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Microsoft puts the squeeze on Windows to shoehorn it into 16GB devices

Gregg Keizer | April 15, 2014
Decade-old WIM frees up more space for apps, user content on low-cost devices.

Some kind of miniaturization was required: The full-blown Windows required Microsoft to equip the Surface Pro 2 with a minimum of 64GB.

Even then, the Surface Pro 2 and its predecessor, Surface Pro, have reaped criticism for the paltry amounts of user content space left after the OS and a recovery partition has occupied the SSD.

Microsoft estimated that devices using WIM would have about 12GB of storage space for user apps and content. (Image: Microsoft.)

According to Microsoft, the low-end 64GB Surface Pro 2 offers 37GB of user content space. By that calculation, if Windows was shoehorned into 32GB, the tablet-cum-notebook would have only 5GB free for user content.

By compressing Windows into a WIM file -- and using that same file for double duty as a recovery source -- Microsoft has reclaimed significant space on the C: drive, claimed Niehaus.

"Let's assume the WIM file (INSTALL.WIM) is around 3GB and you are using a 16GB SSD," wrote Niehaus. "In that configuration, you'll still be left with over 12GB of free disk space (after subtracting out the size of the WIM and a little bit of additional 'overhead')."

That compares favorably with a 16GB iPad Air, which sports between 12GB and 13GB of user content space after iOS and other files are accounted for.

Miller said that the compressed WIM file would probably not charge a performance "tax," as the files within the WIM are not decompressed each time they're called.

"They're read directly," Miller said. "[Any performance hit] should be minimal. I'd be shocked if it wasn't marginally faster or at the worst, the same." Miller based that on his time at Microsoft earlier in the century. "We were kind of surprised because we saw a performance increase in the way we were doing things then," he said.

Niehaus, however, acknowledged a performance hit, although he did not say what it was. "There is some performance impact," Niehaus wrote in a comment appended to his blog, answering questions from others. He also acknowledged that because the WIM file was read-only, subsequent updates, including security patches, other bug fixes, and even larger refreshes of Windows 8.1 Update, would be stored on the C: partition, consuming an ever-larger amount of user content space.

"Updates are applied to the 'real' C: drive. So there will be some increase in the Windows footprint over time," Niehaus said, again in a comment.

Miller saw that as a problem if Microsoft pushed a major update to Windows 8.1 Update in the future, as the company has said it will do at some point. The device might have to be reset with a new, potentially larger, WIM file.


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