Yesterday the tech news world was up in arms about the news regarding how much free space would be available on the Surface Pro's 64Gb and 128Gb solid state drives upon first boot. Many articles suggested that the used disk space was "unusable", which of course is not true. The 64Gb model will have 23Gb of free space, and the 128Gb model will have 83Gb of free space. Yes it is kind of unfair that so much should be pre-loaded on the devices, but if you've ever used Windows you might know that there are ways to delete things that you don't want or need. Some have been able to get Windows 8 down to only about 9Gb.
Copy the Recovery Partition to a USB Drive
One of the things that's probably going to take up a lot of space on the Surface Pro is the recovery partition which offers an easy way to restore the tablet to its factory settings. MacBook Air's don't include recovery data at all and opt instead for a recovery over-the-internet method which obviously would only work if you can access the internet. Here are some instructions for creating a bootable USB disk that includes your Windows Recovery Environment. Those instructions are for the Surface RT, but this should also work fine with the Surface Pro. You'll be able to free up about 3.5Gb of space that way.
Disable Hibernation Mode
Hibernation mode is something that saves the entire contents of your computers RAM to the hard disk so that it can be completely powered down without losing what you were currently working on, and so that it can boot right back to where you left off. That means you're going to have a "hiberfil.sys" file on your hard drive that always takes up about the same amount of space as how much RAM you have installed. So with the Surface Pro, there will probably be a hiberfil.sys file that takes up about 4Gb on your SSD. To remove this, simply disable hibernation mode by launching a command prompt (Start, type CMD, enter), then type "powercfg –h off" and enter. This will remove that hiberfil.sys file, free up around 4Gb of SSD space, and disable hibernation mode. If you want to turn hibernation back on, just run the "powercfg –h on" command instead.
Turn off System Restore
The System Restore options periodically save information about how your software changes and updates as things are installed so that you can easily go back to a previous state. That can take up a lot of disk space if you're trying to keep things slim. First open the settings search by typing Windows key + W or simply start typing "System Protection" from the start screen and then look under settings. You'll get a "System Properties" dialog with some protection settings at the bottom. Select a volume that shows Protection listed as On and then press the configure button to disable it. Or if you don't want to disable it completely, also within the Configure button, you can specify how much disk space you want to allow the system protection feature to use.
Reducing the Paging File
Windows uses another file to help keep things working well when your programs need to use more RAM than what is available in the hardware. If you never run so many programs that require more than the 4Gb of RAM included in the Surface Pro, you can reduce the size of the paging file in order to free up more SSD disk space. In the same "System Properties" window that we just used to reduce the System Protection disk space usage, click on the "Advanced" tab, and then click the "Performance Settings" button. That will bring up Performance Options. Next click the "Advanced" tab in that dialog. You'll see a section called "Virtual Memory" which shows you the total paging file size for all drives. Click the "Change" button and then the "Custom size" radio button in order to reduce the amount of disk space used by the paging file. The minimum allowed is 16mb, while the default will probably be about the size of your total RAM, which would be around 4Gb on the Surface Pro.
Use the "Free up disk space" wizard
Windows 8 also includes a disk cleanup wizard. Simply type "Free up disk space" when you're on the start screen, and you'll see it under settings. This will mainly let you delete temporary files or installation files that are no longer necessary in addition to the basics like emptying your Recycle Bin. You might want to run this periodically as you use the Surface Pro since the temporary files can build up over time. However, after you launch that application and scan a drive, there is also a "Clean up System Files" button. If you press that, you'll get to rescan your drive and the resulting "files to delete" listing will also include things like "Windows upgrade log files" which can get quite large. You'll especially want to do that after a big Service Pack upgrade comes down the line.
Delete Unnecessary Drivers
Windows 8 comes with hardware drivers for a wide variety of devices. That's what makes it so easy to plug something in and use it. However those drivers take up disk space, so if the free space on your SSD is more important, you can delete the drivers you don't think you'll ever need using a program called DriverStore Explorer. The program was designed for Windows 7, but it seems to work on Windows 8 as well. It will basically list all of the driver software on your system (usually found in C:\Windows\System32\DriveStore) and allow you to check off whichever packages and then delete them to free up space. Download the program and extract it from the Zip file. Then right click it and "Run as Administrator". From there, click "Enumerate" to make it show the listing of your drivers. Then you can select the ones you want to remove and click "Delete Package". Warning: Be very careful not to delete the ones you actually need!
Compress the Installer folder
If you have "Show hidden files" turned on in the folder options, within the Windows Folder and especially after you install a few programs, you'll notice the "Installer" folder increasing in size. The files contained there are necessary for repairing, updating, and uninstalling other programs. You could delete them and your programs might be okay, but they probably won't be updatable or uninstall-able. You can however, right click the folder, choose "Properties" and then click "Advanced" and turn on the "Compress contents to save disk space" checkbox.
Change Your Indexing Options
Windows search creates database files in the Windows Folder called tmp.edb and Windows.edb which can get very large if your indexing options are set to search a large number of files and directories. You can reduce these by either disabling indexing all together, or restricting the indexed folders to the places that you might want to search. Hit the search charm, then Settings and type "Indexing Options" to find the control panel for these settings. Then click "Modify" to exclude certain locations from being indexed. You can also click "Advanced" to filter file types or even move the indexing database to a different location.
Don't touch the WinSXS folder
If you're using a tool like WinDirStat, to find other areas in your file system that are taking up a lot of disk space, you may notice that the Windows/Winsxs folder probably contains multiple Gigabytes of information. Do not be tempted to delete this however. It's not really that big. Most of the files in that directory are "hard links" to other system components located in other areas and therefore the files may be reported twice. See this page for more about the WinSXS folder.
With these tips, it's certainly possible to get back a lot more free disk space on a Surface Pro than what many tech news sites would have you believe. You should be able to make for a good chunk of space for some Visio diagrams, Access databases, 3D animation scenes, architectural drawings, Photoshop documents, Visual Studio projects, secondary operating system virtual machines, Android app environments and other things that aren't possible to work with on other tablets.
Many of these tips are not for the faint of heart, but I'm not sure the Surface Pro is really a beginner's tablet either. Some of these tips may also reduce the functionality of the Surface Pro, so it's important to keep that in mind. Of course, it's also pretty easy to expand the tablet's storage capacity with a 64Gb MicroSD card which are easy to swap out if you've got a lot of files to work with. And there is that USB 3.0 port which can take on any kind of external hard drive that you might want to plug in and maybe duct tape to the back of your Surface Pro.
If you can widdle your Windows 8 installation down to around 13Gb, would a 64gb or 128Gb solid state drive be enough for you?