Quick Tip: Shrink the size used by Windows 7 System Restore

Jack Wallen shows you how to shrink the maximum size allowed for System Restore so that you can get back space on a hard drive when space is at a premium.

I have found myself in the situation too many times where I need to eke out as much space as possible on a Windows 7 machine. Sometimes it's as simple as moving files to an external drive. But sometimes you just need to reclaim as much as possible from the system. One way to find a few extra gigs of space is to take them from Windows 7 System Restore.

The System Restore feature of Windows allows users to, effectively, revert their machine to an earlier state. This is often helpful when a machine goes sideways and the possible cause cannot be found. When that happens, users can return the machine to an earlier state when it was working correctly. This system typically works great, but it can, if improperly configured, take up more and more space on your drive.

I will show you how to shrink the maximum size allowed for system restore so that you can get back space on a drive when space is at a premium. You won't get massive amounts of space returned to your drive, but you might just get enough back to help you (and a system) out of a jam.

The process

The process of shrinking the maximum allowed space for System Restore is actually quite simple.

Step 1: Open the Computer Properties window

To get to the tool to make this change, you must open the Computer Properties window by clicking Start and then right-clicking the Computer entry. From the Computer Properites window, click on the System Protection tab and access the Configuration tool for System Restore (Figure A).

Before you open the configuration window, the correct disk must be selected. Most likely the disk will be C. If, however, you have multiple drives on your system and you store your restore points on an external drive, you will need to select the drive here (from the Available Drives listing) prior to the next step.

Figure A

From this window, you can also run the System Restore tool.

Step 2: Open up the Configuration tool

Now it's time to get into the configuration tool for System Restore. Click the Configure button in the current window to open the System Protection screen. In this new window (Figure B), both the restore settings and the disk space usage can be configured.

Figure B

Watch what you click in this window, or you might accidentally delete all your restore points!

You can actually shrink the size of your restore points from this same window, depending on what you need System Protection to do.

Of the three options (near the top of the window) the first option (Restore System Settings and Previous Versions of Files) will take up the most space. The second option takes less space but does not save previous system settings. If you do not save system settings in restore points, the restore might not revive a troubled machine. So I wouldn't suggest selecting either the second or third option. Besides, you are not going to save much space by not saving system settings.

Step 3: Change the size of restore

This is where you can actually save the most space. By default, System Restore shouldn't be using that much space. But in an emergency, even a few gigs can mean the difference between a system running and not running.

To change how much space System Restore uses, move the slider to either the left or the right. To gain back precious space, move the slider to the left until you have recovered every possible megabyte. Once you have made the change, click Apply and OK. As you can see (in Figure B above) I have a Max Usage of 10.00 GB, but my restore points are taking up 9.45 GB of this space. What I would need to do to really gain needed space is the following:

  1. Delete all restore points (Windows doesn't allow for the selective deletion of restore points.)
  2. Change the Max Usage to a proper amount to suit the situation.
  3. Create a new System Restore point.

Depending on how much space you have allowed, your System Restore will be limited to fewer restore points. If you do shrink this down a significant amount, make sure you do a good job of managing your existing system restore points.

Final thoughts

With the ever-growing size of hard drives, one would think this is not even remotely necessary. However, it never ceases to amaze me how often I run into 250GB or 500GB hard drives packed to near over-flowing and have to pull off tricks like this to regain enough space just to effectively run the operating system. In a pinch, this process can give you back just enough space to save your hide.

Hopefully that hide will never need saving, but you just never know.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


Even it you have a lot of space, you can still run out of it very quickly if you don't pay attention to what Windows is doing.

I've got at 640 GB system drive, which means 580 actual GB. Got a few big games installed, totalling about 100 GB of space, various programs, but nothing overly massive, even when it all adds up. All documents, videos, photos, music, and everything else that takes a lot of space, is stored on 2 other disks.

The other day I suddenly found myself looking at a low diskspace warning, with less than 50 GB space remaining on the C drive. Using TreeSize, the biggest folder on the list was the hidden System folder, with over 200 GB used for System Restore. Went to check the settings and was rather shocked to see that System Restore was set to use 50% of the drive. The normal default setting is 4% or about 10 GB, whichever comes first. I have no idea how it got set to 50%, because I've never touched the SR settings on this install (only about 6 months since I reinstalled). Either way, 50% of 500+ GB drive is ridiculous, so I had to turn it down.

Now the one thing that may not be obvious, because the SR interface is buggy: You're supposed to be able to just shrink the allowed space, and Windows will delete any restore points that no longer fit. Only that doesn't work. If you change the size without deleting the data, Windows will reset the setting to what it was on the next restart, to fit the current restore points and have room for more. You HAVE to dump all the restore points before the size change will stick.

My recommendation is to NEVER allowed System Restore to use more than 50 GB, if even that much - 20 GB is probably plenty for most people. The size of restore points vary by system. Mine are about 80-85 MB each, but the way to tell is simply to delete all restore points, manually make a new one, and see how much space it uses. Then you multiply that by how many points you want to keep, and you have the space you need.


CCleaner (Crapcleaner) allows the selective deletion of restore points. I'm sure the oldest point is where the preveious versions are stored, Deleting the oldest point returns a LOT of disc space. Click "tools\", then "system restore". Mark the point to be deleted. Does anyone know a way to find the size of a specific point? Tom


i don't need restore.

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

So you'd prefer to sacrafice the system restore instead of an alterenative way? Not me. Unless you partitioned the hard disk and your system was made too small, this should never be an issue. If the system has an additional drive or partition, move My Docs, My Pics, and My Videos to the other drive. Where possible, you can uninstall a big application and re-install on another drive. A general rule used by most is that the system drive is for applications only. Data should be moved to another drive [in case Windows craps out or the hard disk crashes, you still have your data.] Oh, with the exception of SSD drives, good luck in finding any new[-ish] system with 100GB of storage space. [Yes. You can attempt to install Win7 on a P4 but it won't be too nice to work with.]


Of course we're building PCs and laptops with 60-gig drives: SOLID STATE DRIVES. For the price of a two-terabyte mechanical clunker magnetic traditional drive, you get about 64 gigs of solid-state drive -- and near zero access time, and insane data transfer rates; not to mention zero noise, zero moving parts, shock resistance, very little heat production, a few watts of power consumption; oh, and they're all 2.5" form factor or smaller; Now, with a 64-gig (60 gigs usable) SSD as your primary OS drive (and mechanical drive(s) for media, huge games, etc), guess what? You got it! Freeing up a few extra gigs on that lightening-fast OS drive suddenly means a WHOLE lot. So, go and research them (Try the OCZ Vertex 2 series). Dont worry, no one will know that you're still having to wait more than 75 milliseconds for uncached programs and DLLs to be read into memory.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Do you actively manage your System Restore points? How much hard drive space is allocated toward system restore?

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

If some update botches your system, your system is toast. Have fun re-installing!

Justin James
Justin James

... he talked very specifically about 250 and 500 GB drives... if he had said "60 GB SSD's" it would have made perfect sense. But... on a 60 GB SSD, you know to not use it for massive amounts of storage, or to have a "plan b" for storage, that's common sense... J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

... that disk space is at a premium? Is someone buying PCs with 60 GB drives? The only way I can see a modern PC (one running W7) with so little disk space that you need to monkey with this, is if you are ripping DVDs to disk, editing videos, or a graphic artist, musician, etc... in which case, the space freed up by this technique is a drop in the bucket. Who uses a 250 GB drive still? Can you even BUY them anymore? J.Ja

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