A (possibly dumb) trick to squeeze a bit more usable space out of your SSD

Posted on Sun 29 August 2010 in General

Back in January I bought a shiny new i7 Quad-Core laptop. It came with a 500GB disk drive, but I wanted it to perform as fast as possible, so after the laptop arrived I swapped out the hard disk for a 60GB OCZ Vertex SSD. Long-term, I knew 60GB wasn't going to be enough space for me, but I still had the 500GB drive which I put in an enclosure to use as an external drive (laptop has eSATA as well, so it willl perform at its full speed) to store large, infrequently accessed files.

By the way, the SSD made my already fast laptop fast. Like amazingly fast. I wouldn't be without it.

So, fast forward several months, and my 60GB SSD is, as I expected, running low on space. Since SSD is relatively new technology, the prices are falling pretty fast, so every extra month I can delay buying its replacement means saving money or getting more capacity for the same money on the next one.

I could move some stuff permanently to the external drive, but I want to use it as little as possible, since it's a pain to get out, plug in, etc.

Enter my trick:

My laptop, like most, has an SD card slot. I also happened to have a nice 32GB Class 10 SD card I wasn't using for anything important. I put that in to my laptop and, using WinDirStat tracked down the biggest space hogs on the main drive.

One thing that jumped out at me quickly was the folder C:\windows\installer Apparently that's the cache of all the MSI-based installers on the system, and they need to be there if you ever want to be able to uninstall the stuff. On my system this accounted for a bit over 3GB of space. Not a huge amount, but still 5% of my total capacity.

You can't officially move this folder, but you can use an NTFS junction to make Windows think it's still there when it's actually somewhere else (in my case, on that SD card) and it'll be none the wiser. (If you haven't used junctions or hard-links in Windows, check out the command mklink from an administrator level command prompt for details).

I spent an afternoon playing around with moving different stuff on and off the SD card with hardlinks and junctions and wound up freeing up about 10GB of space on my SSD, which should buy me a few more months.

Stuff I was successful in moving without noticeably impacting performance:
  1. C:\windows\installer
  2. The Streets & Trips data files.
  3. C:\MSOCache
  4. My Dropbox Folder
  5. My Documents
  6. Various and sundry single files.

The SD card is decidedly slower than pretty much anything else, so you'll want to limit what you move to infrequently used files, or large numbers of very small files.

Stuff I moved, but then moved back due to crappy performance:
  1. My browser's data files (cache, etc).
  2. My email client's data files.
Stuff I didn't even try to move because it seems like a recipe for disaster or terrible performance:
  1. The Windows Swap file.
  2. hiberfile.sys
  3. Virtual machine virtual hard drives

And of course, if you do this, you have to leave the SD card in all of the time if you want it to be fully transparent and error-free.

Lastly, I'm sure none of this is officially sanctioned, so if you do it and it ruins your data, your computer, or your life, I'm not responsible.

I'm sure I'll be upgrading this disk soon enough, but in the meantime, I'm happy to dump off what I can onto another piece of internal storage that's half the size of my primary disk.