How to manage file storage more efficiently in Windows 10

We recently got a look at how Microsoft is making it easier for Windows 10 devices with limited storage to deal with app installations by changing a simple option in Storage settings to install new apps on an external drive. Today, we are looking at how you can save local storage space by saving your files to a secondary drive automatically.

In Windows 10, Microsoft is adding some new features, many of which come from Windows Phone 8. One example is Storage Sense, which let users easily change the default save locations of documents, music, photos, and more.

The new operating system, which apparently is on track to launch later in the summer, brings a similar feature to configure specific locations to save your documents, music, pictures, and videos to an alternate location.

Follow these steps to save files to a different drive

To change the settings, simply go to the Settings app, navigate to Storage and under Save locations, change the location for each specific type of file.

The only drawback to this feature is that it will only save files to these locations after changing the settings. If you have files already stored in the "Documents" or any of the other folders, those files will not get moved to the new location.

Quickly move old file to the new location

Although, this is a good option to help you save space in your local storage, it can get a little confusing for some users. Using this new feature will not change the location for the folders listed under "This PC" in the File Explorer. Many users can end up saving and moving files in two different locations without knowing.

To avoid this issue, you can change the settings in Storage, but you also want to change the location of your account folders to the new destination.

To do this:

1- Go to File Explorer and navigate to This PC, in "Folders", right-click the "Documents" folder and click Properties.

2- Navigate to the Location tab, click the Find Target button and browse to the new location for the document's folder.

3- Copy the path from the address bar, go back to the Location tab, and paste the path in the field, and click Apply.

4- In the "Move Folder" dialog box, click Yes to allow to move the content from the old location to the new one. (Repeat the same process for each folder you change settings in Storage.)

This process will accomplish two things. First, no matter where you're in the operating system, you can be sure you'll always be saving the files to the new location. Second, this process moves all the old files in your system to the new location.

Here are a few more things you need to know

  • Make sure you're using an external drive that you won't be disconnecting very often
  • When you change the save location settings, files will be stored inside of a folder that has your account name
  • Be consistent on how you save files moving forward
  • If you disconnect the drive, the save locations settings will revert to "This PC" until you reconnect the drive
  • Saving files to a secondary location doesn't replace a backup of your files, but it's an option that help in case the Windows installation gets corrupted or it just simply dies. (Though, this could also happen to the secondary location.)

How do you manage files on your PC? Let us know your experience in the comments below.

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.

39 Comments
  • Good detail
  • In WP 10, open File Explorer and select 'This Device', search for 'Video' (for example) and long-press it, click properties, at the top of Properties page click 'MainOS (C)'.
    Rest is upto you to explore.
  • Except the small detail that this is already a feature of W8. It's good to know they are rushing to get W8 features back in to W10 so it can compete with W8 but it has a way to go yet.
  • I don't think it is a feature of WP 8....
  • LOL
  • Since Windows Vista, in fact.
  • For the "move old file to new location" part.... That seems waaaay overcomplicated. Can't you just cut/paste the files to the new location? That seems way more simple and faster.
  • or add a "change install location" option in the properties settings per app?
  • If you just copy-paste, then the default folder (Documents etc.) will still refer to their default location, not the new one. Storage in setting only works for file that is newly made/obtained, not changing "This PC"'s folder location. Yes they need to make it more simple, it's been like six years..
  • I'm aware about that part, but after you change the save location, it sounds like it would be more simple to just copy/paste the old stuff.
  • It would, but sometimes people click cancel by accident when cut and pasting, then get baffled why they have one segment of files in the new dir and another in the old dir.
    In windows 7, all you have to is cut and paste the libraries - "documents" etc into the new dir and the file points / targets Chang automatically.
    I recall in the xp days, you could "move target" for my documents. Would be nice if they had that, however I personally prefer how the library properties work in 7 - just include a directory - for example the documents library can include "d:\personal\my documents" and "n:\shared\user1\my documents" (nas drive).
  • Had to move pictures folder in w7 only way it released was the move option. After I got enough space back I tried moving it back no luck. Permissions must be messed up
  • That will move the documents to the new location. However, when you go to explorer and click the documents, music, video folders under This PC, it will go to the old location. You have to change the properties so those folders point to the right location.
  • Finally, I've always wanted something straightforward like this
  • Been using the second method since the day of Windows 7, useful option that is not exposed enough..
  • Yup, it isn't sadly and it's not buried like a reg hack. It's pretty simple to do.
  • Good article, but everytime i move my apps between the disk and SD card, the apps are so likely to be unavaliable forever.
  • I use files like I always have--not with Windows Explorer. I currently use Xplorer2. I rename and move files alot, and it's simple with Xplorer2. Since I have 2TB HDD, I don't worry about storage, however, I am doing more and more on my tablet, and plan to buy a Surface Pro 4 when released (gotta have LTE). So this information will prove helpful for when that happens.
  • Maybe get a central NAS?
  • Overkill for me. I backup my files on SDXC cards, and some on the cloud.
  • Great article, people should make this a habit for every install and new user. Since 99% of people never back anything up, at least this way when the o/s goes belly up and is not recoverable - they can just reinstall.
  • If Part 1 automatically completed Part 2, then it would make things so much simpler. As it is, having to complete Part 2 makes the Windows 10 implementation more confusing than it is under Windows Vista/7. Maybe MSFT could merge the two...?
  • Eventually, I hope that too. Users changing these configuration in Settings should be prompted to choose whether they want to opt for Windows 10 moving their files to a secondary drive. Thanks,
  • You can do this already in Windows 8 using storage spaces. Merge multiple storage devices together and create virtual drives from it.
  • Thanks
  • For goodness sake how complex for the average user and how not up to par with the times. If a user wants to save his/her files from PC to external drive then also automate the change of location of the folder to one location by default. We're in 2015, not 1985? ​
  • The folder structure is one thing they could import from the *nix world. On my desktop most of the system sits on an SSD under  "/" but I have the file system partitioned so that the "/home" is on a separate 3TB hard drive, so every time I fresh install an OS it leaves my documents and settings alone. With an intelligent partitioning scheme I can have my file system span as many hard drives and partitions as I can cram into the system. Under Windows I always found that unmanageable (and in certain cases it would be rather helpful). It can't be this hard. In 2015 why are we still p*ssing around with drive letters? It's the one thing that Unix variants handle 10x better than Windows. If nothing else they should allow us to set up the ~\users folder on its own partition / hdd.
  • You can map a drive to a folder in Windows, so why are you complaining about this? The problem has nothing to do with drive letters or Unix vs. Windows way of handling drives and partitions. The problem is they're still trying to pass off a ridiculously huge desktop OS as a Mobile/Tablet OS, and it isn't that.  A Mobile device has limited space, unless the user is going to pay Surface Prices for something they are going to use like a Galaxy Tab 4. Especially for smaller tablets (7-8") and non-convertibles, they need to find a way to get the Desktop out of the Tablet OS so that it's more manageable in size.  It's criminal to have a 32GB Tablet that leaves you with less space than a 16GB Android/iOS tablet out of the box after Windows Updates, and 16GB Tablets that leave you with less than 2GB for your stuff (as in, no space for your stuff if you want to keep your system up to date). Microsoft should have ported Windows Phone to x86 and adapted it to smaller tablets, IMO.  Full Windows is terrible on them and this should be an unnecessary work-around for an issue they created, which the OS exacerbates due to its design towards desktop and notebook machines with large storage volumes (Hibernation and Paging Files, Windows Updates with cause the OS to increase with size over time, etc.).
  • The problem is mapping your user profiles to a separate folder, which would preserve a lot of your settings, etc. when you reinstall windows (in theory). Much like having /home mounted on a separate drive from "/" Unfortunately Windows doesn't let you move your profiles off its default location and you can't map the default location to a new drive. That's my problem and has caused a fair bit of frustration for a few years now. The workaround of course is to have all your libraries pointing to the other partition / drive, but that solution is not ideal as it requires some post-install configuration every time you trash/reinstall your OS (which you should do any time you suck in a more advanced virus or advvare). Anyway, I'm sure we'll get there at some point.
  • Actually, you can move your user profile, since Win 7 (maybe even earlier), using the "mklink" command.  It's very complicated, and there are several reasons why this could cause problems in Windows 8 and 10.  However, it can be done and it does work. I still prefer the method noted above in this article.  
  • Can this be applied to OneDrive; I.e. Can we have the local OneDrive folder on an external hard drive rather than c-drive?
  • Yes same process just do it on the OneDrive folder in explorer.
  • This unfortunately doesnt seem to work for me (TP 10074) My C:/Users/Name/Onedrive - folder shows no "path" option that I could modify :-(
  • I create my own folders, namely, Documents, Video, Pictures, Music on an external drive and move files accordingly to these locations. I ran into issues with the 'This PC' storage options, duplicate files, etc. A pain in the ass, so I created my own.
  • English isn't my first language, so bear with me Which is correct "New app will save to" or "New apps will be saved to"? (see screenshots) I'm kind of confused.
  • ? File locations has been around for a long time. Why hype this up now?
  • In windows 10, how do you use file explorer to save to OneDrive if you have not synced OneDrive to your computer?
  • This is a nice feature for desktop. Easier than relocating folders for new data. I decided to try and download locally music from OneDrive via Music Beta and it downloads them as "cached" (unidentifiable named) files. It placed all of these downloaded "cache" files on the MicroSDHC card on my Surface Pro 3. Easy.
  • These instructions missed a navigation step. At least in my new Win 10 installation, it's Settings > SYSTEM > Storage..