Microsoft

Rein in the unbound storage appetite of Vista System Restore

If System Restore is not configured properly in Microsoft Windows Vista, your system's hard drive could fill up with restoration points you will never need. Greg Shultz shows you how to correct the System Restore configuration and regain control.

I recently noticed that the hard disk on one of the Microsoft Windows Vista test systems that I use quite regularly began to fill up. This seemed odd to me because while I have a lot of data on the disk, the majority of it just test data (i.e. data that I copy over from my real system just so I have something to work with). I don't really generate much, if any, data on that system. As such, I was a bit confused as to where all the disk space was going.

Using My Computer and a couple of third-party disk space analyzers just for good measure, I discovered that I could not reconcile the disk space usage. The system has a 120GB hard disk in it, and I could account for only about 80GB of data and installed applications. So why was the system displaying a low disk space warning message?

I immediately ran the Disk Cleanup tool and set about emptying and removing just about anything that could be using up disk space: the Recycle Bin, temporary Internet files, dump files, thumbnails, log files, temp files, error report files, and downloaded program files.

That seemed to help for a while, but the problem cropped up again.

After a bit more investigation, I discovered that the problem was being caused by a configuration problem with Vista's System Restore feature.

In this edition of the Microsoft Windows Vista & Windows 7 Report, I'll show you what I discovered and  how you can fix it. As I do, I'll also explain how to use the Volume Shadow Copy Service Administration command-line tool, VSSAdmin.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

How System Restore works

Before we get started on the technique, let's begin with a brief overview of how System Restore works.

System Restore is designed to take snapshots, called restore points, of your system state before certain types of operations, such as installing new drivers or installing Windows updates, are initiated. That way if a problem results from those types of operations, you can revert back to the restore point and essentially recover, or restore, your system to the state that it was in before the problem occurred.

These snapshots are taken by the Volume Shadow Copy Service. In addition to taking care of creating the restore points, the Volume Shadow Copy Service also monitors data files for the Previous Versions feature.

Using VSSAdmin

In order to manage the Volume Shadow Copy Service and ultimately System Restore, you'll use the VSSAdmin command-line tool -- there is no GUI tool in Vista for configuring System Restore. In order to run VSSAdmin, you must launch an elevated Command Prompt window.

To begin, right-click on the Command Prompt shortcut and select the Run as Administrator command. When you encounter the UAC, you will need to respond appropriately.

You can now use the VSSAdmin command-line tool to investigate and configure System Restore and the Shadow Copy Service. For example, you can obtain a list of all the restore points currently saved on the system by using the command:

vssadmin list shadows

You can see how much disk space is allocated to and used by System Restore and the Shadow Copy Service system by using the command:

vssadmin list shadowstorage

The investigation

On the Vista system that was running out of disk space, the result of the vssadmin list shadowstorage command is shown in Figure A. As you can see the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space settings was set to Unbounded, which means that there is no limit to the size it can grow and it was already at 40GB.

Figure A

The Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space setting on the problem system was set to Unbounded.
On another Vista test system, running on an 80GB hard disk, the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space setting was set to 11GB, as shown in Figure B. This was a much more reasonable value. Why the value on one of my test systems was set to unbounded while the others had specific maximum values, I'm not sure.

Figure B

The Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space setting on another system was set to 11GB.

The solution

You can reset the value of the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space setting using the command:

vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=<ForVolumeSpec> /on=<OnVolumeSpec> [/maxsize=<MaxSizeSpec>

On my problem system, I reset the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space setting to 15GB using the command:

vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=c: /on=c: /maxsize=15GB

Once the operation was complete, I restarted the system, and everything has been running normally since.

What's your take?

If you have a Vista system that is mysteriously running low on disk space, you might want to use the VSSAdmin command-line tool to investigate and change the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space setting. Have you experienced this problem with Vista? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

60 comments
ingeSR
ingeSR

I first came across the issue of running out of space a few months ago with Windows Vista when my system was only 6 mos old. I was able to pinpoint the directory causing the issue and searched on the net for some info. I did find some good info out there but none of them gave the instructs you provide on how to set the max amount etc. So thanks very much!! The odd thing for me is that I don't recall making a change months back (just did some major cleanup) and it looks like my system is set to a max of 5.61 GB...not sure how that was set.

ocforu
ocforu

done it.. got back 20gb of space.. cool tip

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

Little note - if not said before. If you dual boot between XP and Vista [and will probably apply to Win 7], there will be an issue where Vista may not keep the restore points for long - sometimes limiting you to just 1 restore point. Don't have it with me but there is a MS KB that tells you how to fix the problem.

promotions1
promotions1

I got done by Restore Points. I lost all available space and could do no work. I used WinDirStat to examine the drive and found that over 50% was occupied by "unknown" (I now know that is mostly System Restore Points.) This happened when a big virus scare was on and I wrongly thought that I had been infected. If I had only known this fix, it would have saved reformating and reinstalling everything which seemed to be the only fix. Thanks. Once again MicroSoft makes it easy for the user - NOT!

goldenboy_17
goldenboy_17

My hard drive (in laptop) is 320GB, but windows reports 286GB because the hidden partition Acer creates for the recovery app. It shows 248GB free space and alloted space for the system restore can grow max 40GB. To what number i should change it? 15GB?

jabrwky
jabrwky

This is good to know about.

GreyTech
GreyTech

I wondered whether the problem is related to 15% that is allocated by Vista as the "Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space" being over 32GB. When I first installed Vista on a test system with a 300GB drive I got "Unbounded" but when I installed it on a 160GB drive I got 24GB. Greg seems to have got unbounded on a 120GB drive but was that an installation from an image originally installed on a larger drive?

eatredmeatfeelgood
eatredmeatfeelgood

On Windows 7 default config for my 250 GB C: drive Microsoft Windows [Version 6.1.7000] Copyright (c) 2006 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. C:\Windows\system32>vssadmin list shadowstorage vssadmin 1.1 - Volume Shadow Copy Service administrative command-line tool (C) Copyright 2001-2005 Microsoft Corp. Shadow Copy Storage association For volume: (C:)\\?\Volume{1779e7b9-de91-11dd-b202-806e6f6e6963}\ Shadow Copy Storage volume: (C:)\\?\Volume{1779e7b9-de91-11dd-b202-806e6f6e69 63}\ Used Shadow Copy Storage space: 3.857 GB (1%) Allocated Shadow Copy Storage space: 4.156 GB (1%) Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space: 8.713 GB (3%) C:\Windows\system32>

norm713
norm713

Why not just use the disk clean tool and remove all but the last restore point every month or so, seems easy enough? I regain between 50 and 60GB each time. Spiffy

zagood
zagood

In the "How much disk space does System Restore require?" help screen, it says... "System Restore might use up to 15 percent of the space on each disk." vssadmin gave me exactly that amount when I queried it. I'm assuming this is the default maximum.

giblyninin
giblyninin

Hi, I run TuneUp utilities, this software is capable to cleanup the old and unwanted restore points, so i have always the maximum disk space to work with. Greetings.

scallahan58
scallahan58

As with several other Tech Republic publications, this one has saved me considerable money and time on upgrades and new hardware.

cwmson
cwmson

Yep, mine was at 45gb. I set it to 15gb using the instructions. Worked great. I will have to remember this for my customers. Great tip too. Craig

contact
contact

Better way to adjust that using Vista Manager.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

My systems has a 80gig drive. I will be setting this option to a very low number. Thanks for the support.

jshewsbury
jshewsbury

Will try this tonight... other than big RAM requirement I think this the only other thing that I don't like about Vista - System Restore keep on stealing hard disk space... I remember those days in WinXP I can limit how many percent of space in the HDD can be used for System Restore. Overall, I still love using Vista....

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

where you can just look at the disk properties through explorer to see & set this? Besides that this is the space for VSS not the system retore points. VSS is the volume shadow serice for keeping old versions of files. Are the one in the same then?

m
m

I ran RUN and typed in vssadmin etc and it flashed up and then dissapeared???

evtmg
evtmg

brand new laptop - 5 days old = shadowstorage set to 43gb and 32gb used already. resized to 15gb -- thanks for the info !!

mjmuk
mjmuk

Excellent post. I was stating to pull my hair out trying to find out what was happening to my Dell820/80GB disc always hunting to remove unnecessary files etc. Sadly I won't be able to use this info for a while as my Dell bit the dust last week courtesy of the NVIDIA GPU issue. But when it's fixed or I buy a new Vista box then I'll know what to do.

JimInNM
JimInNM

Ok, worked fine but what happened to the info that exceeded the allocated space?? I was using 47gb and I resized to 15 gb so was the older restore points deleted or what

short2
short2

Good article and advise.

networknanny
networknanny

My system has the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space setting set to 15 GB. When the capacity was approaching that limit Vista automatically created another drive and another Shadow Copy Storage space of 300 MB of which 6 MB has been used. Any comment on how best to handle this.

mmangan
mmangan

Great advice...Just one comment-that blue background on your screen prints is VERY intense...Can you tone that down so the text can be read? But I've been watching my disk get 'fuller & fuller' wondering what I should be doing...so thanks again!

eddie.karsten
eddie.karsten

My vista system shadow copy storage is set at 21Gb max so will leave as it is. HDD space is 140Gb.

jedwards
jedwards

"On another Vista test system, running on an 80MB hard disk" --If you'd actually achieved that on a drive that size I'd shake your hand ;-)

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you checked your Vista System Restore configuration settings? Have your users been complaining of low hard disk space? I tried the tip on my notebook and found that the max setting was for 45GB on a 120GB hard drive. That was more than I wished to allocate and I dropped it down to 15GB. If you try this tip, let us know if you find the configuration set too high. Perhaps we can assess how common this problem actually is?

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

I'm wondering how this is initially determined. It defaulted to 10GB on my 500GB drive (Vista Ultimate 64-bit).

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

First of all, if you're regaining 50-60GB each month, your maximum is set way too high. Second, why run the utility every month, when you can set the maximum once, and not have to worry about it again? I don't know that I've ever used the disk clean tool you speak of, and I've never had an issue with disk space.

mrbobyu
mrbobyu

Yes, the mac Os X Leopord also has it's called the Time machine, it also record the hard drive frequency in time line, you could actually recover data from the last 2weeks or even months. From what I found, Time machine was actually easy to use and you could actually choose what you want to store in time line without hassle. I don't know, I guess for a normal user, it would be much more easier to use a Mac than Vista for that kind of situation, using "restoration" system.

pdr5407
pdr5407

I have about 45 GB out of 320 GB of disk space used for the shadow copy or system restore. This seems like too much, what if I simply turn off system restore?

pdr5407
pdr5407

I have about 48 GB out of 320 GB of disk space used for the shadow copy or system restore. This seems like too much, what if I simply turn off system restore?

rshaw
rshaw

If you have corporate licensing and can get Windows 7 now, install that. Otherwise install the RC version or wait for the retail version in October. Don't waste time with Vista. I've used Vista since it launched without major problems, but Windows 7 is MUCH less hassle and much quicker in bootup, shutdown, and everyday operation. Get a version with Virtual XP and it's a no-brainer.

vucliriel
vucliriel

... Unless your system is very recent and has at least 3GB of RAM and NO APPS!!! I have a 160 GB hardrive and NAKED, when I acquired it, the system used 40GB of HD space... Until someone finds a way to strip this bloated OS clean like they did for XP (XP Micro takes less than one GB installed), I simply CAN'T recommend it! Aero is simply not worth that trouble and considering the inconveniences Vista imposes, you'd be MAD to even consider it! Sorry if I offended you, but I've been into computers since the 70s and this OS is pure and simple CRAP.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

The answers were right there all the time!

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

The same VSS service handles both the restore points and shadow copies as they are just slightly different in function. System restore is saving copies of files and registry entries that will be changed by an installation while the standard shadow is saving files that are being changed at any other time. As such, they all use the same storage space.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

Go to start /run/ then type "cmd". Now type vssadmin and VOILA!

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

By default, when the Shadow Copy Storage size reaches it's maximum limit, the oldest data is tossed out. When you resize it, it should behave the same.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

That is a typo that I've asked my TR editor to fix.

brettwilliams101
brettwilliams101

On a 36GB WD Raptor. I ran into this problem, disabled System Restore, called it a minor victory. Then I got pissed one day because of Vista's numerous issues and downgraded to XP a second time.

vucliriel
vucliriel

My Dear God, I had not one but EIGHT different shadow copies listed when I inquired at the command promp! It took me two years to fill 160GB on Vista while it took me 6 to fill half as much on Windows 98... This is definitely a MUST KNOW tip when using this hog of an OS... I definitely need to acquire a second system this fall that is not OS dependent and finally reverting this poor slave of a computer to XP Micro and installing only lean and mean old versions of all my programs... (time, time, time, I know, I should have done it a longh time ago!) If you thought America had a problem with obsesity, you never followed the weight gain of most mainstream consumer grade software. The unbounded bloat in present software has to stop somewhere!!!

Ron_007
Ron_007

this is a great tip that many people will be able make use of. How about the "flip side", I need to figure out which utilities I am using are going nuts and "cleaning up" all of my restore points. Which means that a couple of times when I needed to try a restore (as a last resort), I found that I had no restore points to fall back on. Any pointers would be appreciated. The tools I use and suspect include: Vista Disk Cleanup CCleaner Glary Utilities

manieverster
manieverster

Thanks, nice article. I have a 103 GB hdd and system restoreset to max 15GB so I'll leave it like that. A question if I may? I know this might be off topic but I have a HP laptop and have an E:\ drive called OS_Tools, size 1.55 GB and 8 MB free. Can you tell me what this is for? There is some backup folders which I think I can delete but not sure. I make windows backups to external disks. Could someone help me out please?

jerryew
jerryew

In looking at the results, I found that all hard drives had a max limit set. I didnt erealize each drive had its own configuration.....

Researcher75
Researcher75

A very good idea, but is the default setting based on the average HD used or is it autmatically calculated when the OS is installed. Another point must be of course is the amount of space taken up by programs themselves which must be affacted if too little shadow is set. So how would one be able to calculate safely this feature? I have a 1TB HD with maximum shadow set at 139.77GB Roy

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

I ran into a similar experience in XP, where the user ghosted his drive from a 60GB to a 120GB drive and still ran out of room. His recycle bin was told to use almost 20% of the disk, and the System Restore was told to use almost 20% of the disk. That is a lot of very poorly used space.

pgit
pgit

This is a great tip! Timely in that I'm looking into bacula and it works with VSS on the windows client side. For the record it appears the default setup for windows server 2008 is for VSS to be completely off. Every vssadmin command I give comes back "no items found that satisfy that query." I figure I'd better learn a bit more about this before I go activating anything.

Another Canadian
Another Canadian

I am a "normal" user but although all pc user that read this and same for Mac that read this are not normal user ;).

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

Then you lose the ability to roll back the system if a later patch or update breaks something. Keeping enough space for a couple of restore points is generally a good idea since MS regression testing isn't perfect and has in the past missed major problems with service pack and hotfix releases. I haven't checked it out yet, but it may also affect your ability to rollback drivers.

JimInNM
JimInNM

Well, thanks for getting back to me. Feel much better now knowing what happens to the residual data. Not many reporters take the time to answer questions their articles generate.

vucliriel
vucliriel

... 20GB gained in a couple of mouse clicks... Thanks a Million, Folks!!!

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

dadshideout@... is right. Instead of including a Recovery CD, HP (and the other makers) use part of the hard drive to store the recovery files. You hit F10 or some other key during boot (can't recall and it tells you anyway). This takes you to a GUI where you get to choose between a few levels of restore. Using the highest level will wipe your disk and return the PC to the configuration it had when you bought it. This wipes anything you added so make sure you back up first. There is usually a shortcut in the OS to burn your own Recovery Disc which is useful if you replace that disk with a larger one. It's best not to delete it (unless you made that Recovery Disc) as it is the only way you will get the OS back without having to call HP and pay for them to ship you one (or buy your own OS disc).

dadshideout
dadshideout

I'm guessing it's a partition made by the manufacture for a system recovery.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

Apparently, Microsoft calculates the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage size as 15% of the size of the hard disk. As you can imagine, as the size of the hard disk increases so too does the size allotted to the Shadow Copy Storage. So with a 1TB hard disk, the Maximum Shadow Copy Storage size would, in theory, be: 1025GB * .15 = 153.6GB So, it would appear that you are in the ballpark at 139.77GB. That just seems like overkill to me for the hard disk of a single user system. However, that would be the recommended dosage... Depending on how many restore points and shadow copies that you think you need to have on hand, you could trim it back to a little...

Realvdude
Realvdude

Sounds like Microsoft Didn't learn their lesson. We had a client application that launched from our web application using a stub file with a custom file extension. We had some clients that were having an issue that the application launched, but did not retrieve data from the stub file. It turned out that the temprorary internet files folder on these computers were 1Gb or more, and the open was timing out before Windows could find the file. Later Microsoft coded IE to max out at 252Mb for the temp folder.

Rhodent
Rhodent

Two things I don't understand: 1) What's the dfference between a restore point and a shadow copy? 2) How can you control the size of each individual restore point? I've seen a system on which each restore point took 25GiB, and I wonder, how do you specify which parts of the system to include in the RP, or is that decided automatically based on other settings? Thanks, D.