on your Micro SD card by default, freeing up space on the internal storage. You can also consider moving your libraries to the SD card.

To do this, open the PC Settings app and navigate to PC and devices > Devices. Click the Set Up button under Default Save Locations to change your default save locations to a removable drive.

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Move OneDrive to a Micro SD Card

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If you’re using the built-in OneDrive cloud storage service on the desktop, you can right-click the OneDrive folder in File Explorer, select Properties, and click the Location tab. From here, you can change where OneDrive files are stored on your computer — and even move your OneDrive folder to an SD card to free up space.

Bear in mind that OneDrive downloads and stores files on demand — it won’t automatically store all your files on your device by default. You can save files to OneDrive and then remove them from your internal storage, accessing them on-demand to reduce the space they use locally.

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Use the Disk Space Tool

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Windows 8.1 Update added a Disk Space tool to the PC Settings application, giving Windows 8.1 users an easier way to see what’s using space on their devices and remove it. This tool looks at Windows Store apps, different types of media files, and your recycle bin to help you free up space. You can even sort your installed Store apps by size and remove the ones taking up too much space.

Open PC Settings and navigate to PC and devices > Disk space to access this tool.

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Free Up Storage Space in Windows

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Windows 8.1 tablets are Windows PCs, so our tips for freeing up disk space on Windows still apply to them. Even if you don’t use the desktop, there’s a good chance your tablet’s manufacturer has installed various desktop applications that are taking up space.

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When using an SD Card or USB drive, bear in mind that the SD card or USB drive can be removed from the device and anyone can access the files on it without entering a password. You can use BitLocker To Go to help secure your files if you’re using a Professional version of Windows, but there’s no built-in way to secure your data on standard versions of Windows 8.1. Consider using Truecrypt to encrypt the removable device if the data on it is particularly sensitive.

Image Credit: Vernon Chan on Flickr, Pete on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/2/14