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How to install Windows 11 when there's not enough free space on your main drive

Windows 11 Setup
Windows 11 Setup (Image credit: Windows Central)

Although your computer may meet the minimum storage requirements to install Windows 11, the setup may still get stuck because there is not enough space to process the upgrade. If this is your case, there is a way around this problem using a pair of USB flash drives.

Windows 11, like its predecessor, comes with "reserved storage" to reserve part of the drive space to prevent issues during an update. However, the device still needs some addiontal space to process the upgrade, which means that you will need workarounds to continue with the setup.

In this Windows 11 guide, we will walk you through the steps to install Windows 11 on devices with low disk space.

How to install Windows 11 on low storage devices

If you have a laptop or another form factor with limited storage capacity, you can still upgrade to Windows 11. You will only need to go through some additional steps with different components.

Hardware requirements

As part of the preparation process, to install Windows 11 on a device with low storage capacity, you will need these things:

Windows 11 USB flash drive creation

To create a Windows 11 installation media, connect a USB flash drive to the secondary computer, and use these steps:

  1. Open Windows 11 download page (opens in new tab).
  2. Under the "Create Windows 11 Installation Media" section, click the Download now button to save the file on the device.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Double-click the MediaCreationToolW11.exe file to launch the tool.
  2. Click the Accept button to agree to the terms.
  3. (Optional) Clear the Use the recommended options for this PC option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Select the correct language and edition of Windows 11.
  2. Click the Next button.
  3. Select the USB flash drive option.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button
  2. Select the USB flash drive.Quick tip: If the device is not in the list, click the "Refresh drive list" option to make it available.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Click the Finish button.

Once you complete the steps, the tool will download the files to create a bootable media to install Windows 11 on a computer with limited capacity.

Windows 11 installation process

To install the initial release of Windows 11 on a computer with limited storage, use these steps:

  1. Connect the USB OTG cable or the USB hub to the computer to be upgraded (if applicable).
  2. Connect the Windows 11 USB flash drive and the other empty USB flash drive.
  3. Open File Explorer.Quick tip: You can quickly open File Explorer from Start or using the Windows key + E keyboard shortcut.
  4. Select the This PC tab from the left pane.
  5. Under the "Devices and drives" section, double-click the USB flash drive with the Windows 11 files.
  6. Double-click the setup.exe file to launch the Windows 11 setup.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Accept button (if applicable).
  2. Click the Next button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Under the "Setup needs space to update" section, use the "External Storage Device" drop-down menu and select the empty USB flash drive.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Click the Open button for "Recycle Bin," "Downloads," and "Storage Use" to free up space on the device to continue with the installation (if applicable).Quick note: While you can use an external drive as temporary storage for the installation, the computer's internal hard drive may still require some minimum free space to proceed with the upgrade. If you have to free up even more space, use these instructions, or use the "Compact OS" command-line tool (see below).
  3. Click the Refresh button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Click the Next button.
  2. Click the Install button.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)
  1. Continue with the on-screen instructions to complete the installation process (if applicable).

After you complete the steps, the setup will proceed with the upgrade to Windows 11.

Shrink current setup (optional)

Alternatively, you can also use "Compact OS," a command-line tool designed to compress and reduce the footprint of the Windows setup and applications.

Warning: This is a friendly reminder that modifying system files are risky and it can cause irreversible damage to your installation if you do not do it correctly. Before proceeding, it is recommended to make a temporary full backup of your PC.

To shrink the size of the current installation of Windows, use these steps:

  1. Open Start.
  2. Search for Command Prompt, right-click the top result, and select the Run as administrator option.
  3. Type the following command to compress the installation of Windows 10 and press Enter:compact.exe /compactOS:always

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

After you complete the steps, the installation footprint will be reduced, giving you around 2GB of extra storage that may help to continue with the Windows 11 setup.

You can always revert the changes after the upgrade using the same instructions, but on step No. 3, use the

compact.exe /compactOS:never

command.

More Windows resources

For more helpful articles, coverage, and answers to common questions about Windows 10 and Windows 11, visit the following resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.