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Do I Need All These Partitions?

Is it possible to remove some of the Recovery Partitions from my SSD laptop? I think some of these partitions are not needed but I don’t know which ones. If they can be deleted, how would I add that space to my C: drive?

The short answer is yes, but no.

Yes, you can delete partitions, but no, I would not advise it. As you say, you don’t know what the partitions are, so you don’t know whether or not they’re needed. It’d be a shame to delete one and find out later that this was a serious mistake.

However, if you feel the need, I do have one approach to doing it more or less safely.

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Why so many partitions?

Newer machines frequently come with Windows 10 installed and the primary hard disk partitioned into as many as five separate partitions.

This leaves many people asking: why? Why all those partitions when a single partition did the job in the past?

It’s the result of several changes over the years, including UEFI, the disappearance of installation media, and more.

What are those partitions?

Five Partitions

Using one of my machines, an original Microsoft Surface tablet, as example, we see the following partitions:

  • Recovery Partition (600MB)
  • EFI System (200MB)
  • C: (110GB)
  • Recovery Partition (450MB)
  • Recovery Partition (7.8GB)

The EFI partition is required by UEFI/GPT formatted hard drives. It’s what the machine boots into when first started. Confusingly, this is often referred to as the “System” partition, even though it’s not the system you and I might think of.

The C: partition is obvious: that’s the hard disk you see and use when you’re running Windows. This is what I tend to think of as the “system” partition or drive, since it contains my system (Windows), as well as all my applications and data. It’s by far the largest partition on the drive.

The three recovery partitions are more of a conundrum. I theorize that the larger one, at 7.81 gigabytes, contains a pristine copy of Windows 10 and takes the place of physical installation media. The other two I suspect are recovery consoles containing the recovery environment, tools, and other recovery options.

I also suspect that recovery partitions are extremely manufacturer-dependent. What I see on my machine will be different than what you see on yours. Even the content of these partitions varies dramatically based on the decisions made by your computer’s manufacturer.

My advice: leave well enough alone

If you want to remove partitions, it’s important to realize that you’re trading off the reasons for the layout — whatever those reasons were — for a small increase in disk space.

My example machine above is already fairly old, with a comparatively small hard disk. Even if I did delete all the partitions other than the required EFI partition and the C: partition, I’d be recovering only 8.5GB at best, an increase of less than 8%.

Given that today’s hard drives are larger while the sizes of the reserved partitions haven’t increased proportionately, you’re likely to get even less of an increase.

In my mind, it just isn’t worth it. I’d much prefer to have the recovery options available to me should I ever need them.

If you must: create a safety net

There is one way to do this safely, of course.

Start with a complete image backup of the entire hard drive. Make sure all partitions are included. Save that backup somewhere. (If you’re backing up regularly, as you should be, you may already have this. If you’re at all uncertain, make another backup.)

Then delete the partitions. If you’re going this far, I’d be tempted to delete all the “recovery” partitions with the knowledge that should your system need recovery, you’ll need to do it some other way. Typically, that means booting from a manufacturer-supplied recovery disc, system disc, or USB  stick, or restoring the backed-up system from the previous step to perform a recovery.

Merging the freed-up space can be as simple as using Windows’ own built-in disk manager, or it may require a partition-management tool to combine the freed-up space.

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6 comments on “Do I Need All These Partitions?”

  1. I delete all of my recovery partitions and merge them into the C: drive. My reasoning is that if I can’t access the drive, the recovery partitions would be useless anyway. I rely on my backups which will restore the machine to a more useful state than the recovery partition would. I also have bare bones backups which I take when I start up my machines the first time.

  2. I am surprised that people even know what a partition is. When I upgraded to Windows 10, my partition was erased. I now use it for extras storage. To recover the drive, I just use my Recovery DVD’s that I burned just after upgrading to 10. And yes, I even tested them. I wonder how much money HP saved by forcing me to make my own recovery DVD’s.

  3. Do manufacturers assume that people back up their software?
    Would it be possible to look at these recovery partitions to determine what they contain?

    • You can look at them if you have admin privileges. Whether you can understand what is in them is another story. They contain the information to restore a computer to its factory state Windows installation.

  4. With several recent “Windows Feature Updates” I have been dismayed to find that Windows itself alters the size of the “C:” system partition by stealing a few MB off the back end, presumably for some sort of “recovery”. This has caused grief when I needed to restore my system image only to find the size on the original disk partition is then “too small” for the restored imagine (I use ShadowProtect; perhaps other image backup program do not have this issue). To circumvent this I always now leave a small unallocated space after the C: partition so I can adjust as necessary to accommodate Window’s malicious “We know better” behavior.

  5. It would appear that Microsoft has now made all except the main C: (or system partition) now invisible when using the disk defragment tool in Windows 10 1803. In previous versions when using the disk defragment tool you could optimise a couple of partitions since usually more than one appeared within it.. However, now it is either the whole hard drive or just the C; partition that is presented for defragmentation or optimisation. This is welcome, not least for the ‘leave well alone’ reasons given but also it eliminates any confusing perception that the sheer presentation of such multiple partitions might cause.

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