How to remove Windows from a hard drive without formatting reddit?

Quick Answers

There are a few options for removing Windows from a hard drive without formatting:

  • Use a bootable USB or DVD with a Linux-based operating system like Ubuntu to overwrite the Windows system files.
  • Use a boot disk utility like DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) to completely wipe the drive.
  • Delete the Windows folder and repartition the drive using Disk Management.
  • Use a cloning software to clone the drive to a new drive without Windows.


When you want to remove an operating system from a hard drive, the quickest and most thorough method is to format the drive. However, formatting completely erases all data on the drive. If you need to remove Windows but don’t want to lose your files and programs, there are a few methods you can use to selectively remove the Windows system files without formatting the entire drive.

The easiest approach is to use a Linux-based bootable USB or DVD. This will allow you to boot to a temporary operating system, from which you can access the hard drive partitions and delete the Windows system files. Some good Linux options for this purpose include Ubuntu, Mint, or Parted Magic.

You can also use a boot disk utility like DBAN (Darik’s Boot and Nuke) to completely overwrite the drive with zeros or random data. This will wipe Windows without requiring a full format. Just be aware that this will also erase all other data on the drive.

For more selective removal of just the Windows operating system while preserving your personal files and installed programs, you can use Windows’ own Disk Management utility. This involves deleting the Windows folder, deleting the system reserve partition, and then repartitioning the freed-up space.

Finally, drive cloning software provides an easy way to copy your full drive contents over to a new drive, while excluding the Windows system files. This lets you seamlessly migrate to a new hard drive without Windows.

Using a Linux Live USB/DVD

One of the easiest ways to remove Windows from a hard drive without formatting is to use a Linux-based live USB or DVD. This lets you boot up into a temporary operating system instead of Windows, from which you can access the hard drive.

Here are the steps to use a Linux live environment to remove Windows:

  1. Download an ISO file for a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu, Mint, or Parted Magic.
  2. Create a bootable USB or burn the ISO to a DVD.
  3. Boot your computer from the USB/DVD instead of the hard drive.
  4. From Linux, open the drive partitions and delete the Windows folder (usually located at C:\Windows).
  5. If you have a recovery partition, delete that as well.
  6. Use the Linux utilities to overwrite the now freed-up partition space with zeros.
  7. Reboot back into the live Linux environment and verify Windows is gone.

This is a quick and easy process since you don’t have to install Linux, just run it live off the USB or DVD. Overwriting the Windows folder and system partitions will remove all traces of Windows without damaging the rest of the data. The Linux utilities like dd and sfill can wipe the free space so no Windows files can be recovered.

Creating a Linux Live USB

To create a bootable Linux live USB on Windows:

  1. Download the ISO file for your chosen Linux distro.
  2. Use a utility like Rufus to burn the ISO onto your USB drive.
  3. In Rufus, select your USB drive and choose the ISO file.
  4. Make sure persistence is enabled if you want to save Linux changes.
  5. Click Start to burn the image and make the drive bootable.

Now your USB can be used to boot into the Linux environment on any PC to remove Windows.

Booting from the Live USB

To boot from your live Linux USB drive:

  1. Insert the USB drive and restart your computer.
  2. Access the boot menu, usually by pressing F12, F10 or F2 during startup.
  3. Select your USB drive from the boot menu.
  4. This will launch the Linux distro instead of booting Windows.

Once you are in the live Linux environment, you can follow the steps above to delete Windows system files and partitions.

Using DBAN

Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN) is a popular open source boot disk that provides different options for completely wiping a hard drive.

Some advantages of using DBAN to remove Windows include:

  • Runs independently from any operating system
  • Can wipe the drive from bios without OS loaded
  • Multiple wipe methods available
  • Free and open source

To use DBAN:

  1. Download the DBAN ISO file from
  2. Create CD/DVD or live USB with the ISO
  3. Boot from the DBAN media
  4. Select desired wipe option (e.g. Quick Erase, DoD 3-pass)
  5. Select the drive to wipe
  6. Confirm to completely erase the drive

One pass with the Quick Erase option will suffice to remove all traces of Windows. Or you can use the more secure multipass overwrite methods for better wiping.

The downside of using DBAN is that it will wipe the entire drive, removing all other data as well. So only use DBAN if you do not need to preserve anything else on the drive.

DBAN Wipe Options

Option Description
Quick Erase Single pass zeros wipe
DoD 3-pass 3 pass random data wipe per DoD 5220.22-M standards
Gutmann method 35 pass complex wiping pattern
PRNG Stream Pseudorandom data generated on the fly
Zero Fill Fills drive with zeros

For quickly removing Windows, the Quick Erase method is sufficient. For greater security use DoD 3-pass or Gutmann wipe.

Deleting Windows Folder from Disk Management

If you don’t want to erase your entire hard drive when removing Windows, Disk Management provides a way to selectively delete the Windows system files.

Here is the general process:

  1. Boot to Windows itself, not from external media
  2. Backup any personal data you want to preserve
  3. Open Disk Management (diskmgmt.msc)
  4. Delete the Windows folder (usually found in C:\Windows)
  5. Delete the system reserved partition (if present)
  6. Right click the drive and select “Shrink” to free up space
  7. Right click free space and create a new simple volume
  8. Reboot and check that Windows is gone

This removes the core Windows operating system files, while leaving your personal data, programs, and any non-system partitions intact. You are essentially deleting enough of Windows to make it unbootable, without disturbing other drive contents.

However, there can still be traces of Windows left behind. To ensure all Windows files are removed, you can wipe the freed-up disk space after deleting Windows using a tool like sdelete or BleachBit.

Things to Know

Some things to keep in mind when using Disk Management to selectively remove Windows:

  • Backup important data first
  • Have Windows recovery media ready in case of issues
  • Deleting the Windows folder breaks the OS, making it unbootable
  • You may need to reactivate programs with new Windows install
  • Some registry entries may remain even after deleting Windows folder

Overall, this method provides a way to remove Windows from a drive without losing your files and programs. But it risks rendering Windows unstable or unusable in the process.

Cloning Your Drive Without Windows

Another option that preserves your data when removing Windows is to clone your drive contents over to a new drive, while excluding the Windows installation itself.

This involves:

  1. Getting a new hard drive with equal or larger capacity
  2. Attaching both your current drive and new drive to your computer
  3. Using drive cloning software to clone your current drive onto the new one
  4. Excluding the Windows folder and system reserve partition from the clone job
  5. Swapping the new drive into the computer in place of the old one

Now you will have an identical copy of your original drive minus the Windows operating system. The benefit of drive cloning is that it transfers your full drive contents seamlessly to new hardware.

Cloning Software

Some good drive cloning tools include:

  • Macrium Reflect (Free)
  • Acronis True Image ($)
  • EaseUS Todo Backup (Free)
  • Paragon Drive Copy ($)
  • AOMEI Backupper (Free)

These allow you to exactly replicate your drive while choosing what partitions to exclude. Just be sure not to copy over the Windows folder itself and the clone drive will be Windows-free.


Things to keep in mind when drive cloning:

  • Ensure the new drive is equal or bigger capacity
  • Clone failures may corrupt the OS or data
  • Only move partitions, do not resize during cloning
  • Have backups in case anything goes wrong
  • You may need to reactivate some programs

Cloning has the advantage of moving your full setup to new hardware seamlessly. Just be cautious and have backups before attempting a clone.


While formatting is usually the quickest way to remove an operating system from a hard drive, there are options to selectively remove Windows while preserving your data and applications.

Methods like using a Linux live DVD, DBAN wipe, deleting the Windows folder, or drive cloning allow you to strip away Windows system files without harming the rest of the drive contents.

The best approach depends on whether you need to save any data, programs or partitions from the drive along with removing Windows completely. With the right method, you can fresh start Windows or migrate to a new OS without having to format your drive.

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