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Looks like a simple question right? But Googling does not reveal any definitive answers. I've got an aging laptop that I'm trying to free some space on and am wondering if anyone can tell me safe directories to remove on Windows XP.

I'm a Unix guy so do not really know much about Windows...

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You've got some good answers below. How about posting another question about freeing up space? –  Adam May 16 '09 at 3:26
    
Here you go.. serverfault.com/questions/8894/… –  JB. May 16 '09 at 10:36

10 Answers 10

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Personally, I wouldn't.

This folder almost certainly has various drivers that you'll need if you ever rebuild the system, and it's far easier to keep hold of them somewhere than to have to find them all again. At the very least burn them onto a CD before deleting from the HDD.

(Plus I usually find that they're fairly small folders since drivers aren't usually that big... are you really going to save that much space?)

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I've been burned by this before with an old laptop. heh. –  x0n May 13 '09 at 14:08
    
Ditto. Keeping a NIC driver on a local partition is of paramount usefulness when reloading Windows. –  squillman May 15 '09 at 21:23
    
The content of that folder is usually neigh impossible to navigate by a human and will contain old useless stuff as well as that vital NIC driver - I'd prefer downloading and storing the drivers manually somewhere else, clearly labelled as NIC, Graphics and so on with a good date or version tacked on... So I'd say nuke it, but store the content, but better managed, likely not all of it, somewhere else ^^ –  Oskar Duveborn May 16 '09 at 13:38

For Lenovo computers, the driver installation packages are available in 2 different forms:

  1. As a set of installation files ready for installation
  2. As a self-extracting executable that can be downloaded as a single file

In the second case, the files have to be unpacked before the installer is run. The default location where they are unpacked to is C:\drivers\. Once they are installed, you no longer need the unpacked files and usually it is better to download the latest driver version if you intend to reinstall them than to keep around one that will almost certainly be out of date the next time you need it.

So, in short, they are safe to delete (at least on Lenovo computers). In fact, if you download drivers from the Lenovo website, you should delete C:\drivers\ as soon as the installation is complete because those files are doing nothing more than taking up extra space.

Some people here question the logic of deleting the files stating that they are usually quite small, and that it isn't worth the risk. But in my case, those unpacked files took up about 3GB of space! Considering that my total hard disk space is 750GB with less than 200GB allocated to the C drive, that is some valuable real estate to get back, especially when you consider that those files are literally providing no value (except maybe insurance in case Lenovo's site goes offline AND your computer needs to be rebuilt with the exact same OS you have now).

Of course, if you are really that worried that Lenovo's site will go offline, you should be visiting the site every 6 months anyway and downloading the latest (self extracting) drivers for your computer(s) and storing them in a local archive somewhere, just in case.

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Yes, you can. Its back-up, maked by some driver back-up software. In case reinstalling Windows, all info on disc "c", will be deleted. So its no use to have back-up on disc "c". I suggest copy that to some other virtual or physic disc. It will speed-up your computer.

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3  
Not only is this answer incomprehensible, but it's also incorrect. Firstly, a reinstall of Windows does not format the drive unless you ask it to. Secondly, there's nothing to suggest this is from "driver back-up software" and several very plausible explanations can be found in other answers. Finally, deleting the folder will almost certainly not speed up the computer. –  Dan Apr 18 '12 at 13:54

Explanation of the Folder

The location C:\drivers is very probably the path to which the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), such as Dell, HP, etc., copied all of the hardware drivers for your computer as installed at the factory. If this is the case, each subfolder of C:\drivers that contains a relevant *.inf file will be listed in the following location in the registry: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\DevicePath. When Plug and Play detects new hardware, it searches this list of locations for drivers. The selected driver is copied somewhere under the Windows folder, but it is recopied from the original location if you reinstall a driver.

If you have a computer from a large vendor that keeps drivers available on its website for years, then you may delete this folder tree and just know that you will have to download any necessary drivers from the web in the future if needed. This could be problematic if you decide to reinstall Windows and Windows does not have a driver included that is compatible with your network card. (You need a network connection to get drivers from the Internet, but you need the drivers before your network card will work.)

Recommendation

I recommend that you do not delete this folder tree. These drivers usually do not take up very much space. Instead, start by running the Disk Cleanup Tool. This tool checks for unnecessary temporary files, and it will suggest to you ways that you may free more disk space, such as uninstalling unused programs. On Windows XP, it is located at Start|All Programs|Accessories|System Tools|Disk Cleanup.

If you still need more space, check the following locations; they usually have numerous files (some of them large) that can be deleted. The Disk Cleanup Tool may have already emptied some of these folders. (Note: Text enclosed in percent signs refers to an environment variable. To get a list of what these mean on your system, type the set command at a command prompt. Alternatively, type the environment variable with percent signs into Windows Explorer's address bar and press Enter to find the value of a particular variable.)

  • %TEMP% - Usually "C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Temp" on Windows XP
  • %USERPROFILE%\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files - %USERPROFILE% is usually "C:\Documents and Settings\username" on Windows XP. I just checked mine, and it has 15,113 files taking up 439 MB of disk space!
  • %SystemRoot%\$NtUninstall* - %SystemRoot% is usually "C:\Windows" on Windows XP. WARNING: Deleting these folders removes your ability to uninstall the Windows Updates to which they refer. Because each update bases its uninstall formula (stored in one of these folders) on the state of the system when it is installed, you should delete all of these or leave all of them. Don't just delete some and leave others. I just checked mine, and it has 4,639 files taking up 577 MB of disk space!

Be sure to check the first two locations for each username's profile that is present on the machine.

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+1 for including all the details that I left out! –  avstrallen May 16 '09 at 8:44

As you are using a ThinkPad/Lenovo T23 computer, this folder is safe to delete. They create this folder with all the IBM drivers so that if you have problems with your display driver or something, you can re-install the "factory default" driver from that folder.

Also, when updates are downloaded, this is the default extraction folder. The folder will be re-created next time updates are downloaded and extracted.

So, yes you may delete it if you need more space.

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Yes, it's a Thinkpad T23. –  JB. May 13 '09 at 19:36

Another significant space hog is \WINDOWS\ServicePackFiles, which contains a combined i386\ folder from any Service Packs installed on the machine. It's handy to have around in case of a rebuild (for the same reason as the \drivers folder you mention, see @cagcowboy, @Rydell), but if you're really stuck for space you can get rid of it without any immediate problems. If possible I'd go along with @cagcowboy's advice about archiving to a CD first...

Also, anything in WINDOWS\ beginning $NtUninstall... (visible after turning on Show Hidden Files (Tools>Folder Options>View)) can go, if you don't need to uninstall the system updates that they refer to.

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Dell is a common computer to create a c:\drivers directory. It always come from the factory like that. If you reload a computer and use the dell drivers disk and extract the drivers, it creates this folder and extracts them there.

In the past when I needed to free up space on a computer that was a good directory to get rid of. However, make sure you have the Dell driver disk, OR copy that folder and all contents to another computer, thumb drive, or burn to a CD/DVD so you have the drivers later.

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From a disk space perspective, you could move these files anywhere. But I would keep them.

As everyone else has noted, they are simply some subset of the OS drivers to the various bits of hardware in your machine (printer, video, sound card, keyboard, mouse, power).

They are extremely useful when you need to rebuild your machine. Although you can usually find them on the internet, it takes time slogging through the various vendor websites to do so.

One last thing, I usually organize this directory in a way that makes sense to me. The hardware vendors choose some pretty random structures. I then move the whole structure to a place on the disk where it gets backed up with all my other documents.

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The short answer is that it's probably safe to delete, but unless it's using up lots of space or otherwise posing a direct problem you shouldn't.

The long answer is that any c:\drivers folder created is proprietary (it is not a folder defined by Microsoft or any other convention) - something (a driver, a Lenovo disk image, etc) has created this folder, and there are no guarantees about whether it is just a temporary folder, or if it is actually being used. I came across a number of sound card drivers in the W2k era that created that folder instead of installing to Program Files - deleting the folder would nuke the drivers and force you start in safe mode to repair the damage.

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Yup. Windows will copy them to where they're needed during installation.

Presumably this directory was created by some "helpful" third party installer.

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