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How to install Windows apps on an SD card or USB drive

Eric Geier | June 8, 2015
In the past few years, we've seen a wave of new inexpensive Windows tablets and laptops, starting with the release of Windows 8. But as you may have found out the hard way, these lower-end tablets and laptops usually offer little internal disk space: as low as 32GB and even 16GB in newer models. Since Windows and basic software can easily take up double-digits' worth of gigabytes or more, there is typically little or no room left for extra applications, games, photos, documents, and other personal files.

In the past few years, we've seen a wave of new inexpensive Windows tablets and laptops, starting with the release of Windows 8. But as you may have found out the hard way, these lower-end tablets and laptops usually offer little internal disk space: as low as 32GB and even 16GB in newer models. Since Windows and basic software can easily take up double-digits' worth of gigabytes or more, there is typically little or no room left for extra applications, games, photos, documents, and other personal files.

Though you can usually pop in a MicroSD card or a flash drive to get more disk space, you won't find a way in the graphical interface to have the modern-style Windows Store apps — which can consume a ton of disk space — install onto removable storage. However, it is possible with a registry hack in both Windows 8 and 8.1, giving you another way to help conserve your internal disk space.

When running apps off external storage like this, keep in mind you should try to use the fastest, highest performance SD card that's supported by your device. Ensure you get the right-sized SD card as well. Most tablets take the small MicroSD cards, but not the larger, regular-sized SD cards.

If you prefer to use a USB flash drive for extra storage space, try to get one that supports USB 3.0, the fastest USB version yet. Also, consider a mini low-profile drive that doesn't extend out of the USB port much, to prevent accidental damage when using or storing your device while the drive is inserted.

Prepare the SD Card or Flash Drive

Though any SD card or flash drive should work for storing your Windows 8 apps, it needs to be in a certain file system format, called NTFS. To check yours, pop in the card or drive, open a File Explorer window, find your removable storage, right-click its icon (or long tap for touch screens), and select Properties.

You can see the File System listed near the top of the drive's Properties window.

If your card or drive isn't in the NTFS format, you can easily change it. However, first ensure you have copied any existing files on that drive to another location before proceeding, as changing the format will delete all data on that drive.

Once you've backed up any existing files on the card or drive, you can format it by right-clicking the drive's icon (or long taping for touch screens) and select Format. On the Format dialog window, ensure NTFS is selected for the File System and that the Quick Format checkbox near the bottom is selected, and then click Start.

 

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