NTFS file system on Windows 10 includes a compression feature, which allows you to shrink files to save space with the advantage to keep accessing your files as you would normally do without compression, and without the need to decompress files using extra software.

However, there is a caveat, using compression can impact system performance. When you're actively accessing compressed files, NTFS needs to decompress and compress those files again as you finish using them, which is a process that requires more processor and hard drive resources.

Although this feature can impact performance, there are still a number of good reasons to use it. Typically, you would use compression to set up a drive to store data that you almost never use. In those times when you need to optimize your storage space. Or to store files that you use frequently, but they don't impact system performance significantly, such as documents and pictures.

If you need to save space on your device, on Windows 10, you can enable compression in two different ways. You can compress individual files and folders or an entire drive.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to use compression to save storage space on your computer.

How to compress files using NTFS file compression

The easiest way to use NTFS compression to make files smaller is to compress them individually. This is a good solution that you can use when your device only has one drive, or there is a secondary drive, but you want to compress files you rarely use while keeping those you use frequently uncompress to reduce the system performance impact.

Another advantage of NTFS file compression is that you don't need to go through the process of zipping and unzipping every time you need a file, as everything is handled automatically and on the fly.

To compress files and folders using NTFS, do the following:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the location you want to store the compress files.
  3. Click the New folder button on the "Home" tab.
  4. Type a descriptive name for the folder and press Enter.
  5. Right-click the folder and select Properties.

  6. Click the Advanced button.

  7. Under "Compress or Encrypt attributes," check the Compress content to save disk space option.

  8. Click OK.
  9. Click Apply.
  10. On "Confirm Attribute Changes," make sure to select the Apply changes to this folder, subfolders and files option.

  11. Click OK again.

Once you completed the steps, you can add new files and folders, and they will compress automatically.

Alternatively, you can compress a single file by accessing the file properties, clicking Advanced, and enabling compression.

Previously, you could identify which files and folders were compressed because they were marked with blue font, but on Windows 10, you'll now notice two arrows pointing to each other icon in the top-right corner to indicate the content is compressed.

Quick Tip: If you want to see how much space you're saving, just right-click a file or folder, and select Properties. Size is the actual size of the item without compression, and Size on disk is the size of the item after compression.

How to compress files using NTFS drive compression

You can not only compress individual files and folders using NTFS, but it's also possible to set compression to an entire hard drive.

This option works identically to file compression, which means that once enabled, you'll still be able to access files as you would normally do on any drive because the compression and decompression process happens almost instantly.

To compress an entire drive on Windows 10 using NTFS, do the following:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click on This PC.
  3. Right-click the hard drive you want to compress and click Properties.

  4. Check the Compress this drive to save disk space option.

  5. Click Apply.
  6. On "Confirm Attribute Changes," make sure to select the Apply changes to drive [drive letter]:\, subfolders and files option.

  7. Click OK.
  8. Click OK again.

The drive doesn't necessarily have to be empty. You can compress a drive with content already in it. However, you should notice that the OS will have to compress the files and folders too, which can take a long time deepening on data stored in the drive.

When to use NTFS compression and when you shouldn't

You should use compression for storage only. Usually, it's safe to use NTFS compression when you have a computer with a reasonably fast processor and hard drive, such as a Solid-State Drive. In contrast, if you have a low-end tablet or laptop, or if you have a very old PC, you should skip this feature and consider to get a larger drive instead.

Getting a larger external hard drive will many times make more sense than using compression, as more capacity means more room to store files without having to go through the compression and decompression process that can impact system performance.

And yes, you can enable compression on USB flash drives and SD cards, but using a hard drive is your best choice.

The amount of storage space you can save will always vary, and it'll depend on many factors. NTFS compression has been designed to be lightweight and fast, which means that a lot of times the compression ratio is likely to be less than using other compression mechanisms found in third-party tools.

You can store content like zip folders and mp3 music files inside of a folder using NTFS compression, but they're already compressed, as such don't expect them to get any smaller.

It should be noted that compressed files need to be decompressed before copying over the network, which means NTFS compression does not save network bandwidth. If you want to save bandwidth, you should consider using zip.

It's also possible to compress the hard drive where Windows 10 is installed, but it's highly not recommended. Using compression on the system drive can significantly impact performance and cause many problems.

If you're looking to compress the system drive, you should look into Compact OS, which is a compression mechanism to reduce the footprint of Windows 10 freeing up space in your primary hard drive.

While we're focusing this guide on Windows 10, you can also use the same steps to use NTFS compression on Windows 8.1, Windows 7, and earlier versions of the OS.

More Windows 10 resources

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