Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Can I move or delete my I386 directory to free up some space?

My C: drive is filling up, and I’d like to free up some space.
I noticed that the directory C:\I386 and all it’s subdirectories take up well
over 800 megabytes. Can I move that to my D:\ drive where I have much more
room? Or better yet, can I delete it?

The question others are asking is probably “OK, so what’s a C:\I386
directory?”

In a nutshell, it’s a copy of Windows, and yes, you can move it, but I don’t
recommend deleting it completely. It’s just too darned useful.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

First I’ll bore you with a little trivia: the “I386” name originated as a
way to identify what CPU the operating system was for. “I” stands for Intel,
and “386” stands for the “80386”, the minimum processor required. (The 80386 is
an older version of what we now know as the Pentium processors.)

So the I386 directory tree contains a copy of Windows targeted for Intel’s
80386 and later processors.

The I386 directory is not the directory that Windows actually runs from, but
rather it contains a copy of Windows that you can setup from. Originally it was
simply a copy of the I386 directory from your installation CD. You’ll probably
find “setup.exe” there, which is the Windows XP initial setup program.

Since Windows doesn’t run from that directory, it’s actually not required to
be around at all. You can delete it, and Windows will still continue to run.
But Wait! You still, really, don’t want to delete it. At least
not without saving a copy of it somewhere, somehow. You see, when you install
new hardware, Windows will try to install the drivers for it, from your
original Windows installation CD-ROM. If you have a copy of the I386 directory
from that CD-ROM, Windows can look there instead – much quicker and much more
convenient than inserting the CD each time.

And of course if your computer didn’t come with a Windows CD-ROM (as I
believe it always should, though not all manufacturers do), the I386
directory may be the only place these files are available.

So don’t delete it. Move it somewhere else instead. If you have a second
hard disk that has room, great. If you have another machine on your local
network that has room, it’s ok to copy it there too – just keep straight which
machine it belongs to.

As an example, let’s copy all of C:\I386 to a new directory on the D: drive.
We’ll do it using the Command Prompt. Press Start,
Run, enter CMD and press
Enter. In the resulting box, we’ll enter the following
commands:

  • D: – this will make the “D:” drive the current drive.
  • MKDIR D:\I386 – create a new “I386” directory at the root
    of the D: drive.
  • CD D:\I386 – make D:\I386 the current directory
  • XCOPY C:\I386 /s/h – copy C:\I386 to the current
    directory. “/s” means copy the contents of all subdirectories, and “/h” means
    copy all hidden and system files as well.

Here’s what that might look like:

Copying the I386 directory

The exact files being copied may differ slightly, and there will be several
hundred files copied before it’s all done. Once it is done, you can delete the
original on c:\I386.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

39 comments on “Can I move or delete my I386 directory to free up some space?”

  1. If a computer gets malwared, I would consider that spare copy untrustworthy.

    I would recommend making a CD copy of that directory while you can still trust it.

    Reply
  2. Someone asked you how to remove the i386 folder.
    You said it can be removed, and proceeded NOT to explain how.
    Without going off on another tangent, could you please try one more time….how to delete the stupid folder?

    Reply
  3. I deleted the folder, and have a disk, but my sound card doesnt seem to work now, my windows sounds still work, but the sound for anything else doesn’t, its a sound blaster card, and I assume it has to do with the folder being gone, the volume adjustment thats part of the sound card (when opened) won’t open and says it cannot find its driver, yet the drivers are just fine, I was thinking it was linked directly to a driver in the I386 folder, I was wondering how I would go about getting just that folder back with the installation disk?

    Reply
  4. Hi – I have the weirdest problem. Im trying to move I386 off my C drive but even after unhiding hidden files & folders I still can not see it at all. But I know its there as I can see it (2 Gb no less!) using “TreeSize Professional”. Help ?!

    Reply
  5. What is the purpose of multiple i386 sub-folders, and might some be unnecessary and therefore delete candidates? I’m helping my brother to troubleshoot infections on his HP Pavillion running XP SP2 Home Edition, and the various i386 folders are causing very long scan times. Some files appear to be duplicates. Don’t have a complete list now, but folders include C:\I386, C:\windows\i386, C:\windows\Service Pack Files\i386, C:\windows\drivercache\i386 …

    Thanks for your help!

    Reply
  6. i have a problem, i had virus which kept pressing enter. While the virus was still infecting my computer, i installed SP2 and when i was realising it kept canceling to insatll (SP2) because of the virus i stopped it. I then re-formatted my computer nad it was all clean. Wehn i finished formatting, i when to my Secondary drive (D:\) and i saw an i386 folder there, and i realised that it supposed to be in my Local Disk (C:\), i then tried to delete it, but it didnt allowed me. Now im stucked with i386 folder in my d drive and i have no idea on how to remove. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

    Reply
  7. Sir; Please tell me how to find the folder that contains I386 directory, what I am trying to do is copy all the current microsoft updates to the windows installation disk so when I have to do a reinstall of windows I won’t have to download all of them again. Thank you

    Reply
  8. There is no i386 folder containing winnt32 exe in my computer. There is a 386 folder in service packs but no winnt32 file. trying to make a recovery cd that won’t delete apps or data.

    Reply
  9. I did read your articles about this topic “without XP CD”. But still would like to know how to CREATE A STAND ALONE XP SETUP DISC from that C:/I386 (Mine is a Compaq laptop, I don’t like Compaq’s applications at all. I intend to reinstall CLEAN WINDOWS)

    Thank you for your help!

    Tuan Tran

    Reply
  10. you can NOT use the I386 folder to do a full clean install of windows or CREATE A STAND ALONE XP SETUP DISC using it. The activation feature will NOT work and also windows will error and crash a high degree.

    Reply
  11. My i386 file wins them all. It is taking up over 22 GB of my hard drive. I have no idea why and my laptop company has no idea why either. Any ideas? I really don’t want to do a system restore. Thanks

    Reply
  12. can i move or delete my I386 directory to free up some space?

    well i have a problem i was going through my file and what not, and i wasnt sure of that I386 was and i deleted it and i went to do the 7 cds i have for a system recovery, so i could clean EVERYTHING out because my computer was sooo messed up. and the cds wont work now..what can i do??…please respond
    thanks shanelle

    Reply
  13. Can I burn this to a DVD? Is that safe and still usable? Mines is taking up over 1 gig of memory… Burning it to DVD would be great, is this recomended? I don’t have a back up drive or external drive…

    Reply
  14. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    Yes you can. Then just use this article:
    http://ask-leo.com/how_do_i_tell_windows_where_my_i386_folder_has_moved.html to
    tell windows that the “SourcePath” has changed to your DVD drive (like “D:\”).
    Then when Windows needs it, it’ll ask you to insert the DVD.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFGtz8hCMEe9B/8oqERApVBAJ9NK+4BzMB9LWmaJZw2hSFW7xo7pACghgHA
    JxejHMI06JhUiayfl0E8sRY=
    =AkZ4
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

    Reply
  15. —–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–
    Hash: SHA1

    Either will work. Command shell operations are easier to display here in
    pictures.

    Leo

    —–BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE—–
    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)

    iD8DBQFHMQAVCMEe9B/8oqERAkXFAJ9ucD1eAQnDmUXl6LKWrj4tQ94XiACfSvVB
    8K8wieSq0svJ11gQmA9Z3ig=
    =Sh/O
    —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–

    Reply
  16. My Vaio PCG-V505BX is a circa 2003 XP Notebook. The i386 is useless, were I to do the factory reinstall back to Aug 03 factory settings I wouldn’t have any patches, no SP2 it would be a mess or at least a 4 year old OS…if it worked at all. Where I messed up was making the partitioned D: larger than C: when I bought the Vaio.

    I have never been able to use i386 when prompted to “Insert Windows CD” to access a needed file.

    dennis

    Reply
  17. I can tell you why I don’t like this directory, because windows saves old, buggy, vulnerable copies of files in there. And then you run a tool like the Secunia PSI and get reports of this buggy files although you computer is generally perfectly patched and updated.

    Reply
  18. I have AVG free for anti virus software? When I scanned today it has taken over an hour to scan through the mediactr cabinet file inside by I386 file? Is this normal? The only thing I have recently changed is to add ITunes and about 20 G of music. (My own CDs, not downloaded items)

    Reply
  19. I was in my c drive when i mistakenly moved the I386 into another folder which I didn’t create. I decided to copy it back and the prompt was it can not be copied. I entered into this folder where the new I386 was, and couldn’t open the I386. Now the new I386 is with a less size, meaning some of the files in there are gone, I don’t know how and the I386 in c:/ is empty. Sounds bad, what should I do?

    Reply
  20. What if the i386 folder in my C drive is, I believe, to be created from my old XP cd installation that was still there after upgrading to Vista (I know this because it has a “Tour Windows XP” shortcut in there that doesn’t even work anymore, P.S. though, I am confused at why the modified date is 20/02/2008), then can I deleted?

    Reply
  21. Can you give me the path where the i386 folder is located ? Mine is located in the following path :-
    rootdrive:\WINDOWS\ServicePackFiles\i386

    Reply
  22. The last comment, by Joe, May 24, 2008, raises an interesting question: why do we need two I386 folders, one in windows and one in “ServicePackFiles” under windows?

    And in addition, there are other redundant files, such as dllcache, $Uninstall…, etc. Is there a guide to “Windows” directories that are safe to delete?

    Many thanks for any answer.

    Michael Bates

    Reply
  23. When I try to copy I386, as you describe, I get the message: Cannot copy or create I386. Access denied. How do I get around this?

    Reply
  24. i dont have the I386 folder in the root of c:\(c:\i386) and i want to reinstall my computer

    my laptop is 3 years old and i somtimes feel like to throw my computer out of my window!!
    reply to MY E-MAIL please
    regards
    -vaishnav

    Reply
  25. I recently purchased a new PC with Windows 7. I used the Easy Transfer program to move files from my XP computer to the new one. It copied the whole I386 directory. Is there any point in having it ona Windows 7 computer?

    Reply
  26. iwant to install with dos comand which was mising from xp operating software.exple- mediaplayer,usb, 3dimage,dispaly,etc.please advised me by email or mo [number removed].thanks

    Reply
  27. Jin: You can copy and paste, but if there is an error (1 file does not copy or something like that) then the copy process will stop. With XCOPY you can use /c to continue even if errors occur, this will save you lots of trouble/effort. You can also use /Q to copy quickly (xcopy is much faster than copy and paste). For these two reasons I always use XCOPY for large copies.
    To get a list of possible switches, type XCOPY /?

    Vaishnav: Look for I386 in C:\Windows or search the C drive for it. Otherwise just find a windows cd for the version you have.

    Sunking: You can probably copy the I386 dir from the windows CD.

    Hope that helps. Kleinbaas from http://www.searchourworld.com 🙂

    Reply
  28. Leo,
    I have a bunch of I386 directories on my hard drive. None are in the C: directory. The biggest one (500MB) is in a personal pictures file which does not make sense. The others are small files in Program file directories or C:\windows\system32\reinstallbackup files. My question, is how did the file end up in my pictures directory and can I delete it.

    Thanks for your help.

    Robin

    There are definitely other I386 folders. The only one I’m talking about in this article is the one that’s at the root of a drive. I have no real idea whether the one you’re finding elsewhere is safe to delete or how it got there. You might consider backing it up before deleting it, or renaming it and rebooting to see if anything depends on it.

    Leo
    06-Apr-2011

    Reply
  29. I typed in D:- It came up and said . is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file. What does this mean? And what can I do to fix it? Any help would be appreciated.
    Thank you, Lisa

    Reply
  30. Do not delete it for a couple of reasons. You can repair a damaged Windows that will not start, from the recovery console, much more easily by espanding the required file from I386 (e.g corrupt or missing hal.dll). Secondly, I believe some of the Service Packs add files to this directory which are not present on the original CD.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.