Too many users have encountered the dreaded “Windows needs more space” message when trying to update Windows 10. Here’s the bare minimum drive space business and IT professionals should shoot for.

Whenever I get to the time of the year that a Windows 10 feature update is about to come out, I use it as a sign that I need to take stock of my computer systems. Last week I talked about how 16GB is my new bare minimum of RAM when I am purchasing any computer.


But what about the hard drive?


32 gigs? Don’t make me laugh

First off, let’s put something to rest: To Microsoft and any computer vendor that thought — or still thinks — that a computer with less than 100GB of storage is viable to run Windows, I say think again. Those notebooks that had Windows 10 squeezed onto 32GB were never serviceable. The only way you were ever able to get to the next feature release on those computers was to connect an external hard drive to the unit and install the upgrade from there.


[ Related: Why 16 is the new 8 for Windows 10 ]

The Asus website now has an official tech note that details out what you need to do to be able to service Windows on its 32GB eMMC system. I have personally attempted to use USB flash drives, but they do not work to install a feature release. And the installation of Windows updates tends to be slow on these units. There is barely enough room for the operating system, let alone any applications. I was unable to install Microsoft Office on the device and instead had to go with an alternative Office product.



The total inability to perform Windows servicing on 32GB devices make them unfit for use. I often find them unpatched and unable to receive any updates, let alone feature releases.


100GB? Still not enough

My workhorse notebook that I use at home is a Lenovo Carbon laptop, now several years old. I use it to remote into the office, search topics while watching Netflix, and a myriad of other uses. At the time I purchased it, I opted for only a 100GB SSD, and I have regretted that decision ever since.


I constantly have to perform disk cleanups and monitor its hard drive space. The best I can do is to get its use to 80 or 90 gigs. I often have to use third-party programs such as TreeSize Free in order to determine what applications and files I can get rid of.



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nearly full drive IDG

A nearly full 100GB drive is an all-too-familiar sight.

Needless to say, it’s a constant struggle on that laptop to keep it under 100 gigs. Even if I connect it to cloud services and only sync those specific files, I still struggle with space. Fortunately, even when the space on the drive is very tight, the Lenovo Carbon handles it well and is able to continue to install Windows updates.


Bottom line: A 100 to 128GB drive is much too small, even with everything in the cloud.


The bare minimum for business and IT pros

For a recent purchase, a Surface Pro 7 with LTE, I decided to ensure I didn’t hit this C drive problem. While it’s just a travel machine and not what I consider to be my bulletproof laptop, I still made sure that it had a sufficient amount of drive space. It has a 237GB SSD drive. After the base install of Windows, plus a Microsoft 365 subscription installation, I have 171GB free. So with the bare minimum installed, Windows and Office are taking up 66 gigs.


What if you are an IT professional or administrator? With Microsoft pushing you to the cloud, what’s the minimum you should have? As with many things, it depends. If you only remote into cloud servers and have no need to test out virtual machines or other needs, a 237GB laptop may be good enough. Then again, there are those that say that IT professionals should have no less than 500GB of SSD space on their laptops, and potentially more.


One administrator I know splurged on his last laptop and made it into a lab machine so he can run test beds and VMs without having to have a HyperV Server or use VMs in the cloud. His workhorse has 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. He indicated that he’s used 800GB of that so far and is considering swapping it out for a larger SSD drive.


Several years ago, a 1TB SSD was prohibitively expensive. Now it’s a reasonable expense to incur even for a laptop. You’ll note that in all of these examples, I’ve not said a single thing about IDE hard drives. And these days it’s even normal for desktops and laptops to ship with NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express) flash storage rather than traditional SSD drives to be even faster.


Time to upgrade?

Whether you’re getting ready to install the upcoming Windows 10 feature release, version 21H1, or if you are just now installing 20H2, I want you to mark the time it takes to install from start to finish. If the process to install any feature release is measured in hours rather than minutes, that computer is no longer optimal for dealing with the new era of Windows 10. You may be able to fix this by upgrading the hard drive.


Determining if your computer can receive a hard drive upgrade is often as easy as knowing if you can open up the door to where the hard drive is located. There are many transfer kits available that easily allow you to back up your existing hard drive and move the contents to the new hard drive. I typically just purchase a cable that plugs into the USB slot of the computer and allows me to image and clone my existing hard drive.


Your Windows 10 license will move to that new hard drive. In my experiences of backing up and moving a hard drive to a new one, I have not had the system demand reactivation. Once I placed the new drive into the original system, it was able to pick up right where the old drive left off.


If a laptop is not easily opened up — for example, Surface devices or similar laptops that are glued, not screwed, together — you have to decide when it’s time to retire that device.


So what about you? What’s your normal hard drive space? What size do you think we’ll need several years from now?

Tomasz David
Tomasz David

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