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My C: drive is filling up, and I'd like to free up some space. I noticed that the directory C:\I386 and all it's subdirectories take up well over 800 megabytes. Can I move that to my D:\ drive where I have much more room? Or better yet, can I delete it?

The question others are asking is probably "OK, so what's a C:\I386 directory?"

In a nutshell, it's a copy of Windows, and yes, you can move it, but I don't recommend deleting it completely. It's just too darned useful.

First I'll bore you with a little trivia: the "I386" name originated as a way to identify what CPU the operating system was for. "I" stands for Intel, and "386" stands for the "80386", the minimum processor required. (The 80386 is an older version of what we now know as the Pentium processors.)

So the I386 directory tree contains a copy of Windows targeted for Intel's 80386 and later processors.

The I386 directory is not the directory that Windows actually runs from, but rather it contains a copy of Windows that you can setup from. Originally it was simply a copy of the I386 directory from your installation CD. You'll probably find "setup.exe" there, which is the Windows XP initial setup program.

Since Windows doesn't run from that directory, it's actually not required to be around at all. You can delete it, and Windows will still continue to run. But Wait! You still, really, don't want to delete it. At least not without saving a copy of it somewhere, somehow. You see, when you install new hardware, Windows will try to install the drivers for it, from your original Windows installation CD-ROM. If you have a copy of the I386 directory from that CD-ROM, Windows can look there instead - much quicker and much more convenient than inserting the CD each time.

And of course if your computer didn't come with a Windows CD-ROM (as I believe it always should, though not all manufacturers do), the I386 directory may be the only place these files are available.

So don't delete it. Move it somewhere else instead. If you have a second hard disk that has room, great. If you have another machine on your local network that has room, it's ok to copy it there too - just keep straight which machine it belongs to.

As an example, let's copy all of C:\I386 to a new directory on the D: drive. We'll do it using the Command Prompt. Press Start, Run, enter CMD and press Enter. In the resulting box, we'll enter the following commands:

  • D: - this will make the "D:" drive the current drive.
  • MKDIR D:\I386 - create a new "I386" directory at the root of the D: drive.
  • CD D:\I386 - make D:\I386 the current directory
  • XCOPY C:\I386 /s/h - copy C:\I386 to the current directory. "/s" means copy the contents of all subdirectories, and "/h" means copy all hidden and system files as well.

Here's what that might look like:

Copying the I386 directory

The exact files being copied may differ slightly, and there will be several hundred files copied before it's all done. Once it is done, you can delete the original on c:\I386.

Article C2453 - November 4, 2005 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

Bill P. Godfrey
November 5, 2005 7:14 AM

If a computer gets malwared, I would consider that spare copy untrustworthy.

I would recommend making a CD copy of that directory while you can still trust it.

January 10, 2006 8:19 PM

Someone asked you how to remove the i386 folder.
You said it can be removed, and proceeded NOT to explain how.
Without going off on another tangent, could you please try one more to delete the stupid folder?

January 10, 2006 8:21 PM

Just like any other folder. Fire up Windows Explorer, right click on the folder and hit Delete.

February 11, 2006 3:35 PM

I deleted the folder, and have a disk, but my sound card doesnt seem to work now, my windows sounds still work, but the sound for anything else doesn't, its a sound blaster card, and I assume it has to do with the folder being gone, the volume adjustment thats part of the sound card (when opened) won't open and says it cannot find its driver, yet the drivers are just fine, I was thinking it was linked directly to a driver in the I386 folder, I was wondering how I would go about getting just that folder back with the installation disk?

April 25, 2006 3:01 AM

Hi - I have the weirdest problem. Im trying to move I386 off my C drive but even after unhiding hidden files & folders I still can not see it at all. But I know its there as I can see it (2 Gb no less!) using "TreeSize Professional". Help ?!

June 2, 2006 6:26 AM

What is the purpose of multiple i386 sub-folders, and might some be unnecessary and therefore delete candidates? I'm helping my brother to troubleshoot infections on his HP Pavillion running XP SP2 Home Edition, and the various i386 folders are causing very long scan times. Some files appear to be duplicates. Don't have a complete list now, but folders include C:\I386, C:\windows\i386, C:\windows\Service Pack Files\i386, C:\windows\drivercache\i386 ...

Thanks for your help!

June 30, 2006 12:58 AM

i have a problem, i had virus which kept pressing enter. While the virus was still infecting my computer, i installed SP2 and when i was realising it kept canceling to insatll (SP2) because of the virus i stopped it. I then re-formatted my computer nad it was all clean. Wehn i finished formatting, i when to my Secondary drive (D:\) and i saw an i386 folder there, and i realised that it supposed to be in my Local Disk (C:\), i then tried to delete it, but it didnt allowed me. Now im stucked with i386 folder in my d drive and i have no idea on how to remove. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

George Hayth
September 29, 2006 6:43 AM

Sir; Please tell me how to find the folder that contains I386 directory, what I am trying to do is copy all the current microsoft updates to the windows installation disk so when I have to do a reinstall of windows I won't have to download all of them again. Thank you

Bill Clarke
September 30, 2006 2:04 PM

There is no i386 folder containing winnt32 exe in my computer. There is a 386 folder in service packs but no winnt32 file. trying to make a recovery cd that won't delete apps or data.

December 12, 2006 11:22 AM

I did read your articles about this topic "without XP CD". But still would like to know how to CREATE A STAND ALONE XP SETUP DISC from that C:/I386 (Mine is a Compaq laptop, I don't like Compaq's applications at all. I intend to reinstall CLEAN WINDOWS)

Thank you for your help!

Tuan Tran

December 31, 2006 3:22 AM

you can NOT use the I386 folder to do a full clean install of windows or CREATE A STAND ALONE XP SETUP DISC using it. The activation feature will NOT work and also windows will error and crash a high degree.

January 22, 2007 6:42 PM

My i386 file wins them all. It is taking up over 22 GB of my hard drive. I have no idea why and my laptop company has no idea why either. Any ideas? I really don't want to do a system restore. Thanks

July 31, 2007 9:29 PM

can i move or delete my I386 directory to free up some space?

well i have a problem i was going through my file and what not, and i wasnt sure of that I386 was and i deleted it and i went to do the 7 cds i have for a system recovery, so i could clean EVERYTHING out because my computer was sooo messed up. and the cds wont work now..what can i do??...please respond
thanks shanelle

August 3, 2007 6:15 PM


Highly informative and great infomation. Exactly what I was looking for and straight to the point. Thanks!

August 4, 2007 1:48 PM

Can I burn this to a DVD? Is that safe and still usable? Mines is taking up over 1 gig of memory... Burning it to DVD would be great, is this recomended? I don't have a back up drive or external drive...

Leo A. Notenboom
August 6, 2007 8:33 AM

Hash: SHA1

Yes you can. Then just use this article: to
tell windows that the "SourcePath" has changed to your DVD drive (like "D:\").
Then when Windows needs it, it'll ask you to insert the DVD.


Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


August 30, 2007 9:19 AM

i have a problem,my computer don have I386 folder on c:/,plz help me

September 11, 2007 3:01 AM

I have lost part of my i386 file... is the file the same for windows xp pro vs windows xp home

Chuck Castleberry
November 6, 2007 2:14 PM

To copy I386 directory, why us Dos instead of 'drag-n-drop'? chuck

Leo A. Notenboom
November 6, 2007 3:59 PM

Hash: SHA1

Either will work. Command shell operations are easier to display here in


Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


December 21, 2007 8:30 PM

My Vaio PCG-V505BX is a circa 2003 XP Notebook. The i386 is useless, were I to do the factory reinstall back to Aug 03 factory settings I wouldn't have any patches, no SP2 it would be a mess or at least a 4 year old OS...if it worked at all. Where I messed up was making the partitioned D: larger than C: when I bought the Vaio.

I have never been able to use i386 when prompted to "Insert Windows CD" to access a needed file.


January 17, 2008 7:31 AM

I can tell you why I don't like this directory, because windows saves old, buggy, vulnerable copies of files in there. And then you run a tool like the Secunia PSI and get reports of this buggy files although you computer is generally perfectly patched and updated.

Joshua Huber
January 23, 2008 7:45 PM

I have AVG free for anti virus software? When I scanned today it has taken over an hour to scan through the mediactr cabinet file inside by I386 file? Is this normal? The only thing I have recently changed is to add ITunes and about 20 G of music. (My own CDs, not downloaded items)

February 12, 2008 8:24 AM

I was in my c drive when i mistakenly moved the I386 into another folder which I didn't create. I decided to copy it back and the prompt was it can not be copied. I entered into this folder where the new I386 was, and couldn't open the I386. Now the new I386 is with a less size, meaning some of the files in there are gone, I don't know how and the I386 in c:/ is empty. Sounds bad, what should I do?

March 25, 2008 1:45 PM

What if the i386 folder in my C drive is, I believe, to be created from my old XP cd installation that was still there after upgrading to Vista (I know this because it has a "Tour Windows XP" shortcut in there that doesn't even work anymore, P.S. though, I am confused at why the modified date is 20/02/2008), then can I deleted?

May 24, 2008 11:15 PM

Can you give me the path where the i386 folder is located ? Mine is located in the following path :-

Michael Bates
October 5, 2008 2:31 PM

The last comment, by Joe, May 24, 2008, raises an interesting question: why do we need two I386 folders, one in windows and one in "ServicePackFiles" under windows?

And in addition, there are other redundant files, such as dllcache, $Uninstall..., etc. Is there a guide to "Windows" directories that are safe to delete?

Many thanks for any answer.

Michael Bates

October 26, 2008 12:34 PM

it says that the folders in my pc --C:\WINDOWS\Service Pack Files\i, C:\WINDOWS\System32,& C:\i386---were all have virus. is it safe to delete these folders?????pls help!!thanks in advance

No. In particular C:\Windows\System32 contains Windows itself. Deleting that folder will render your machine unbootable. You'll need to let your anti-virus program clean things up, or perhaps re-install Windows.
- Leo

Sharen Malone
December 23, 2008 11:28 PM

When I try to copy I386, as you describe, I get the message: Cannot copy or create I386. Access denied. How do I get around this?

January 25, 2009 7:56 AM

Can I copy the i386 folder by just copy pasting it? instead of the cmd method Leo used in this answer?

February 23, 2009 6:21 AM

i dont have the I386 folder in the root of c:\(c:\i386) and i want to reinstall my computer

my laptop is 3 years old and i somtimes feel like to throw my computer out of my window!!
reply to MY E-MAIL please

June 23, 2009 5:52 AM

unfortunately i deleted i386 folder, please tell me how can i get it back?

January 31, 2010 3:58 PM

I recently purchased a new PC with Windows 7. I used the Easy Transfer program to move files from my XP computer to the new one. It copied the whole I386 directory. Is there any point in having it ona Windows 7 computer?

ananda nayak
March 26, 2010 6:27 AM

iwant to install with dos comand which was mising from xp operating software.exple- mediaplayer,usb, 3dimage,dispaly,etc.please advised me by email or mo [number removed].thanks

April 1, 2010 1:46 AM

Jin: You can copy and paste, but if there is an error (1 file does not copy or something like that) then the copy process will stop. With XCOPY you can use /c to continue even if errors occur, this will save you lots of trouble/effort. You can also use /Q to copy quickly (xcopy is much faster than copy and paste). For these two reasons I always use XCOPY for large copies.
To get a list of possible switches, type XCOPY /?

Vaishnav: Look for I386 in C:\Windows or search the C drive for it. Otherwise just find a windows cd for the version you have.

Sunking: You can probably copy the I386 dir from the windows CD.

Hope that helps. Kleinbaas from :-)

April 3, 2011 7:35 AM

I have a bunch of I386 directories on my hard drive. None are in the C: directory. The biggest one (500MB) is in a personal pictures file which does not make sense. The others are small files in Program file directories or C:\windows\system32\reinstallbackup files. My question, is how did the file end up in my pictures directory and can I delete it.

Thanks for your help.


There are definitely other I386 folders. The only one I'm talking about in this article is the one that's at the root of a drive. I have no real idea whether the one you're finding elsewhere is safe to delete or how it got there. You might consider backing it up before deleting it, or renaming it and rebooting to see if anything depends on it.

April 27, 2011 5:07 PM

I typed in D:- It came up and said . is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file. What does this mean? And what can I do to fix it? Any help would be appreciated.
Thank you, Lisa

May 22, 2011 12:22 AM

Lisa: don't type the hyphen/minus. All you need to type is D:

That will switch to the drive you want.

November 21, 2011 9:05 AM

Great to know you can just use to switch drives. I've been using "cd /d" this whole time

July 11, 2012 7:32 AM

Do not delete it for a couple of reasons. You can repair a damaged Windows that will not start, from the recovery console, much more easily by espanding the required file from I386 (e.g corrupt or missing hal.dll). Secondly, I believe some of the Service Packs add files to this directory which are not present on the original CD.

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