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.