Windows 10’s hidden hard drive partitions: How to find them, how to remove them

You might be able to get back a little storage space, if you tread carefully.

Anil Sood had three apparently unusable partitions on his laptop before upgrading to Windows 10. Now he has four. Can he make use of this seemingly wasted space?

All of those partitions, none of which are accessible in Windows, look like a lot of waste. Some of them are waste. Others are necessary. Upgrading Windows adds another one. None of them are easy to remove.

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If you’re willing to take the risk, you can reclaim a few gigabytes by removing some of them—but only if you’re absolutely sure which ones you can safely remove.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

To see all of your partitions, right-click the Start button and select Disk Management. When you look at the top half of the window, you might discover that these unlettered and possibly unwanted partitions appear to be empty. Now you really know it’s wasted space!

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Not so fast. Disk Management is giving you bad data. When I examined all of those “empty” partitions in EaseUS Partition Master, I found that they were all storing something. One 128MB partition was completely full.

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So let’s take a look at what these partitions are:

The first one was created when Windows was installed on your machine. It contains files needed for booting Windows. This partition might also include files needed for reinstalling the version of Windows that came with your PC. Clearly, you have to keep this one.

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 There may or may not be another partition between the first one and C:. I wouldn’t touch that one, either.

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If you’ve upgraded to Windows 10, the partition after C: is almost certainly the recovery partition you’ll need if you decide to reinstall the operating system. Keep that one.

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There may be other partitions after that, from installations of other versions of Windows. They’re probably worthless, but their small sizes makes them not worth bothering about.

If you’ve upgraded, your PC likely has one huge (8 to 20GB) and arguably worthless partition at the end. This was installed by the hardware manufacturer for restoring the hard drive or SSD to its factory condition. Since you no longer have that version of Windows, and your license to use it expired 30 days after your Windows 10 upgrade, it’s pretty pointless.

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I think it’s safe to delete that partition, and considering its size, arguably worth it. But not everyone agrees with me on this. David Milman of the PC repair company Rescuecom believes this partition is best left alone. He argues that you “could use the old factory partition to do a fresh install if required,” as one step to a complete repair.

If you do decide to take the risk, create an image backup of the entire drive (all partitions) beforehand. You can’t delete any of these partitions using Windows’ own Disk Management program. You can probably do it (computers may vary) with a third-party partition program such as AOMEI Partition Assistant Standard or the above-mentioned EaseUS Partition Master.

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